Choose the right camera
Things to consider when taking close-up photos
What to look for
Macro and close-up photography can reveal a beautiful other world largely hidden from our naked eyes. Some cameras are markedly better than others at picking out fine details. Fortunately, they're easy to identify.
Close up with a compact
A compact camera's minimum focusing distance is easy to find out as it's almost always detailed in the manufacturer's specs. Check their website for full details. You'll see several measurements here detailing its performance at wide angle and telephoto (full zoom), with the latter consistently the poorer.
However, all compact cameras also sport a dedicated macro mode, which lets you focus much more closely and achieve a shallower depth of field so that a smaller slice of the photo remains sharp while the rest is blurred. This helps to accentuate the details within the focussed part.
Again, you'll see two measurements here -- one for wide angle and one for telephoto -- but don't assume that just because the telephoto measurement puts you further away from the subject it's something you want to ignore. Standing back from your subject to use macro mode at full zoom means you won't cast a shadow on your subject, which is frequently a problem when shooting at the closest possible range.
Close up with a dSLR
It's a different story for a dSLR, as you'll need to look at the specs of the lens rather than the body to find out how well it performs when shooting close-ups.
If you're really serious about this kind of photography though, a dSLR or interchangeable lens compact remains the best choice as it will allow you to switch out the regular kit lens for a dedicated macro unit. These don't necessarily require you to get the lens right up to the subject to fill the frame, and with a wide aperture, they create a very shallow depth of field to help highlight the main subject.
They are useful beyond traditional close-up and macro photography too. When pushed to the limit, their wide aperture settings also make them great for portrait photography. So if you have the budget for two lenses -- a regular zoom and a macro -- it's not quite the niche extravagance it might at first seem.
When you're shooting at such close quarters, the tiniest movement of your subject can throw everything out of focus -- particularly if you're shooting plant life outdoors, when leaves and petals can often be caught by a breeze.
Therefore, look for a camera that not only allows for rapid exposures (perhaps with a slightly increased sensitivity to keep them short), but also one that boasts a fast auto-focus. The speed record in a consumer camera currently stands at less than one tenth of a second, which is just about perfect as it can fix the focus and fire the shutter in such quick succession that any movement of your subject between the two operations is going to be so small that it shouldn't be a problem.
Close-up photography wish list
- Macro mode on a compact
- Close minimum focusing distance
- Shallow depth of field at both wide angle and telephoto
- Dedicated macro lens for your dSLR