New Crystal Macro Video

I’ve posted a new macro video shot with the Canon MP-E65mm macro lens.

And below is another image of obsidian, volcanic glass, shot with the same lens.

obsidian

Review of the Canon MP-E65mm 1-5x f2.8 Macro Lens has begun

Yesterday I received a Canon MP-E65mm 1-5x Macro lens for review. This is an unusual lens, in that it focuses from 1x magnification to 5x magnification to a full frame sensor.

This is a manual focus lens that does not focus to infinity. It is exclusively for macro.

MPE65mmf2815xMacroPhotoAngle

To start the testing process I grabbed some samples from our rock and crystal collection and started shooting. The results are in the gallery below. You’ll see more of these as testing continues and then read the full review once I am finished.

Sigma 150mm f2.8 Macro EX DG APO Camera Lens Test

We’ve had the Sigma 150mm macro for awhile and here are some test results
I’ve been very impressed with the Sigma lenses I have seen recently. So I was curious to see how their longish macro lens, the 150mm would perform. The lens is available in Canon, Nikon, Sigma and Olympus/Panasonic mounts.

The rationale for a longer macro lens is that it offers a better working distance at a given degree of magnification. This greater working distance can be very important when shooting skittish subjects, like some insects, or when working in the studio with lighting. The disadvantages are that you need a greater degree of lens extension if you use extension rings or a bellows when you need greater magnification than the lens can provide itself with internal focusing, and the reduced depth of field.

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

The lens comes with a rotating tripod collar and deep lens hood. Both are effective and necessary. In some circumstances the lenshood gets in the way for macro, but then you can just remove it. The tripod collar is great for two reasons: firstly it lets you balance the lens/camera combination on the tripod better and, secondly, it makes it easy to switch between a vertical or horizontal orientation.

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens
A 100% section from an image

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens
Another 100% section

The lens is very sharp from f4 to f11, but noticeably less so wide open and stopped right down. This is normal, with the small apertures having diffraction effects starting to show and wide open offering major challenges to the lens designers. That said, this lens handles these issues quite well and even wide open is capable of some very impressive images.
All testing was done on a Canon 40D, except for the IR images. To test this lens in infrared we used a converted for IR Canon 350D with an internal filter similar to the Hoya R-72. In IR it also worked well, though diffraction caused softening was more noticeable at the smallest apertures (again as in normal in IR shooting).

100% sections from the center of the image
F2.8
Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

F4
Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

F5.6
Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

F8
Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

F11
Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

F16
Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

F22
Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

All round, I found this a very handy lens. The extra working distance was useful (over my normal 100mm Canon macro), the tripod collar and excellent finish and build quality made it a great lens to use, and the image quality was great.

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens
Even in infrared, the lens performs well

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens
A 100% section from the above image

Sigma 150mm Macro Camera Lens

Another lovely lens from Sigma.

Digital Macro Photography, An Overview

In this article we explore some aspects of macro photography with digital cameras. Macro is an excellent photography area that can really make good use of the strengths of digital cameras. This is the first of a series of articles on macro techniques and subjects.

Macro photography
0.5 second, f16 and 100ISO, Sigma 70mm Macro on Canon 400D

Macro photography is a great and interesting area of photography. Technically covering the area of close-up photography where an object is reproduced on the sensor at a size of at least 1:1, these days it is also commonly used to refer to all close-up photography. Because of the close distance (relatively if not in actuality) from the subject to the lens, rangefinder or compact cameras were not ideal for it because the viewfinder would not reflect exactly what the lens is seeing. However, with the advent of digital, and thus the possibility of a live preview of exactly what the lens is seeing on the large LCD on the back of the camera, compact cameras now become quite convenient for macro work.

