Macro: does it mean more than just "quite close"?

Discussion in 'Digital SLR' started by D.M. Procida, May 20, 2007.

  1. D.M. Procida

    D.M. Procida Guest

    When my camera (Pentax K100, with the kit lens) is in auto mode,
    sometimes it will focus on a very near object and display an icon (the
    universal flower) which I recognise as indicating macro mode.

    This doesn't really seem to be any mode of the lens or camera, it just
    seems to indicate that it has focussed on something quite close (as
    close as 25cm, according to the lens).

    My old Fuji S7000 on the other hand could be placed into a macro mode,
    and would focus on objects almost touching the lens.

    SO firstly, does "macro" really mean anything, and secondly, what was
    the S7000 doing to put itself into macro mode?

    D.M. Procida, May 20, 2007
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  2. The meaning of Macro and Micro has changed with digital.

    In the days of film, Macro indicated that the lens/camera/film
    combination could focus an image of a close subject so that it would appear
    live size on the film. It also means it could focus at infinity so that
    start would be just a point of light. This was the same no matter what film
    size you had, so a one inch object would be one inch long on a 35 mm file or
    an 8x10" film.

    Many times you would find this or that company selling a lens that would
    do life size, but required an adapter. You would even find lenses sold as
    macros that might do close up but not life size.

    Micro lenses were lenses that would focus even closer so the image would
    appear larger on the film than life size so the eye of a frog might fill a
    35mm frame. They usually did not focus to infinity however so they were
    generally very special purpose.

    Since in the digital world, the size of the sensor is not really as
    important as the film size, the meaning and the use of the terms has become
    more less exact. In general most digital cameras/lenses use the terms as
    they would apply to creating an image on the sensor of an object the same
    size that a 35 mm full frame film camera would. So if the sensor in a
    digital camera is half the size of a 35 mm camera and if the image produced
    by a given digital camera/lens produces an image on the sensor half the size
    that the film based macro lens would have, it is usually referred to as a
    macro lens.

    Note: How close the object is to the front element of the lens, has
    little or nothing to do with any of this.

    Note2: Some cameras used some optical tricks like moving internal lens
    elements or adding an internal element to archive closer focusing. They
    generally were lower quality results, but as with most things, there were
    Joseph Meehan, May 20, 2007
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  3. I always thought that the meaning of macro is the same whether it is a
    film or digital camera - at least lifesize (1:1) image of the object
    irrespective of the film/sensor size.
    Gautam Majumdar, May 21, 2007
  4. D.M. Procida

    C J Campbell Guest

    Nowadays a macro mode just means close focusing, not necessarily true
    macro. Actually, 'macro' has always been kind of loosely thrown around.
    Nikon calls all their 'macro' lenses Micro-Nikkors, just to add to the

    "Macro" mode on a camera can mean anything from an automatic exposure
    adjustment for close-ups to limiting the focus range, to actually
    shifting a lens element. There are some cameras I have seen, I can't
    remember which ones, which it is difficult to see that they do anything
    at all.
    C J Campbell, May 21, 2007
  5. D.M. Procida

    Charles Guest

    On Sun, 20 May 2007 22:24:52 +0100,

    The word has been abused so much that it doesn't have much meaning, to
    me at least. It may mean that the lens can be used up close, but it
    is also a warning to look closely at what is claimed for the lens.
    Charles, May 21, 2007
  6. D.M. Procida

    ASAAR Guest

    The S7000 probably splits the lenses focusing into different
    ranges, and uses different software algorithms for each to optimize
    focusing speed and accuracy for each. It's possible that it's not
    purely software, that it may also physically modify some of the
    allowable positioning ranges of lens elements, etc. "Macro" now
    means several things, and my first recollection is that there were
    special macro lenses, such as the Micro Nikkors that were designed
    for not just very close focusing, but focused on a flat, rather than
    a curved field as was typical of more general lenses. This is
    useful for flat subjects such as postage stamps, and less useful for
    insects and flowers. My Fuji S5100 doesn't focus nearly as close as
    the S7000, but IIRC the S7000 may have 2 macro focusing ranges, and
    the S5100 only has one. Or I may be confusing the S7000 with the
    ASAAR, May 21, 2007
  7. D.M. Procida

    Bob Salomon Guest

    Macro always has, and still does, mean a lens that is used at 1:1 and
    closer. Micro is a lens for 14:1 and closer.

