Macro photography starts with a passionate curiosity about the life of the world’s tiniest subjects. You are eager to find out more and reveal the unseen part of the world. You wish to capture micro-moments of pure beauty. But for that, you need more than a passion. You need adequate photography gear, and it all starts with the camera. How do you choose the best camera for macro photography? Here is everything you need to know to make an informed decision and start your journey as a macro photographer.
Types of Cameras: Pros and Cons
The best camera for macro photography matches your workflow, style, preferred subject matter, technical skills, and intention. There are four types of cameras you can choose from.
DSLRs are professional digital cameras with interchangeable lenses and provide the best image quality due to the large sensor. They feature every characteristic you may wish for and incorporate the best technology. You can mix the DSLR with a high-end macro lens and take sharp macro photos in any lighting condition and environment. However, DSLRs require a learning curve and are expensive, heavy, bulky, and not too easy to use. Moreover, you have to consider the price of the lens too.
Mirrorless cameras incorporate almost all the features of a DSLR in a smaller and lighter body. You can easily carry a mirrorless camera anywhere you go. They are also more silent, which is a plus if you photograph animals and insects. Mirrorless cameras also have interchangeable lenses, so you can mix them with the macro lens of your choice. They are not cheaper than DSLRs, so they are still pretty expensive, and you still have to buy the lens.
Bridge cameras are fixed lens cameras that provide a wide zoom range, manual controls, the body design of a DSLR, and the characteristics of a compact camera. They feature very short minimum focusing distances (e.g., Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV has a minimum focusing distance of 3cm (1.2″) at zoom out and 73.15cm (28.8″) at zoom in) and allow you to take macro shots. Bridge cameras are lighter, cheaper, and much easier to use than a DSLR. However, you can’t change the lens; the sensor is small; the camera doesn’t work very well in low light conditions.
Point-and-Shoot Cameras (Compact Cameras)
They are fully automated cameras that don’t require much learning or understanding of the photographic process. Compact cameras are always ready to shoot, lightweight, cheap, and easy to use. They have a fixed lens, an average zoom range, and much more electronics than optics. But versatility comes with a price. Compact cameras don’t deliver the image quality macro photographs require, work poorly in low light conditions, and don’t allow you to improve their performance in any way. For instance, you can’t get a lens with another focal length or use an external flash.
Professional macro photographers use cameras with interchangeable lenses that provide the best image quality, RAW support, sharp details, and high performance in low light conditions. They don’t compromise on quality. However, especially for beginners, a bridge or even a compact camera may be a good starting point. Check out the following features that define a good camera for macro photography and make a decision based on your budget, preferences, and skills.
Features to Look for in a Camera for Macro Photography
Digital cameras have long lists of technical specifications, and all of them are important at some level. These are the top features to check when buying a camera for macro photography:
The larger the sensor is, the higher the image quality. Full-frame DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have the largest sensor in their market range and perform well in low lighting conditions. Medium format cameras have larger sensors than full-frame cameras and provide even higher resolutions, but lacks in other aspects like high frame rates.
Getting the focus right in your macro photographs is a struggle. You need a camera with a fast and silent autofocus system able to detect and track a moving subject and perform well in low light conditions.
Due to their high magnification ratio, macro lenses are prone to motion blur. Look for a camera with in-body optical image stabilization to reduce the risk of camera shake.
High ISO Values
Outdoor macro photography requires adaptability to unpredictable lighting. The subject may be in the shadows, or you may cast your shadow over it or shoot on an overcast day. Without the help of a flash for macro photography, you will have to increase the ISO value to keep the shutter speed fast. As a result, you need a camera with good performance at high ISO values.
Because the depth-of-field is sliver thin at high magnification, many macro photographers use focus stacking (i.e., stacking several images with slightly different focus points). Cameras with focus shift automatically adjust focus over a series of shots and produce images ready for stacking.
As image quality is your priority, RAW support is a must. You need to be able to record as much visual information as possible to achieve accurate colors and sharp details.
Available Native Macro Lenses
This is a good-to-have feature because native macro lenses produce higher image quality, perform better with their corresponding camera models, and include the latest technical innovations. When buying a camera with interchangeable lenses, it’s good to know you have plenty of lens options.
