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Mickyj's Macro's (A learning experience)


New to macro photography ? So am I. It is a long road full of education and if you join me, you will need to be patient, to get that extra special shot. It is a world of manual focus, steady hands (or a tripod) and exploration. A trip to your backyard will never be the same.


I have been playing with macro for a while now. I still have a long way to go. I have tried a number of macro tools and thought I would put my thoughts about my travels on this page.


Here are the tools I have tried with my Canon AF cameras:


  • Extension tubes with normal zoom/prime lenses

  • Bellows with normal zoom/prime lenses

  • Fisheye with macro removable adaptor

  • Reverse lens adaptors

  • Purpose built macro lens (Sigma 105mm)

  • Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Lens

  • Tele Zoom lens with Macro setting

  • Two lenses back to front or stacked

  • Macro setting on camera with normal lens

  • Extra - Macro light

  • Extra - Diffusers


At the end of this page are some tips from various forums (Tips about macro photography) and my future macro tool wish list.



What are my thoughts on these tools ?


Extension tubes $18 - $160 AU (eBay)


I have found extension tubes fairly hard to use. They have an extremely small working distance between the lens and object. With a lens hood attached to the lens or Macro light, I often bump the subject. As you attach a normal lens in manual focus mode, it is hard to take photos of live moving subjects. The actual magnification is huge.


Extending the distance between the camera and lens is one of the best methods I have had to dramatically increase the magnification.

I have seen Kenko tubes for $160 however, I have a cheap no name unit and find them good to use. As the tubes usually come in three sections, you can change the distance between the camera and lens in any combination (In "stages"). I have had some very nice photos doing this but it is a pain to have to keep disassembling the stages to change the magnification. It was for this reason I bought a bellows unit. I have all the same features, same magnification however I can gradually change the magnification and have far more freedom.  


I use my extensions mainly with my Canon EFS 18-55 mm lens and macro ring light. All macro work, is best done with a tripod or lots of light. Focus is hard to achieve with extensions and you don't get a great DOF (Depth of field) but with practice you can get some great shots. I find the best way to shot is to move your head (and hence camera) towards and away from the subject until you get focus.


Summary: Extension tubes are great value for money (Very Cheap) for the magnification they give, but if I spent my money again for this purpose, I would get a Bellows. If you have lots of money and a canon camera .. look at the Canon MP-E 65mm.


Reader Comment: "..more expensive extension tubes usually have electrical contacts in them, so you get to keep electronic aperture control. They don't improve the picture quality over the ultra-cheapies, but they are way more convenient. "

- SquallStrife - Atomic Forums






You can do this sort of extension ever cheaper with a Ghetto Macro. 


See examples of the various macro methods


Bellows 150 mm rail $50 AU (eBay)


As mentioned above in my discussions on extension tubes, these are a great tool to play with. They give awesome magnification, are cheap and much easier to work with than extension tubes. The bellows extension can be quickly measured, is more granular than extension tubes, more stable, smooth extension and quicker to change magnification. For me, it beats extension tubes hands down.

Just like the extension tubes, the bellows gives huge magnification. The working distance is the same as with extension tubes. You need to get really close to the subject. This rules out live nature, insect etc photos. You need stationary items and then move the camera (And your head) toward and from the subject to help you achieve focus.


I use my bellows with a Canon EFS 18-55 mm lens.


Summary: The ease of use and the magnification are great.  For the price, the system is well worth the money. (Much cheaper than my other favorite - the Canon MP-E 65mm)





See examples of the various macro methods


Super Wide, fisheye with macro adaptor ring $120 AU (eBay)


Unless you have a full frame camera, fisheye is actually a hard effect to achieve. I don't have a full frame (I have a APS-C size sensor) but I am happy with my fish eye results. The fish eye lenses sometimes come with a removable macro lens/filter that you can attach to the end of your normal lens. The affect is fairly good. You have a low working distance so you need to basically push the lens into your subject to get focus.


I do not currently have a good enough sample photo to post here. Apart from the fish eye prospects, this is an expensive way to get a macro effect (for what you get). It has advantages as this is fixed to the end of your lens which is easier to manually focus than the bellows and extension tubes.  The magnification is not as great as the bellows or extension tubes. In comparison, I still prefer the Bellows.


Summary: I would buy this for the fisheye effects. The macro is not fantastic.


See examples of the various macro methods


Reverse lens adaptor $12 AU (eBay)


This is the cheapest form of macro I have so far found. I have used it attached it to the front facing side of my Canon EF 50mm 1:1.8 lens. I have found the images distorted and it is very hard to focus. It rivals the magnification of the extension tubes but I have not yet been impressed with any of the photos. This form of macro has a very small working distance




The only advantage of this, is the fact it is cheap.


