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Thread: Macro vs. Zoom / Telephoto

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    Macro vs. Zoom / Telephoto

    I am wondering when you would want to use a macro lens vs a zoom/telephoto. I guess I really dont understand the function differences between the 3 lenses. If someone could explain the differances, feel free to leave out the super complexities of the internals on the lens if you wish. Thanks again CiC.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Macro vs. Zoom / Telephoto

    Quote Originally Posted by Tri Danimal View Post
    I am wondering when you would want to use a macro lens vs a zoom/telephoto. I guess I really dont understand the function differences between the 3 lenses. If someone could explain the differances, feel free to leave out the super complexities of the internals on the lens if you wish. Thanks again CiC.
    High level explanation:

    A macro lens is used for extreme closeup images.

    A zoom lens has variable focal lengths. It lets you cover the range of several fixed focus (prime) lenses.

    A telephoto brings things that are far away closer.

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    Re: Macro vs. Zoom / Telephoto

    The telephoto and zoom lens usually because of manufacturing considerations do not in themselves focus very close.... typically it used to be around five feet... this means that while you have a narrow angle of view which helps towards the tight framing one needs a 'close-up' lens to enable these lenses to focus close to equal the results one gets from a macro lens. the result of adding the CU lens is that the focusing range is limited. Instead of from infinity down to say 5 ft with a two dioptre 500mm CU lens one is restricted to perhaps between 500mm [ which the camera's AF thinks is infinity ] and maybe 13 inches. Different cameras different t ranges ... my old Nikon 5700 was 20" > 9" while my Panasonic FZ's are 20 > 13 or maybe 15" as my calculator corrected me recently.

    The macro lens is more convenient since it focuses from infinity down to whatever distance gives True Macro which is when the image on the sensor is the same size as the subject. Also known as 'Double Extension" and "1:1".... If you have a longer 'macro' lens I gather people use it as their portrait lens, say a 60mm on APS-C cameras. Beware of macro labeled lenses which do not focus to 1:1 but perhaps only 2:1.

    The advantage of using a longer lens is that they keep you away from the subject permitting easier lighting and safety from dangerous subjects. The thing to remember that we are after a tight framing and going in close is not always the best approach.

    The alternative to a close-up lens is the extension tube and/or bellows.

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    Re: Macro vs. Zoom / Telephoto

    So the major difference is the relative physical location of the subject and the photographer?

    For example: A Macro would be used when the photographer can be extremely close to the subject without disrupting it, say a flower portrait. A telephoto lens would be used when the photographer needs to use distance as their friend between themselves and a subject, say a hawk eating a squirrel?

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    Re: Macro vs. Zoom / Telephoto

    Quote Originally Posted by Tri Danimal View Post
    So the major difference is the relative physical location of the subject and the photographer?

    For example: A Macro would be used when the photographer can be extremely close to the subject without disrupting it, say a flower portrait. A telephoto lens would be used when the photographer needs to use distance as their friend between themselves and a subject, say a hawk eating a squirrel?
    Well, more or less.
    It's really about focus distance. Macro lenses will typically allow you to get between 1:2 and 1:1 magnification ratios. For example, a 100mm Macro will focus at a point about 6 - 8" from the subject. The Telephoto on the other hand may only get to 4 or 5 feet at the closest point of focus. Obviously the closer you can get to your subject the more magnification (and fine detail) you'll get.
    They really are two different types of lens although a 100mm Macro will focus to infinity and do the same job as a prime 100mm, but will probably be slower (smaller max aperture) and cost considerably more.

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    Re: Macro vs. Zoom / Telephoto

    There is another consideration: true macro lenses are 'flat field' lenses. That means, for instance, a sheet of paper will be shown in perfect focus from corner to corner by a macro lens when photographed from in close.

    This is not the case with normal lenses. The curvature of the lens elements means that the plane of focus for the lens is actually curved, too. Now for a lens that has a curve of, say ~1 cm, this is impossible to see when photographing objects at the usual distance of say 2 meters and beyond; because the depth of focus at that distance far exceeds the curvature of the lens so you would never notice the field of focus is itself curved.

    When you get in really close, though, the depth of focus will quickly drop below 1 cm; and at this point, it is impossible to focus a normal lens so that both the center and the edges of the image are in focus at the same time. Using smaller apertures can help increase the overall depth of focus, but the problem of a curved field of focus is still there.

