help with equipment - macro (shooting ants)


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Dec 2, 2007
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i'm interested in macro photography, mainly for biological articles on ants.
therefore, i wanted a good camera, with a good macro to capture the ant and detail on the leaf she's on.

in this example things are too much out of focus, that's no good for me this one also has too little "field depth"

i need a powerful macro, with a big field depth.
it would also be good if i could stay a little further away from the ant, so i don't accidentaly frighten it. i think nikkon d80 and canon rebel xti are good choices, but i can't decide between the two.
choosing the lenses is hard too. do you have any suggestions or advice?
thanks in advance
Welcome to the forum.

Macro photography can be tricky. When you are focused on something that is very close to the lens (close up)...the DOF will tend to be razor thin. To increase the Depth of Field (DOF), you can 'stop down' the lens (use a smaller aperture). However, when you stop down the lens, you need to use a longer shutter speed in order to get enough light. A longer shutter speed can lead to blur from camera and/or subject movement. The best macro photography is probably done with a tripod and a still subject.

Another option would be a macro flash kit. Basically it's a flash that mounts to the front of the lens.

Either of those cameras would be good...any DSLR would be's the lens that will make the difference. A longer lens will give you more 'working room' so you don't have to be right on top of the subject. Canon, has several macro lenses that would be good choices...the 180mm Macro, for example...but it's not cheap. I believe Sigma has a 150mm Macro that is cheaper but I haven't read any reviews.

Normally, I will always recommend a DSLR camera over a non-SLR digital camera. However, if your specific purpose it macro photography, and your budget isn't unlimited...then I might recommend a non-SLR camera. One of the things that they do well, is close up photography without expensive lenses. A $300 camera could probably take great macro shots, in the right circumstances. Yes, a DSLR with a true macro lens would be better...but that's a rather expensive kit.
What sort of budget are you allocating? Image quality requirements? For insects that spook easily and/or bite; I would reccommend a macro in the 180mm range for maximum resolution. The Sigma is good, gets decent reviews except for edge sharpness and smoothness of the bokeh; but the king of macro lenses in the Canon EF 180 f/3.5 L. Hefty price tag though. Can do with a 100mm, but depends on the working distance you want.
As has been mentioned aperture has everything to do with DOF. Here are a couple of examples using an inexpensive lens and ringflash. The lens is a 20+ year old Nikkor Micro 55mm f/2.8, the flash is a Sigma EM-140 DG. The first pic was at f/2.8, or wide open on this lens, the second at f/32, the smallest for this lens. ISO was at 400 as was your shot.


I wouldn't use a macro lens. I'd get Kenko extension tubes. What is good about the tubes is that you can use them on any of your lenses for your camera. Since they don't have glass in them (they are just tubes that extended the lens from the camera) they don't affect image quality.

I used my tubes on my Canon 70-200 2.8L lens several times and found that around 100mm to 150mm was a good working distance. I've also used them on my 100-400L lens a few times to shorten the focus distance. You do lose infinity focus on the longer lenses when you use the macro tubes though, and you do have to compenstate a little for the exposure if you are using flash or taking manual readings.

I've even used them with my 24-70 but at the closest point, it put my front lens element about a fly's wing away from the object I was shooting. :D

The Kenko tubes are also cheaper than a macro lens. They come in a 3 section group that allows you to add different mm lengths of tube so you can get closer and closer. I believe they have them for a number of different cameras besides the Canon and Nikon.

Tubes and close up filters will get the job done. But Macro (Nikkor Micro) lenses are corrected for reduced distortion and CR at high magnification and close distances.

Don't forget another old school method is the reversed 50mm and a bellows. Some awesome very high magnification work has been done with these rigs.
Go with the Canon, you'll have more lens options. As the others have explained, it can be tricky getting the right DOF. You will need an external light source to compensate for the smaller aperture. I shoot almost all my macro shots with an aperture setting of f13 and a shutter speed of 200. I use the Canon 100mm f2.8 which allows about 6 inches of working distance at minimum focus. If you go with Canon, and you want true magnifications, I would consider the MPE65, which is a pricey lens that offers magnification ratios ranging from 1x to 5x. This lens does not offer infinity focusing tho. So it's truley dedicated to only macro.

I've found that ants are pretty easy to capture as they can't fly away. However, the black ones (as with any black subject) the lighting is essential in getting detail.

You may be interested in checking some of the shots out I have gotten with the Canon:

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