An Exercise in Magnification with Extension Tubes

An Exercise in Magnification with Extension Tubes

Extension tubes are really handy. Because they have no glass elements, they aren’t very heavy, and you can couple two or three together and put them into one pouch, and they are no bigger than a small lens, so they fit in the photographer’s vest without taking up much room.

When you put an extension tube between the lens and the camera, your focus distance decreases, so you can focus on things closer than you would be able to without the tube. The caveat is that they also reduce the maximum focus distance, so once fitted, you can no longer focus on infinity.  The wider the lens, the more drastic the change in focus distance. With wide angle lenses, you almost touch your subject before you get it in focus. It can give you some fun effects, but not that practical. Tubes work best with 50 to 100mm lenses, or even with very long lenses that usually have very long minimum focus distances, to allow you to shoot small birds quite large in the frame. Many people use extension tubes for macro or close-up photography, to get larger than life-size, or 1:1 magnification.

Having just bought a second 25mm extension tube (Canon Extension Tube EF 25 II), to give me 50mm, or 62mm with the 12mm extension tube also fitted, and also after receiving a question on my Canon EF 100mm F2.8 L Hybrid IS Macro lens review blog post, I figured I’d do a few tests to see how the combined extension tubes and a Canon 1.4X Extender effect the magnification of the lens.

Play Time!

Play Time!

The 5D Mark II sensor dimensions are 24x36mm, the same size as a 35mm film frame. This means that when shooting at life-size, something that is 36mm wide would be 36mm on the sensor.

For my tests I cranked the focus back as far as it would go, and focused with focusing rails, to get as close as possible. The first thing I noticed as I framed the first test image is that the 100mm F2.8L IS MACRO lens actually focuses slightly larger than 1:1, or life-size, as the resulting image included just 34.5mm of a steel rule. This means that right off the bat, we are actually shooting at 1.04:1, but to show the effect of the extension tubes and 1.4X Extender, I’m going to use 1:1 as the base.

Here are the images, straight out of the camera, with no cropping or rotation or anything (though re-sized for Web of course).

First, just the straight 100mm F2.8 L IS MACRO lens, with nothing attached, giving us a slightly larger but as good as life-size image:

Straight 100mm 1:1 Lifesize

Straight 100mm 1:1 Lifesize

This is with one Canon 25mm extension tube attached. This results in 1.35:1 magnification (below):

One 25mm Extension Tube

One 25mm Extension Tube

This is with two Canon 25mm extension tubes attached, giving us 50mm of extension. This results in 1.73:1 magnification (below):

Two 25mm Extension Tubes (50mm)

Two 25mm Extension Tubes (50mm)

Next I added the Canon 12mm extension tube to the two 25mm tubes, giving us 62mm of extension. This results in 1.9:1 magnification (below):

12mm + 2 x 25mm Extension Tubes (62mm)

12mm + 2 x 25mm Extension Tubes (62mm)

Finally, I tried the Canon 1.4X Extender II. This gave me a 2.71:1 magnification (below):

1.4X Extender + 12mm + 2 x 25mm Extension Tubes

1.4X Extender + 12mm + 2 x 25mm Extension Tubes

Note that the Extender doesn’t effect the minimum focus distant as tubes do, so for this last shot I didn’t have to crank the focusing rails, like in the other shots, though I did fine tune the focus.

Here’s a table of the results, for quick comparison.

Lens and Modifier Width on Sensor
Magnification
100mm Macro without any tubes etc. 34.5mm 1:1
With 25mm extension tube 25.5mm 1.35:1
50mm (2x25mm extension tubes) 20mm 1.73:1
62mm (2x25mm + 12mm tubes) 18.2mm 1.9:1
62mm Ext Tubes + 1.4X Extender 12.75mm 2.71:1

Conclusions

Well, on the magnification front, you can get down to 1.9 and 2.7X magnification pretty easily, with stuff that you may well have with you anyway. I own the Canon Canon MP-E 65mm F2.8 1-5x Macro lens as well, but I don’t always take it out, unless I know I’m going to specifically shoot macro. Also, although I haven’t yet tested this, I’m sure the Hybrid IS works to a degree, even when shooting larger than life-size, so that is another advantage over the 65mm.

The whole setup does get pretty long with 62mm of tubes and the 1.4X Extender, which can be good for getting close to your subject, but also makes it a little more difficult to balance than the MP-E 65mm macro lens. One other benefit of the 100mm with tubes, is that you have some focusing leeway. With the MP-E 65, you have no focus mechanism as such, although you can increase or decrease magnification which does move the focus. Basically though, you have to use a focusing rail and move whole setup (camera and lens) back and forth to focus.