macro photography
0.5 seconds, f5 and 100ISO, Sigma 70mm Macro on Canon 400D

Another positive for many compact cameras is the amazing degree of close focusing ability many possess. Some digitals can focus so close that they can actually achieve focus on an object touching the front element of the lens. Of course, an issue with compact cameras is the small sensor size, which causes noise issues. This is partly compensated for by another positive that derives from the small sensor size, lens focal length. Because of the tiny sensor size, compacts need very short focal length lenses. In a given situation, shorter focal length lenses give you greater depth of field in practice (see the separate article on depth of field for the correct definition and more explanation). This is why compact digitals have much greater depth of field in actual use than a 35mm full frame camera or even a digital SLR.

macro photography
1.5 seconds at f5.6 and 100ISO, Sigma 70mm Macro on Canon 400D

Digital SLRs are dependent on the lens you fit to them for their close-focusing ability. Basically a macro lens has to allow for more lens extension to focus more closely. You can also achieve this lens extension by using extension tubes or bellows. A macro lens is designed to maintain good optical quality as a greater lens extension is used. Many zoom lenses come with macro capability, which can be extremely useful. However, maximum image quality is usually achieved with a dedicated, single focal length lens. Macro lenses come in focal lengths from 50mm (sometimes less) up to around 200mm, with the most common in the 50-100mm range. These will have greater effective focal lengths on most digital SLRs. A longer focal length gives you more working distance from the camera to the subject for a given framing. This working distance can help in close quarters, with some types of subjects that may be scared away or are dangerous and in getting light onto the subject (too close and the lens can cast shadows).

macro photography
1/6 second, f5.6 and 100ISO, Canon 100mm Macro on Canon 400D

I have a Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens, which I love. But I have also been working recently with a Sigma 70mm f2.8 macro lens, which is fantastic. Both can get to a 1:1 magnification without extension tubes. Both are very sharp lenses, both autofocus on the Canon very well, even at macro distances.

macro photography setup
My macro rig includes several Canon cameras, a macro lens, extension tubes and a homemade light

The great joy of macro photography is that it is a form of photography that you can do in most situations. In the field you can do macro photography on flowers, plants, insects, rocks, sand, rusting metal, you name it, you can macro shoot it, so long as you can get close enough. If the weather is too cold or too unsettled or dangerous for photography, set some things up indoors and happily shoot away while the gale blows outside. Whatever your passion in photography you can find something similar that you can shoot, from lovely florals to crystal landscapes, insect portraits to fungal forests. There are people who spend their entire photographic career shooting macros only, and never run out of great subject matter. I’ve recently been exploring crystal and rock macro shots and exploring the potential for crystal landscapes by combining images. This is fun and a diverting, and quite creative and is a great way to spend time when housebound.

macro photography of amber
Here is a piece of amber from my collection (1.5 seconds, f22 and 100ISO, Sigma 70mm Macro on Canon 400D)

Insects in amber

Insects in amber
Macro lets me get up close and personal with the insects trapped in the amber

So what exactly do you need for macro photography? A digital compact camera will work fine. One with a tilting LCD screen can be a great help when working in certain situations, but is certainly not essential. Likewise a good tripod is a help for certain types of subjects. I use a large Manfrotto model, where the center column can be removed and inserted horizontally. Whilst not the same as a macro rail, it allows me to easily move the camera forward or backward at will. A macro rail is a massive aid in accurate positioning of the camera, and is something I will add to my kit at some point. Naturally when you are working on some sort of tripod, a cable release or wireless remote is also useful. Now, of course, a tripod is not essential. You can do great macro work handheld.

macro photography
The beauty of digital is immediate feedback

If you use a digital SLR, then you either need a macro-capable zoom, a true macro lens, extension tubes or a bellows, or close-up accessory lenses that screw onto the filter threads of your lens, to begin. There are various pros and cons to all of these, from price to flexibility. Many of you will already have a macro-capable zoom lens. I am a big believer in exploiting the potential of what you have before running out to purchase something else. So whatever you have, try using it. The cheapest additional purchases are extension tubes and close-up lenses. Extension tubes seem to give the best result of well corrected single focal length lenses, but they can also work well on zooms. Close-up lenses, particularly if good quality ones, are a good option on lenses which do not currently focus close enough for your purposes. I have happily used them on my Canon 100-400mm IS L series lens for a long working distance. The thing is to experiment. Close-up lenses can also be used on compact cameras.

