First Camera Recommendations

Hello everyone!

I am looking into getting my first camera with the intention to take crisp, detailed, macros of insects. Since I don’t have much knowledge, I wanted to get some outside opinions. I am looking to get an intermediate camera that can last me a long time without wanting to upgrade to a better camera - in other words, get a good camera now rather than getting a cheaper (but still expensive) camera that I will just replace with another more expensive camera in the future. I am also not too sure if one style of camera is better (DSLR Vs. Mirrorless), though I am leaning more towards mirrorless. I obviously plan to do a lot of research on camera mechanics and utilization, but I wanted to ask if anyone had good recommendations I could look into (and maybe some examples of photos taken with said camera) including the macro lens and any accessory parts. Thanks!


Welcome to the forum! A few similar topics that might answer your question, first of which is pretty new and still active:


Macro mostly depend on the lens, any better than average body would work, but if you could post what exactly you see by detailed macro, how close should it be?

Strongly recommend a mirrorless or DSLR camera for this purpose. Mirrorless is probably better overall, but being newer technology they are somewhat more expensive. Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, all the big brands make great mirrorless gear. If you are on a budget, you may look into a used Olympus OM body - they have been on the market for longer and as a result you can find older bodies pretty cheap. The Olympus 60mm macro is a great lens, and you can get a compatible aftermarket flash head from Godox/etc also for pretty cheap. The nice thing about SLR/Mirrorless is that you can upgrade the lens/body/flash separately as you hit the limits of your equipment, and sell the old equipment to help finance the upgrades. The camera body is overall the least important piece (IMO) so don’t be afraid to buy any simple/older model used body and upgrade it later. The lens and lighting/diffusion are far more important for macro. And practice, and patience :)

edit to add: Lots of good info on Youtube, check out some intro videos from Thomas Shahan and Micael Widell for starters. Thomas Shahan’s videos were very helpful to me when I started macro photography.

(Micael Widell has a whole channel of great videos)


I’d recommend a used Sony APS-C e-mount body to begin with. Something like the a6500 or the a6600 (the a6500 is the older model with the smaller battery, but it’s great and with some unting you can get a used body for a decent price). Both of these have in-body stabilization, and excellent low-light capability. Both things are enormously helpful with macro shooting.

They are the small form-factor bodies, but they use the same lens mount as the full-frame Sony cameras, so if you pay attention to what lenses you get you can transfer all your lenses over to a full frame system if you decide to eventually move to full-frame.

(As an aside, when you’re working with interchangeable lens cameras you’re not really buying the camera, you’re buying lenses, so it is important to be thinking ahead about what you can do with your lenses in the future.)

The Sony e-mount has one of the largest lens ecosystems on the market at the moment, with a lot of lenses by them, as well as a ton by 3rd party manufacturers, many of which are excellent quality.

For macro I very highly recommend the Sigma ART 70mm or the 105mm macro lenses. I have the former on my a6500 all the time. The Laowa 100mm 2x macro is manual only (but you still get stabilization due the in-camera stabilization) and is a bit tricky to use, but yo ucan get some really excellent shots with it, especially if you start photo stacking.

If you’re serious about macro, then I recommend getting a focusing rail that uses a worm-drive as well, this will help with focus stacking enormously. I use this one, which is cheap (around $20-35), but there are other better (and expensive ones). You do, of course, need a tripod to go with a focusing rail, and there are tons of options. I recommend a smaller one, with legs that can fold out completely horizontal.

I also suggest that all attachments be Arca-Swiss, which is a universal type mounting system. Makes everything vastly easier when everything uses the same mounting system.

Most serious macro photographers I know used a ring-flash, or a similar light as lack of light is always an issue when shooting macro.


All that I’ll add is 100% get a used camera/lens (as long as its in good condition). Will save you so much more money compared to buying new. Also just about the most important thing will be the lens your using rather then the camera itself, so don’t worry too much about getting a new top of the line camera body, focus more on getting a good lens.


