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What Is a Macro Telephoto Lens?

By Marco Sumayao
Updated May 16, 2024
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A macro telephoto lens, also referred to as a telephoto macro lens, is a camera lens that can reproduce images at a 1:1 or better image-to-subject aspect ratio while shooting at a distance relatively farther than a normal macro lens. The lens is often used for taking photographs of small objects from a comfortable distance. It is also used in cases where the photographer's proximity to the object interferes with the lighting, and no other lighting solutions are available. Although a macro telephoto lens attempts to combine the high-detail capabilities of a typical macro lens with the zooming capabilities of a telephoto lens, it is rarely as effective as the others are in their specific uses.

Photographers use macro lenses when attempting to take extreme close-up shots, as the lens is capable of focusing at very short distances. The design of a macro lens allows for life-sized images or better. Macro photography has been used for taking pictures of certain details on objects, as well as for shooting details that wouldn't normally be seen without a magnifying glass. Individuals using macro lenses often have to position their cameras extremely close to their subjects to capture the images properly, as the lenses' depth of field is extremely shallow — the focus can dramatically shift if the photographer's distance from the object changes by a few millimeters.

This often leads to issues that arise from the photographer's proximity to his subject. Living organisms, for example, might scurry away when the photographer positions himself close enough to get it in focus. Another problem with using macro lenses arises with natural lighting — the photographer's own shadow might obscure the picture. In cases such as these, an individual can use a macro telephoto lens to compensate.

The defining feature of a macro telephoto lens is its length, which is comparable to a telephoto lens. The length of a telephoto lens magnifies objects from a narrow field of view, allowing photographers to zoom in on distant objects. Telephoto lenses often measure at about 100 mm (about 0.04 inches) and greater, although lenses that measure greater than 50 mm (roughly 0.02 inches) are technically considered telephoto. Although a telephoto lens can conceivably be used to take macro-like photos due to its magnification, it cannot focus on tiny objects as well as a macro lens. A macro telephoto lens is a macro lens that typically measures 100 to 200 mm (0.04 to 0.08 inches), effectively combining the focusing abilities of a normal macro lens with the magnification of a telephoto lens.

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Discussion Comments

By SkyWhisperer — On Feb 20, 2012

@Charred - I think the possibilities are endless here, especially if you decided to do wildlife photography, where of course you want to stay as far away from that mountain lion as possible.

You want the best possible telephoto range on your zoom lenses. Most of the lenses I’ve seen will double you up, but some may even do triple the normal range. In either case, invest in a good, standalone lens.

Some people make the mistake of foregoing buying a separate lens and instead rely on the “digital zoom” capabilities of their camera. That’s a big mistake. Digital zooming is not optical telephoto. It just takes the existing image and digitally expands it, resulting in pixilation in the final image. You want true optical zoom and only a telephoto lens will give you that.

By Charred — On Feb 19, 2012

@everetra - I love macro photography. It’s a way of bringing things to life in the small world around us. I have always been an observant person with an eye for detail, so when I bought my digital camera I also bought a macro lens for Canon cameras. I’ve never regretted it.

I’ve been able to do close-ups of simple things like Christmas ornaments, household knick knacks, simple coffee cups filled with pens, and just about anything you can imagine. I’ve developed some pretty impressive pictures.

What I like about it is that the subjects are always available (unlike people) and I can work with available light. There’s no need for a fancy lighting setup.

By everetra — On Feb 19, 2012

@allenJo - You probably can, but just remember that with digital camcorders most of the lenses are not suited for shallow focus. They do deep focus instead, so I think that macro telephoto lens photography is better for deep focus digital videography, with everything in sharp focus.

I once saw a video of a garden going through the seasons of spring and summer. It was all time lapsed, close up videography. You saw insects scurrying here and there, and the blooming of flowers and the changing of the foliage on the bushes.

It took the videographer months to make and he just positioned his camcorder in one location the whole time, and then pieced the video together. It made for a great nature film and I think it even won a few awards. What did the trick, however, was the deep macro photography and of course the time lapse effect.

By allenJo — On Feb 18, 2012

I heard that you can use a macro telephoto lens to create a depth of field or slightly out of focus shot when doing work with digital camcorders.

Is this true? What I mean is that you position the camera at a distance away from the subject, and when it zooms in on the telephoto end, the subject’s background is thrown out of focus.

It’s an effect you see in the movies a lot and I was wondering if I could do this with my digital camcorder.

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