Macro Photography or Microscopy?

Posted on Posted in Technology

The system we use to make amazing, ultra-high resolution images of very small details is the Magnify2 by GIGAmacro. This system captures images in full colour and resolutions up to 60,000 pixels per inch (ppi). The image here shows a butterfly imaged at 20,498ppi with two detailed sections.

So is it macro photography or is it microscopy?

Let’s start with the traditional definitions. Photographers will tell you that macro photography starts when the size of the image on the camera’s sensor is the same size or larger than the original object. Macro photography typically covers a range of 1:1 to 1:5 (in other words 1 to 5 times magnification). Anything less than a 1:1 ratio would be considered close-up photography, not macro.

Microscopy, by definition, means using a microscope to take a photograph and typically relates to magnifications of 1:20 (or 20 times) and higher. Because of the physical properties of light, the maximum magnification of optical microscopes is approximately 1500x. Higher magnifications require different technologies to record details beyond this range.

S0, traditionally, it was said that macro photography was low magnification and microscopy was high magnification.  But today this definition becomes “blurry” (pardon the pun) because with tools like the Magnify2 by GIGAmacro, we can now put very high resolution capture devices (digital cameras) on lenses designed for microscopy. We can now capture very high resolution images at low magnification.

Also digital cameras are now available for microscopes, but these are typically low resolution, 2-5 megapixels (like this Optix 3.1MP microscope camera)  as compared 20-50 megapixels for DSLRs like the ones we use on the Magnify2 (at MIGHTYmacro we use the Canon T6i 24.2MP camera).

So what is the difference between capturing a high magnification image at low resolution (microscope) and a lower magnification image at high resolution (gigapixel macro photography like we do at MIGHTYmacro)?  This is where we start to see overlap, and where the real differences of these two solutions becomes obvious.

As an example, take a look at these great images of butterfly wings taken with microscopes and compare them to the full size zoomable image of the butterfly we took. The detail in these images is very similar whether it was captured with a microscope or our high resolution macro photography solution.

If the resulting images are similar what are the important differences between these two approaches?

  1. Microscopy can still deliver higher magnifications than macro photography is capable of. If your imaging requires 100x or greater magnification, microscopes are the way to go.
  2. With microscopy you can image living specimens, although with limitations.

Advantages over microscopy

The Magnify2 by GIGAmacro offers several key advantages over microscopy that can benefit researchers, educators or those professionals who digitize archives. Benefits of high-resolution gigapixel macro photography include:

  1. Flexibility to image an entire specimen and include microscopic details as well (not just one small section).
  2. Produce full color images with exceptional detail for more visual impact.
  3. Interactively pan and zoom in to the fine details details reducing the time it takes to analyze specimens.
  4. Share full resolution images online for collaboration or presentation.
  5. Create interactive displays that engage and educate.

So to sum up… Ask not what is the correct terminology (micro vs macro), but rather, how can your images best serve your purposes?

Many of our clients use a combination of microscopy and macro imaging to meet all there needs.  To discuss your imaging requirements and how MIGHTYmacro can help, connect with us here.