Good camera for detailed close ups?

I’m trying to decide on a camera to buy, but although I’ve looked at many other threads on here, I’ve run into a consistent problem - they all kind of seem written by and for people who know a lot of technical terminology about cameras and I can’t make heads or tails of them.

The main things I need in a camera are the ability to take close-up macro photos from short distances with a lot of detail (so I can ID small features like trichome structure that can’t be seen easily with the naked eye), the ability to record GPS and time metadata, and the ability to take close-up photos of faraway animals. To my understanding the first and third thing may require totally different lenses, but I am willing to get interchangeable lenses, I’d just need to know what types to get. I’ve been using my mom’s Nikon with a telephoto lens and it can get great pictures of things from far away but is no good up close and won’t record GPS coordinates.

It would also be a good bonus if the camera was lightweight but that isn’t necessary - if I need a heavy camera for good photos then so be it.

Could anyone recommend a good camera, or even just explain the kind of specs I should be looking for?

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If you have very specific requirements then I think it’s unavoidable to get a bit into the technical details of cameras. Otherwise you won’t understand why people give you a specific advice or how to properly use the gear.

Photography relies heavily on physics (as pretty much every other part of life) and therefore you always have to compromise. If you want good images from subjects in the distance at the same time as good macro photos (with proper details), this won’t work without using different lenses. For things that are far away, you need a telephoto lens with a long focal length like 400-600mm (the more the better). But longer focal lengths also mean the lens will be much more expensive. A telephoto lens with a small f/ number (aperture) will usually allow you to get better images as they let in more light and therefore you can use lower ISOs or higher shutter speeds, decreasing noise or image blur, respectively. However, telephoto lenses with small f/ numbers are usually very expensive.

For macro photos you want to have a macro lens. If you mainly photograph plants, the focal length of the macro lens might be less important. For animals however, people usually use a macro lens with a focal length between 90-105mm as this allows you to get decent distance between your camera and your subject (if you are too close they just run/fly off).

Most modern cameras can be coupled with a smartphone to get GPS data. So it’s often not necessary to get a camera that has GPS built in.

The camera brand actually doesn’t really matter. Nikon, Sony, Canon all have good telephoto/macro lenses available. Lenses can also be obtained from third party manufacturers (e.g. Sigma or Venus Laowa), which are often cheaper but still provide excellent photo quality.


I think the Olympus tg6 is the ideal camera for observations, good macro modes that are easy to use, lightweight, tough and records gps. I’d keep using the borrowed Nikon for distant shots, having two cameras for different ranges means you don’t have to mess around changing lenses in the field. I find when I use a similar setup I can use the gps tagged photos from the tg6 as a reference for the photos from the other camera which doesn’t have gps capabilities.


Check many previous topics on that.

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Thank you so much! I would like to learn about the technical details but everything I’ve been finding seems to assume the reader already has some familiarity, so breaking it down like this is very helpful. Is a shorter focal length better for holding the camera really close to something, then? That’s what I need for the plants - since they don’t run off, there’s no need to be able to take a photo from a long distance, but sometimes I need to photograph features for which I need to touch the plant with my hands (flipping leaves over to show the underside, holding the flower at a certain angle, etc) so I can’t stand far away from it at all.

I don’t have a super low budget here, so I’m OK with buying a couple of different lenses for the camera even if they’re not very cheap. I can’t be spending tons on this right this minute, but even if I can’t afford something right away I should be able to save up for it.

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Thank you, I will check it out!

As I said in my post, I did look at many other threads on this topic, but was having trouble understanding them because they all seemed written by and for people who already have a lot of technical knowledge about cameras and I couldn’t understand them well. I’ve had similar issues googling it - it seems “macro” refers only to the detail level of the final image and most people are interested in getting it only from far away, when I need to hold the camera up close to the subject, so I’m having trouble finding what I need.


It sounds like you want one of the Laowa ultra macro lenses

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Where you took it from? Macro is shot close to the subject, not from a huge distance, you can’t do it from far away.

