Can you recommend a camera for macro photography?
October 18, 2007 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Camera recommendation, please. Will be used exclusively for macro photography. Full-frame photographs of products from the size of a desktop computer to the sized of a BB. No great need for fancy features, just good digital images. Whatcha recommend?
posted by five fresh fish to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you want something that small, your concern isn't camera at all - it's lenses. Get any dSLR you want, and spend your money and energy on lens selection. If you really want to fill a frame with a BB, you may have to get something like Canon's 60mm MP-E, which is very hard to use but capable of amazing macro things. For something a little easier to use, and cheaper, the 100mm Macro is a very popular recommendation on the Canon forums I hang out in, and I'm planning on buying one myself soon.

(Note that I'm talking about Canon lenses purely because I own a Canon dSLR myself, so I'm not really paying attention to the specific options you could have with Nikon, 4/3rds, etc. But the important thing here is: Screw camera, lens is what matters.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:10 PM on October 18, 2007

If you don't want an SLR, Fuji makes the s6000fd, which lets you get very close.

SLRs are better, though; not sure about your budget.
posted by fogster at 8:20 PM on October 18, 2007

Yeah. I should have noted, a budget range will help recommendations enormously.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:23 PM on October 18, 2007

Ive been using a Nikon D80 and with an AF Micro Nikkor 60mm 2.8. I take pictures of everything from models to insects with this lens. When attached to a DSLR you get a 1.5x focal length multiplier so its equivalent to a 90mm on film. If you want to shoot BB sized objects get a 1:1 macro, meaning you can objects are reproduced on the film plane at the same size as life. When focused properly and placed close enough to the subject you can pick out individual honeycombs on the compound eye of a dragonfly. The depth of field however will get extremely shallow so its a little tricky to use.
Example of a honey bee taken with this combo.
If you need to save money get a D40, or a D40X for the body, if you are doing macro you are going to be manual focusing anyway so you don't need anything too fancy. The kit lenses that come with most DSLRS are usually awful for macro work so invest in good glass.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 8:39 PM on October 18, 2007

Best answer: All the majors (Canon, Nikon, Sony/Minolta) have an excellent 100mm f/2.8 macro. The Tamron 90/2.8 macro is also excellent - same optical quality as the first three and about half the price. I use the Tamron on a 10MP sensor and it easily out-resolves the sensor.

Your average macro lens will do 1:1, so full frame will be an object 24mm across on a APS-C DSLR. If you buy a 4-3rds camera (eg Olympus), the frame is only about 18mm across, so you effectively get more magnification.

You can also buy extension tubes or a bellows which will allow you to extend the lens further out and therefore focus closer. 2:1 is quite achievable and sometimes higher, depending on the lens. You can also slap a teleconverter in there to get another 1.4x without losing noticeable quality.

Beyond that point, you'll want to look into microphotography or something like the old Minolta 3x macro lens. That supports magnifications up to 3x, so you can photograph things as small as 8mm across on a 24mm frame. It's expensive and hard to find, plus you'll need another macro to support magnifications less than 1x.

Example budget: USD600 for an A100, USD350 for a Tamron 90/2.8, USD300 for a wireless flash (the "56") if you don't want horrifically long exposures to get decent depth of field. Much less for second-hand - there are loads of A100s coming on the market right now because people are buying the A700.

DOF reduces as magnification increases, so for very small objects you'll find yourself shooting often at f/11 to f/14. With ambient or continous lighting, that means loooong exposures. Flash up close can cure that, permitting you to shoot small, fast things with the camera hand-held.
posted by polyglot at 9:09 PM on October 18, 2007

D40s just came down in price to $549 MSRP. Costco has them for $499. Bajillions of lenses will work with it, most of them in manual focus mode, which for you won't matter. Slap the kit lens back on it to take high quality snapshots of whatever else.
posted by The Deej at 9:12 PM on October 18, 2007

In the interests of disclosure, I'm in the middle of a one-month, one-prime challenge (self-link, of course) with the A100 and Tamron 90/2.8. It is a combination I highly recommend.
posted by polyglot at 9:13 PM on October 18, 2007

I've the MP-E, as mentioned upthread it is a bugger to use. I've converted an old enlarger frame for my needs, it can certainly get veeeeery small objects....
This is pretty close to a BB size and it isn't even at max macro. You you go this route I'd spring for some ring mount lights as well.
posted by edgeways at 10:28 PM on October 18, 2007

Response by poster: I should think the practical price limit will be sub-$1000. In real terms, however, any choice I can demonstrate is necessary will be supported.

