I’ve always enjoyed macro photography. There’s something inherently awesome about capturing the individual hairs on a spiders face. Awesome and creepy. But macro photography isn’t always easy – there’s issues with depth of field, lighting, shutter speeds etc and choosing the right equipment is critical. But the crazy thing about macro is there are many options available when it comes to equipment – probably more so than any other kind of photography – you want a wide angle shot? You use a wide angle lens. You need to shoot wildlife from afar? A long lens is probably what you need. When it comes to macro though the options are numerous…
Dedicated Macro Lenses
Typically a dedicated lens is the best option in terms of optical performance and speed. All the major manufacturers offer at least one macro lens. The great thing is they are often very good portrait lenses as well. I own the 60mm f2.8 AF-D Micro-Nikkor and it’s one of the best lenses I’ve ever used. Ridiculously sharp, full 1:1 reproduction and really solidly built. This lens is amazing.
The only trouble with it is when you try to capture the horrid little beasties of the world as the 60mm focal length means you need to get quite close to capture them which can often scare the crap out of them leading to them scurrying/flying away. A longer focal length like a 105mm or 200mm is certainly better for insects and the like. I have an old Vivitar 90mm but it takes an age to focus and the quality is… well… not bad as such. It’s sharp enough, but it lacks contrast.
My lovely friend Seila is borrowing my 60mm at the moment which means I’ve been relying on other options to get my macro fix…
Are you an Aberdonian Skinflint McScrooge-face or maybe just can’t afford a dedicated macro lens? Fear not cuz here come those other options I spoke about. First off are extension tubes. These cheap, hollow tubes fit between your lens and your camera body. This has the effect of shortening the minimum focusing distance of your lens so you can get closer to the subject. You can combine tubes to get even closer but there are a few drawbacks – when the tubes are attached the lens will no longer focus to infinity and the amount of light reaching your film/sensor is reduced which means either increasing the iso or having longer exposure times and both of those options come with their own share of problems. Another thing is that extension tubes won’t work with all lenses – wider angle lenses end up shifting the focusing distances inside the lens making it totally useless for any sort of work. 50mm or higher is fine though.
I’ve been using extension tubes a lot recently along with a Samyang 85mm 1.4 and the results I’m getting are spectacular. That lens is pin sharp and the fast aperture can help with the reduced light caused by the extension tubes.
Bellows work much the same way as extension tubes – they increase the distance between the lens and the body and thus shorten the minimum focusing distance. The advantage with bellows is that unlike extension tubes which come in fixed sized, the bellows length can be adjusted giving you a little bit more control.
What’s great is that you can use extension tubes and/or bellows with a dedicated macro to get even closer to the subject to capture ridiculously small details. I’ve been using this set up a lot recently too along with a Bowens Illumitran 3S (which I’ll write more about later)
Macro filters screw into the front of your lens and magnify the image. Quality is less than great especially at the edges where distortion on APS-C and full frame cameras is very evident. Images tend to be soft as well especially if you stack two or more of them. If used on a compact camera they can work ok but to be fair most compacts these days come with a pretty decent macro function.
Never used on of these before – basically mount your lens to your camera backwards by using a special screw in filter which features your cameras lens mount. Quality I’ve heard is usually quite high since you’re using proper glass but I’ve no experience with lens reversal I’ll just have to take other peoples word for it.
[Update] – Just tried lens reversal by holding a 35mm lens backwards against my camera body. Worked a treat! Although it’s a pretty rubbish photo… just wanted to try it out! 😀
Now all I need is a project… Hmmm