'Macro'' is a funny word in the photographic context, is it not? After all, macro is defined in the dictionary as ''long, large, great, excessive'', but when used as an adjective for a lens it means short, small, teeny and weeny. Why are these lenses not called micro lenses?
As a matter of fact, the Nikon corporation does just that. Its close-up lenses are called Micro-Nikkor. Very sensible.
Now, having cleared up that little semantic confusion, let's move along to another misconception, to wit, that a lens designated macro must be only for taking close-up photos of very small things. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The 60mm Micro Nikkor and the 105mm Macro Canon are both superb general-purpose lenses, particularly well suited to portraiture. It just so happens that the macro lenses are also engineered for extreme close-up photography, such as the M.Zuiko 60mm Olympus macro lens reviewed today. We would recommend to anyone thinking of adding a medium focal-length prime lens to their kit that they seriously consider the macro option, even if you don't have any immediate plans to photograph the eye of an ant. Sigma and Tamron also make excellent macro primes that surpass any zoom lens for their sharpness, contrast and colour fidelity.
We recently wrote about the technique of focus stacking to increase depth of field, and if there is one type of photograph where depth of field is a problem, it is with the extreme close-up. The closer you get to the fly, the harder it is to get its eyes, wings and tail sharp. Stopping down the aperture only gets you so far.
A tripod is essential for close-up work, along with a cable release.
And one other item of equipment makes the whole job a lot easier - a macro focusing rail or rack. These devices range in price from about $30 to several hundred, depending on how fussy you are about the engineering. We settled for the $30 job and haven't regretted it.
The purpose of the rail is to precisely position and steady the camera in relation to the subject. It also gives the option of changing focus by moving the entire rail-camera combination using the rack and pinion mechanism, rather than using the lens focus control.
The three cameras we use for macro work all have a form of manual focus-assist - that is, when live view is activated and the LCD is used as the viewfinder, the image can be enlarged by pressing the same button used for enlarging images in the review mode. What's more, the section of the image that is blown up can be manually selected by moving a bounding box around the screen. This makes precision focusing easy, and is essential when taking a group of seven or more exposures for focus stacking.
There's a whole small world waiting to be explored.
Go for it.