    As both are technical sounding advertisers adopted the terms macro and
    micro for lenses that focus close. There are very few lenses marked
    macro or micro that are. One test of a true macro or micro lens is that
    they are not the best performers at infinity.

    An example of a true macro is the Rodenstock Apo Macro Sironar Digital
    120mm, Apo Macro Sironar 120 and 180mm.

    Another excellent macro is any enlarging lens that is reversed mounted
    and used on a bellows or helicoid. Just make sure to block off the
    illuminated aperture port before shooting.
    Bob Salomon, May 21, 2007
  8. It used to have a precise meaning in photography. The meaning was
    a capture of at least 1:1 (1:1 meant that 1 mm in "real life"
    also measured 1 mm on the film negative.)

    In this day and age, it has been abused so much as a marketing
    term that its meaning has been diluted to just mean "close
    When a lens is focused at infinity, its maximum magnification is the
    length of the extension divided by the focal length of the lens.

    This means that to achieve 1x magnification (1:1) you need to add an
    extension 50mm long to a f=50mm lens. For SLR lenses, adding this
    kind of extension to the lens barrel can become quite bulky, and also
    slows down focusing.

    A compact with Fujifilm S7000-size sensor (4.6x crop), where a lens
    with a comparable FOV will achieve 1:1 with only 50mm/4.6=10.9 mm
    extension, is much cheaper to produce.

    In addition, the tiny sensor means that an object that fills the frame
    on a SLR @ 1:1 (43.3 mm), will almost fill the frame @ 1:4 (2.7 mm
    extension). As you see, endowing a compact with built-in "macro" is
    much easier to produce than a SLR macro lens.

    I don't know what happens when you put the S7000 in the "macro"
    mode, but my guess is that it is manufactured with the extra
    2.7 mm extension, but that this isn't normally available (to
    speed up AF). Flipping into "macro" simply removes this

    (You can also change closest focsing distance with an extra optical
    element, but I don't think this is used in the any compacts
    "macro" mode.)
    Gisle Hannemyr, May 21, 2007
  9. Well back in the film days it generally had that meaning, except for
    some advertising writers who tend to make up their own definitions. :)
    However with the coming of digital that all seems to have fallen apart and
    you can't really depend on what someone means whey they use the term.
    Joseph Meehan, May 21, 2007
  10. D.M. Procida

    Alan Browne Guest


    Still does. That is the only reasonable definition of macro: (near)
    real size reproduction on the film or sensor.

    The marketing gimmicks of all the lens co.'s do not mean anything.

    A real macro lens is not only designed for focusing on objects that are
    quite close and producing 1:2 - 1:1 (or even up to 5:1) but is also
    designed to achieve high sharpness at that close range.

    Most macros are less than stellar in sharpness when used for other
    purposes such as portraits.

    Alan Browne, May 21, 2007
  11. D.M. Procida

    Alan Browne Guest

    No, there are true macro lenses in 35mm that are 1:2 and in MF that are
    a seemingly lazy 1:4.5. Some definitions for macro include the entire
    range from 1:1 to 1:10. (My macro lens is marked 1:1 - 1:10 in fact).

    The real point is that these lenses achieve not only focus but optimal
    sharpness close up. These lenses are typically a bit softer at longer
    than macro focus ranges.

    Micro is a lens for 14:1 and closer.

    Where does that defnition appear?

    Micro is really anything from >1:1
    Or even at any moderate focus distance from the camera to the infinity
    The Nikon 105, the canon and Minolta 100's and 50's, the Tamron 90,
    Pentax 50 and 100, Oly's... several others are true macros at 1:1 or 1:2.

    So is the Carl Zeitz 120 f/4 (and f/5.6) for Hasselbald even though its
    best repro ratio is a lazy 1:4.5.

    What make them macro is not just the repro distance but the sharpness at
    close focus.

    Alan Browne, May 21, 2007
  12. D.M. Procida

    Alan Browne Guest

    While 1:1 is a common reference, the other requirement is that the focus
    be especially sharp in the macro range.

    The CZ 120 f/4 Makro is only 1:4.5, but a "true" macro it is.

    And like most macro's it is very sharp at makro range but less sharp in
    the non-macro ranges compared to similar quality non-macro lenses.