    That's where true macro lenses, as 'flat field' lenses, come into their own. They are designed to provide a focal plane that is uniform from edge to edge, so what is in focus in the center will be in focus at the same distance around the edges of the image. If you are doing close-ups of small flat objects, such as stamps and banknotes and coins, a true flat field macro lens is essential.

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    Re: Macro vs. Zoom / Telephoto

    This has been explained above but, maybe I can add something to he explanations...

    "Macro" lenses have close-up capability and can focus close enough to provide (in most cases) the photographer with a 1:1 subject:image ratio; in which the image on the sensor is the same size as the subject. These macro lenses are always prime (cannot zoom) focal lengths and vary from 50mm to 180mm. I mentioned that the macro lens produces a 1:1 image ratio "in most cases" but, the Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro lens and the Phoenix 100mm f/3.5 macro lens will only produce a ratio in which the image is 1/2 the size of the subject without using a special adapter to gain a 1:1 ratio. On the other hand, the Canon MP-E65 is a specialty macro lens which can only produce imagery from 1:1 (image same size as subject) to 5:1 (image 5x the size of the subject). Macro lenses other than the MP-E65 can focus from infinity down to the 1:1 or 1:2 image ratios. The MP-E65 cannot be used for shooting other than macro photos.

    The various focal lengths in which true macro lenses are available produce only one variance in shooting, that is the camera to subject distance. As an example, if I used a 60mm macro, a 90mm macro, a 100mm macro, a 150mm macro and a 180mm macro all at 1:1 image ratio, the images will be the same. However, the camera to subject distance will vary with the 60mm lens having the shortest and the 180mm lens the longest camera to subject distance. The advantages of the longer focal length lenses are that the camera will not frighten creepie crawlies you are photographing and with the longer lens to subject distance, it is easier to light your macro shots. Disadvantages of the longest focal length macro lenses are extra weight and extra cost. IMO, the macro lenses with focal lengths of 90mm to 105mm are a good compromise between cost, weight and lens to subject distance.

    Macro lenses (other than the MP-E65) can be used as lenses for general photography and often make quite nice portrait lenses. The auto focus capability of the macro lenses differs between brand and model. As an example, I jave a 90mm f/2.8 Tamron Macro lens which is wonderful for macro work but, doesn't auto focus quite fast enough to make it viable for a lot of general shooting. I most often shoot my macros in manual focus mode so the speed of auto focus doesn't concern me.

    Another advantage of true macro lenses is that they are optimized for close up work and often have exceptionally high resolution.

    Now for zoom lenses which have the term "macro" added onto their designators. They are quite simply zoom lenses with a fairly close focusing capability. Tacking them with a "macro" designator is a sales ploy. However, the rationale behind calling these lenses "macro" is that when a lens focuses down to say 1:3 or 1:4, the size of the image on the sensor is 1/3 or 1/4 the size of the subject. But, when the image on the sensor is enlarged to say 4x6 inches, the resultant image ratio is very close to 1:1.

    When shooting with a Canon 1.6x crop camera, at a 1:1 image ratio, your image will only cover an area of 22.2 x 14.8mm, the Nikon 1.5 crop sensor will cover a maximum area of 23.6 x 15.7, and the full frame sensors will cover a maximum area of 36 x 24mm.

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    Re: Macro vs. Zoom / Telephoto

    Hope I don't confuse things.

    There is a good macro tutorial on this site which is worth getting to grips with and trying to understand. There is one aspect of that which I would like to discuss with the site owners but not sure about where to do that.

    Macro lenses generally have very low distortion and flat fields as mentioned. Resolution also tends to be higher than other types. They are also optimised to work at shorter distances. Generally lens aberrations over these distances will be low. Very low we hope as they have a difficult job to do and optics are never perfect. They come in various focal lengths. Basically the longer one give more working distance but often lower magnifications. A 100mm one for instance will often reproduce things at 1/2 size on the sensor. 50mm full size. Bellows lens are also or were available for higher magnification. These are optimised to work with very long distances between the lens and the sensor and often rather high magnifications. A reasonable substitute is a typical manual 50mm lens mounted the wrong way round on the bellows. This works because the end which is usually nearest to the sensor is optimised to work over short distances. The tutorial mentions extension tube and close up adapters.

    On the other hand zoom lenses might best be described as jacks of all trades and true masters of none. Quality varies however so it's hard to offer a definitive answer. One thing for sure despite having macro tagged on the name they are unlikely to match a true macro lens at short distances. A 100mm macro lens used for ordinary photography may well exceed the capabilities of some zoom lenses set at 100mm.

