DSLR or mirrorless? Full frame or crop sensor? There are a lot of options available to photographers today, but which ones are the best when it comes to macro photography?
Let’s find out!
DSLR vs. Mirrorless
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One major advantage that DSLRs have over mirrorless systems is that they typically have a larger working distance, so you don’t have to be as close to the subject, yet can still photograph them at up to a 1:1 magnification. The larger the working distance, the less likely you are to frighten off a live subject, or cast shadows on the scene with your gear. Of course, the major drawback of DSLR systems is that they are expensive - some macro lenses cost more than a mirrorless camera!
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For mirrorless systems, the primary advantage is their size. Mirrorless cameras are much smaller and easier to manipulate than their DSLR cousins, so in theory, they are easier to use in tight situations. Mirrorless systems are also much less expensive, which is a distinct benefit as well. However, some mirrorless cameras do not have interchangeable lenses and those that do often require adapters to make DSLR lenses work.
The Verdict: DRAW
When it comes down to it, both DSLR and mirrorless systems will work well for macro photography. It’s just a matter of weighing the variety of lenses for DSLRs vs. the size of mirrorless, and the working distance of DSLRs vs. the price of a mirrorless system.
Full Frame vs. Crop Sensor
By Dave Dugdale from Superior, USA (Canon 6D with 24-70mm Lens) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Full frame cameras have larger sensors, and are therefore able to collect more light which is why they typically take higher-quality images than crop sensor cameras. By virtue of having a larger sensor, full frame cameras also perform better in low light situations, which comes in handy in macro photography because of the tendency to shoot at close range with a very wide aperture. It also means full frame cameras can produce low light images with less noise. Additionally, full frame cameras have a better depth of field at wider apertures. Since macro photography depends heavily on the range of depth of field, this is a bonus for full frame systems.
By Tsungam (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Crop sensor cameras have their advantages as well. For starters, due to the nature of the sensor, crop sensor cameras magnify the image to a greater degree than a full frame setup. That means a crop sensor camera will produce an image that is magnified more than an image taken by a full frame camera at the same distance. Since macro is all about getting close to the subject, this is a benefit. Also, crop sensor cameras are smaller and arguably easier to handle, which is especially important if you handhold your camera. The weight savings alone might be worth sacrificing the higher image quality. And, price is definitely in the crop sensor’s favor as you can get a crop sensor system for far less than a full frame.
The Verdict: DRAW
In this case, it’s a bit of a draw. Full frame systems give you a better depth of field with a higher quality image, but crop sensors are easier to maneuver and much less expensive. Regardless of the choice, you’ll be able to take good macro shots - it just depends on your personal preferences and needs.
At the end of the day, the type of camera system that’s best for macro photography will depend on your needs and wants. On the one hand, if you need higher quality images to make large prints or work a lot in low-light situations, a full frame setup would be more to your advantage. On the other hand, if working more quickly and easily and getting a closer view of the subject even at the same distance is attractive to you, a crop sensor system would be worth a look.
On the DSLR vs. mirrorless front, the considerations you make also depend on your purposes. DSLRs give you more options in terms of lenses, which is a serious benefit for macro photography. But, just like crop sensor cameras, mirrorless systems are much lighter (and less expensive), so going mirrorless might be the way to go if mobility and/or price are the most important factors to you.
Give some thought to the factors discussed here, identify which are the most important to you, and let that inform your decision regarding the type of camera system you purchase for macro work.