Home Theory Macro photo magnification levels

Macro photo magnification levels

by Güray Dere

Which of the following photos is a macro shot, which is not?

Usually when we see a close-up object like a flower or insect in a photograph, we call that photo macro. We don’t pay much attention to the magnification. It doesn’t matter when describing a good photograph, but if we are interested in the macro, we need to know it as a definition.

When I was using a compact camera, I did a lot of close-ups. With a lens that can close focus to 5cm, I have achieved quite satisfactory images. I didn’t think what could be done or what could be used to get more details. I’ve never seen professional macro shots. If I got too close, the insects flew away, and the closer I got to them, the more detail I could get in a photo. That was the whole point.

So how close can we get? Are all close-up photos always macro?

The first thing we need to decide in the macro shoot is: “framing first or magnification first?”.

If we are approaching more aesthetically and viewing the whole object with its surroundings, the framing is more important to us. The magnification rate that creates the frame we want is the value. We usually work at low magnifications. So we use general purpose equipment that can operate at different magnifications.

If we focus on the details, we try to create the appropriate frame at that magnification by selecting our equipment for a certain magnification. Although bellows or helicoids provide a certain degree of flexibility for variable magnification, this is usually in a narrow range. We’re dealing with a more specific area of the object. Like a fly’s portrait.

I have classified some magnifications according to the equipment and the difficulty.


This is usually the case with large-area shots that we emphasize the framing. By definition, if we do less than 1:1 magnification we call them close-ups. For example, since the size of a butterfly is naturally much larger than the sensor of our camera, we cannot use 1X to frame it all. 0.25X or maybe less magnification will be appropriate.

The photos we take with non-macro lenses or with tele lenses, are in this class. Most zoom lenses are not actually macro lenses, as their magnification is below 0.5X even if they are called “macro”.

In some sources, 0.5X magnification is also included in the macro definition, but I will call 0.5X and below as close-up.

1:1 magnification

Long after I started taking pictures, I learned that there was a certain limit about macro shoting. 1:1 magnification, briefly 1X is the limit that determines whether a photo is a real macro.

When we say 1X, it doesn’t sound impressive. It doesn’t seem like we’re actually magnifying it if it is only 1X 🙂 Then we need to interpret it in another way. The 1X magnification is that the real size of the object and the projection of it on the camera’s sensor is the same when we focus on it. So if you are shooting a fly of 1cm, your sensor will have a 1cm long image.

In the photo below, we can show the situation in a fictional way.

1:1 büyütme makro lens
1:1 magnification

Well, if we wonder how many pixels this 1cm fly will be, we have to calculate. Our sensor size and its resolution (megapixels) will determine it.
If we know the size of a pixel on the sensor, we also know how many pixels will be in 1cm . Let’s shoot this photo with the Pentax K-x. According to APS-C (23.6 x 15.8 mm) sensor with 4352 x 2868 resolution:

23.6mm sensor —-> 4352 pixel

10mm (fly) —–> ? pixel

If we calculate the proportion, a 1cm fly is 1844 pixels with the Pentax K-x at 1:1 magnification. After that, we have the chance to calculate the actual length of any object we take with the same magnification. For example, if the diameter of the eye of the same fly is 400 pixels in the photo, we can find out that it is (400 x 23.6 / 4352) = 2.16mm in real life . 

Above 1:1 magnification

At this point I skip all the definitions, because actual fun begins above 1X. There are soooo many methods to achieve these magnifications. There’s a road without end. And I plan to publish many articles to tell you everything I’ve tried.

Even though the 1X – 4X range is getting harder and harder, we can still shoot handhald, without loosing our freedom of wandering outdoors. In fact, 4X is very difficult to get a shot handheld 🙂 Pressing shutter button without shaking the hand and having breath control is like a sniper shooting. If you didn’t complete your military service as a good shooter, you’ll probably give up at 4X in hand.

Above 5X magnification

After this level, shooting is done only in a controlled environment with fixed mechanisms and very good lighting. You immediately understand that you have entered a completely different world, and you expect the result of each photo with great curiosity. Because what you’re going to see is something you can’t see with the naked eye anymore. The surprises are waiting for you…

For example, when I took the following 8x photo, I thought I would see an aphid, but I met a mother and a baby 🙂 The baby aphid was thought to be a dust particle with the naked eye.

Mother aphid and the baby

Above 10X magnification

After 10X, our camera looks like it came from space 🙂 We actually use more laboratory tools than photographic materials. The name of the work cahnges, we call it photomicrography. There are also different names. We attach lenses used in microscopes or some other industrial machines. The tripod can’t even provide the vibration-free environment we want. We need to secure our gear and the object firmly. We use the remote control for the shutter. Precision rails with micrometers are used for focusing.

After a general look at the magnification rates, I can look back up and answer the question I asked in the first sentence.

  1. Close-up
  2. Close-up
  3. 1:1 macro
  4. 12X macro (photomicrography)

Güncelleme: May 15, 2015

How do you measure the magnification?

After talking in numbers, let’s see how to measure the magnification value in practice. The kind of mechanisms we use in the macro shot are endless. There’s no way to predict how much magnification each one has.

If you are using a 1: 1 macro lens, the magnification of the nearest focus is 1X. Or a special lens like the Canon MP-E 65 will give us the magnification value in the 1X-5X range both on the lens and on EXIF information. What about if we connect a reversed 40mm enlarger lens on a 200mm long bellows? Or if we connect a reversed 50mm lens in front of a 200mm lens? What is the magnification?

We need to measure this. For measurement we need to know our sensor size. And we need a piece of paper, a ruler, a pen. And of course a photograph.

For example, the sensor size of the Sony A7II body I use at the moment is 35.8mm. If I draw a line of this length on a sheet of paper, this will be the 1X line. In any lens system, when I look through the viewfinder, if 1X line fully fills the framing it means I’m at 1X magnification. The length of the object we shoot at 1:1 magnification is the same as the length of the image on the sensor. Then the 35.8mm line length will match the 35.8mm sensor length fully.

When I’m at 2X magnification, a line with a half-length of the previous one should now fill the framing. In this way, we obtain a paper by drawing proportional lines according to our camera’s sensor height.

I created these lines precisely with Photoshop, and I did it for magnification values up to 40X. When I print this, I’ll have a scale paper. All I have to do now is to look through the viewfinder with any lens system and find out which line fills my frame. This will show me the magnification value for that that lens. I recommend you keep a magnification paper prepared in this way.

If it is not possible to prepare and print it on the computer, a pen and a ruler will work. You don’t have to mark high magnifications. You can also use a millimetric paper for convenience. Then there’s no need for a ruler.

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