I didn’t use a controlled constant light-source, just shooting with ambient light in my kitchen, but one thing to note is that for each 25mm tube, I had to increase the exposure by 2/3 of a stop. The 12mm tube needed 1/3 of a stop, and the 1.4X magnifier required an extra stop of light to create images of the same exposure.

One other thing to note is that I was impressed with the image quality right through the range. The whole series are pretty impressively sharp, to say that I’m sticking a lot of distant and even glass with the 1.4X Extender, between the 100mm Macro lens and the camera.

I’m not sure that I’ll use all of these tubes and the 1.4X Extender in the field, but it’s good to know that it’s there as an option.


B&H carry stock of the equipment discussed here at rock-bottom prices. By all means compare with other vendors, but if the price is right, support this blog and podcast by buying from these links. I’ve never had a problem with anything I’ve bought from B&H and I highly recommend them.

Canon Extension Tube EF 25 II |Canon Exension Tube EF 12 II | Canon 1.4X Extender (Teleconverter) |Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens | Canon 5D Mark II Digital SLR Camera

Macro Photography Part III – Solutions (Podcast 44)

Macro Photography Part III – Solutions (Podcast 44)

OK, so this really is going to be the last part in this Macro Photography series for now, although as I said before, I’ll probably follow up with more later as I gain experience in this complex subject. In the first part we touched on some macro terminology and basic problems and solutions. In part II, we discussed going larger than life size and the difficulties it imposes on us. If you haven’t already listened to these, you might want to go back to at least part II before listening to todays episode as what I’ll say is in direct relation to that. If you aren’t familiar with life-size shooting or what life-size or 1:1 means, or other terms like minimum focusing distance and working distance, I suggest to step back to part I which is episode 42 and brush up on some of these terms and some other basic macro techniques as well.

There are also download and subscription options at the end of the post.

OK, so I’d say that at least a small number of listeners were probably scared away by all the technical details and plain scariness of larger than life-size macro photography by the end of part II. Hopefully not, but some may have even cancelled their iTunes subscriptions and are now feeling all nice and cozy listening to some Photography Podcast for the Faint-Hearted. For you masochistic die-hards that are still tunes in though, welcome to the inner circle. Let’s talk about how to get some of the difficulties we’ve talked about in recent weeks. I warn you though, the path is windy and uneven. There are only a certain number of solutions to a lot of problems. Some problems such as incredibly shallow depth-of-field are governed by the laws of physics and simply cannot be overcome. We can just make the most of what we have and turn them into a positive thing as much as possible.

So, as I said last week, there are various methods to shoot at larger magnifications than life-size, but I chose the Canon MP-E 65mm F2.8 1-5x lens, which will go as the name says, up to 5 times magnification. The first issue I found with with larger than life-size photography is focusing. The marketing material and the manual for the MP-E 65mm lens states clearly that due to the difficulties in focusing this lens, they recommend using a focusing rail. In image number 1021 you will see a closer view of the Really Right Stuff Focusing Rail than the shot of my gear from last weeks episode that we’ll look at again later too. The first few months that I owned this lens I didn’t have a focusing rail and without one you have to move either the tripod closer or further away from the lens or move the camera on the tripod. I have collars on my macro lenses fitted with Wimberley Arca-Swiss compatible lens plates. So what that allowed me to do was to loosen the fastening nut and slide the lens, and therefore the camera back and forth in the quick shoe. But when we’re talking at less than a millimeter depth-of-field for anything less than life-size with this lens, this is hit-and-miss at best, and if you are crouching or kneeling down on a hard or uneven surface, it can soon become a painful experience too.

Really Right Stuff Focusing Rail

Really Right Stuff Focusing Rail

I spent a lot of time trying to find a focusing rail that would allow me to attach the camera to the rail using the lens collar with the plates, and the only one I found that does that is the “B150-B Package for collared macro lenses” from Really Right Stuff. If you would attach your camera to this focusing rail directly, you would only really need the B150-B Macro Focusing Rail, but the advantage the full package has over this is that you can also move the camera side to side as well as back and forth, for compositional changes. I’ll put a link to the Really Right Stuff focusing rails in the show notes.

Once you have the camera mounted on a focusing rail, you just turn one of the nuts on the front or back to move the camera back and forth on the rail. This allow for incredibly accurate focusing. If you want to zoom in or out a little by increasing or decreasing the magnification, you can do this to a certain extent without moving the camera, just refocusing with the focusing rail. It soon goes quite a way out of focus though, so I find that the best thing to do when changing magnification is to change it to roughly where you think you want to be, then slide the whole rail in the quick shoe on the tripod head. There are balance problems if you move it to far either way in the tripod head, but basically the whole bottom of the 15cm focusing rail is an Arca-Swiss plate, so you have a lot of room to maneuver. Once you have the composition close again, you can start to turn the focusing plate nuts to fine tune.