Summary: This is cool to try with different lenses however in my opinion this does not beat the Bellows.


See examples of the various macro methods


Macro Lens $700+ AU


To help curb my lust for macro I purchased a Sigma 105 mm Macro lens. A real macro lens so that I can stop playing with various attachments. Whilst I was happy as suddenly I had access to auto focus (If I choose to use it), I now also had greater working distance. I can now sit back further and zoon in for macro shots which means live photos of insects could be taken without disturbing the subject (Ratio 1:1). Macro using this kind of lens does not come cheap. The magnification is not as great as the bellows or tubes however it is much more controllable. With a lens, you can use an on shoe flash more easily (as the extensions can push the lens too far out in front for the flash) and after taking the photo, you can zoom into the final picture and crop an image that is reasonably sharp and full of detail.


This is a purpose built macro lens.



The only issues I found with the Sigma lens was that the barrel moves out towards the subject and the AF is sluggish (If you choose to use it). The barrel extension might scare a live subject.


On the plus size, the DOF is better than other tools I have tried. Using a lens, I can finally set the aperture, which a bellows and extension tubes can not support (no electrical connection).


Summary: Due to it's magnification and cost, I still prefer the Bellows. For extreme macro I would use the bellows, for normal macro's (less magnification)  I would use the Sigma and I can crop the photos later. I think I can safely interchange the word Bellows and Canon MP-E 65mm. The MP-E is like a very heavy duty expensive Bellows :)


See examples of the various macro methods


Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Lens $1200 - $1800 AU (eBay)


The first thing that shocked me was the size and weight of this unit. Then the lens extension and design struck me. It is basically a really fancy bellows with built in lenses and designed like it was built for warfare. It gives a 1-5x magnification and to be honest, I am in love. Here is a really good discussion about this lens.  http://myrmecos.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/the-canon-mp-e-65mm-1-5x-macro-lens/


This lens works well on my Canon 30D (APS-C size sensor). It functions only as a macro (no mountain vistas etc) starting at 1:1 and going to 5:1.The APS-C size sensor has an advantage in that due to the crop factor it seems like you get more magnification and you get more DOF.



Summary: Expensive, feels like a fancy bellows ... personal comment WooHoo ! I love it. For newbies, the Sigma 105mm or Canon 100 mm 1:1 Macro's are good. For a bigger challenge ... The MP-E 65 is the sweetest bit of kit I have my hands on.


See examples of the various macro methods


  Zoom lens with Macro $300 AU (2nd hand)


I have an old Canon 70-210 EF Tele Zoom with Macro switch. More information about this specific lens can be found here http://www.kenrockwell.com/canon/lenses/70-210mm.htm and http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/hardwares/classics/eos/EF-lenses/EF80200mmf28L/index1.htm



This lens has even greater working distance compared to the Sigma 105mm dedicated macro. It has poor magnification compared to the Bellows which still remains my favorite macro method.


Summary: This lens does not have as much magnification and is not as sharp as a purpose built macro lens. I still lean towards the Sigma macro lens and a bellows unit (or MP-E 65mm).


See examples of the various macro methods


Two lenses back to front (Double lens reverse macro/Stacked lens/Reversed macro)


This method involves either using mounting adaptors/couplers to hold two lens back to front together via their lens hood screw threads or by hand (very difficult to do). You can also stack a prime lens and normal lens (The magnification is determined by prime lens divided by reversed lens).


When performing these methods you are able to control the aperture setting and AF since the electronic contact is preserved on the prime lens.



Check out more detail here on stacked lenses http://www.slashgear.com/slashtips-how-to-take-extreme-macro-with-stacked-lenses-179079/


The downside is extremely shadow Depth of Field (DOF) and you lose infinite focusing distance. If you do not attach the two lenses and elect to hold the lenses, expect to drop something. It can be done but it is hard.


Summary: I have yet to get any satisfactory results from attempting this. I have magnified photos but the DOF is so bad I would not personally bother with this. I have heard some people have had descent results.     


See examples of the various macro methods


Macro setting $0 (You just need the camera)


Use the macro mode using any lens on your camera (Or use a compact camera). Macro mode/close up mode is generally symbolized with a little flower and when selected it will tell your camera that you want to focus on a subject closer to your lens than normal. Macro mode will usually tell your camera to choose a large aperture so that your subject is in focus but the background is not.