No, not really, the smaller part of an object you want to have in a frame, the longer lense will be, that’s why super macro shots are done with longer lenses.
You can read many good articles on macro, they’re written for any level of understanding, though you need to know things to use them, but you have lens lists, comparisons, etc.

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The first thing you need to do is determine how much magnification you actually need. If you only need to be able to see the trichomes in your photo a camera with 1:1 or 2:1 macro lens should be fine. A 1:1 ratio means that the image on the sensor of the camera is the same as in real life. Note that this does not include any magnification you do after you import the image into an imaging program. If you need to see an individual trichome’s structure, you will need a much more sophisticated setup. Either a microscope or an advanced macro-photography setup.


There are lots of terms to wrap your head around getting into photography, after several years I am still only really figuring out how different setting interplay with each other. As others have mentioned a lot of stuff in macro comes down to the limits of physics.

If you arent confident on understanding things, there are plenty of youtubers who are pretty good at breaking things down. One I like is Micael Widell. Because he seems to have a pretty chill approach to things is an example starting point vid.

I don’t have anything to do with them, just one youtuber I sub to. But any terms you struggle with you can search “X basics/intro to/etc” and usually find some vids which are pretty good on it. If you find a certain youtuber has a style you prefer, than often its worth looking at thier other vids, since many of them will be covering the same common questions. (Note, often many are sponsored, so always take care recomendations with a grain of salt).


I agree – if you’re going to invest in a camera, particularly one with interchangeable lenses, take the time to learn enough that you can make an informed decision. Otherwise it is very easy to throw away a lot of money buying equipment that doesn’t work for you or meet your needs.

I’m sure there are beginners’ guides to photography on youtube or whereever that can provide a more systematic introduction, but here are a few notes based on my own crash course in camera technology over the last few months.

Focal length (the 55mm, 100mm, etc. that people use when talking about lenses) essentially describes the angle of view provided by a lens. What that means practically is how much you can focus in to capture only a particular section of a scene. A short focal length will be quite wide, whereas a long focal length will be quite narrow.

The focal length of a lens does not directly determine its working distance – i.e., how close you can get to your subject and still be able to focus. While optics play a role, it is also a matter of lens design: two lenses with the same focal length may have different minimum focus distances.

There are of course some general tendencies: long telephoto lenses are likely to have a longer minimum focus distance than shorter lenses. Again, this is partly due to the fact that such lenese are meant for photographing distant subjects and thus they are optimized for this rather than for close-ups of flowers.

Macro lenses, by contrast, generally have quite short working distances, often just a few centimeters from the end of the lens. This is an effect of the optics needed to achieve the high magnification. When people talk about macro lenses that offer longer working distances, “long” is quite relative; they aren’t talking about half a meter. A gain of even a few centimeters can make a difference in whether your subject flies away or not.

The focal length also does not determine the maximum magnification – i.e., how large the subject appears on the sensor. This is where macro lenses come in. But magnification is not equal to detail, and you don’t necessarily need to have 1:1 magnification in order to capture fine details. The amount of detail in a photo also depends on things like the resolution of the camera, quality of the lens, accuracy of focus, etc. For many purposes, even something like a 1:5 magnification which many non-macro lenses can manage may be quite sufficient. I’ve gotten photos that show the individual hairs and antenna structure on (largish) bees using the standard zoom lens that was sold with my camera, though this doesn’t compare with what my macro lens can do.

Another thing to be aware of is depth of field. This refers to how much area (depth) of the image is in focus at the same time – i.e., if you are photographing a bird in a tree, the bird and the branch it is sitting on will be in focus, but generally anything that is signficantly closer or further away will be blurry to a certain degree. Normal lenses generally have a depth of field that is sufficient for capturing medium-to-large subjects (pets, people, vehicles, etc.) without rendering the tail end of the subject as an unrecognizable blur.