The two parts of the focusing plate are connected by a quick release shoe, so to move the camera sideways, you just move the lever to the center position, slide it around, and re-tighten the lever. If you have the quick release lever only half undone, the camera won’t slide out of the focusing rail thanks to the stopper screws protruding from the bottom of each side of the plate. One other advantage to this system is that if you undo the quick release lever fully you can remove the camera with the top part of the focusing rail fully for when you are walking from location to location. If you leave the whole thing connected while walking around it can be quite cumbersome and probably puts a fair amount of stress on some of the components.

One other aspect of shooting with such a shallow depth-of-field, is paralleling your subject. To illustrate what I mean, let’s take a look at image number 986. This was in some respects just a practice shot, but I kind of like it. I have a potted geranium plant on the balcony of my Tokyo apartment, and was photographing it for the Rainy Days assignment a few weeks ago. I did not yet have the focusing rail, but the focusing rail won’t really help with paralleling. If you take a look at this shot, which by the way was made again at F8 with four times magnification for 1 second at ISO 400, you’ll see that only the parts of the shot in sharp focus are the red starfish shaped stamen, a part of the petal just right of center in the top, and the tip of the green leaf on the right side of the image. My goal here was to get the stamen and the tip of the leaf in focus. Again, the sharp drop off in focus was going to be drastic and if the leaf tip had not been in focus it might have been distracting, especially with less interesting parts of the image sharp.

Geranium @ 4X

Geranium @ 4X

The thing that was working for me here is that as the plant was potted, I simply picked it up, put some newspaper on a counter in my kitchen, and stood my tripod with one leg extended to the floor, and two other legs contracted and opened up wide so as to go either side of the subject. Then once I got the composition just about right, I could fine tune the position of the subject by not only moving the plant pot back and forth and side to side, but also by rotating it. This was still incredibly tricky as I really had not used this lens very much yet, but after a lot of trial and error, both of different compositions and then this, I got a few shots that I liked. By the way, the rest of the flower had rain on the petals, and that is why I was shooting it for the Rainy Days assignment.

So basically, I had the freedom here to move the subject to get the parts of the image that I want to focus on parallel. If you are in the field though, you really have to just keep on moving the position of your tripod, carefully checking the focus, maybe also using the depth-of-field preview button on your camera to ensure that the subjects you want are in focus. Let’s look at image number 964 to see an example of possibly how not to do this. In this image I had three flowers, and I did not parallel them. I like the image as it is, because it keeps the focus on just the one flower head initially, but then the others are in focus enough to grab your attention for a while. These subjects were shot at around 20 centimeters, perhaps a little more, with my 100mm lens not the 65mm, so this is obviously not life-size or larger. Because of the distance to the subjects though, I was going to need a wide aperture to throw the surroundings out of focus, so I left the lens wide open at F2.8. This gave me a shutter speed of 1/320th of a second at ISO 100 as it was a bright spring morning. I also compensated the exposure by minus 1 stop to stop the whites in the blue flowers from overexposing. The thing I regretted with this shot is that I didn’t try to parallel any more than this. I did shoot some shots with a smaller aperture for a deeper depth-of-field, in which all three flowers are in focus, but in that shot, much of the rest of the scene is also in focus and therefore quite distracting. I don’t know if it would even have been possible to parallel all three of these flowers as I suspect they may not all be on sitting in a line, and if I could have only gotten two of them in focus, I’d prefer just the one like this. Basically though, I regret this shot because I didn’t have time to try any more and so I’ll never know if I could parallel the flowers and if that would have made for a better image. So in this case, we can probably take this as an example of how not to do it, even if, like me, you like this particular shot as it is. We learn by our mistakes.

Common Field Speedwell

Common Field Speedwell

In the next shot, number 963, although I did parallel the two flowers and consciously placed them with the water droplets on the bottom right all at a similar distance from the camera, I had selected an aperture of F22 to get much more of the scene in focus. The shutter speed was half a second again at ISO 100. I felt that there was so many objects of interest in this shot that I’d go with the deep depth-of-field, but to be honest I’m not all that fond of macro images like this. It’s nice to see the details but I prefer a shallow depth-of-field to make the main subject stand out and increase the dreamy effect. Still, if you don’t mind shots like this, increasing depth-of-field takes the pressure off for precise paralleling like in the shot of the geranium we looked at earlier.