I see what you did there… (and agree)


I use the Sony A6000 with the Sony 30mm macro lens. It’s not the best setup but it has some advantages: The digital viewfinder is amazing and zooms in on the subject when you focus so you can get the focus exactly right. It’s also an easy lens to shoot and manually focus with one handed so my other hand is free to hold a light or block the sun, or hold a branch steady, and that can be really helpful. You can do the same with other lenses by fixing the focus and moving backwards and forwards but you don’t get the zoomed focus view that way.
The main disadvantage is 30mm is way too short for most macro work so you’ll have to crop most photos and get good at being right in an insect’s face without disturbing it.

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Firstly I freely admit that although I’ve done some macro photography I’m no expert in this topic and am happy to be corrected by wiser heads if I’ve got anything wrong. While I agree with the vast majority of the helpful advice given here I have to disagree with the people saying the lens is far more important than the camera body in macro photography. Macro is technically demanding and the three greatest challenges are depth of field, focus and lighting. The camera body can have a big influence here:

  1. Stabilization helps enormously but some manufacturers systems are better than others.

  2. Sensor size affects depth of field, this is one area where Micro Four Thirds cameras can have a distinct advantage over cameras with larger sensors. I should add the caveat that what you intend to do with your images is also important. Are they just for use on screen or do you intend to print them big and hang them on the wall?

  3. Articulating screen, macro photography often involves getting into tricky positions so a body with more flexible screen articulation can be genuinely useful; potentially even more useful if it’s a touch screen.

  4. Focus stacking, some cameras have a setting that aids focus stacking.

  5. Size, the smaller size of the body/lens combo of a smaller format can be advantageous in tight spaces.

I know you state that you want to buy the perfect camera at your first attempt, didn’t we all, but if you are new to macro photography it might be wise to buy a second-hand bridge camera with macro capabilities. Use that for a while and you will then have a much better idea of which features will be useful for your type of macro work and which won’t.

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APS-C mirrorless body with hot shoe for flash. and a diffuser, can be DIY or commercial. Image stabilization isn’t as helpful at extreme close distances in my experience. Flash will do much more to get you sharp image. Sony A6xxx cameras fit the bill very well. Nikon, Canon, Fuji, etc all have competitor models in the same segment.

Insects tend not to stay still for very long most of the time, and prefer you not getting very close. 100mm 1:1 macro lens is a good starting point for reasonable working distance and relatively light for mobility in the field. Excellent manual versions can be had for 100~200 on ebay. Short macro lenses have extremely short working distance, and while lighter to carry, can be more difficult to get the camera close enough in the field and cast unwanted shadow on the subject.

Working distance is Minimum Focus Distance (what lens specs list) minus length of the lens and Flange Focus Distance of the camera body you’re using. For 100mm macro 1:1 working distance is typically around 5 inches, with few exceptions. 1:1 meaning your subject is projected at real life size on the camera sensor. Shorter lenses will have shorter working distances, can be down to 1 or 2 inches.

A lot will depend on your subjects and shooting preferences, and it’ll take bit of time to figure that out before you get to a good setup. Just get a 2nd hand camera and lens, get out and shot a lot and you’ll settle on something that works for you.

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Something to think about if you decide to go down the second hand camera route… My impression is that most camera manufacturers are dramatically scaling down their production of new lenses for DSLR cameras in favour of lenses for mirrorless cameras. While you can certainly save a good deal of money if you opt for second hand equipment, if you mean this to be the first step in an activity you’d like to develop and perfect, spending on a second hand DSLR could turn out to be something of a blind alley. Mirrorless may cost more, but like it or not it’s the technology of the future and if you think you may get serious about macrophotography (or any other photography for that matter), it seems like the best long term investment for the future (said by someone emerging alas from a long and only partially successful attempt to upgrade my DSLR lenses).

