5 Aspects In Choosing The Best DSLR (Body) For Macro Photography

Now this is an interesting article I have longed to write for some time. I apologize for taking so long to write such a beginner-level article; I had some problems finding a new Crop Sensor (APS-C) DSLR for the article (I have no friends :p). In the end I got hold of my old Nikon D90 from a friend just to write this XD

APS-C vs. Full Frame

An APS-C (Left- Nikon D90) and Full Frame (Right- Nikon D800) DSLR cameras. Choosing a DSLR for Macro Work can be very simple if you know what you want and need.

Most people purchase a DSLR because they are fascinated by the detail, colour, and of course, the bokeh it can produce. Most of us then use the DSLR to take casual photographs. I, for one, bought one just to photograph my soon-to-be wife LOL XD So far I have not met anyone who has gotten his or her first DSLR just to shoot Macro. That said, knowing some important features or criteria for a good Macro DSLR body will definitely help you in choosing your DSLR, especially so if you have intentions to try out some Macro!

Tze Wei 2

Yeahhh… I actually bought a DSLR to photograph my lovely girlfriend who is now my fiancée hehe XD I never ever realized I would be so into Macro Photography~

Aesthetics, budget and brand loyalty aside, there are five features of great importance when choosing a good DSLR for Macro Photography, as follows:

1. Camera shooting format (Crop Sensor or Full Frame)-

DSLR cameras are generally divided into two different formats- Full Frame DSLR and Crop Sensor DSLR. Full frame DSLR cameras employ a sensor (that converts what you see into a digital image) the size of a conventional 35mm (sensor size) film camera, whereas Crop Sensor DSLRs use relatively smaller sensor sizes called APS-C. In general, larger sensors produce better details, low light performance and colour dynamic range, but come with a heftier price tag vice versa.

Full Frame

Owning a Full Frame DSLR is every photographer’s dream as it offers better image quality and details, better noise and low-light performance, greater dynamic range as well as good ergonomics, among many others.

However, there is sort of a catch here: DSLR with Crop Sensors (APS-C) shoots photographs at a magnification of 1.5-1.6 times more than a Full Frame DSLR, regardless of the respective lenses you use for both bodies. The higher magnification acts like a double-edge sword, you get higher magnification, but at the expense of susceptibility to handshakes (which can be reduced with practice).

2. MegaPixel (MP) count-

MegaPixels (MP) of a camera basically refers to the quantity of the tiniest basic element of the image i.e. Pixel (which is sort of a small square). All these pixels constitute the final image that we see. The higher the MP count of a camera, the more details you can get when you enlarge your images (up to 100%), provided the camera sensor is large enough to take in the details (all DSLRs are fine). By taking advantage of a DSLR’s high MP counts, you could crop your photos whilst still keeping the details of subjects- sort of like taking a photograph using higher magnification in the first place. Definitely a handy feature!

3. Size, weight, ergonomics and accessibility-

The ergonomics of your DSLR will decide whether you capture that rare moment or not, and this depends largely on the dimension and weight of your DSLR, and of course, its ease of use. In general, smaller and lighter DSLR bodies are better for Macro Photography, since you can hike and move faster, and you can even operate your Macro System singled-handedly if its light enough.

Lightweight Macro Machine

Size and weight matters when it comes to a Macro-capable DSLR. The smaller and lighter it is, the faster and more efficient you travel, hike and photograph.

Many of the mainstream DSLR bodies, be it APS-C or Full Frame ones, are rather lightweight. However, a decent Macro Rig seldom consist only of a DSLR body and a lens; check out some of my best Macro Rigs and you will get what I mean: My Macro Setup. After every Macro accessory is added to your DSLR rig, even a decently light DSLR can become really heavy, so it is important to choose wisely a DSLR body and a Macro setup that suit you.

Macro Setup- Mark III

A Macro Setup can get real heavy and complicated, real quick! It is therefore best to look for gears or components that satisfy your expectations in price, performance and portability.

Ergonomics basically refers to the design of the DSLR and whether it is comfortable enough for you to use, even for prolonged periods of time. DSLRs, unlike mirrorless and Point-and-Shoot cameras, are designed and built with ergonomics in mind, so most are decent enough. However, larger DSLR bodies tend to have better grip, comfort and control.

Complications

Enthusiast and professional-level DSLRs may be very daunting at first sight due to the vast numbers of buttons and dials, they are a lot faster and efficient to operate, and may just get you that rare capture when the time comes. These DSLRs are of course, a lot more ergonomic as well for prolonged usage.

DSLRs with good button and dial layouts are more efficient Macro cameras since you can switch to desired settings a lot faster. In general, compact and light DSLRs have fewer dials and buttons vice versa. Switching of camera settings become very crucial especially when you are switching in between Macro shots using flash to shots using Natural Lighting; subjects won’t wait.

