Advice & recommendations for macro.

Discussion in 'Macro Photography' started by jeadows, Mar 15, 2018.

  1. jeadows

    jeadows TPF Noob!

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    Hi all,

    I've been thinking about upgrading my current system sometime over the coming months and I was interested to know if whether any brand does macro better than the other?

    I currently use a Nikon D3200 paired with my sigma 105mm macro but I have been thinking for a little while about upgrading a little whether it be the body or the lens. I know I would like a better long lens for wildlife as my 200mm isn't quite doing the job for me and I got some great advice and recommendations which I am taking a look at but my greatest interest is in macro and close up and I'd like some more information about macro and close up.

    As macro is my primary interest (though I will be doing other non-macro wildlife photography as well) I was wondering if any brands are significantly better for macro than another or if there's any advantage to using a particular brand for macro over others; whether it's better bodies, lenses or anything else? I know that generally advice is if you have started to invest in a particular brand to stick with that one. I mostly shoot outdoors and more than anything find myself photographing insects and other small animals.

    I would just like to take a look at all of the options available to me and thought that IF if was to make a brand switch (I'm not committing to doing it, just gathering arguments and information on both sides before making any sort of a decision) now would be the time to do it if there was enough reason to as I have only a very small amount of equipment instead of further down the time when I've spent a more significant amount of money. My budget will be in and around the £700 mark but there is some flexibility in that.


     
  2. SquarePeg

    SquarePeg hear me roar Staff Member Supporting Member

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    What type of macro are you shooting? Little bugs? Do you have a light set up already? A tripod? Extension tubes? Focus rail? Tried focus stacking? What is your current macro set-up not doing for you?
     
  3. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    A few thoughts

    1) There is NO superior brand with regard to macro in general. Nothing that Nikon can do that Canon can't and vis versa.

    2) Canon does have two boons though
    a) The MPE 65mm f2.8 macro. This is a macro lens that focuses from 1:1 to 5:1 magnification only. It has no infinity focus and can only do macro. It's one of the hardest lenses to use ever, but is very rewarding to use. It's for springtails, moth eyes, and basically anything you want that's super tiny or wanting to focus on details - eg a portrait of a fly.
    Now remembering point 1 there are many other* ways to get to 5:1, some can even offer superior image quality. So the MPE is not the only way to get there, but it is a handy "all in one" choice on the market.

    b) AF is generally not used for most macro, however Canon has improved on this with their newest bodies and the newest 100mm macro f2.8 L IS which has a hybrid IS that doesn't just counter up/down left/right motions, but also the back/forward motion that shooting macro exacerbates.
    OF course vast amounts of great macro work is done in manual focus with modern setups so its not a requirement, but it is a nice boon to have the option of choosing
    Nikons VR at present in their 105mm is only standard VR for up/down and left/right stabilization.

    3) As Squarepeg points out there are loads of other accessories that can help with macro work. You can even look at extreme things like the Cognisys - Capture the Hidden World gear which offers powerful tools to let you use laser and audio trips. Their biggest showpiece being an in-flight insect rig with not only flash mounts, crossfire lases and contoller, but also a custom external shutter to let you get the super high speed shutter motion that insect in flight benefits from

    * Eg a cheap way to higher magnifications is to put a lens like a 70-300mm on the camera and then a short 50mm or so reverse mounted in front (reversing rings are easily bought on ebay or at camera shops and have two screw threads to screw into the filter thread on the front of both lenses). With a 70-300mm at 300mm and a 50mm lens you can get
    300/50 = 6:1 magnification (rough maths equation).
     
  4. jeadows

    jeadows TPF Noob!