Depth of field in macro photography
Depth of field is an important creative control in macro photography. See the special article on depth of field
1/25 second at f2.8, 100ISO, Sigma 70mm Macro on Canon 400D

In the three images below we show how increasing depth of field has a major impact on the resulting image
depth of field in macro photography

depth of field in macro photography

depth of field in macro photography

Lighting is important for macro work, as you often want to work at small apertures for a greater depth of field. I’ve used everything from a torch to ‘paint with light’, an external flash gun, like the Canon EX flash units that can be wirelessly controlled, a ring flash, tungsten lights, gold and silver reflectors and my own made ‘light pipe’ unit.

lighting for macro photography
Here I use my lighting rig to light the front of the object (1/6 second, f2.8, 100ISO Sigma 70mm Macro on Canon 400D)
lighting for macro photography

lighting for macro photography
Whereas here we have the lighting set to come through the subject. (0.7 sec, f2.8, 100ISO, Sigma 70mm Macro on Canon 400D)
lighting for macro photography

Some of the accompanying photos show a lighting rig I wired up for macro work. It is a very simple rig, just two bright, white LEDs with battery packs and a switching potentiometer that both switches the LED on and off, and also can dim it somewhat. I mounted two of these into a box with wire that allows me to position the LEDs as I need. Wire is not as easy to use for this as flexible, gooseneck fittings but it is a lot cheaper. The LEDs can be positioned as needed and provide enough light for macro work of small objects. They are small enough to hide behind transparent or translucent subjects or can be positioned to the sides of the lens to light opaque subjects. To make one of these all you need are the LEDs, battery packs, a switch or switching potentiometer, wire, a box and soldering iron, which are available at any electronics shop that sells parts.

macro photography
2.5 seconds, f16 and 100ISO, Sigma 70mm Macro on Canon 400D

macro photography
1/2 second, f11 and 100ISO, Sigma 70mm MAcro on Canon 400D

Depth of Field – How Does It Really Work?

Depth of field is one of the least well-used aspects of photographic control. Yet it really is very simple to get your head around.

Depth of field

A camera lens will actually only focus one single, flat (if it is a good lens) plane perfectly. As you move away from the plane of sharp focus, objects become gradually more blurred. In practice we can tolerate a small amount of blur (called a circle of confusion, from the blurred circle of light you get if you focus a point source of light, like a star). How much blur we can tolerate is determined by how much we will blow up the image in printing or projection. Common values for this circle of confusion range from 0.025mm to 0.033 mm. The reason larger format images appear to have larger depth of fields is because you do not need to magnify them as much to get a resulting print size.

Depth of field

Aperture F number (or the f stop) is calculated by dividing lens focal length (fl) by the diameter of the aperture (a) (F number = f.l. / a). What this means is that for a given F number, a telephoto lens (long focal length) will have a larger aperture diameter (if you like, size of the front element of the lens reflects this) than will a wide angle lens. That’s why an f2.8 28mm lens is not as physically wide as an f2.8 400mm lens. For depth of field, it is actually the lens aperture diameter and not the focal length that matters, but you can see from the above how we can effectively think in terms of focal length because of the relationship between F number, aperture and focal length.

The basic lens equation is 1/subject distance + 1/focal plane distance = 1/focal length. The focal length (fl) is the distance from the lens that a subject at infinity will be brought to focus. Subject distance (s) is the distance from the lens to the subject we have focused on and focal plane distance (fpd) is the distance from the lens to the film or sensor plane in the camera. The above equation explains why a lens extends as you focus on closer subjects (fpd must get larger to compensate for s getting smaller, since fl remains constant). It also explains why adding extension tubes or a bellows to a lens allows it to focus on closer subjects (it increases fpd or focal plane distance).