4. Weather sealing-

A weather-sealed DSLR body or lens can withstand water or moisture if you get stuck in the rain during your Macro sessions, or if you simply want to continue shooting as the rain pours. However, weather sealing doesn’t mean that it is water proof- immersing your DSLR in water will still spoil it :p For casual Macro Photographers, it is okay to not have weather-sealed equipment since most do not shoot in very isolated places with little to no shade. However, enthusiasts and professionals who often hike and journey into treacherous forests and terrain should consider weather-sealed gears.

Hummingbird

Having weather-sealed Macro Gears mean you can keep on shooting even if it drizzles or rain. Took this shot of a hummingbird hiding from the rain.

*Tip: You could always invest in a waterproof bag, which is a lot cheaper than getting weather-sealed DSLRs, lenses and accessories.

5. Available accessories-

The accessories available for Macro Photography is not as diverse as those of other genres of photography., mostly because Macro Photography is not as popular. Deciding which brand of DSLR to buy for Macro Photography is simple, and depends very much on how serious you are in this field, and of course, the type of Macro you intend to photograph.

The most basic macro startup kits

Most of the lenses and accessories for Macro are pretty standard, apart from a few that really stand out from the rest.

Although every brand offers the same type of macro lenses which are more or less similar in terms of performances (i.e. 50mm F2.8; 60mm F2.6; 100mm F2.8 etc.), Canon and Nikon still top the list because of more unique gears that might better your Macro experiences. Canon, committed to show consumers that they don’t only design and built lenses for money, offers the legendary Canon MPE65 macro lens capable of 1x and 5x magnification, which is the only one of its kind in the world. Nikon, more luck than intentional, has the behemoth Nikon D800 series DSLR with medium-format-like 36.3 MegaPixels (MP) counts that aid a lot in crop potential.

So, if you are a professional or enthusiast of Macro Photography, the choice is pretty simple: if you fancy photographing subjects at extreme magnifications (which of course, need you to hurt or kill the subject in the process), a Canon DSLR is the one to go for, followed by the acquisition of the Canon MPE65 lens. It will hurt your wallet, but it is one of the best setup there is to date. Just make sure the DSLR body follows the other aspects mentioned above.

Scholastes Fly

Extreme close-up of a Signal Fly. Since I do not own a Canon nor a Canon MPE65, this is pretty much the higher magnification plus crop I could go with my Macro gears at that time. Those with the right equipment and accessories could of course, get a lot closer!

Okaaaaaay! I am going to stop right here to keep the article short (just lazy to be honest :p). I will cover examples of DSLR models to buy from each common brand in Malaysia which will hopefully help those who are interested in getting one for Macro Photography. Of course, I will also cover the long debate on whether Full Frame or Crop Sensor DSLRs are better for Macro Photography~

Until the next article, please take care and Happy Macro-ing!

** I apologize for not being able to show any Canon gears in this article since I do not have access to them, will update again when I have some.

** All photos in this website are taken and owned by me. The use of any photos here is not allowed without my permission. 

Taking Better Macro Shots Part 1- Choice Of Subject

Greetings everyone!

Welcome back! Now that we have covered most of the basics to Macro Photography, I suppose now is the time to write a bit on something more in-depth, information that will help you take much better macro shots once acquired.

Green Crested Lizard 1- Bronchocela cristatella

What exactly makes a great macro photo?

As mentioned in earlier articles, there are actually five things to look out for to really make your macro photographs more attractive (in random order):

  1. Choice of subject
  2. Composition
  3. Lighting
  4. Background
  5. Sharpness

All of these must be fulfilled if you are to really consider a shot as great. Since there is a lot to elaborate for each point, I will only be focusing on one per article, I hope you won’t mind 🙂 And like all other genres of photography, the points you learn here can be applied elsewhere too.

I’ve specifically chosen this as the first point since it is the most simple- A great macro shot will require a good subject. Take portrait photography as an example, in general an obese model will definitely not be as attractive as a slim model (assuming no extreme post-processing done to help “slim” the model down). I apologize if I offended anyone, but I’m just telling the truth. Appearances are important in life, and also photography.

Evarcha flavocincta ♀ 2

Having a good subject will promise a potentially great shot! This Semi-coppered Hyllus Heavy Jumper, although common, is often chosen by many as a subject for Macro Photography because of its “good looks”.

Of course, many macro enthusiasts might have already learnt this over time: There are just some subjects that no one wants to photograph, and conversely, there are some that always make the headlines in articles or magazines. So, how do you determine whether a subject is “good enough” for a proper macro photograph?

The following are three aspects that govern the quality of a subject for Macro Photography:

1. Rarity

Common subjects lack the “WOW” factor; after all, you see them all the time lol

Bipalium sp.