Dewey Common Field Speedwell

Dewey Common Field Speedwell

Having learned by my possible mistake with the Common Field Speedwell, the blue flowers we looked at earlier, I do pay more attention to getting my subjects parallel now. This is much easier too when you are alone and aren’t keeping someone waiting. I must admit that although I prefer to be with my better half when I’m out and about, when shooting macro or any subject that I need to take time with, being alone is a definite advantage.

The next shot was taken during a slow few hours in a park near my apartment last weekend which was June 17th, 2006. Let’s take a look at image number 1024. On the way into the park I noticed this group of flowers but was going to shoot them with my 100mm macro, so I kept them in mind and went into the park, as I wanted to practice using the 65mm lens with the focusing rail. On the way out of the park I returned to the same spot and found the same group and spend plenty of time shooting them, holding them steady with the Wimberley Plamp that I’ve mentioned in the past. This shot too was made at F2.8, at 1/125th of a second at ISO 200. You can see how I’ve paralleled this shot, focusing on the front part of the yellow centers of the two flowers. For more visual confirmation at this size, you can see the sharp white petals around one third into both flowers. Again, I’ve used a wide aperture to throw the rest of this image out of focus. This reduces the other elements of the image apart from the unopened bud in the foreground to blotches of colour, enough to grab your attention enough to recognize that they are other buds or flowers, but not so much as to distract from the main subjects.

Himejo-on (Erigeron annuus)

Himejo-on (Erigeron annuus)

One other major issue when shooting macro outside, especially at larger magnifications than life-size, is that even the slightest breeze causes subject blur in your images. I said that I had used the Canon Macro Twin-Lite MT-24EX flash unit to light the first shot in part II but I also used it for this shot too. Take a look at image number 1022 from part II again. The MT-24EX can be seen in the attached to the flash shoe of my 5D in the shot of the gear earlier, with the actual flash heads attached to an adapter on the front of the lens. You can also use the Canon Macro Ring-Lite MR-14EX with this lens. Using the twin-lite or ring-lite allows you to get a fast enough shutter speed to illuminate blur caused by subject movement. It also could not be easier as all you have to do is attach the twin-lite, angle the flash heads to point at your subject, and set the camera to manual. I usually find that I set the flash exposure compensation to around -2/3 as I did with the first and last shots for today. Once you’ve done this, the camera gives one burst of flash when you press the shutter if using mirror up to get an accurate meter reading, then when you finally release the shutter the flash fires again for the exposure. I usually set between 100th of a second and 250th of a second, depending on how much breeze there is. 1/200th of a second is a good place to start.

Canon EOS 5D with Macro Gear

Canon EOS 5D with Macro Gear

The thing you will find it though the faster the shutter speed the more your exposure will depend on light from the flash, and the background will fall into total darkness. Sometimes I prefer a totally dark background as it removes any distractions totally, as with the top left of the first shot we looked at last week. Sometimes though I use a second flash unit to illuminate the background, and this is what I did in this last shot of the daisies. Although there’s a dark patch at the far right of this image, the background is fairly well lit and the image overall looks like it was shot on a nice bright day in full sunlight. The reality is that this was shot in twilight after the sun had dropped below the horizon and there was very little available light left. A few minutes after shooting this image I spent about 10 minutes packing my gear into my backpack before starting the ten minute walk home, but it was pretty much totally dark by the time I got back to my apartment.

I only own one more flash unit and that is the 550EX. Both the MT-24EX Twin-Lite and the 550EX have built in wireless transmitters and the 550EX can be set up as a slave to the Twin-Lite and also the Ring-Lite allowing 550EX to be fired wireless as long as it’s receiver is in the line of site of the Twin-Lite. You just need to ensure that both the Twin-Lite and the 550EX are set up to use the same channel. By default they should both be set to use channel 1 and there’s no need to change this. The two flash tubes on the Twin-Lite or Ring-Lite are called A and B, and when a slave is setup it automatically becomes C. Once the Twin-Lite can see the slave, which can of course be a 580EX as well as the 550EX that I have, when you press the RATIO button on the Twin-Lite you will toggle through the off state, just the RATIO of light between A and B, which allows you to make one flash tube stronger than the other or turn either off all together, and also will toggle to A, B and C. Once C is displayed you can control the slaves flash exposure compensation from the Twin-Lite by using the plus and minus buttons to raise and lower the compensation. This is especially useful if you have set the slave down somewhere to illuminate the background. The manual states that you can place the slave anywhere within 80 degrees of the master, or the Twin-Lite or Ring-Lite and up to 3 meters away outdoors, or 5 meters away indoors. You need to turn the head of the 550 or 580EX so that the front of the body of the flash with the receiver on it is facing the Twin-Lite. If you press the pilot button to test the flash, you it will also fire the slave once setup.