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    It's a lot of bugs and insects at the moment, I try other things such as plants and flowers but generally I'm a little more interested in the wildlife, I do have a ring flash and but haven't been entirely sure what other lighting to look in to. I couldn't tell you what tripod I use, it's one a relative gave to me, it's done a decent enough job so far but one without a centre column or the type that adjusts horizontally would be nice. I don't know too much about extension tubes truth be told and I've been split between either possibly purchasing rail to go on my tripod or a geared tripod head, I know they essentially do the same, or at least a similar job so it's just a matter of deciding on which (and if my current tripod will allow a different head)



    The MPE 65mm does look good though the alternative you suggested would do a similar job so it gives me a good other option and the difference in price I imagine is a fair amount but as an all in once choice it is a more straightforward option. It's not something for now but possibly looking at more extreme macro is something I'd like to factor in to my decision making as it's something that will probably be of interest down the line.



    Would the hybrid IS make shooting hand held easier or counter any slight movement from the subject? - a spider on it's web swaying slightly from a breeze or something similar? I do shoot hand held in manual focus so it could be something to consider possibly?



    I've looked at some things like better tripods, geared heads and focussing rails, LED's, different types of flashes to ring but my problem sometimes is knowing (or probably more accurately, not knowing) what would be more beneficial to invest in early on and build from there.
     
  5. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Ok based on what you've said

    1) Yep the MPE 65mm isn't cheap, plus nearly all methods (including that lens) that let you get to higher magnifications also rob you of light. At 5:1 the f2.8 lens is closer to f20 in effective aperture. Thus you often need additional lighting not for the shot (flash is more than powerful enough) but for focusing. Canon has their twinflash unit which has also recently been upgraded (its almost as much as the MPE lens so its not a cheap setup) which has a built in focusing light.
    A cheap option is a single bulb LED on a flexi arm. The tiny kind powered by a few of those silver round batteries. A few elastic bands or such to hold the power pack on the lens and then use the flexi arm to move the light where its needed. I used this for a long while whilst I didn't have the twinflash and also for other close up lens setups

    2) I tried out 2:1 and up to around 3:1 macro on regular macro lenses (using extension tubes/teleconverters/close up lens adaptors) before deciding to purchase the MPE. I'd say using the reversing rings on the zoom lens like I detailed earlier is another great way to try out high magnification macro.
    It's a challenge and even if you love the photos, sometimes the effort and skill is beyond what some consider worth while for their hobby. so its good to try it out before buying expensive gear.

    3) A geared tripod head gives you fine control in 3 axis of motion. It's ideal for macro work and the Manfrotto Junior Geared Head is about the best for this. Many of hte others are much much more expensive and are more aimed at medium format cameras and are, honestly, overkill in the extreme for typical macro work.

    4) A focusing rail deals with back/forward motion. This is invaluable on a tripod as it lets you move the camera back and forth without changing the focus/zoom/magnification on the lens. This is much easier than trying to move the tripod back/forth by tiny fractions.
    Focusing rails come in four kinds - cheap and rubbish - cheap and good - super expensive - motorized.
    Honestly one of the kind I prefer is the cheap one often sold as a 4 way kit on ebay, or under other brand names like Adorama. They are durable, easy to use and work well, the 4 way is just two rails atop each other, you can split them down into one single rail to work with.

    5) If your tripod is of good quality the head should unscrew. If it doesn't then you will want to look at some good legs. There's a huge variety on the market so it can be something you want to come back to with a rough budget as you can spend lots or a little.
    Tripod do devalue (oddly) fairly fast, and many older and heavier models are fairly cheap; yet the weight is a bonus in all situtions save for travelling weight (more weight on the lens generally produces a more stable setup).
    If you are into wildlife then I'd suggest doing some good research on a set of versatile and tough legs with a view to perhaps saving and spending more on one good set of legs - carbon fibre might well be what you want; lighter but easier to carry long distance if you're doing wildlife and hide work.

    6) IS/VR/OS only counters motion of the camera itself. It basically works by spinning up and starting to detect the motion its under before providing a counter. This means it actually takes a few moments to detect the motion and provide suitable counter; so if you point and shoot fast the IS speeding up can actually cause blur.
    I've also found that its also hit and miss with newer kinds that detect if they are on a tripod (ergo no motion to counter); esp if you are doing a long exposure (this seems to trick it somehow).

