There's a common, technical definition of macro photography: It's photographing an item in such a way that the image projected onto the film is the same size as the item being photographed. This is called a 1:1 (one-to-one) magnification. That's not a real useful definition for most people. We use the "Macro" setting on our cameras without caring about exact magnification. The definition I use is: Photographing a small item close-up.

You can buy very expensive equipment that produces amazing images, and you can buy very inexpensive equipment that produces very disapointing results. I've gone down the middle with mid-priced equipment that produces good results. This page describes the equipment I use to photograph coins.

The Assembled Setup

My setup is based on Canon equipment. Canon has a reputation for excelent lenses. Their professional lenses are used in demanding applicatins. Look at the photographers on the sidelines at an NFL game. The giant white lenses are made by Canon. They pay tens of thousands of dollars for each lens. This is not the equipment I use.

Canon's reputation for their consumer equipment (as apposed to thier professional equipment) is also very good, but a lot cheaper.

Macrophotography setup

This is the setup I use for macrophotography.

The backbone of this setup is a copy stand. The stand provides a platform to stage the item being photographed and a post on which the camera is mounted. This holds the camera steady and directly above the item.

The camera is attached to the stand by the standard screw mount that is on almost all cameras. There are three cables attached to the camera. The black cable to the left is power for the camera. It is the Canon DS8111 and allows the camera to be plugged into the wall. The white cable is a USB cable that allows a computer to control the camera and automatically download and display photos as they are taken. The black cable to the right is the RS-80N3 Remote Switch. This lets the photographer trigger a photo without disturbing the camera.

This photo shows the camera mounted to the copy stand. A small coin is placed on a white background and is ready to be photographed.

Other pieces of hardware seen in this photo are:

  • Ring Flash - Mounted on the front of the lens this flash illuminates the item with light that comes from almost directly above.
  • Lights - The two lights with the silver reflectors provide light from low angles and can provide more even light for larger items.
  • Remote Switch - Triggers an exposure without shaking the camera.
  • Power Cord - Provides power to the camera.
  • USB Cord - Connects the camera to a computer.

Each Piece In The Setup

Each piece in this setup is described below.

Copy Stand.

The copy stand provides a platform to hold the item being photographed and a mount to hold the camera in the correct position. This copy stand also provides lighting for some photographs.

This simple stand, made by Testrite, is little more than a board, a pole, a clamp that holds the camera to the pole, and a pair of lamps that clamp to the pole. Fancier stands may provide a camera mount that supports finer adjustment with a knob or better lighting.

This copy stand lacks fine adjustments to ensure the post is perfectly perpendicular to the base. This hasn't been a problem in practice.

Camera Mount.

The camera is mounted to the copy stand using this clamp. The horizontal, silver post sticking out to the front is screwed into the bottom of the camera. This post can be slid to give several inches of travel allowing larger items to be photographed. Also, the camera can be twisted to the left and right allowing the camera to be adjusted to be perpendicular to the item, or even slightly off-perpendicular. The knob at the top of the mount tightens the mounting post to keep the camera stable.

The mount can be slid up and down the copy stand post. A knob on the far side of the mount (not visible in this photo) is tightened to hold the camera in place.

This mount lacks fine adjustments to make the camera perfectly perpendicular to the base. In practice this hasn't been a problem.

Canon 5D Camera Body

The Canon 5D is a digital camera with a full sized sensor. It is part of Canon's EOS family of camers and can use all the EOS lenses and accessories. This camera takes pictures with a maximum resolution of 4368x2912 pixels.

The Canon 5D can be connected to a computer using a USB cable. Using Canon's software the camera can be controlled from the computer. When a picture is taken it is automatically downloaded to the computer and displayed. This gives you immediate feedback and the picture can be retaken if needed.

100mm Macro Lens

It is the lens that makes the image. We've all held a magnifying glass to focus an image of a window against a wall. The camera lens works exactly the same way.

This lens provides magnification up to 1:1 (one-to-one). The image projected onto the sensor is the same size as the item. At that magnification a quarter will nearly fill the image. That image can then be blown up to about nine inches.

Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX.

The Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX provides even elumination that comes from almost directly above the item. The ring is attached to the end of the lens, and the controller is attached to the camera's hot shoe (flash mount on the top of the camera).

The flashbulbs are behind the white arcs on the ring. The small windows on the ring hold lights that can be used while focusing.

Side Lights.

The copy stand provides two side lights. These lights use standard bulbs and provide continuous, somewhat diffuse light from lower angles.

Canon DS8111 Power Adapter

The Canon DS8111 Power Adapter provides power for the camera. I would often go through several batteries for a session. The power adapter, being plugged into the wall, never runs out of power.

Canon RS-80N3 Remote Switch.

The Canon RS-80N3 Remote Switch allows for triggering a photo without touching the camera. When making longer exposures the shaking caused by pressing the camera's button causes obvious blur in the image.

USB Cable

The USB Cable is a standard cable with a mini plug for the camera end. The software from Canon uses communicates with the camera through this cable. This software controls the camera settings, triggers a photo, and downloads each image to the computer, and automatically displays it for review.