Beneath the visible lies another visually stimulating world of pattern, color, and detail -- one too small for our eyes to see. Exploring this world photographically requires dedication, discipline, and care.
But the rewards are worth it. Its beauty is made visible to photographers through a number of tools. You can...
• Mount an extension tube between camera and lens (and possibly lose autofocus or autoexposure functions).
• Thread close-up lenses in front of a normal lens (and lose edge sharpness).
• Put a macro bellows between camera and lens (awkward and somewhat expensive, requires a tripod, and will probably not allow AE/AF functions).
• Use one of today's close-focusing digital compact cameras (which usually offer only a few inches of working distance between the camera and subject -- not good for many subjects).
• Buy a true high-magnification macro lens, which is by far the best of all of these options.
True macros focus to 1:1 -- that is, the size of the recorded image equals the object's actual size. You probably won't need much more magnification than that. They usually offer full AE and AF compatibility, don't necessarily need to be mounted on a tripod, and can be used for normal nonmacro photography, too.
What to Look For
• The right focal length. True macro lenses come in a range of focal lengths from wide (35mm) to moderate tele (180mm). Wider focal lengths let you introduce plenty of background in your close-ups for dramatic perspective studies, in which close-up subjects loom in strong contrast to backgrounds that fall away into a defocused distance. Moderate focal lengths can easily be pressed into service as portrait lenses, while longer macros typically offer the greatest working distances -- perfect for skittish critters like insects, pets, and children.
• Close-focusing distance. Choose a lens with a close-focus distance that suits your subject. If you're shooting inanimate tabletop or copystand objects, for example, and would like to easily reach out and adjust subject position or orientation from the camera, look for a macro lens with a short focusing distance (about 12 inches). If, on the other hand, you want some distance -- usually because your living subject needs its space -- look for a lens with a close-focusing distance of 3 feet or longer.
• Autofocus ranges. Because macro lenses focus so closely, their focusing collars commonly have relatively long turning radii. Going from close-focus to infinity can take a lot of cranking -- either for you in manual focus, or for the lens in autofocus. To minimize AF hunting, the best macro lenses offer two or three focusing ranges (e.g., close-up, normal, and full).
Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro
• One element of SLD (super-low-dispersion) glass.
• Close-focus distance: 10.1 in.
• Maximum magnification: 1:1.
• Weight: 1.1 lb.
• Length: 3.7 in.
• Street price: $429
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• Macro Lenses