Understanding Macro Lens Magnification

macro_photographyA macro lens is a lens that offers at least a magnification factor of 1.0x or 1:1, which means full life-size magnification (1x magnification). For example, that if you take a photo of a bug that is 1 inch (2.54cm) in length, the bug will appear as the same size on the camera’s sensor. That might not seem very impressive, but when you know that the 18Mp sensor in DSLR cameras enable very large format prints, the potential for creating massive enlargements from shots of tiny objects is really pretty amazing.

Macro and Micro

Some people think that there is a difference between macro and micro lenses, but there is really no difference. It is just that certain name brands (Canon) call them Macro, and other name brands (Nikon) call them Micro. However, there are differences when you are talking about micro and macro photography. Macro photography is where the subject of the photography appears with a magnification of 1x or more on the camera’s sensor (some people call this 1:1 magnification). Microphotography relates to photography through a microscope. This is achieved by connecting your camera to the microscope, which allows you to shoot photos that are 20x the magnification.


The relationship between the real dimension of the figure and the size of its appearance on the camera sensor is called magnification.  So, if you are taking a picture of a four inch butterfly so that the image sizes are one centimeter on the camera actually indicates that the enlargement is 1:4 of the true size. For a lens to be deemed a macro lens it must be able to give a 1:1 magnification.


A low-budget method to decrease the minimum focusing distance is to extend the distance between the lens and the sensor by inserting extension tubes. As the lens of the camera gets further away from the sensor, the item being photographed is more magnified. The tubes can make an item look larger because they move the camera lens further from the sensor. These lenses can be interchanged between different cameras, but the more you add, the lower the light, and with that comes less quality.


The apertures of macro lenses is wider, hence they offer a better performance in low light areas. The flip side to this is that depth of field is very narrow, particularly for lenses with a long focal length. In such cases a tripod is handy as it holds the camera steadily. Some lenses also include a vibration reduction (VR) system. This can be particularly useful when shooting at slow shutter speeds or without a tripod, as even tiny movements can produce noticeable blurring in the final photograph.

As with anything else, after you have decided on choosing between a few models, check reviews online and look around for the best deal. Sometimes there can be a difference of a hundred dollars or more between different stores. Also, if you choose to get a reconditioned item you can save hundreds of dollars as well. Most of these reconditioned items are as good as new, and can save you a bundle.  Try a few and see how they work for you, and you may just get hooked on macro photography.