Macro photography involves taking extremely close up photographs at a 1:1, i.e. where the image on the sensor is the same size as the actual subject, or even larger reproductions. Many digital cameras have a ‘macro' program, which is identified by the flower symbol, but in reality this is a fallacy. This mode will enable close up pictures to be taken but it will not allow the photographer to take true macro images. Anyone looking to take true macro photographs will need to use other photography tools.
Many different subjects can be used for macro photography and, arguably, the most popular are insects and mini beasts. Using the various types of macro photography accessories it is possible to get extreme close up images of these tiny creatures where you can see things that are normally invisible to the naked eye, such as the hair extensions covering the abdomen and legs, the hexagonal and honeycomb like pattern on the eyes etc. Another popular subject for macro photography is that of flowers, where instead of photographing the whole flower a small part is photographed, such as the stamen, in minute detail. It is easy to see why the world of insects, mini beasts and flowers is popular for macro photography because it is simply fascinating at such close quarters.
Whilst macro photography may not be everyone's bag it is something that all photographers should try at some point, especially the world of mini beasts and crawling around on your hands and knees looking for creepy crawlies and bugs is like going back to childhood days gone by.
Without a doubt the best macro photography images are achieved with a dedicated macro lens as these are often made out of superior optics and provide pin sharp images. Unfortunately, macro lenses are expensive, and since macro photography is a rather specialised area many casual photographers cannot justify the cost of a macro lens. Fortunately, there are cheaper alternatives such as extension tubes and close up filters.
Extension tubes contain no optics and are simply a plastic tube that is inserted between the camera body and the camera lens, hence forcing the lens to focus closer. When buying extension tubes it is important to consider the auto focusing feature of the lens. When using some types of extension tubes the camera will not autofocus because they contain no contacts. The better brands of extension tubes will allow the camera to retain the autofocus ability, but these are quite expensive. When using extension filters there is a loss of light and slower shutter speeds are usually required to obtain correct exposure. This is likely to increase the chance of camera shake, unless a tripod or some other type of support is used. There will be a slight reduction in image quality when using extension tubes, however it is significantly less than when using close up filters.
Whilst macro images taken using close up filters and extensions tubes will not be as optically good as if they were taken using a dedicated macro lens, these accessories do provide a cost effective way of getting in to macro photography that will provide reasonable images, in the right hands.