One other feature of the Twin-Lite that I really like, especially when shooting with the 65mm lens with it’s inherently small apertures that make the finder quite dark, is that if you quickly half press the shutter button twice, kind of like a double-click on a computer, the flash tubes will illuminate enough to through light on your subject to enable you to see better for focusing.

Without the Twin-Lite at least, I’d say photography outdoors with the MP-E 65mm lens can be very troublesome in all but the most sheltered areas, simply due to the slightest breeze causing your subject to become blurred. If you recall from last week, the effective apertures are a lot smaller than the aperture number displayed on the camera, so getting enough light into the camera without using flash can be difficult. If you have a standard flash like the 550 or 580EX, I advise you to get used to using it as a slave to light the background as I did in the daisy shot we looked at earlier to stop it from falling into darkness. The one problem that I’m still seeing even with this technique though, is that if the background is relatively far away from the subject, the slave doesn’t reach it easily, and it still falls dark. In most conditions to now, I’ve also not been able to actually take the flash and place it closer to the background with the flash itself out of site, though this is an option.

Spider Eats Wasp (with Flash)

Spider Eats Wasp (with Flash)

A few days ago I actually had a few hours in a local nature research institute, and there was no wind for much of the time, though a breeze got up every so often. During a calm spell I was lucky to get a couple of shots of a spider eating a wasp hanging from a leaf. One of them without using flash and the other with both the twin-lite and the 550EX trying to light the background. Let’s take a look first at the flash lit shot, number 1034. This was shot at F16 for 1/200th of a second at ISO200, and as I say, using the twin-lite and the 550EX as a slave pointed at the greenery in the background. You can see though that the background, which was probably around 2.5 meters or 10 feet away, was hardly lit by the slave flash, even though I’d added two stops of exposure compensation for the slave.

Spider Eats Wasp (No Flash)

Spider Eats Wasp (No Flash)

Now take a look at the second shot, which is number 1033, shot at F11 for 1/8th of a second at ISO 400. Of course I was using a tripod so this slow shutter speed was not going to cause camera shake, but of the three or so exposures that I made, only this one was acceptably sharp, due to the subject itself moving. You can see in this shot though that the greenery in the background has been well exposed and the shot has lost that harsh feel that the flash light gave it. I much prefer the natural soft look of this image, though that white flower in the background is annoying. As you know lenses focus with the aperture wide open, so you have to use the depth of field preview button to stop down enough to see. With this lens though the depth of field is so shallow, I don’t think I had any idea that the flower was there until I looked at the preview on the camera. By this time though, a park attended was walking towards me tapping his watch as it was 5 o’clock, kicking out time. The next time I use this setup I’m going to try to use the depth of field preview a little more to avoid this sort of thing. If I remember correctly, when you press the depth of field preview button when using the twin-lite it fires some stroboscopic modeling light onto the subject to allow you to see at small apertures. Don’t quote me on this though as I’ve not checked this right now.

Back to the dark backgrounds though, there is one other thing that I try to do when using the twin-lite to avoid getting the dark background, and that is to fill as much of the frame as possible with stuff that’s close to the camera. Let’s look at one last macro shot for today also from this recent trip to the nature research institute, which is image number 1025. In this shot, made with the 100mm macro at F4 for 1/160th of a second at ISO 200, you can see that I was lucky enough to find this bug, which I have not ID’d yet, walking on a bright yellow leaf. As the leaf was going to fill the entire frame I did not use a slave, just the twin-lite with the heads positions to throw light into the shot even from both sides and the result is this pretty wacky out of this world image. With the shallow depth of field F4 was going to give me at this distance I just focused on the eyes and to see what I got, and I was quite pleased with the results. Note too here that I was hand-holding for this shot, which is an added bonus of using the twin-lite. I actually this week shot a few other shots down to double life size while hand-holding, so it might not be quite as difficult to do this, at least down to these magnifications, as I initially though. I’m still sure this would not be possible at much more than double life size though. I’ll update you later if I find out otherwise.

Walking on the Sun

Walking on the Sun

Of course, even in macro photography other lighting techniques are still valid to a certain extent. Reflectors will help to light the background if you don’t have a second flash, but I don’t think this will work well in less than bright sunny conditions when there’s plenty of light to reflect. Also note that Nikon do make a very similar system of flashes for Macro photography, and in fact I really like the Nikon Close-up Speedlight as it allows multiple flash heads to be attached to the ring. I’m not sure how much more useful this would be than the two that Canon have on the Twin-Lite, but I do like the innovative design. Sorry to all the Nikon users or users of other systems for that matter for not covering your gear well, but I know that you the level of users listening to this Podcast have the wherewithal to port any maker specific information to your own system so that you can still make it useful.