    Alan Browne, May 21, 2007
  13. $ (D.M. Procida) writes:
    $> SO firstly, does "macro" really mean anything,
    $In this day and age, it has been abused so much as a marketing
    $term that its meaning has been diluted to just mean "close

    Indeed. There are lots of zoom lenses around which say "macro"
    but which can only focus close enough to give 1/3 or 1/4 or 1/5
    life-size reproduction. Plus, unlike a true macro lens, they're
    not optimized for best results at their close focus distance.
    These lenses are not really macro lenses; they're abusing the
    term for marketing purposes.

    $> and secondly, what was the S7000 doing to put itself into
    $> macro mode?

    I don't know the details about either of the cameras you mention.
    Others have mentioned the possibility of extra elements or greater
    extension coming into play in their responses.

    Here's another possibility. Many cameras with a selection of
    idiot modes (portrait, landscape, etc.) also have a macro mode.
    This is true even of SLRs, in which turning a little knob to
    choose macro mode on the body cannot do anything to change the
    macro or close-focusing abilities of whatever lens you may happen
    to have attached at that time. These modes try to set the camera
    up in a way which is likely to be appropriate for that type of
    subject: exposure metering mode, biasing exposure toward smaller
    aperture or larger aperture, turning autofocus tracking on or off,
    setting the drive mode to take just one shot or to keep shooting
    as long you keep the shutter release button down, etc. I don't
    do macro work and don't use the idiot modes so I've never
    bothered to try to figure out exactly what settings the macro mode
    on any of my cameras would use. But maybe the macro indicator
    on your camera is telling you that, because it's focused on something
    very close, it's assumed that you're doing macro work and has put
    itself into such a mode.

    Like I said, I don't know your cameras, so I'm just speculating
    Stephen M. Dunn, May 21, 2007
  14. D.M. Procida

    C J Campbell Guest

    Note that all the guys who claim that macro had or has a precise
    meaning can't seem to agree on what that meaning is or was.

    I have been taking pictures for 50 years. There is no ruling body of
    the English language that has ever given a word like "macro" a precise
    meaning. Neither is there a photographic standards group that created
    such a meaning. It is a term that has always been used very loosely.
    C J Campbell, May 21, 2007
  15. These are the definitions I could find in dictionaries

    Oxford English Dictionary

    Photography in which objects are reproduced larger than or at their actual
    size but without the degree of magnification that use of a microscope
    would give. Also called photomacrography.


    macro lens
    macro lens \macro lens\ n.
    a camera lens designed to focus at short distances so as to achieve
    photographic magnifications of objects larger than with standard
    Gautam Majumdar, May 21, 2007
  16. [/QUOTE]
    Doesn't that just mean they don't know what they're talking about? :)

    Photomacrography is 1:1 - 50:1 I believe.

    All the best,
    Angus Manwaring. (for e-mail remove ANTISPEM)

    I need your memories for the Amiga Games Database: A collection of Amiga
    Game reviews by Amiga players
    Angus Manwaring, May 21, 2007
  17. D.M. Procida

    Matt Clara Guest

    Isn't that just the accepted definition, sort of what's evolved over time?
    Seems to me that Bob is otherwise correct, if the lens can produce a 1:1
    image or larger on the film/sensor, it's a macro.
    Matt Clara, May 21, 2007
  18. D.M. Procida

    Alan Browne Guest

    Bob's not "uncorrect" in much except the implication that 1:1 is the
    reference. He implied that anything less than 1:1 (say a 50mm 1:2) is
    not a macro.

    I've always accepted 1:2 as the "least" most acceptable definition.

    Then I plunked down money on a used 120 Makro f/4.

    So now I have more tolerance. 1:4.5 is acceptable! ;-)

    Beyond being designated a Makro, this beatifully sharp lens is not as
    sharp as the 100 Planar or 150 Sonnar at portrait range and beyond.

    And that is the other requirement: not merely designed to focus for
    reproduction but to optimize sharpness in the macro range.

    The various "zoom" macros are certainly not of this definition in any sense.

    Alan Browne, May 21, 2007
  19. D.M. Procida

    Alan Browne Guest

    It's not a language issue, it is an equipment issue.
    The two things that stand out are:

    1) Close focusing providing reproduction on the order of 1:1. For 35mm,
    1:2 through 1:1 is common for macro; 3:1 - 5:1 less common, but macro.

    2) Being sharpness optimized for macro, usually at the expense of
    sharpness at common portrait range through infinity.

    Alan Browne, May 21, 2007
  20. D.M. Procida

    Alan Browne Guest

    Whether this would have been shot on film or digital (cropped) would not
    have made any difference...

    Alan Browne, May 21, 2007
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