Thursday, May 15, 2014

Considering macro work...

I recently stumbled on a few seriously beautiful images by

The way the background and foreground elements are thrown out of focus, as well as the lighting and of course the sharpness of the central subject all attracted my attention.  He seems to have used a Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro shot at f/2.8 (if the EXIF info is accurate).

This made me wonder what was in my own kit that might do something similar should I ever find the right combination of bugs and light.  So I threw a couple New Yorker Magazines on the table, set up the tripod, hauled out the Canon 7D, opened it up in Live-View to v.carefully focus the bunch of lenses I had on hand.  Here's what I took a look at -
  • Pentax Takumar-Macro 50mm f/4
  • Nikon Nikkor Micro 55mm f/3.5
  • Nikon Nikkor-H 85mm f/1.8 with cheap Chinese extension tubes
  • Canon 24-105mm L f/4 at 105mm
  • Nikon Nikkor-Q 135mm f/2.8 with cheap Chinese extension tubes
  • Canon 70-200mm L f/4
Be sure to enlarge the attached image to 100 percent and scroll around the screen to see comparisons at different apertures.

A couple things to note -

  • Cheap Chinese extension tubes do NOT hold EOS mount lenses securely.  The lens tilts from it's own weight.  I'm thinking of throwing mine into the recycle and buying something more properly made.
  • Lenses not designed for macro work seem just as sharp as those made for the task.  Look at everything at f/4 and f/5.6.  There's nothing _not_ brilliant in the bunch.  At f/2.8 the 85mm and 135mm Nikkors are very nice optics indeed.
  • The Honeywell Pentax Takumar Macro racks out to 1:1 _without_ the need for extension tubes.  The Nikon Micro 55mm only goes to 1:2.  Yes, all the non-Canon optics are old manual focus and require an EOS adapter and careful work to get decent results.
  • Short lenses need closer working distances to a subject.  In this case I was around 12 inches from the subject when using the short lenses.  I can see why folks who photograph bugs like the longer macro optics.  They'd give the photographer work to work with.
  • The Canon L-lenses are great and focus rather closely.  I'll have to see when I get into the field, but at first blush, these are sufficient for the task.  If not, the Takumar or Micro Nikkor are very light and small and won't be any problem carrying with me "just in case."
  • If you don't have the dosh for a new-wowy-zowy AF macro, old manual focus lenses can be rather inexpensive.  Things start selling around 25USD for early f/4 50/55mm lenses to 300USD for the "high end" multi-coated 100mm f/2.8 stuff.  I see that Olympus' 90mm f/2 Macro from the old OM series still fetches north of 500USD.  Which means either it's a brilliant optic or it contains just the right amount of "un-obtainium" to keep the prices higher than even new AF macros.

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