One last thing I want to point out before closing is if you go look at the front of the lens on the image of the equipment we looked at earlier you’ll see a weird attachment that looks a little like a chameleon’s eye. This is the hood for this lens. As it is expected that most of the work with this lens will be done employing the twin-lite flash unit we just looked at, as the subject can only be focused on very close to the front of the lens, light from the flash heads can enter the lens quite easily. This hood is designed to cover as much of the front of the lens as possible to keep out any stray light from the flash.

So that’s about it for macro photography for now. Some of you will have found this last three episodes heavy going but I hope it has been of some use, if not a valuable introduction to some basic and some more advanced macro photography gear and techniques. I also hope that it will encourage some of you that are not yet exploring the whole new world that opens up to you once you get yourself a true life-size or higher magnification macro lens, and enable yourself to see this amazing macrocosm.

One piece of housekeeping before we close is that the Rainy Days assignment voting is now turned on. Thanks very much to those of you that have already voted. If you have not yet voted, please do. There are again some excellent entries to choose from. Right now there’s a small black “Vote” button above the photo when viewed full size, and you will be able to change your vote after you’ve voted until voting end. I originally announced that voting would be possible until the end of Sunday the 9th of July, but I need to bring this in by a few days to the end of Thursday the 6th of July as I have some plans for the following week and will not be able to complete the next episode and announce in time if I wait until the 9th. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. Have a great week what ever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes
Music from Music Alley: www.musicalley.com/


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.



Macro Photography Part I – An Introduction (Podcast 42)

Macro Photography Part I – An Introduction (Podcast 42)

Macro Photography could never be covered totally in just one Podcast episode. I’m currently planning two episodes of which this is the first with a second to follow next week, and still I’m really only going to be able to scratch the surface. The reasons for this are that I’ll probably bore the listeners that have no interest in macro photography silly harping on about it for weeks on end, and the other, and more important reason is that macro-photography is such a complex subject that I’m really probably just scratching the surface of it myself in many respects. I feel confident enough at this point in time to talk to you about what I know, and I’ll number these first episodes parts I and II. As I gain experience and learn more about this complex subject though I will almost certainly be following it up at some point in the future with part III or more.

I’ve been shooting with a macro lens since December 2003, when I picked up a Canon EF 100mm F2.8 Macro USM lens. My other macro lens that I picked up a few months ago is the Canon MP-E 65mm F2.8 1-5x lens. This lens is quite specialized in that it allows you to shoot at up to five times greater than 1:1 or life size and it has no focusing mechanism. I’ll go into more detail on this lens and its use next week. To date though, the majority of my Macro work has been done with the 100mm F2.8 lens. This is an incredibly sharp lens for both macro work and is also often discussed as a great portrait lens too. This can often help to tip the scales when deciding whether or not to buy the lens as its use would not be totally limited to macro work.

Firstly, I’d like to explain why I got into Macro photography. Well, the initial reason was very simple. I did not have a car as it is expensive and to a certain degree no necessary to own a car here in Tokyo, so in addition to the odd excursion to natural places of beauty, I was fulfilling much of my desire to make photographs in parks accessible by train around Tokyo. When I went to these parks I was shooting flowers and bugs with standard lenses, such as the 28-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS lens. The closest focusing distance of this lens though is 50cms and this gives a maximum magnification of 0.19. Around 0.2, or basically around one fifth life-size is pretty normal for standard zoom lenses.

So, I should also explain what is meant by life-size? A piece of 35mm film is 36x24mm. Life size means that if I was to photograph an object say 1cm wide, it would appear on the film at exactly 1cm if I measured it. Therefore, if for example I shot something exactly 36mm wide it would fill the frame and the film exactly if shot at the minimum focusing distance. With a lens that has a maximum magnification of 0.2 however the 1cm object would be just 2mm on the film and the 36mm object would occupy just 7.2 millimeters on the film.

There are other focal length macro lenses available from Canon such as the 50mm F2.5 compact macro lens, but this lens alone only gives you 0.5 magnification. To achieve life-size images with this lens you need the dedicated life-size converter. There is also a 180mm F3.5 L macro lens from canon. All of these focal lengths create an image that is 1:1 or life-size. The difference is the minimum focusing distance or working distance. For the 180mm, 48cm is the closest you can focus and this will produce a life-size image. The 100mm lens will focus as close as 31cm, and the 50mm as close as 23cm. So as long as you have the life-size converter on the 50mm all of these lenses will produce a 1:1 life-size image.

