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When it comes to macro photography and Nikon, what is the difference between a Micro and a Macro [Nikkor] lens?

Is the answer as simple as to say that Nikon uses Micro in its nomenclature for its macro photography lenses?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

Historically, "macro" has been reserved for lenses that can make 1:1 or larger reproductions - microscope territory.

Nikon makes (or made) lenses for microphotography that they call Macro-Nikkors. Their engineers therefore decided to call the common-or-garden lenses that only go down to 1:1 for "Micro-Nikkors". See the discussion on Nikon's site here, and on Bjørn Rørslett's site here.

Nikon doesn't have an equivalent to Canons 65mm MP-E lens, which can go down to 5:1, but if they did, it would probably be a "Macro-Nikkor" as opposed to a "Micro-Nikkor".

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Yup, the answer is that simple. In Nikon-ese they use the term 'Micro' to mean 1:1 reproduction - which is Macro to the rest of the world.

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It's worth noting that "micro" (ie: very small) is probably more appropriate than "macro" (ie: very large), in the same way that we talk about "microscopes" – Craig Walker Aug 4 '11 at 5:31
Eh, po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe. You're bringing the 'micro' world into the 'macro' world. Either name works. – rfusca Aug 4 '11 at 5:35

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