High magnification photography allows photographers to come in close to a subject, giving the viewer more detail than would be possible with standard lenses. The camera lens acts more or less like a magnifying glass, enlarging small objects so that they fill the frame. Subject matter suitable for this kind of work is generally hard to see with the naked eye and so the photograph gives the viewer a more detailed and unique glimpse at the subject up close. In the natural world, there are many practical applications for this kind of photography. Two examples could be small flowers and insects, among the infinite possibilities. Another approach to high magnification photography has the opposite goal: to move in very close to the subject and create abstract patterns and shapes. These choices give the photographer great latitude in composition and presentation of subject matter. What is most important about this kind of photography is the different technical aspects of the equipment you need to achieve it. First, let us define a few terms so we have a common understanding.
Any photography that magnifies the subject in a range of 10% to life size. In other words, the size of the image captured within the camera is about 10% as tall as the actual size of the subject at the far end and goes on up to 100% as big as the actual subject's size.
Any photography that magnifies the subject in a range of life size to greater than life size. In other words, the size of the image captured within the camera is at least equal to the actual life size of the subject or greater. The range for macro photography starts where closeup photography leaves off.As a practical matter, most lenses produced by leading manufactures that are labeled macro photography lenses actually overlap into the closeup range, usually starting at 50% magnification.
This image was taken of a Hasta plant using a macro lens. A tripod was used to avoid any image blur. Image magnification appears to be around 80%. Coming in this close allows the photographer to choose patterns to create an abstract image. The plant as a species is less readily discernable.
This image was captured with a zoom lens equipped with a closeup lens attachment. In this photo, I used a 2 diopter lens that enlarged the subject enough to pick out more detail than using just a standard lens alone.
There are many devices at a photographer's disposal to magnify the subject. Even more numerous are the different combinations in which they can be used. Keep in mind that if there are too many attachments employed or they are used in the wrong fashion, image quality may suffer. In the table below, I give you a brief synopsis of the most common devices.
Closeup Lens Attachments
Closeup lenses are single pieces of glass that can be easily carried in any camera bag. They simply screw on the front of the lens and are rated using diopters, like common reading glasses. The higher the diopter, the greater the magnification. Most lenses of this type come in diopters of 1, 2 and 3. The diopters can be stacked in front of the lens, but excessive stacking may cause the image to get blurry. As a general rule of thumb, it is suggested to not exceed magnification of 50% with closeup lenses. Closeup lenses have very little effect on the amount of light entering the camera because they are made of clear glass. They also allow the photographer to use the camera's built in autofocus and autoexposure features.
Macro lenses are specially designed for high magnification and may allow greater flexibility than any other accessory. Most macro lenses today can also be used as a standard lens simply by rotating the lens barrel. The macro focusing range is indicated usually at the end of the barrel. They can also be used in combination with just about any other magnification accessory. Because they allow for flexibility and greater magnification with little image degradation, they have become the preferred choice among many professionals and hobbyists. Also, like closeup lenses, they do not interfere with the camera's autofocus and exposure features.
Reversing the Lens
By purchasing a reversal adaptor ring, a standard lens can be turned into a high magnification lens. The reversal ring simply screws or mounts onto the camera body and the lens is mounted from the other end. The advantage to this technique is that you get magnification in the macro range with the purchase of one small accessory. One disadvantage is you lose autofocus and autoexposure capabilities.
Extension tubes magnify an image by putting more distance in between the standard lens and the camera body. They mount on the camera body to come between the standard lens and the camera. Extension tubes fall into two categories: auto and manual. The auto version as you would expect will preserve the autofocus and autoexposure capabilities of the camera, while the manual will not. Like closeup lenses, the conventional measure of an extension tube is put in simple terms: 1, 2 and 3. Also like closeup lens attachments, they can be stacked, at the expense of image quality. Unlike closeup lenses, however, extension tubes will cut down on the amount of light they allow to pass to the camera. For manual tubes, the photographer must calculate exposure settings. Each manual tube should give an exposure factor that tells the photographer how much light is lost with the use of the tube, ie, one stop, one and a half stops, two stops, etc. The use of extension tubes give magnifications that approach life size.
A bellows attachment on a camera gives the photographer a continuous range of magnification without the hassle of fiddling with various extension tubes, closeup lenses, other attachments and their myriad of combinations. It attaches to the camera on one side and the lens on the other side, allowing the lens to move along a rail. Magnification approaches life size. For greater magnification, one may reverse mount the lens that attaches to the bellows. This gives up to six times life size magnification. The loss of light is an issue with any bellows attachment. You will also lose the autofocus and autoexposure features of your camera.