Mirrorless, DSLR or Point and Shoot: Which Camera is Best for Macro Photography?

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Editor’s Note: This is part a series on macro photography this week. Look for a new one each day. The next newsletter will have them all if you miss any!

Cameras

Macro photographers have a plethora of choices when it comes to selecting a camera with this feature. From DSLRs to even cell phones, the macro function is becoming a standard add-on to most forms of digital photography. But, when put to the test, which type of camera will give you the best macro photography results? This article compares the macro photography functions of a DSLR, mirrorless, and point-and-shoot camera to evaluate the pros and cons of using each to shoot extreme close-ups.

To start, can you tell which of the below images were shot with either a DSLR (Canon 6D with 100mm f/2.8 macro lens), mirrorless (Fujifilm x100s), or point-and-shoot (Olympus Stylus TG-2 Tough)? The answers, listed in sequential order below the image, may surprise you.

Fuj Oly Can

1) Fujifilm x100s

The image on the far left in the above montage was shot using the macro function of the Fujifilm x100s mirrorless camera. The x100s has a macro mode and can shoot images as close-up as 3.9 inches (10 cm). Accessing the macro mode is simple, requiring just a quick dial turn; the results can be seen below.

Fuj Dragon

Pros:

Besides being an attractive camera with its retro body, the x100s has become popular among both professional and amateur photographers, thanks to its high quality features and ability to produce stunning images with its fixed Fujinon 23mm f/2.0 lens. At 15.7oz (445g), this camera is significantly smaller and lighter than a DSLR, yet it is relatively more affordable costing around $900. It also offers a unique hybrid viewfinder, meaning shots can be taken using the built-in optical viewfinder, or an electronic one.

Fuj Flowers

Cons:

The fixed lens might bug some photographers since it can’t be swapped out, and the 23mm focal range means you have to get really close to your photo subject. This could produce shadows or block natural lighting, which can’t be overridden without purchasing the optional external flash unit. An additional possible grievance is the 3.9 inch maximum focusing distance. Some of the other cameras mentioned below allow you to get much closer.

These shots were taken at an aperture of f/2.8 using natural lighting, in JPG format (RAW shooting is also available) with no post-processing.

2) Olympus Stylus TG-2 Tough

This little camera shot the middle image in the above photo montage. One of the most sophisticated, prettiest, and most durable point-and-shoots on the market today is the Olympus Tough line. It is your best friend for taking high quality photos while engaging in extreme outdoor adventures, and it has a superb macro mode.

Oly Dragon

Pros:

Waterproof, freeze-proof, crushproof, and shockproof, the TG-2 also has a 12 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and a high-speed f/2.0 lens. It is pocket-sized, although a little bulkier than most other point-and-shoots, and it only costs around $350 (TG-4 is the current model). This camera also has many shooting modes including two macro options: Super Macro and Underwater Macro. Both allow you to get as close as 1 cm to the photo subject, and additional magnification of up to 7x with the optical zoom, and 14x with Super Resolution zoom, which is closer than either the x100s or Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens offer. Its unique 5:1 magnification really makes macro photography a joy on this little camera.

Oly Flowers

Cons:

This is the only camera of the bunch that doesn’t offer RAW shooting or an optical viewfinder, but it is the only one that has a built-in flash. While the flash produces a balanced output in most situations, it isn’t helpful when shooting in macro mode since it tends to blow out the image due to being too close to the photo subject. Along those lines, shooting in macro mode on the TG-2 does require the camera to be very physically close to the subject, again making it easy to obstruct lighting.

3) Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

The final image on the far right of the montage above was snapped with the Canon 100mm macro lens. A newer version of this lens recently debuted featuring Image Stabilization and extra goodies, but the older model still boasts spectacular, sharp optics at a relatively lower price ($549 versus $899).

Can Dragon

Pros:

Canon has a small but mighty line of macro lenses, and the 100mm is arguably the best choice. Its longer focal length causes images to be rendered at 1:1 magnification, giving you more working distance so you don’t scare away your living photo subjects, or cast shadows. Since this lens is paired with a DSLR, image resolution can be up to an astounding 50.6 megapixels if it is used with the Canon 5DS. That’s a huge number compared to the 16.3 megapixels on the Fujifilm or 12 megapixels on the Olympus.

Can Flowers

Cons:

At 20.6 oz (584.2 g), the 100mm macro lens is by far the bigger, heavier, option of the three. With a cost of $550-899, and the requirement of using it with a Canon DSLR, this is also the most expensive macro photography tool.

Conclusion

So which camera option is the best for macro photography? It truly depends on how you define “best.” In moments when you need a compact option, the Fujifilm x100s or Olympus Tough point and shoot are the better options, the latter being the better deal for budget or extreme sports shooters. However, if high-quality, professional imagery is your goal, a DSLR with a macro lens is your best bet.


macro-coverWant to learn more about macro photography? Check out Ed Versosky’s Introduction to Close-Up & Macro Photography ebook – just $10 (over 30% off) this week with coupon code: DPS. You will need to enter the code to apply the discount.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Suzi Pratt is an internationally published Seattle event and food photographer. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. She is also a prolific blogger who teaches others how to run a successful photography business.

  • Leif Sikorski

    I like the OM-D E-M5 / 1 for it. The 5-axis stabilization can be extremely helpful for handheld macros, there are plenty of functions that help with focusing, the sensor is a good mix between slightly larger DoF while still delivering a good quality and the 60mm macro lens from Olympus is pretty good.
    But there are many good options on the market.