A point of light is not, in practice, brought to a single point on the film plane, but to a tiny (hopefully) circle. The size of this tiny circle of blur (circle of confusion) is defined by the diffraction characteristics of the lens (and its aperture) and by the quality of the optical corrections in the lens. In many cases it is not, in fact, a perfect circle, due to the actual shape of the aperture and to any aberrations in the lens. As an object moves out of focus, this circle of confusion gets larger. One aside here – some lenses are marketed as having great out of focus blur, by having a carefully designed aperture iris that is as close to a perfect circle as the engineers can make it. It offers more pleasing out of focus images.

Depth of field

Images appear to us to be sharp when this circle of confusion is smaller than we can resolve with our eyes. This explains why an image can look sharp from a distance but becomes blurred as we get closer to it, we are finally close enough for our eyes to resolve the circle of confusion. Thus there is no such thing as a completely sharp image. The closest we can get is a photograph of a completely flat object, like a map or painting. Even here, there will be a fundamental level of sharpness caused by the lens characteristics.

When you focus on a subject at distance s, an object closer to the camera (sn) will be brought to a focus further from the lens (behind the film plane). This means that at the film plane the circle of confusion will be larger. A subject further from the camera (sf) will come to a focus in front of the film plane. This also means that at the film plane the circle of confusion will be larger. The size of the circle of confusion turns out to be directly related to the physical aperture of the lens and how far the subject is away from what we have focused on. What this means is that to maintain a certain maximum circle of confusion size (effectively how sharp we want the image to look), as we increase the lens aperture (or the lens focal length) we get less distance off the focal point in acceptable focus.

Circle of confusion is depth of field

So what all the above translates into is the following:
*    For a given lens, you get a greater depth of field as you stop down to smaller apertures (go from f2.8 to f11, say)
*    At a given aperture number, say f2.8, a telephoto lens will give you less depth of field than a wide angle lens, because the physical lens aperture will be larger for the longer focal length lens. This is provided you keep the lens to subject distance the same
*    The actual size of the depth of field decreases as the camera gets closer to the subject it is focused on (it can be 10 feet or 3m at a distance and only inches or centimeters up close)

Depth of field of a 50mm lens
Shot with a 50mm lens

Depth of field with 100mm lens
Shot from the same distance with a 100mm lens

Depth of field of 100mm lens
Shot with a 100mm lens from twice the distance

All the above also explains why compact digitals seem to have a much greater depth of field than digital SLRs. For a given effective focal length (say 50mm in 35mm camera terms), a camera with a smaller sensor will use a smaller focal length to achieve this than a camera with a larger sensor. Given the smaller focal length, at a given F number, the smaller sensor camera will use a smaller aperture, giving a larger effective depth of field. This is why many complain of not being able to use the same shallow depth of field techniques that we are used to using with 35mm cameras for things like portraiture.

For those who want a more mathematical discussion, see Norman Koren’s excellent article.

Oct 2006 Outstanding Art/Photo Site Award – Jane Davenport insect and flower photography, and more

This site shows the great nature photography of Jane Davenport

Jane is an Australian photographer who specializes in nature photography from a creative perspective. Cutting her teeth in fashion photography, Jane is a whiz at both photography and at the marketing of her work. I first came across Jane when I received a press release that she had just won a Photoshop Guru award when I was editor of Digital Photography & Design magazine. Next trip to Sydney I went and interviewed her and had a good look at her lovely digital prints, which she does herself. That was some years ago.

Jane Davenport's photography website

The photography on her web site covers insects, flowers, shells and other beach objects. Beautifully composed with strong use of color and generally plain backgrounds, the images are strong and attractive.

Jane Davenport's photography website

Her web site is simple and effective. Using a black background to make the images stronger, the site packs a lot of pages into an effective navigation approach. The site is divided into three main areas: exhibitions and tours; image gallery and shop. The site adopts a vertical scrolling approach to fitting a lot of information that is quite effective. Pages load fairly quickly, at least on a fast broadband connection.

Jane Davenport's photography website

This a great and inspiring web site at many levels. The photography shows effective use of macro techniques, excellent Photoshop use to simplify and create great pieces and excellent marketing skills on how to create a photography brand and cover all the bases.

Jane Davenport's photography website

www.janedavenport.com.au