Top Candidates for the Best Camera for Macro Photography
Nikon D850 is a full-frame DSLR featuring a high 45.7MP resolution, 64-25,600 ISO range, 7fps continuous shooting speed, focus shift, autofocus, and more. It is a high-end camera compatible with AF NIKKOR lenses and Nikon accessories. The large sensor size allows you to take sharp pictures in low light conditions and at high ISO values. D850 is weather-resistant and weighs 901g (1.98lbs).
The EOS 5D Mark IV is a high-end full-frame DSLR that features Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF and a 61-point AF system for smooth and fast autofocus. It provides a 30.4MP resolution, 100-32,000 ISO range, 7fps continuous shooting speed, RAW support, dual card slots, and built-in GPS and Wi-Fi. The camera is compatible with Canon EF lenses. The EOS 5D Mark IV weighs 890g (1.96lbs).
An awarded and acclaimed full-frame mirrorless camera, Z9 may be your best camera for macro photography. It is very fast and accurate and able to take 45.7MP photographs at an action-freezing 30 fps. It provides a wide dynamic range, autofocus with eye detection for people and animals, RAW support for photos and videos, dual card slots, and a resistant magnesium alloy shell. Z9 is compatible with Nikon’s Z range lenses. It weighs 1340g (2.95lbs).
The EOS R7 is a mirrorless camera with a 32.5MP APS-C CMOS sensor, fast continuous shooting up to 15fps, and in-body stabilization. It features Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF autofocus technology and 100-32,000 ISO range. The EOS R7 is compatible with Canon’s RF mount lenses, so you can use it with Canon’s most popular macro lens, the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM. It’s a light camera; it weighs only 612g (1.34lbs).
A great camera from Sony is the A7 IV, a full-frame mirrorless camera with a 33MP resolution, 10fps continuous shooting speed, in-body image stabilization, and real-time autofocus for people, animals, and birds. It features a very broad dynamic range, reaching ISO 204,800. a7 IV is compatible with E-mount lenses. Although Sony doesn’t offer many macro lens options, you can find plenty of E-mount third-party macro lenses (e.g., Sigma, 7Artisans, Tokina, Voigtlander). The camera weighs only 659 g (1.45 lbs).
GFX 50S aims to deliver the best image quality thanks to its large sensor (43.8mm x 32.9mm). It is a medium format mirrorless camera with a 51.4MP resolution, single and continuous autofocus, RAW support, 100-12,800 ISO range, and 3fps continuous shooting speed. GFX 50S is not a fast camera nor a lightweight one (it weighs 920g (2.02lbs)) but delivers amazing color accuracy and clarity. It is compatible with G-mount lenses, which gives you just one macro lens option, Fujinon GF 120mm f/4 R LM OIS WR Macro.
RX10 Mark IV is a bridge camera. It has a fixed lens with a 24-600mm focal length range (25x optical zoom) and f/2.4-4 maximum aperture range. The minimum focusing distance varies between 3cm (1.2″) at zoom out and 73.15cm (28.8″) at zoom in. Therefore, the camera lets you get close enough to take macro photos. It also features manual focus and a fast autofocus system, 24fps continuous shooting with AF/AE, and a 100–12,800 ISO range. The only drawback is the small 1-inch (20.1 MP) sensor.
If you want to try macro photography with a compact camera, Lumix LX10 may be for you. It’s a premium compact camera with a 24-72mm f1.4-2.8 lens, 1-inch (20.1 MP) sensor, optical image stabilization, and a lens ring for controlling aperture and one for a functionality of your choice. It doesn’t have a viewfinder but has a tilting touch-enabled 3-inch LCD. In macro mode, it focuses at 3cm (1.2″); otherwise, it focuses at 30cm (11.81″). Lumix LX10 weighs 310 g (0.68 lbs).
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Macro photography is an artistic and versatile genre that allows you to choose your preferred subject matter and capture all its details. Although it requires dedicated gear and plenty of practice, it rewards you with unique perspectives and artful compositions. So, choose the best camera for macro photography according to your goals and style and make the most of it. Are you a fan of macro photography? Let us know what camera model you use and why. We are happy to know your preferences and discover more good cameras for macro photography.