Guide to Macro Equipment

Some of the mini projects in Camera Creativity are best shot using macro equipment or settings so this blog post sets out some of your options and a few tips if you're looking to explore the close up world of macro.

Faking a natural scene of cow parsley against a fence


Macro/Close up Mode

This is either accessed via a button or dial on the camera - usually with the little flower icon - or via the Scene Modes menu (SCN).

Whilst this is called Macro still on some cameras it is in fact merely a close up mode. It allows your camera to focus much closer than normal but is not true macro.

Close up lenses

  • The cheapest option for exploring macro - these lenses simply screw to the front of your lens. Therefore, your camera lens has to have a filter thread on it for you to use this. These are great for both SLR shooters and some bridge style cameras.

  • Close up lenses usually come in sets of 4 lenses with different magnifications - x1, x2, x4, x10 etc. They can be used in combinations to achieve a greater magnification.

  • Sets cost between £15 and £20 so this is a cost effective way to turn any lens into a macro style lens.

  • You need to buy the set with the correct diameter for your lens - so if you want to try different lenses you will have to have more than one set.

Tips: Once you screw any of these lenses you will need to get closer and closer to your subject - the higher the magnification the closer you need to be. They work best in plenty of light.

Extension Tubes

  • Extension tubes are attached between your lens and the body of the camera so will only be suitable for SLR and some compact system cameras.

  • They work by moving the front of the lens further away from the sensor which enables a closer focusing distance.

  • Cheaper ones may not enable your autofocus to work so check this before purchase

  • Third party ones are good value compared to own brand versions - which are usually sold singly rather than in a set

Tips: Because you are adding length to your lens these are often best used with lenses with shorter focal lengths - this avoids excessively front heavy cameras which may be hard to hand hold. To get best results you may wish to place the camera on a tripod.

Macro lenses

  • A macro lens generally refers to lenses capable of a minimum of 1:1 magnification. These lenses are relatively expensive as they have higher quality optics to enable good results.

  • They are usually prime lenses; zoom lenses labelled as macro are not usually as good optically and offer a lower magnification ratio

  • A focal length of 60 - 105mm is often recommended as the best focal length for macro work - especially if you are interested in insects/wildlife subjects as they will enable you to get close without scaring them off

  • There are many lenses to choose from with some third party manufacturers producing great lenses at a lower cost than your camera’s brand as well as good deals in the second hand market

Tips: You may find hand holding a macro lens does not get you pin sharp results so a tripod will be useful. Some macro lenses work better if you use manual focusing.


Android phones: Some android phones allow you to select a macro focusing distance. You are likely to need to be in Pro mode for this - swipe right on most handsets to access the options. Find the focus settings and slide towards the flower symbol (exactly the same as the Close up mode on a camera)

iPhones: iPhones do not have a specific macro setting I am afraid. But you will get excellent results from the Macro mode in the excellent Camera+2 app (£3.99 on the App Store) I used this to get the cow parsley shot above.

Clip on macro lenses

There are also plenty of clip on lenses available that will give you macro capability. But...most only fit one model of phone - so when you upgrade you'll have to replace this as well.

And you get what you pay for so the really cheap ones will not have as good quality lenses as the expensive ones and therefore you may not get great results.

Please contact me if you have any questions about the equipment discussed in this post!

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All images © Sarah Holmes 2021 No reproduction without prior permission.