An uncommon Bipalium worm. Compared to the real macro gurus out there, I don’t really have that much rare subjects… Maybe I do, but I am not allowed to share them here lol :p

If you are photographing a subject that is very common even to laymen (those who don’t shoot macro), chances are your shots are going to be poor. Yes, you might be able to pull it off with some awesome composition, lighting, background and sharpness (to be covered later), but a common subject is still common, and will not be able to compete with an uncommon, or rare subject of equal photographic quality.

One of the most common subjects in the world are….. you guessed right! Ants! Worker Ants to be precise! No points for guessing right though haha 😀

Spotted Coral Snake- Calliophis gracilis

A Spotted Coral Snake. This snake is not even nice-looking (and so is this shot), but the rarity of this snake alone demands attention. There are more colourful variants of this snake, I hope I get to photograph some in the future!

Unfortunately beginners love to photograph them since they are abundant and wouldn’t mind posing for the camera (or biting you too!). Of course, I am not condemning anyone shooting ants: at first I didn’t know which subjects are common and which are not either. The trick is to shoot often, then you will eventually be able to identify rarer subjects, just try not to keep on shooting ants, it gets very dull.

Robberfly 2 (upclosed)

Exclusiveness. Robberflies are rare gems where I live, but elsewhere they are abundant as mosquitoes!

Yeah, another thing I would like to point out; the great thing about Macro Photography is that your biological subjects are often extremely diverse: Subjects you photograph in Malaysia are mostly not available in the United States, so to them, your shots have the “WOW” factor since they have not seen them before vice versa (maybe not ants, they all look the same everywhere LOL! XD). It is just like how Malaysian street photographs are never attractive to the locals, but put up any photos from, say Australia, and everybody loses their minds.

2. Features

Is your subject entirely black with little or no details worth emphasizing? Is your subject dull coloured? If it is, then it is probably not a good subject. Suddenly Ants come into mind- they are mostly black and don’t really differ much from one to another (unless if you are talking about a Queen ant!). Of course, it is not just the ants we are talking about here.

Common Black Femur Tarantula (Coremiocnemis sp.)

Despite being relatively uncommon to commoners, the dull brown (and black) colour of the “Common” Tarantula makes it a less-than-ideal subject.

Brachypelma boehmei

… Especially so when you compare it to this striking, orange-coloured Mexican Fireleg tarantula.

Viewers tend to be attracted by subjects that are colourful or fancy-looking, so those are the types you should try and find. Beautiful subjects, even if common (e.g. butterflies, bees etc.), will still give you more marks than dull organisms.

3. Action

Lastly, what your subject is doing will determine the quality of your resulting photo. Most of the time, the subjects we find are in resting positions and not doing much of anything. Yes, if composed and photographed properly, your subject (especially if colourful or beautiful) will still give you a decent shot, but that’s pretty much it, since others are capable of taking shots like yours as well.

Mutulism: Ants and treehopper

Ants collecting “honeydew” excreted from treehoppers and in return, they provide protection and care. These mutualistic association is very common, so are ants and treehoppers. But at least they are doing something in the shot.

Ants, though they are always moving, are not really considered as “in action”. Unless if you can find them fighting off other intruding ants, working together to carry big chunks of food etc., your shots are still going to be poor. No offence ya ants :p

So the trick to get macro shots that really stand out is to hunt for action shots, this include shots of subjects eating, mating, hunting, flying etc. That said, action shots are hard to find, and even harder to photograph, which makes them so valuable in the macro world. Action shots often happen in the blink of an eye, which is why all your practice with macro comes down to handling moments like these.

Wagler's Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) feasting

Action shots don’t come too often, so be sure you are ready when they come. Here a Wagler’s Pit Viper is consuming a common frog. Photo shot in controlled environment.

As aforementioned, action shots are hard to come by. However, by knowing a little bit about your subjects, you will be able to increase your chances of encountering subjects “in-action”. For instance, butterflies and bees tend to collect nectar around flower fields during the morning before afternoon (too hot); whereas nocturnal spiders, centipedes and even snakes hunt during the night.

So in short, a great subject is one that is uncommon (or rare), attractive and one that is preferably doing something. Well I guess that pretty much sums up the article for today. I hope you now understand how important a subject is in Macro Photography. Of course, the outcome of your shot still relies heavily on composition, lighting, background and sharpness (to be covered later); having a good subject signifies a good start!

Argiope cf. modesta immobilizing a blowfly 3

It is not easy to tick all three aspects (Rarity, Features and Action) at once. This is a shot that I am pretty proud of, featuring a rare St. Andrew’s Cross Spider wrapping up a blowfly before eating it. However, the spider’s lack of attractive colours (the upper abdomen is more colourful) as well as an apparent lack of background lowered the quality of the shot.

Anyways, which subjects do you think are attractive and beautiful to you? 🙂

The next article is on Composition, please feel free to check it out: Taking Better Macro Shots Part 2- Composition.

Thank you for reading and have a nice day!

** All photos in this website are taken and owned by me. The use of any photos here is not allowed without my permission.