TL;DR (my recommendations):

  • System camera with APSC sensor (mirrorless), brand doesn’t matter
  • properly diffused flash (very important!)
  • dedicated macro lens between 90-105 mm focal length
  • Raynox DCR-250 closeup lens to be able to get closer (higher magnification)
  • Focus stacking
  • Always use ISO 100 if possible (with a flash it’s pretty much possible all the time)

More detailed version:
I also want to share a bit of my experience here. I’m taking macro photography very seriously since 2016 and have taken around 175.000 photographs since then (and I was told that some of them are actually pretty). I started out with only having aesthetics in mind and just later also began to take some documentary shots as well. Therefore, I was always interested in very good image quality (sharpness, light, depth of field etc.).

From my experience, the camera body is pretty much unimportant. As long as you use a relatively modern camera that has a sensor with at least 20 megapixel you are good to go. I use a Sony a6000 for all of my work. The a6000 is an absolute entry model mirrorless camera, so it doesn’t have much unnecessary stuff like image stabilization or good video features. As long as you use a properly diffused flash, you won’t need image stabilization anyway. And as was already mentioned above, for high magnifications, the image stabilization is not very helpful. I use a 90mm macro lens with the a6000. This lens is rather expensive but by far the best macro lens I’ve ever used and I own around 7. It certainly makes sense to invest more into a good lens than in the body. My first a6000 camera already broke down but I got two more used ones because they are just one of the best when it comes to the cost-benefit balance. It broke because of extensive use (it had 134.000 shutter releases and the official life time for this camera is only 100.000). I can recommend buying a used one if it’s in a proper condition and doesn’t have too many shutter releases already.

In addition to the lens I usually also use a close-up lens from Raynox (DCR-250), which allows me to get closer to the animal to get a higher magnification. With my 90mm macro lens (1x magnification) and the Raynox I reach up to 2x magnification. This already covers most arthropods you can photograph. For smaller things like springtails and mites you might want to use some more sophisticated macro gear that allows you to reach even higher magnifications.

The highest amount of details you will get with a high magnification, focus stacking and a flash. I prefer to do the focus stacking free hand, because setting up a tripod is just too slow and completely hinders me in my approach.

Excellent and affordable macro lenses are built by Venus Laowa. They offer lenses with mounts for different camera systems. Many of these lenses already reach 2x magnification natively, which can be increased even further with a Raynox close-up lens. The Laowa lenses are completely manual, though. However, I recommend operating the camera in manual mode anyway as it gives you complete control over everything you want to do. Autofocus is rather useless in macrophotography.

To the comment with sensor sizes affecting depth of field: this is generally true. The smaller the sensor, the bigger the depth of field at a given f-stop (aperture opening). However, sensor size also affects diffraction. Diffraction kicks in much earlier in micro-four-thirds sensors compared to APSC and fullframe, which means that you can stop down the aperture more with bigger sensor sizes, which compensates for the lower depth of field. So, basically the sensor size doesn’t matter that much when it comes to depth of field. It’s more important to keep other things in mind. The Omylpus OMD cameras for example only offer a base ISO of 200 (at least the OMD EM1 MIII does), which gives you less image quality (I also own an OMD EM1 MIII and when I compare the images with my Sony a6000 setup at ISO 100, you already see an obvious difference in the image quality). When image quality is the imperative, I would go with at least an APSC sensor. APSC sensors with 24 megapixel also offer a pretty high resolution (to get an equivalent resolution with a full frame sensor you would need one with around 55-58 megapixels, but such cameras are pretty expensive). Therefore, I see APSC as the sweet spot for macrophotography. DSLRs are dying and will become super niche in future, hence it doesn’t make much sense to invest into a DSLR system nowadays if you plan on practicing macrophotography for a few decades.

You can get a good impression on what is possible with an entry level APSC camera like the a6000 when you have a look at my observations. Almost all photos were taken with the a6000 + 90mm macro lens (+Raynox DCR-250) and a Nissin i40 flash with a custom-made diffusor.