    The final size of the shot when it's viewed may have a bearing on the choice of which way to go. Small shots of subjects that do not have vast amounts fine detail beyond the capabilities of the lens being used may well look ok. Close up lenses and extension tubes can be used on any lens and the results may be fine for how things finish up in the end. Added because there are many difficulties associated with taking macro / rather close up shots and buying a macro lens wont just solve them. It's worth having a go with what ever a person has just for the experience. Some subjects are much easier than others and there is no substitute for some hands on experience.

    John

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    Re: Macro vs. Zoom / Telephoto

    For example: A Macro would be used when the photographer can be extremely close to the subject without disrupting it, say a flower portrait. A telephoto lens would be used when the photographer needs to use distance as their friend between themselves and a subject, say a hawk eating a squirrel?
    There is a lot more detail involved, as several posters have explained, but for starting out, your explanation is right on target. You use a telephoto to bring distant subjects closer, as in the example you gave, or in photographing a baseball game. You use a (true) macro lens to allow very close focus, which brings with it higher magnification. True macro lenses focus closely enough to provide 1:1 magnification at minimum focusing distance, meaning that the image of the subject (say, a bug) is the same size on the sensor as in real life. Add extension tubes to a macro lens and you can get (depending on the length of the tubes and the focal length of the lens) magnification of 2:1 or better.

    Macro lenses work fine for other purposes, but there is no particular reason to prefer them to others if you are not going to do macro (very close up) photography.

    If you decide to try a macro lens, a key consideration, as Richard pointed out, is that longer focal lengths give you greater working distance (just as a telephoto is useful for photographing a baseball game). However, while this may be more detail than you want, I would modify this statement a bit:

    if I used a 60mm macro, a 90mm macro, a 100mm macro, a 150mm macro and a 180mm macro all at 1:1 image ratio, the images will be the same. However, the camera to subject distance will vary
    The images of the target will be the same size, but the images will not be identical in other respects. For example, longer focal lengths will provide greater background blur and a narrower field of view. (For examples of background blur with three different macro focal lengths, check out this.) In practice, this often does not matter, because the depth of field in macro photography (at least at minimum focusing distance) is so narrow. If you are shooting on a crop sensor camera, a 60mm is a nice length for flowers, but the short working distance makes bugs even more difficult. 100mm is the most commonly used length for bugs, I think.
    Last edited by DanK; 25th August 2012 at 02:19 PM.

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    Re: Macro vs. Zoom / Telephoto

    Just to add another wrinkle to the equation which seems to be concentrating on how to take close-ups. Most people casually use the word telephoto to indicate a long focus lens. However there is a difference between the long focus lens and a telephoto in physical size ... the telephoto lens is physically shorter for the same focal length. From recent discussions elsewhere I have been reminded that the reverse can be true for wide-angle lenses where the lens to sensor distance cannot be reduced due to the DSLR mirror etc.

    As a side issue I cannot think of a macro situation in practice where I needed the edges of the frame to be sharp ... obviously some will want this but not me so I continue with long zoom and CU lens for most situations. While the hawk eating a squirrel would be a situation where one would need a telephoto lens in the macro situation the telephoto lens with CU lens is used to give separation permitting lighting to reach the subject, avoid disturbing a nervous creature which may fly away etc, or to protect the photographer from a venomous creature....I am sure there are other situations

    The macro lens definitely gives convenience at the expense of usually being a fixed focal length and doesn't have the focusing limitations of CU lens,extension tubes, or bellows. I have yet to buy one since I already have the other three but for somebody starting out I can see the attraction.

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    Re: Macro vs. Zoom / Telephoto

    Uses of a non-macro, close focusing lens...

    My 300mm f/4L IS lens doesn't have the tag, "macro" attached to it, yet it is a fairly close focusing lens which is capable of achieving a 4.92' (1.50 m) lens to subject distance giving a 1:4.1 image ratio. When I add the 1.4x TC, my lens focal length is increased to a 420mm with an f/5.6 aperture and will focus at the same distance giving me approximately a 1:3 image ratio. If I added an extension tube or two, my focus would be somewhat closer (I will experiment using my 20mm tube soon) with a small increase in image ratio.

    It is pretty cool getting close-up shots from almost five feet away.

    A 1:3 image ratio on a 1.6x crop camera will cover a field of approximately 66.6mm x 44.4mm. This would be quite handy for shooting wasps and other nasty little characters from close to five feet away...

    You also need to remember that no one views the crop format image at the sensor size. It is almost always enlarged, providing a greater subject to image ratio...

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