However, with macro lenses, the depth of field is typically measured in millimeters or even fractions of millimeters. There are various techniques to compensate for this, but what it means in practice is that macro lenses are good at doing things like photographing small subjects or details like the hairs on the leaves of a plant, but it can be challenging use them to get a photograph of the overall plant (say, an average-sized wildflower) because when you focus on the flowers, the leaves and stem are a blur, and vice versa.

Does your mom have multiple lenses for her Nikon? If you are struggling to get a sense of the terminology and how it translates in practice, it might make sense to go out with a few different lenses and just “play” with the camera – experiment to see how the lenses behave, what happens when you change settings or focus on something close vs. far away, etc.

Also, one way to get more magnification (and, as a side-effect, a shorter working distance) with an existing lens is to use an adapter which clips or screws on to the end of the lens. A popular option here is the models made by Raynox, which you’ll find plenty of discussion of in the forum. Since you have access to a camera with a telephoto lens, something like this might well be a good, inexpensive option to try out close-up photography before investing in a major purchase like a macro lens. If flexibility is something you value, one advantage to such a set-up is that you can quickly switch between macro and distant subjects like birds without having to change lenses.


Did you know that there is a small fraction of ‘pro’ photographers who call themselves ‘Trichome Photographers’(or more commonly, cannabis photographers)?

Actually, some decent tips in that article, but I was trying to think of a way for you to get what you’re after without breaking your budget – which I’m assuming, like mine, does not include funds for a full-blown DSLR cam/macro lens combo.

One possibility might be a clip-on MICROSCOPE for your phone. These are single-lens clips that more closely resemble Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s design – one tiny lens, get right up there to the subject.

That’s the big drawback. But maybe with plants, this isn’t such a big deal – as compared to living bugs, at least.

I bought this online a few years back:

It’s definitely not a 400x microscope, BUT – it does a nice job of getting in there. As you can see, it has a built-in ring light (4 leds) powered by a rechargeable (USB) battery in the top end of the ‘clamp’ which is kind of a screw affair. The lens/diffuser assembly just pops out (held in by super magnets) for easy cleaning and its all-metal construction makes it feel like a real durable tool. The only thing is that working distance AND (as is the case with all super-macro solutions) that very shallow depth of field. I believe this cost my about $30 (CDN) new.

I thought I would sub in a windowsill casualty I found this morning for a plant to give you some idea of what this little guy can deliver. All these shots are posted here at 100% (so cropped to 2048 pixels for posting, but click on them to see the full 2048 detail) and shot on my Samsung Note 10+. I found that I got the best results using the 4K video mode and scooping some decent frames), at least, in the lighting of this room. Probably better (less motion blurring) if you used standard camera mode (or better, Pro mode), but this should give you idea. And yeah, I practically had to touch the lens right up to the subject to get these shots.

Here’s a mm ruler:

And the almost ‘obligatory’ eyeball shot:

And finally, a shot from the thorax region (don’t ask me what these parts are, I’m no fly expert):

Do you think this might work for your purposes? Let me know and I’ll dig up the link for you.

Oh, and… welcome to the forum!

I took that little 4K video from the phone and quickly scooped out about 20 frames and ran it through Affinity Photo Focus Stacking. You can see where I missed a few zones, but this is what it came up with (it could be refined more inside Affinity, but even this, the first attempt, shows you how well it aligns handheld frames of different sizes, locations and angles). If you want to try this, Affinity has a 30 day trial. I tried many other stacking packages, but Affinity was by far the easiest to learn and use, and very fast. It also handles the wider variation that you get from handheld images vs. ones taken with a tripod.

FWIW then…

(To show more of the results, this is a reduced detail upload)

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So, this is where “stacking” comes in? I (think) I understand the concept of combining many macro photos with a different portion of the subject in focus, but I don’t quite grasp how it’s done. Is stacking a built in feature of a camera?

Yes, stacking is taking multiple photos with slightly different focal planes, and combining them to get one photo with more in-focus area. Some cameras (especially more modern mirrorless cameras) can do it in the camera, but it’s often done in software in post-processing which usually gives you more control over the final product.