    As such any motion of the subject the IS won't have any impact on at all. The camera can't "read" the subjects motions* so it has no idea how to provide any counter to the subject motion. A spiderweb moving in the wind whilst being handheld; the IS would help with your holding** but the moving web means that you've either got to nail the shot or trust to a little bit of "spray and pray"***

    * Granted many modern cameras, including DSLRs are getting fancy with things like face-detection. However its never perfect in all situations; plus its only for very specific subjects that it actually works.

    ** Personally I find that, in good situations (esp with longer focal length lenses as I don't own a macro with IS) image stabilization helps give a smoother image view through the viewfinder, so it can make focusing easier because its easier to keep track of your subject; all those little hand wobbles are smoothed out

    *** shoot a short burst; often very short for macro as whilst flash can keep up with the light requirements; it often can't keep up with a fast burst of shots. Remembering, of course not to use this too much in rapid succession; even at low flash powers. Since heat build up in a flash can cause damage to the flash. (it you want proof of the heat set flash to full power and lay the head against your leg; then press the test fire button. I'll feel the heat from the flash against your skin. So you can appreciate fast flashes would quickly build that heat up to quite high level).
     
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  6. BrentC

    BrentC Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    You may want to look at M43 as well for macro. Not only does it give you a lightweight camera good for hiking around and getting at the insects in tight spaces but comes with a lot of extra features that are great for macro. I would highly recommend Olympuys EM5mkII with 60mm f2.8 macro.

    - Double depth of field at equivalent f-stops compared to FF.
    - camera and lens are both weather sealed.
    - In-camera focus bracketing and focus stacking
    - Great IBIS

    Here is someones macro album with the above equipment. You can take a look at mine but this guy is much a much better photographer than I am an really showcases.

    Achim Kluck’s albums | Flickr
    Macro
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2018
  7. ac12

    ac12 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Get a 4-way rail.
    Besides forward/backwards it lets you do left/right.
    I never get the position of the tripod perfect the first time, and I many times want to do another shot just a little left or right. The rail lets me do minor left/right adjustment without moving the tripod. Moving the tripod is not bad on a concrete floor, but can be on uneven dirt ground.
    Yes it adds bulk to your kit, but it makes shooting a lot less of a hassle.
     
  8. jeadows

    jeadows TPF Noob!

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    I think trying out a cheaper alternative method would be the way i'd go before spending the a lot more money on the lens itself, the hybrid IS/VR/OS lens is also quite a nice looking option as I do quite a lot of hand held shooting and to counter my movement a little might be helpful although it might require a little getting used to to try stop the counter motion from blurring images.

    My understanding that a geared head and a focussing rail perform the same job, would that be right? I have no idea if my tripod's head unscrews or not, I'll have to take a look over the weekend, whether it does or not might decide whether it's worth getting something like a geared head or a focussing rail of they do a similar job until I do buy a better quality set of legs. What I do know about it that it's not particularly light which does make carrying it any moderate distances kind of off-putting. I will take a look at what I have though and come back later with a rough budget for a decent quality set that will meet what I want from a pair.

    I also realised last night that thinking and asking the hybrid IS could counter the motion of something else moving, not just my own movement was a bit dim... It had been a long day! :D

    Canon seems to have some nice lens options for macro which is quite attractive, even if it's not necessarily a lens that I will buy or be able to afford at the time it would be good to know that I the options is there later on.

    @BrentC I had a friend also talk highly off the Olympuys EM5mkII so it's one that i'll have alook at for sure (the shorts you linked me to were beautiful and I really like a lot of the shots on your own Flickr as well actually) I'll definitely have a better look at it. I'm not entirely clear on what double depth of field at equivalent f-stops is if you'd be able to explain that a little? :)
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  9. BrentC

    BrentC Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    I hope I can explain this properly. DoF (depth of field) is the measured distance where a subject will be in focus. As aperture gets larger (lower f-stop) the DoF gets shallower and as Aperture gets smaller (higher f-stop) DoF gets deeper.

