Best DSLR setup for jewelry macro photos

Discussion in 'Photography Equipment & Products' started by The Professor, Jan 22, 2009.

  1. The Professor

    The Professor TPF Noob!

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    I've looked at the various DSLRs and they all have features that make getting sports shots easy: Auto face detection/tracking, multi-shot burst mode, audio on videos, etc. They also do all kinds of in-camera processing.

    I want to take close ups of jewelry. It tends not to move at high speeds nor have faces nor make noise. So those features seem totally useless to me. [In fact, because of my brain problem(s), I don't think I've ever taken a picture of a human in my life.] I will have an unlimited time to set up each shot. Also, because I have Adobe CS4, I just need to dump raw images onto my PC so paying for a lot of in-camera software seems unnecessary.

    I need a macro lens of course, but one with a focal length of only a few inches. I want to shoot straight down onto my (high) desktop for some shots and having to be a meter away would mean I'd have to hang the camera from the ceiling! I understand that the live video mode is useful for lengthly macro setups like this.

    The shots will generally end up on the web so resolution is not the big issue, but I need enough to be able to crop down to include a single tiny screwhead and still end up with a decent sized pic.

    I do want complete control over depth of field and what part is in focus. I don't mind getting a kit lens with the package because I do some more 'normal' photography as well (though no humans, because, you know, my brain...).

    I was considering a Nikon D90 or a Canon Rebel but I think this may be overkill. What should I be looking at?

    ><gts
     
  2. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    for macro work either a nikon or a canon DSLR like the ones you are looking at will certainly do what you are after. Cost is going to be the main limiting factor in what you can get. Also some point and shoot digital cameras do have a good macro feature in them - not as good as a DSLR but it might be more suited to your needs and budget - but I don't know any models to recomend trying.
    From there you need some kit ;

    Firstly one think you have not mentioned is lighting - for macro you need a good lighting setup and for metalic and other reflective surfaces you also need good diffusion on your setup. A ringflash is often used for macro work - and I also encrouage you to read up on light boxes which you will find very important for inside macro work where you have setup time - myself its an area I have not experimented in so can't directly advise.
    Other lighting alternatives are speedlites - canon or nikon (depending which camera brand you go for) which something like a lumiquest softbox for diffusion - at a starting point for lighting along with a lightbox its a good setup

    a) a good solid tripod - look to manfrotto range - a good tripod mount will make things a lot easier in macro work since working at macro requires a lot of very small movements = for what you are after a tripod would make things much easier and since the subjects won't be flying off you wil have time for setup.

    b) tripod head - personally I recomend a geared head for macro work (eg manfrotto junoir geared head) but they are not cheap - failing that a 3 way head would be a good choice. I don't recomend ball heads for pure macro work since they tend to droop a very small amount when just set (for most stuff this is not noticable, but is at macro magnificatiions)

    c) focusing rail - macro work is done almost totally in manual focusing mode -setting the focus to what you want and then moving the camera and lens back and forth to get foucs where you want it on the subject. A focusing rail lets you move a camera and lens setup on a tripod back and forth like it was handheld - this is much easier and quicker than trying to move the whole tripod setup since the distances are going to be very very small.

    d) macro lens - since your not busting for a long focal length you can look at the shorter cheaper options - optically speaking they are very similar to the capabilities of the longer lenses - just that they are of a shorter focal length and thus shorter working distance.
    Nikon - 60mm macro
    Canon - EFS 60mm macro
    sigma (mounts in both canon and nikon) 70mm macro
    Tamron - 90mm macro
    there are 105mm macros for all the above (barring Tamron) which are also solid choices and a bit more versitil if you think you will ever want to try your hand at insect work.
     
  3. JustAnEngineer

    JustAnEngineer TPF Noob!

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  4. kundalini

    kundalini Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    I have just begun the adventures into macro. Looks like you havn't decided on a system yet. Not trying to push you towards Nikon or anything like that, but I just got a macro lens.

    This was shot with a Nikon D300 with the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro lens attached. I have built a small light box, but am having some difficulty getting 3 SB flashes to work like I wish. A bit more trial and error methinks.

    But you can see one (not as good as I want) example HERE.
     
  5. The Professor

    The Professor TPF Noob!

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    Thank you, Overread, for the advice about the focusing rail. I had planned on using a ball mount, but the logic for a rail makes perfect sense: Once I get the settings that work, I can lock them in, and as I mess with the subject, I can just slide the entire camera to get what I want focused in the shot.

    My budget is essentially unlimited, but I don't want to buy more than I need. Neither do I want to buy less.