Here’s Thomas Shahan explaining it a bit:

And some pretty serious studio work:


I have loved Thomas Shahan’s insect photos going back many years now. Thank you for the links‼️

The Olympus TG series (models 4 to 6) has auto stacking built right in to its ‘microscope’ mode – one does the stacking in the camera, the other just takes shots of bracketed focal lengths as you keep the shutter down. Then you assemble thar stack of files on an external computer using separate software. It’s a pretty awesome trick for such a tiny rig!

I’m playing around with stacking and I’ve discovered that the easiest field approach for my cheaper and older gear is 4K video. A short 10 second or so of handheld focal movement (with focus locked) usually yields at least a dozen workable high res frames. Then I just dump these into Affinity Photo for stacking and press go.

Some samples? Coming up. These were all originally shot as short 4K video clips with a used super zoom bridge camera (not the Olympus TG which is has 4K, but doesn’t work with a Raynox adapter) fitted with a Raynox-250 clip-on lens. I then found the best ‘slices’ in the video clips to cover the subject and used Affinity Photo to stack the files.

These were all living subjects I found outdoor and shot simply with available light (no flash or even reflectors). All handheld too. No tripod.

No surprise then that they were all shot in very cool temps so any subject movement was very minimal. That’s pretty much the case for any good focus stacking subject. (Plants, of course, are much less a concern for the movement factor!) In every shot, the lens to subject distance was approximately 4 inches.

@teellbee ? This also works with video from a cellphone. I added a sample to the post above with my discussion about using the clip-on microscope. I used the phone’s 4K video along with the clip-on to create the MP4 file, selected 20 frames I thought would work, and ran them through the best stacker for handheld work: Affinity Photo. It’s very easy, and forgiving for less than perfect image scale, angle, and positions than any other software I tried. Plus it’s fast. There’s a full-featured 30 day trial at their site. Unfortunately, you have to buy their whole package and I’m more comfortable with Photoshop. But for what it does for stacking, it’s the best for my super macro stack process. And even at the full (one-time!) purchase price, it’s competitively priced compared to other dedicated stacking packages which have all those other things I DON’T need – such as camera and rail controls, etc. etc.

But for me, these results are encouraging enough that I’m going to be giving ‘field-captured’ video/home stacking super macro a real go this season, for sure.


I’m sure this thread covers most of the bits you need, but I wanted to underscore that the lens/optics and the lighting have more to do with creating great macro images than the make/model of camera. A decent macro lens and flash set-up should be your main objective.


Also Pentax…

Sony know they are the Apple of cameras - you will buy into Sony gear and add ons (like flash systems, etc, which for macro you may get into!) only, for the mostpart, where as the other three (Nikon, Canon, Pentax) you can typically use 3rd party stuff.

A lot of folk like this one, especially since you dont want to get technical, while it wont do telephoto stuff you want (things at a distance) it will do the rest pretty decently.


Well, it depends on what you mean by great macro images. If the goal here is to truly capture in the field, identifiable plant structure details in the under 4mm range, then perhaps the main objective should be focused on getting those details.

It’s great if you want to create macro photo art, but I think that we should never lose focus the main objective of iNat, to get as many people observing as we can. And to me, at least, it means making the process as accessible as possible. That includes people with limited tech skills and/or financial resources.

For macro observing, the key to entry has to be phone cameras. They have their limits, of course, but with a little help and some cheap accessories, they can deliver a lot of decent observations and continued interest.

And certainly enough for someone to be motivated enough to get to the next affordable level, which, in my opinion is a decent zoom (used) bridge cam fitted with a Raynox or equivalent.

If we advise to focus on DSLR$ and macro len$es, that’s way too big a gap for many interested would-be macro enthusiasts. (Certainly too big for this pensioned one!)

We need to change the script on macro and make everyone realize that you don’t need to spent thousands to start enjoying real macro photography.