When looking at what macro cameras are available, it's easy to get overwhelmed. There is a lot to choose from, and some of the terminology varies depending on manufacturer. I will try to add some clarity to the subject, by breaking down the differences between different styles of camera.
I'll also pass on some basic digital camera information that
a better-informed consumer, and will surely improve your macro
Sounds good? Let's roll!
But first, here are other topics we cover in this Macro Photography Equipment section:
When we're talking about new cameras, we're talking digital only. Digital cameras own the market. Film photographers can find used 35mm cameras, cheap, with just a little digging.Heavy competition and a drive to innovate have spurred manufacturers to develop digital cameras that are ever lighter, faster, less expensive, and that deliver outstanding photo quality. In recent years, cell-phone cameras and smartphones have gotten better and better, and accessories are available that can turn them into impressive macro cameras. As versatile and ubiquitous as phone cameras are, I believe compact or point-and-shoot camera will eventually disappear from the market.
In a nutshell, camera styles can be organized
cameras have to cram a lot of technology into a very small case, so
it's understandable that they are short on features, compared to a
DSLR camera. On the other hand, it's hard to slip a single-lens reflex
camera into your
pocket or purse, and almost all cell phones come with cameras.
Any serious search for macro cameras will eventually lead you to the digital single-lens reflex, or DSLR camera. These cameras are defined as having interchangeable lenses, and a mirrored viewfinder that displays the actual taking image (as opposed to a rangefinder camera). They vary in the size of their sensors, also called chips.
The size of a single frame of 35 mm film is 24 x 36mm; this size is the standard to which DSLR chips are compared. Cameras with a full-sized chip, i.e., equal in size to 35 mm film, are expensive and are capable of producing awesome-to-behold images. The larger the chip, the less an image has to be enlarged to reach any given display size. If you have the budget for one of these babies, go for it, and happy hunting!
Fortunately, many excellent DSLR cameras sport chip sizes considerably smaller than full-size. In fact, a camera with full-sized chip is probably overkill for most macro photography. If we were to compare images made with small-chip vs. large chip cameras, I doubt any of us would notice a difference in overall quality until we approach poster-sized enlargements.
Most of us display our photographs on computer screens or as small prints. The true benefits of a full-sized chip won't be realized until we substantially enlarge our images.
Not to confuse the issue, but larger sensor chips do have a big advantage over smaller chips: a greater dynamic range. In brief, this means the range of dark and light values that can be recorded in a single photograph without loss of detail. See the digital camera sensors section for more info on this topic.Smaller-chip DSLR cameras use lenses with shorter focal lengths to achieve the same coverage. The advantage of this is that lenses need less glass and are therefore less expensive. On the down side, it means that lenses made for film cameras with compatible lens mounts no longer produce the same image you've grown to expect (smaller chips essentially crop out the center of a full-size image, so a given lens works as a longer focal length lens). No ultra-wide or fish-eye lenses, either, although that's of little concern for macro photographers.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you
prepare to purchase a macro camera:
|Compact cameras, including phone cameras||"Bridge" cameras||SLR cameras|
|Lens mount style?||Fixed||Fixed||Interchangeable|
|Chip size?||Small||Small-med.||Small to full-size|
|Close focusing?||Variable: fair to excellent||Good to excellent||Good to excellent, with macro lens or wide range of close-up accessories.|
That's the little female screw thread on the bottom of the camera.
These are a standard size (1/4"-20), and allow any camera to be mounted
tripod or similar camera support. Almost all cameras have
it's worth checking before you buy.
Are there macro cameras that are indisputably "the best"?
Probably not. But
there is certainly a best macro camera out there for you and your style
If you want to pursue macro photography, and you have found a system, chosen from the hundreds of film or digital cameras out there, that focuses close and feels good in your hand, congratulations! You've won the battle.
Now get out and Start Photographing!