Nikon have a similar range and there are also fine macro lenses available from third party manufacturers. I suggest if you don’t already own a macro lens but are thinking of buying one, check out the forum at martinbaileyphotography.com. There are a number of threads discussing the various lenses available. Also consider how close or far you need to be from your subject, and if possible actually go to a store and try the lenses on your camera to see just how close you can get. Maybe take a few shots of a coin or something that is a constant size to give you an idea of how large it can be reproduced on film.

I personally find the 100mm to be perfect for most work, and although I’d like the 180mm macro lens to give me more working distance, I’ve not as yet been able to justify the cost or additional weight over my 100mm lens.

The fourth macro lens from Canon, the MP-E 65mm F2.8 1-5x lens actually at starts at life-size and magnifies to a maximum of 5 times that. This lens has minimum focusing distances from 24 to 31cms, depending on the magnification, but again, this is quite a specialist lens so we’ll cover it in more detail later on.

Note that when measuring a lenses minimum focusing distance or working distance you measure from the film or sensor, not the end of the lens. When you consider that 100mm lens is almost 12cms long to start with, and there’s probably about 3cms from the back of the lens to the film, we’re probably talking 15cms to subtract from the working distance to get the distance from the front of the lens to the subject, which would leave 16cms. If you consider the length of the hood for this lens too, that only leaves you about 7cms to the subject. If you are shooting insects with good eye sight, like jumping spiders for example, this distance can make them skittish and you may well loose your shot. If you intend to shoot a lot of insects and not just flowers that don’t tend to run away when you get too close, the 180mm might be worth considering.

Macro lenses do of course not have to be used at 1:1. You can move away from the subject to make the same artistic decisions on the composition of your shots as you would any other type of photography. Another thing to bear in mind is that the closer you get to your subject and the longer the focal length of your camera, the shallower the depth-of-field gets. This allows you to throw the background out of focus very easily, but with macro photography obtaining the depth-of-field you require can sometime be difficult, even at very small apertures. I personally though prefer images with quite a shallow depth of field more often than not to give the image a nice dreamy effect.

Let’s look at a shot that I made about two years ago, which is shot number 453. For reasons that will become obvious when you view the shot I called this Raggedy Moth, as this particular species of moth looks pretty scruffy with its brown colouring and hair. I have the real name of the moth on my site but I’m not going to embarrass myself by trying to pronounce it here. Although I’d shot lots of flowers in the nine months or so since I bought the 100mm macro lens, this was probably the first shot that I got close to what I was trying to do. I was hand holding at 1/80th of a second shutter speed and the aperture set to F4. At this distance, which I’d say was probably around 15cms from the front of my lens hood, so F4 did not give me much depth-of-field, but enough to get the head, most of the moths tentacles, and its front legs in focus. The flower on which the moth is perches is also in focus for a little way, but the top and bottom are way out of focus, along with the background. I was pleased with this shot just because it too because the moth was not bulls-eyed. I managed to move it slightly of center and the flower in the mirror image position. It’s not a great shot, but as I say it was probably my first successful insect shot.

Raggedy Moth 1 (Parnara guttata Bremer et Grey)

Raggedy Moth 1 (Parnara guttata Bremer et Grey)

When working at close quarters like this, keeping the camera still is much more of a task that one might think. I’ve mentioned the rule of having the focal length as the slowest shutter speed a number of times, and indeed with the last image I was using quite a slow shutter speed looking back. When trying to shoot something that is moving though, you really do need a faster shutter speed. Even then shooting in bursts helps to get one good out of a number of possibly blurred or out of focus shots. In the spring of 2005 I shot image number 641 of a wasp in flight. This was probably the first time I managed to catch something in flight at such a close distance. Again I was shooting hand-held, and I’d selected an ISO of 400 for a faster shutter speed of 1/250th of a second, again with an aperture of F4. This wasp was although in flight, was actually hovering for a second or so when I shot this, then it flitted around again before settling on the Chameleon Plant below. I don’t have a clue why that flower is called a Chameleon Plant. It just is. You can see again from the relatively small area of the flower that is in focus how shallow the depth of field is here, so I hope you can appreciate how careful you need to be with both the focus and keeping the camera steady when hand holding for this kind of shot.

Flying with Purpose

Flying with Purpose

People often think that moving the camera from side to side or up and down are the only problems when discussing camera shake. The truth is though when shooting macro, the camera moving backwards and forwards is also a problem as you can quickly move the depth-of-field away from the subject ruining a good chance. As I say, if you are going to hand hold for macro work, shoot in bursts to increase your chances of getting something useable and try to get a shutter speed of twice to three times your focal length if possible. One of the main reasons for failure in my first year of macro photography was putting too much faith in the focal length to shutter speed rule. Since failing so many times I now try to double or triple my shutter speed for hand holding, or use a dedicated macro flash, which we’ll discuss later.

