The Basics

What is Macro Photography?

Macro Photography has traditionally been defined as a photograph of an object at life-size or larger.  Life size in this case has nothing to do with the size of the printed image, but the size of the image on your film or sensor. Images captured at 1/10th life-size up to life-size have generally been called close-up photography.

In recent years these two definitions have become blurred and used interchangeably as some lens manufacturers have been calling their lenses Macro lenses even though they can’t get to life-size by themselves. Likewise many point and shoot cameras have a macro mode that lets you focus closer, although not usually close enough to get a life-size image.

In the world of Macro Photography you’ll see images referred to as a multiple of life-size. So an image captured at life-size will often be designated 1x, while and image captured at twice life-size will be called 2x, and image at one half of life-size would be referred to as ½X.

 Sensor Sizes

Picture showing relative sensor sizes

As one would expect if you are trying to shoot at or above life-size you are severally limited in subject matter by the size of your sensor. The picture above shows the relative size of three of the most popular sensors. The black line is a film camera or full frame sensor, while the yellow line is an APS-C size sensor, and the red line is the size of a point and shoot camera. Two other sensor sizes that are not shown are Canon’s APS-H, which would be about half way between the APS-C and full frame sensor, and the Four Thirds System which would be a bit smaller than the APS sensor.  Specifically…

  • Full Size Sensors/Film is   36 x 24 mm, or about 1 ½ x 1 inch.
  • APS-H Sensors found in some of Canon’s pro cameras   28.7 x 19 mm.
  • APS-C Sensors are 22.2 x 14.8 mm (Canon), 23.6 x 15.7 mm (Nikon DX).
  • Four Thirds System 17.3 x 13 mm.
  • 1/1.7″ The largest point & shoot format 7.6 x 5.7 mm.

Another way that sensors will affect macro photography is in their depth of field. While as we will discuss later, depth of field is always a problem in macro photography, smaller sensors will inherently have a greater depth of field.

Continue with next section: Extension