Macrophotography (or photography in general) is always a compromise because it relies on physics. There is no perfect system and it’s possible to make very different setup work. It always depends on what exactly you want to achieve.


Here are some examples of the quality I hope to achieve (with a lot of practice and research ofc).

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These photos contain EXIF, you can see what those users have, but there’re still pretty different photos, one thing is a shroom photo and another is a stacked insect, you want both, right?

Consider skipping cooling step per @benjamin_fabian’s reply below

Since insects are gone by the time the camera’s ready, maybe a catch, cool, photograph, and release strategy might help:

  • Catch: Carry a net for catching the insects and a small glass/plastic container to transfer them into for photography.
  • Cool: Carry a wide-mouth stainless steel vacuum insulated flask/tumbler with ice into which you can place the insect container. A few minutes at temperature can slow down their metabolism enough to get crisp photos.
  • Photograph: Take your macro photos. Lighting is critical, even a hand-carry flashlight/torch will help with crisp photos.
  • Release: Unless you’ve overdone it, the insect will thaw and be ready for release by the time you’ve taken photos.

As others have pointed out, lighting is very important. Zooming for macro means less light hits the sensor so it needs a longer exposure making blurry photos more likely or having autofocus fail. It’s a physics problem that no camera is perfect at overcoming.


My observation of a bug with the above strategy with a regular smartphone camera. Modified slightly since it was indoors (no net and a freezer).

Added a warning on top.

I would only be taking photos of insects

Could you elaborate on this logic a bit? You go out to take photographs of insects, have your net ready but somehow not your camera? And that is why you propose to commit animal cruelty? I think this is a bit problematic on a forum for nature enthusiasts.

I’m wondering how all the macro photographers get their images of living organisms without freezing them.

Even in one of the most cold-hardy animals on earth cold shock is accompanied by injuries.

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In the quoted line, I was thinking about trying to get photos of insects without a net, sitting on rocks, flowers, etc. like this observation, where the solution is following those steps.

I’m glad you raised the point about potentially injuring the insect with cooling. I included it in the steps because it’s effective and has been mentioned in topic: Tips/tricks taking pictures of bugs that move fast?

I’m not sure how relevant that paper is in this context since the idea with ice cooling in this context is to slow down the metabolism, not get anywhere near or below 0C, where ice crystalization can harm.

However, I take your point about whether it’s ethical to do that anyway, which is somewhat discussed in topic: Research and ethical questions in arthropod experience of “pain”

Because this may not be immediately apparent: The main factor in what makes these photos so aesthetically pleasing is the lighting: Flash and flash diffusion. The specific camera body and even lens is much less important - these could be taken with Canon, Sony, Nikon, Panasonic, or other brands of gear. Any 10+ year old used DSLR and ~100mm macro lens can make photos like this. What really sets these photos off is the diffused lighting. Many people go to great lengths experimenting with DIY flash diffusion rigs. (some examples from Nicky Bay here) Luckily this part is much cheaper and easier to play with than buying expensive equipment since you can largely cobble things together using milk jugs, Pringles tubes, tracing paper, duct tape, hot glue, etc. If you checked out the Thomas Shahan videos I posted above, you can see that many of his amazing images were lit by a 20+ year old flash head shot through a (literal) sheet of paper towel. Again, the specific camera body is not very important, and pretty much any 1:1 macro lens will make good photos.

Some good background reading here (lots of good info on this website):

Also google “DIY Macro Diffuser” and similar terms for lots of ideas and sample photos.

PS: Look closely at these photos from one of the users you linked - If you look zoom in on the reflective surfaces (the ant’s abdomen and the wasp’s eye) you can actually see the shape of the flash diffuser with the camera lens in the middle



Ditto. I bought a good used one about 4 years ago and I’ve noticed while looking at the ads, that I could get back what I paid for it today. It’s a solid performer.

My only real misgiving about Sony DSLRs is that compared to other brands, you just don’t have as many choices when it comes to lenses, especially if like me, you buy mostly used lenses. Adapters sorta work, or if they work well, they cost more than the lens.