    So for example, lets ignore macro for now, taking a portrait of someone that is 10' away:

    On FF camera:
    80mm lens
    f2.8

    The nearest distance that will be in focus is 9.71'
    The farthest distance that will be in focus is 10.3"
    The difference between these is 0.6', anything within the 0.6' will be in focus and that is your DoF

    Now on a M43 system which has a 2x crop factor:
    40mm lens (this will be the equivelent FoV(field of view) as 80mm on FF)
    f2.8
    The nearest distance that will be in focus is 9.26'
    The farthest distance that will be in focus is 10.9"
    The difference between these is 1.61'

    So quite the difference in DoF and when you go down to macro level it becomes more significant.

    Taking picture of a fly 10" away:

    FF:
    120mm
    f8.0
    DoF is .03"

    M43:
    60mm
    f8.0
    DoF .13"

    In most cases your going to use a flash when doing macro because at higher f-stops, which is needed in macro, your going to need light. But because of the greater DoF on M43 I am able to, on a sunny day or area with lots of light, shoot at f8 without flash and get the same DoF as FF at, say f12 but needing a flash.
    Also with focus bracketing I can use a lower f-stop in natural light to get greater DoF when the frames are stacked.

    In a studio environment or if you use tripods and rails, you have a lot of control then the benefits are not significant. But if you are like me and like hiking around and don't want to carry a tripod or a heavy camera setup then thats where, I find, M43 shines in macro. Especially with Olympus cameras. It's a light weight setup, can do handheld focus bracketing (IBIS makes this easy) and in some cases you can shoot just using natural light. Also the Oly 60mm macro is a fabulous lens.

    Most people doing macro use manual focus because AF tends to be slower in macro. But I don't experience that with my camera. I only use MF if I use a tripod otherwise I always use AF. AF is fast and I have tracked moving insects with no issues.

    You can get good prices on used EM5mkii's. If you don't care about weather sealing you can get the EM10mkii used or the newer EM10mkiii.
    Make sure you include a speedlight in your budget and a diffuser.

    I hope I explained things coherently for you. I am sure others will add or correct anything I have said.
     
  10. ac12

    ac12 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    A geared head and focusing rail are two different things.
    • A geared head is like a standard 3-way pan head in motion (up/down in elevation, side-to-side pan), but with a gear so that you can make fine adjustments.
    • A focusing rail goes on top of a tripod to move the camera
      • The 4-way rail move the camera forward/backwards (to focus the lens) and left/right (to center/position the image).
      • The simpler and more compact 2-way rail, only does forward/backwards (to focus the lens).
     
  11. jeadows

    jeadows TPF Noob!

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    Sorry it's been so long between replies, I've been away visiting family but cheers for the suggestions and help! I think I'm drawing towards Canon, I'm interested in wildlife as well as macro but I do like the macro lenses they have available. Having the MPE 65mm, even though it wasn't the deal breaker, having a purpose built lends for extreme macro is something I'd like to have as an option (or probably more accurately, it's something I'd prefer not to limit myself to not having in the future).

    It seems that the selection of bodies in and around my budget (which won't affect any lens budget) is most probably out of the 800D or 77D. I can't see a great deal of difference between the two really, not sure if anybody could give their thoughts? I also looked at the 80D even though it's over my ideal budget and I wasn't sure whether the extras on the 80D such as weather sealing and the better battery were enough to consider spending the extra money?

    I did notice that Jessops have a 12 month finance option with 0% apr, just a £29 fee, if thats as good as it appears then the price isn't as much of an issue as I wont have to spend quite as much time squirrelling away money until I can afford whichever camera I will settle on..
     
  12. Steven Dillon

    Steven Dillon No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Not sure if you have this option in your neck of the woods, but I've seen some places that rent lens. That might help you select what you want as you'd have the opportunity to try it out before buying it.
     

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