Most compact cameras have a very finite distance for macros. Between 2.5 centimeters and 8.4 centimeters you can shoot close ups. On the SLR cameras, you'll have a lens that focuses down to a certain range like 1.2 feet, so you can go 1.2 feet all the way to infinity.


Summary: A very low magnification macro. Fine for flowers etc but not much else.


See examples of the various macro methods



Accessory: Macro light $70 - $600


I bought a cheap macro light that screws into the end of the lens filter thread. It works great and highly recommended.


My main issue with the cheap macro lights, watch for the reflections of the led's in droplets of water or other reflective surfaces. I have found that the light is bright enough for the job. A good purchase.


Summary: Worth the money ! ($70)




Accessory: Diffusers (Free - $80)


You can build your own coke can diffuser or buy one. I own a Gary Fong lightsphere and have a free homemade coke can diffuser. I can't yet confirm which one is better however, diffusers are a must in macro photography.



To read more on the zero cost coke can diffuser look at this link on Flickr








See examples of the various macro methods


Accessory: Macro focus slider ($50 -$150 AU) 4way Macro focus Rail Slider


If you want to focus correctly and efficiently I highly recommend one of these. Especially with the 5x macro of the Canon MPE 65mm. Well worth the money.

Accessory: Angle View finder


For all those hard to shoot locations where you just can't get your head up close to the view finder. This angle view finder also has magnification built in but I find a 1:1 ratio at the right angle is invaluable.



Forum threads and further links


Sage advice


The FL (focal length) of the macro lens determines the WD (working distance). Working distance, is basically the distance between the front of the lens, and the subject. 50mm macro lenses have a shorter working distance than a longer FL one (100mm or 150mm etc). From memory, the 50mm has a WD of around 10cm, the 100mm around 15cm, and the 150mm around 20cm. Obviously, this helps capture images of insects and arachnids that are a wee bit nervous. The drawside to this is that the longer the FL, the heavier and bulkier the lens as a rule.


As a newbie, you will have enough problems learning how to reliably focus on your subject (no AF here, it's all manual focus), you don't want to complicate things by having a heavier lens making it harder for you. From my extensive experience, and others as well, I would recommend looking at the 100mm FL range. The Sigma 105mm is a cracking lens, as is the Canon 100mm. Nikon has excellent equivalents as well. One disadvantage to the Sigma 105mm is that the lens barrel extends as you focus. Most other macro lenses use internal focusing (IF) to avoid this. You haven't mention what camera marque you use, but if it's Canon, I'd really recommend the Canon 100mm macro lens. Yes, it's pricey, but it's very good.


- Melkor (Dave) - Atomic Forums



Just a few things - macro lens' AF tends to suck, no matter what brand or lens. It has to do with the helical focusing employed in nearly every modern macro lens. I very rarely use AF. The Sigma 105mm, like most other macro lenses, is only 1:1. For most things, that is fine, but for smaller flies and wasps, more magnification is needed sometimes. The tubes with macro lens will give you around 2:1. If you get game, stick a 1.4x TC + tubes + macro lens for around 2.8:1. Add a 2x TC instead of a 1.4x TC for around 4:1. And stack both TCs for even more magnification. Of course, you could always get the Canon MPE-65 :-) I'm yet to get one, high magnification Macro shots aren't really my forté. I'm quite capable of taking shots at high mags, I just prefer to capture the Insect/Arachnid in its environment than ultra close-ups. Each to their own.

You may want to also experiment with a flash bracket and off shoe adaptor (Canon, #3, don't skimp on this and buy a no name copy!) - this will allow you to get the flash closer to the front and angle it as well for better directional lighting. A small reflector can be a godsend, as can Wimberley lamps (I'm yet to buy one, but they are on my must buy list).

One important thing is getting to know your subject. When you know what you're trying to shoot, you can pre-determine their habits and this will most certainly help you get better shots. Some spiders are unfussed with humans, others like Lynx and Crab Spiders are quite nervous. Flies will generally let you get shots of them as long as you don't move suddenly, knock the flower/plant they are on, or cast your shadow on them, or make noise. Up wind, down wind? It does make a difference. Approach from eye level, not above. Below is OK, but tends not to give as good an angle for shots imho. 3/4 frontal shots and parallel (to body) shots are the best imho. Top down images aren't really great for image quality imho, but are good for identifying purposes. Like with human portraits, the eyes are the key. Keep them sharp.


- Melkor (Dave) - Atomic Forums




My macro wish-list


  • Teleconverters with extension tubes and a macro lens
  • HoodEye Cup H-EYEC18



See examples of the various macro methods






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