  • Joe Hamblin

    It might be helpful to mention reverse mount adapters, they cost 5-10 dollars online, are available for almost all dslr’s, and are capable of producing high quality macro images, even with an inexpensive lens. DPS has a couple articles that refer to them. This picture was taken with a Sony a580 with a 18-55mm kit lens reverse mounted…

  • Clive

    A top Dslr and a ludicrously expensive lens is what you need.

  • in my view Olympus is the best camera from the above list.

  • Emence

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  • Tonima Akter

    Wow!! I love all cameras. These are really beautiful.

  • Hilltop Dreamer

    The tg3 and tg4 have an optional inexpensive ring flash that can be mounted on the lense that overcomes the light obstruction issue. Also you could add in a mirror less option ie Olympus em10 with 60mm macro lense

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    Assuming this whole article is written tongue-in-cheek, surely the “BEST” camera is not any of the three mentioned. A Quarter-plate view camera with a specialised Macro lens (can you afford a Mamiya LEAF camera and a lens to go with it?) will outperform any of those for most static subjects – but not all! And the examples chosen are not representative of their class.
    Most cameras marketed as ‘Mirrorless’ are in fact interchangeable lens models. Even the Fuji ‘Xa’ range have interchangeable lenses; Fuji make a superb f60mm F2.4 macro lens. After all, point-and-shoot models are also mirrorless, just not called that.
    The absence of a mirror has nothing to do with the camera’s capability to shoot Macro.
    It boils down to how easy is the camera to use for the shots you want to take. I have a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera with a Macro lens, which doesn’t weigh half as much as a big name-brand SLR camera. It is great for shooting live subjects. With a [relatively] long focal length, you can be farther back from your subject. But every camera has its limitations.
    So what is needed is the ability to control the exposure, closely frame the subject without introducing unwanted distortion, and without interfering with the lighting.

  • tom rose

    One serious problem with macro photography is getting more than a millimetre or two of depth of field, yet retaining a wide enough aperture to use a fast shutter speed to avoid movement blur. To get truly wonderful macro shots you need to take several shots at a number of different focus depths, then use software to combine them. The “best” macro camera would be one that could do focus bracketing automatically, just as most good cameras nowadays can do exposure bracketing and/or combine different exposures in HDR images. In other words the “best” camera for macro work does not (yet?) exist!

  • Tracy2584
  • Truly depends on what you’re shooting and what kind of resolution and quality you’re going for. I wouldn’t for instance rely on the point-and-shoot to do macro photos for a commercial advertising client, but for my own personal use, sure.

  • Depends on what you’re shooting and why, but I agree–the Olympus truly surprised me with its quality.

  • Joe_Exceptional_American

    This article would be significantly more meaningful if the pictures were representative of what one typically buys and uses a macro lens for. I enjoy DPS but seriously, why not just take a picture of a wall?

  • Fair point. Personally and professionally, I do use macro lenses to mostly take photos of products and nature, so I was drawing on my own background. But will definitely take your comment into consideration for future articles. I appreciate the feedback!

  • elhacedordeluces

    u r right, they are awesome, nice shot bro…

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  • Suzi, I have a canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro Lens, for taking pictures of jewelry and rings. I need a DSLR camera body upgrade. What is the best bang for your buck? You recommend Canon 5DS, however that is $3700 camera. Is there anything else you recommend that is comparable to the Canon 5DS. I currently have a 12 megapixel canon camera, and I want to improve photos with new lighting and camera body.

  • Hi Christine,

    I don’t remember recommending the Canon 5DS–I’ve never used it before, although I hear good things about it. Instead, I would recommend the cheaper and just as comparable (quality-wise) Canon 6D.

  • Oliver Fuhrmann

    My favourite combo is the Sony A7s(mirrorless) with the Canon 100mm Macro IS. Best of both worlds. Lets you safely bump up the ISO a bit to compensate for a larger DoP. Looking forward the the rest of this series of articles 🙂

  • CrazyMoose

    I started with a Canon Ixus 105 and now have a PowerShot SX410IS. Not really professional, but I’m quite happy with my macro shots.

  • mike

    Hi Bob,
    Very nice article! How about Nikon j5 for macro? I like Fuji. I make my videos with canon 500 HS http://www.aquariumlife.eu and looking for some better quality camera. Thanks
    Mike

  • tikibam

    The more difficult subjects I have ever photographed are spiders.I’ve been using a Canon SX-160 IS series until I find the upgrade that is comparable. having something in my pocket at the ready when I go out into a garden at night with a hand-held light is valuable. Often I have to follow a shy spider into a tight hiding hovel where I stick the lens right up close as possible to reduce cropping. Some are the size of my fingernail. I have to get close to identify them as well. Good technique gives great results with any camera, in my experience. The comments and the article here are quite useful as many times it is good to be reminded of the many options available to photographers here in the digital age. Anyone is welcome to view my pictures on link below at my google + page .
    https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/116759210626559166420/116759210626559166420/photos

  • Monomatapa

    Something to consider in macro, is that you really need a camera which displays the depth of sharpness correctly. This means that you want to be able to close the diaphragm, manually, in order to consider which parts of your image will be sharp.
    Loads of cameras can’t do that anymore, I noticed in a quick assessment.
    I’m a returning photographer, and are eager to find some good equipment…

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