    I understand about a diffusing light box. Mine will have a detachable top so the light can be adjusted from hard to soft just by opening it more or less. Too hard and harsh flares will wash out critical details; too soft and the details are easily visible, but the 'life' and 'sparkle' of the piece is lost.

    The shots I want are not for fashion--I don't need to sell the jewelry. I want to document technical aspects of various jewelry making processes.

    I'm not certain if this would call for a ring flash unit. I'd prefer to make the lighting as simple as possible only because my work surface is very limited and I have to do my jewelry work on the surface between shots. So I'd like the photo equipment to be as unobtrusive as possible on my bench--I'm used to using the whole surface for my real work.

    I'm a little leery of the 100mm macro. What is the minimum focal distance from the front of the lens to subject? I'd prefer to get in there to within a few inches--certainly less than a foot. Any more and the camera will be unreasonably high off the floor and hard to manipulate (my work surface is 40&quot; tall already).

    So given this additional info, what should I be considering?
     
  6. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Well working distances for macro work (at full magnification) are way smaller than a foot - have a read of the article here which also has a table for working distances:
    Juza Nature Photography

    as for the ringflash it connects direct to the end of the lens so its not going to be too much trouble for positioning. With some diffusion on it a ringflash is a good macro light source. The lightbox setup might be a bit more obtrusive for your work - but I would still recomend looking into it since I know that it is well used to achive good even lighting - its an option I would not go by for such shooting.

    Also note that whilst a focusing rail (at least the manfrotto model) can be connected direct to a tripod without need for a head, I think you will find that you will need a tripod head to position the setup with ease - as I said a geared head is the ideal, but at its cost you might find that a good 3 way head will suffice your needs.
     
  7. The Professor

    The Professor TPF Noob!

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    Thanks again, Overread. Having read the link, it makes perfect sense to me to pick an appropriate lens and work backwards to the body that makes the best use of it.

    I understand the advantages of a long a lens but remember I must keep the body (which will be pointed straight down for some shots) within reach of a standing man (I'm just over 6' tall and my subject will be between 40 and 46 inches above the floor and I want the screen no more than 56 inches high. That gives me only 10 inches for the equipment so I'd need to be under 70mm.

    At some point there is a point of diminishing returns: Between the 50mm and 60mm, you gain 2cm of working distance (which would be helpful to keep the equipment out of my way) at a cost of 3cm of extra height. I only gain 1.4cm of working distance by moving from 180mm to 200mm which costs 4cm of extra height. So the shorters are more efficient for me and of course my subjects cannot be spooked. And when I'm shooting straight down onto my desk, the decreased view angle for the background (to simplify the pattern) which is better with a long lens, is not an option for those shots. I'll just shoot on a simple neutral sheet.

    But I see the advantages of the longer lens for other than straight down shots--so a compromise might steer me to a 70mm or 90mm. However, it occurs to me I should start out with a 50mm (which I presume would be least expensive) and if I do more outdoor stuff (where I can't control the background as I can on my workbench) I could then get a 100+mm and not feel stupid for also owning a 90mm. It seems to me having a 50mm for 'studio' and a 150mm or 180mm for field work is not out of the question (remember my unlimited budget). And getting the 50mm now lets me get my feet wet without going overboard.

    So thank you for narrowing my general question to a specific one:
    What is the best 50mm macro? Then I'll work backward and get the lowest model body that has the features I need to use it. I'll start a separate thread to ask this specific question which is much more likely to generate a specific recommendation.
     
  8. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    I would caution you away from the 50mm options - many are not true macro lenses, but rather half macro - requiring a further macro filter to be attached before they can achive true macro magnificitons - further they tend to be very budget line and so build quality is not that high.
    I would say that (unless a full frame camera is something you are considering 0 like a 5D for canon) that the 60mm macro or 70mm macro options would be the better quality lenses to work with. Of the options availble (canon EFS 60mm, Nikon 60mm and Sigma 70mm) they are all going to give you very similar performance and image quailty.
    note there might be some good 50mm options for macro but I am not aware of them myself
     
  9. Ls3D

    Ls3D TPF Noob!

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    Just a tidbit; I found that I can 'rail' my Giottos MH 1300 (ball head) and 100mm /2.8 just by loosening the camera clamp screw a little - it is a hack compared to rails, but is working for the small amount of macros I've shot so far.
    I've even got the longer plate, but seem to need only a little range.

    Also I did not see the key words 'mirror lockup' - and I think this is definitely something to try - if it does not jack any flash system you might use.

    -S
     

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