It looks like I asked the wrong question. I can undoubtedly get a dSLR. It bwille easy to demonstrate the necessity of purchasing an additional (non-kit) lense.

The new question, then, is what mount type will give me the best advantage in selecting lenses; and what should my first lense be? What do the numbers mean?
posted by five fresh fish at 11:12 PM on October 18, 2007

Nikon D100 2nd hand from ebay. Buy the nice A Series lenses. You can get them cheaper now that the world has gone digital
posted by mattoxic at 11:19 PM on October 18, 2007

Best answer: When you're shooting macro photography, you really need to be concerned with light and stability. Because the image is so magnified, you'll need a tripod. A cable or wireless release helps reduce shake (otherwise you'll have to use the built-in timer), as does a camera body that supports mirror lockup (almost all of the current dSLRs do, I believe, but check). Mirror lockup is important for this - during a normal exposure, when the shutter opens, the mirror which normally lets you see through the viewfinder flips up at the same time to allow light to reach the sensor. This motion causes some camera shake. The mirror lockup feature lets you press the shutter release twice - once to flip the mirror up, then a separate time to fire the shutter and flip the mirror down again.

You probably want a lightbox as well. You can buy them, or make your own for reasonably little effort and money (or a more portable version).
posted by Caviar at 5:33 AM on October 19, 2007

You can also go for a D40, a cheap 50mm 1.8 and a reversing ring, for some really magnified shots... focusing is very manual though...
posted by stratastar at 6:03 AM on October 19, 2007

Also look into ringlight flashes. The built in flash (above the lens) will cast a shadow in macro work.
posted by Gungho at 7:16 AM on October 19, 2007

I can't recommend the Pentax Optio WPI enough. I know it's an odd choice as they're billed as waterproof cameras, but really, the macro on it impresses me the most.
grains of sand
ant on a plant

I think you can pick them up for under $300 and they're super slim and durable.
posted by soplerfo at 9:00 AM on October 19, 2007

oh, also, I have a DSLR that I love (D70) but I like what I can get out of my Pentax so much, that I usually just use that when shooting macro stuff.
posted by soplerfo at 9:01 AM on October 19, 2007

fff, any recent Canon or Nikon SLR will give you the benefit of a large ecology of lenses. Canon may have a slight edge here, but your need isn't much of a strain on the availability scale. There's a few gold standard lenses, like the EF 100 (Canon) and the Nikkor 105, and you're good to go - that is, you could buy a single lens and be all set for the uses you're talking about. One caveat: Nikon's d40 has some limitations in what lenses it can use to best advantage, but I don't think the d40 is a sufficiently compelling camera to make that much of an issue.
posted by caitlinb at 10:09 AM on October 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone. I'm now much more confident that I'll make a good decision.

Indeed, D40 and Tamron seems like the best bang for the buck.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:30 AM on October 20, 2007

Another option is the Canon Digital Rebel XT or XTi (a.k.a. 350D or 400D) with the Canon EF-S 60mm macro lens. The EF-S 60mm macro goes up to 1:1, like the Tamron, and it's a very nice lens overall (plus it's a bit lighter and less expensive). If you get a Canon, you'll also be able to use the MP-E 65mm that Tomorrowful mentions if you need more than 1:1 (which you might for BBs). If you want to compare the various available lenses, SLRGear seems to have pretty good lens reviews.
posted by klausness at 4:00 AM on October 22, 2007

eh, be careful with the D40; it ONLY supports electronic focusing, not screw-drive focusing, so I'm not sure it's compatible with the Tamron 90 or for that matter, nearly any macro lens on the market. The D70 would be fine and the D80 would be better. If I had to choose between the 400D and D40, it would be the former because of the old-lens compatibility problems of the latter.

Manual focus is best for close-in macro work but AF is still very useful, particularly once you get a metre or so away.
posted by polyglot at 10:10 PM on October 23, 2007

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