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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.