Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

July 2007

Question of the Month

Which Macro Lens is for You?

Macro lenses allow you to focus to either life-size, close to life-size, or, with the digital crop of many digital cameras, slightly greater than life-size. The concept of life-size is a bit more esoteric in the world of digital, as a comparison between a life-size image and the real thing is a bit abstract. With film the concept was easy, for an image on film, at life-size, would be the same size as the real object laid on top of it. So a penny, shot at life-size, would fit right on top of the image of the penny on a slide or negative. With digital, of course, there is nothing to lay the real object upon, for you're viewing the image either through your viewfinder, or computer screen, so a direct comparison is impossible.

Still, though, the concept of life-size still holds, as a lens can capture an image life-size on the film or digital sensor. Macro lenses should, by their nature, focus to life-size, but some macro lenses only focus to half life-size, and at least one can go as much as FIVE TIMES life-size. Perhaps confusing the matter somewhat, some lenses offer a 'macro' feature that may allow close focusing, but generally not closer than about 1/4th or 1/3rd life-size.

I'd divide macro lenses into three categories - short, medium, and long macros. Short macro lenses cover the range of 50-65mm, and like a normal shorter focal length lens the angle of view is rather broad. This can create issues in terms of composition, as the field of view of these lenses may incorporate more than what you'd like. More annoying, these lenses require you to work close to your subject -- -perhaps as short as 2.5-3 inches from the front of a lens for a life-size shot.

Medium length macro lenses cover a focal range from about 90-100, offering a narrower angle of view and a greater working distance, about 6 inches or so for a life-size object (based on a full-frame sensor). I really like this focal range when I'm using a twin-light flash system, as the working distance maximizies the potential of that flash system. Working close, I can even hand-hold the rig, since the flash is firing at a fast pulse.

If I only had one macro lens, though, I'd get the 180 or 200mm macro (Sigma and some other brands may also offer 150mm focal lengths) for the maximum working distance (about 9-10 inches for a life-size capture) and the narrowest angle of view. The narrow angle of view really simplifies a composition - just as a telephoto will, and the greater working distance with the approximate 4X magnification gives you a good size image with little risk of spooking flighty subjects.

We cover all the in's and out's of macro photography and macro lenses as a segment of our Digital Complete Nature Photo Course, which we'll be offering again next year in Arizona (April-May) and at our studio here at Hoot Hollow in the summer months. The 2007 brochures are presently posted, so the dates for 2008 are not listed here, but the text descriptions still applies. Contact our office ASAP for next year's dates (as of July 1, 2007).


Previous Questions of the Month

Digital Questions

What is our initial Digital Workflow?
What is our Digital Workflow in the Lab?
 How do I keep track of Digital Files?
Is Shooting in the RAW format worthwhile?
What is the Difference?
How can you capture a sharp image and angel hair on a windy day? 
Can you match the Histograms?
How do we meter White?

 Is the Mark II the ultimate wildlife digital camera?
What is DEC? 
 Wildlife Models - Is there anything new to shoot?

Do You Need a Big Printer?
Can a Wimberley Head be used with small lenses?
 What is Reality? Adobe's powerful LIGHTROOM Program
Why must you have at least 2 digital backups?
 Is Digital Manipulation - a benign alternative to interacting in the natural world?
 Film or Digital? - Why you should shoot film!
 Does the Visibledust cleaning system really work?

Camera Techniques

What is the Most Important thing you can do before a Workshop? 
How many Flashes do you need to effectively illuminate hummingbirds?
What is the best shutter speed for panning running mammals?

Is there an easy way to level a camera for panorama shots?
Is the New Wimberley head worth having?
Is an L-Shaped Camera Bracket worth the Money? You bet it is!
Using Zoom lenses with tele-converters and extension tubes -- can you use both together?

Are Image Stabilization Lenses Worth the Money?
What the heck is the Scheimpflug Law?
What is the Best Composition?
Should you have a depth of field Preview button on your camera?

 How do you determine distances?
Hyperfocal Distance
Apertures for Macro


Flash and Tele-flash Techniques
What is the best flash for closeup and macro photography?
What is the most versatile remote release camera firing system?
How do you shoot high-speed action images?
How did I shoot the gliding Sugar Glider?
How did I photograph that flying wasp?
What the heck is a Plamp?


Why is Yellowstone the best for wildlife photography in the US?
Is a Trip to Antarctica Worth it?
What is the best season to do a photo safari in East Africa?

What is the Big Lie? The truth about Kenya's Tourism--it is SAFE!
Which Mountain Park is better for wildlife - Denali or Torres del Paine?
What are our Five Favorite Shooting Locales?

How can you attract insectivorous birds to your feeding stations and bait sites? 
How do you make things happen in wildlife photography?

What is the best Car Window Mount?
How can you save your shoulders?
How can you reduce contrast and the effect of wind for flower and macro photography?
How can you reduce contrast and the effect of wind for flower and macro photography?
What is the best Game Caller?

How Easy is Whale Photography?
How Easy is Whale Photography?

Why Can't You Feed A Bear?
What is our Favorite bird-shooting location?



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