I just got a 250 about a month and a half ago, and it’s amazing. It works quite well on my manual focus Sony 75-300. I prefer going to getting step filter adapters though as the clips broke off pretty early.

Oh, and about shutter releases, I’m sure you know this but for anyone else reading this and looking to buy a used DSLR, it’s pretty easy.

Take a photo with the camera, then head to a shutter counter site. Like say, this one:
Then you just upload the file and it gives you the count.

Yep. I’ve read and reviewed and heard a lot about the Laowa macro lenses. And it got me drooling (like a lot of others I bet). But I’m more of a Peanut Gallery shooter (at least, my budget is), so that one’s on the “when I win the lottery” list for now.

It seems to me that the old “Great speed, great quality or great price: pick two” rule works for so many things, including cameras.

But it’s really a question of what you want to focus (ahem) on.

For instance, I’ve always wanted to get right into the 1 or 2mm critter size and still have a 50x zoom around. Well, those kind of lenses for the A6000 were out of my price ballpark and also, frankly, heavy and big to lug around.

I found a great deal for a used Olympus GT-5 and it opened up another level for me, at least in macro. And it has in-camera stacking too. Maybe the best part is that I can easily carry it in my pants pocket (and I usually do).

However, for the extreme (or ‘microscopic’ zoom) range on the TG, you still need to get in pretty close. That just doesn’t work for most flies, moths, butterflies, dragoflies, and so many other subjects. So I went looking for a cheap bridge camera that might help.

I ended up finding a hardly used Canon Powershot. An old SX540 with a tiny 20mp sensor and more importantly, a 50x optical zoom for just 150 (CDN$). Now I was able to snag a lot of stuff from say, 10 or 12 feet away, handheld, very clearly. And, if a great bird sighting presented itself, there was always that. But now I found myself carrying two cameras: the Canon for the zoom shots, and the Olympus TG for the supermacro shots. It sort of worked but… I’m too lazy to haul all that everywhere. Not that the Canon was too big, it’s not. But still.

Then after seeing a video or two online about attaching a RayKnox to superzoom DSLRs, I decided to give that a go. I bought the adapter needed, added the step adapters to the Canon’s front end and clipped it in. And… I was pleasantly surprised.

This setup gave me full frame closeup length of less than 5mm, which is great, but more importantly, shooting at a distance of around 8 inches from camera end to subject.

Plus, even at high zoom, compared to a DSLR with a zoom lens, the bridge/Raynox combo is much, much shorter. I can even use the pop up camera flash on the camera itself and it works quite well. Here’s such a shot I took this afternoon of a stink bug (Powershot SX540/Raynox 250, camera flash, handheld, no diffuser):

In the end, for most of my trail work I will still carry both my phone (easier for a lot of plant shots) and the TG in my pant pockets, AND the Powershot/Raynox around the neck. This gives me an impressive range of optical capture, low weight, and – well, if something should happen to the Powershoot when I trip over rocks, I’ll be upset, but not heartbroken.

I’m sure I’m not the only observer here that’s noticed something about the birders you come across in the field: most of them have a lot more gear and/or the money to buy it. It tends to be a bit of an economic class divider. (Not always, I understand, but often enough.)

That’s my solution: a high zoom bridge coupled to a Raynox clip on (I actually moved to a screw-in adapter for worry-free lens change).

So for me, I love having an affordable, light, relatively easy setup. The bridge camera lenses are fixed, but that also means you don’t need to worry about dust on the sensor like when you do a field lens change with a more expensive DSLR.

While I laud those who commit themselves to technical photographic excellence, I think that I do alright with my gear limitations and being a low-budget shooter kind of frees me from a lot of ‘thing ownership’ worry that I know having top gear can sometimes instil in me.

Because for me, well really, to be honest, to paraphrase the great Cyndi Lauper, “Naturalists just wanna have fun” works very well.