Rice Grasshopper

Rice Grasshopper

The other obvious thing to do is support your camera on a tripod, although this is not always possible when chasing flying insects such as bees or butterflies around. In image 696 I was using a tripod to shoot this incredibly patient rice grasshopper. I wrote in the comments for this image that the grasshopper seemed to be whispering to me. I still feel that way, but looking back at the shot now I do also feel that he was being incredibly patient. I’m personifying my subjects again, but it feels like he’s thinking “how much longer do you need, can I go yet”. Indeed, grasshoppers can be very patient, but if you get too close, they do what they do best and hop away. The light was very harsh for this shot, and although I have some strong highlights on the far side of the grasshopper, including it’s almost translucent legs, I’m quite happy with the results. If I had realized the shot was going to be this contrasty I might have tried throwing some light in either with my flash or a reflector that I would definitely have been carrying. This is definitely something to bear in mind in future.

This was a relatively large insect and I was shooting slightly diagonally from above, so I selected an aperture of F8 and as I was using a tripod, the shutter speed was 1/20th of a second at ISO 100. There was absolutely no wind on this day. If there had been, I would have needed to increase the ISO and set a much higher shutter speed to freeze this subject as the stalk onto which it is clinging would have been swaying back and forth enough to blur a 20th of a second exposure. Things to bear in mind when buying a tripod that’s you’ll use for macro work are finding something that can not only high enough so as not to bend your back for extended periods while spending time focusing etc., but also one that goes low enough for you to get down the height of some of the little critters that you will almost undoubtedly take an interest in once you have opened your eyes, and your photography up to the microcosm you can now explore. It helps is your legs not only collapse to a very short length but also if they can be opened up in a few stages splaying the legs out further than normal. To do this without the center pole touching the floor you’ll probably need a model with a removable center pole. This is actually pretty much essential for macro work as we’ll see in the final shot for this introduction to macro photography, image number 955.

Frail Blue Flower

Frail Blue Flower

I actually showed you this image in Podcast episode 32 when I discussed tripods. Many species of flowers grow very close to ground level, so to make an image like this, where we’re actually looking up at the flower head slightly, I had my camera hanging upside down, with the flash shoe about 2 centimeters from the ground. I had my tripod legs opened out to 45 degrees, and the center pole inserted upside down into the tripod so that the camera hung upside down. The ability to do this was something I anticipated and considered when I bought my tripod. All of these things should be kept in mind when deciding what to buy if you are currently considering macro photography and don’t yet have your tripod.

Finally today, one more tip based on this image is that there is an easy and relatively cheap way to decrease the working distance and increase magnification to more than life size is to use an extension tube that goes between your lens and camera body. The 100mm lens with a 25mm extension tube is and especially nice combination. For more information on extension tubes, you can listen to episode 24 of this Podcast if you haven’t already. This current shot was made again with the 100mm F2.8 macro lens, but also using the 25mm extension tube and the aperture set to F4 for 160th of a second. Even using the tripod I’d selected ISO 200 for a faster shutter speed as there was a slight breeze.

With the extension tube I was able to get even closer to this tiny blue flower called a Common Field Speedwell and you can also see how that has effected the depth-of-field, which is now so shallow that only the stamen and a tiny portion of the flowers petal, a leaf and the stem is in focus. One thing to note is that although extension tubes decrease the minimum focusing distance they also decrease the maximum focusing distance dramatically too, so you could not simply raise the camera from shooting a flower or a bug at 15cms to shoot a UFO about to land in a nearby field.

So, as I’ve said, this week we’ve really just scratched the surface of macro-photography, touching on some terminology, working distance and shooting single subjects and some precautions we need to take when doing so. Next week we’ll talk about paralleling your composition when you have multiple subjects that you want in focus, and we’ll also discuss some more advanced macro techniques such as using dedicated macro flash, using a second flash to illuminate the background, and going greater than life size and the difficulties that imposes on us.

Please remember that this is the last week for entries to the Rainy Days assignment, which closes on June 25th. If you haven’t yet posted your entry, please take a look at the details in the Assignment Forum, and if you didn’t listen to the original Podcast on this assignment but would like to give it a try, please go back to Episode 37 for details.

Thank you very much for listening today and I hope this has been interesting and of some use. Listen out next week for the second part, but until then, have a great week, whatever you’re up to. Bye bye.


Show Notes
Music from Music Alley: www.musicalley.com/


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.