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Macro Photography: part 2

This time i will talk about how to use your gear to get better results. In part one i talked about the options you have to get into Macro range with different accessories. I did some quick shots just to show you the magnification you can get with each accessories.

All the photos below were taken with the lens set at it’s minimum focusing distance and at f/5.6 with no PP, not a test for IQ.

K-01+Extension tube of 25mm+TC 1.4X+A-50mm/2.

K-01+TC 1.4X+Extension tube of 25mm+A-50mm/2.

K-01+Extension tube of 25mm+A-50mm/2.

K-01+A-50mm/2 with Reversing ring.

K-01+Clubman 24mm with Reversing ring.

As you can see, some combos give about the same magnification. The IQ will vary depending on the lens, you will have to do some test to determine which one is the best, here i can say that the A-50mm/2 is not that good when used with those accessories.

Handholding your camera

If needed you can shoot handheld and it’s where a stabilized lens or a camera with a stabilized sensor will help you. Sure it will not be as effective as in normal shooting distances but it can help.

I often handhold my camera when i’m photographing frogs so that i can have a ground level perspective,  i brace the lens or hood on the ground or my gloves or i use a ziploc bag filled with sand to get the sharpest shot possible. The Shake Reduction (SR) in my Pentax cameras is useful here, with some practice i’m able to get some sharp shot with a shutter speed as low as 1/6 sec., with a low success rate though, but i usually try to have a shutter speed of at least 1/20 sec. I don’t have any experience yet with in-lens IS, i ordered a Tamron 90mm Macro VC for my Canon kit and will soon be able to compare it to my Pentax cameras SR.

Here is one taken handheld with my camera braced on cattails stem, the photo is sharp even printed at 11X14 inches.

Pentax K20D with DFA 100mm Macro WR, 1/20 sec. at f/7.1, ISO 1000

When photographing at ground level i focus manually at about the size i want my subject to be in the frame and then move the camera back and forth to fine tune the focus instead of using the focusing ring, that way it’s easier to nail the focus. I’m often laying flat on my belly to make my photos when handholding my camera for ground level photograhy.

Tripod

You will need a good tripod and/or flash to obtain sharp photos most of the time. A tripod help you get sharp photos, also it lets you use any f-stop or shutter speed and as a bonus you can fine tune your composition more easily than when handholding your camera. I prefer a tripod that can go very low or there is also tripod with the center column that can be positioned where you want.

A remote release or cable release is very useful to release the shutter to prevent vibrations. You can also use the 2 seconds delay with or without the release cable, i always use the 2 second delay because the mirror locks-up and the shutter is release after 2 seconds, some cameras even have a true mirror lock-up.

Last summer i found a new way to use my tripod for vertical shots at ground level, click below to watch the video.

http://s47.photobucket.com/user/leopold44/media/MVI_1574_zps3a1fbd56.mp4.html

The resulting photo.

K-01 with DFA 100mm Macro WR.

Digital cameras have advantages that will help you get sharper photos easier than it was when shooting film. High ISO image quality is so good now that shooting handheld with the help of IS gives you a higher keeper rate and also getting photos that were impossible before. The other thing is Live view, it’s so good now that getting critically exact focus is now so easy especially with cameras that have focus peaking like the Pentax and Sony cameras.

A tripod and focus peaking in LV helped me get a sharp shot and composing my shot while having all the DOF i needed.

 Pentax K-01 with SMC Macro-Takumar 50mm/4, tripod.

Practice often to get your technique better, especially when handholding your camera. Next article will be about finding your subjects, composition and more.


Update, using Canon and Pentax as a dual system.

I’ve always been a Pentax shooter for over 25 years, i like Pentax because they makes such great prime lenses and have a good choice of Weather Resistant cameras and lenses at different price levels. Last year at the same date my kit was (all Pentax lenses) :

– Pentax K20D and K-01

– DA14mm/2.8

– FA20mm/2.8

– DA35mm/2.8 Macro Limited

– DFA100mm Macro WR

– DA*50-135mm/2.8

– K200mm/2.5

– Pentax-67 M*400mm/4 EDIF

– TC 1.4X (Tamron AF and Pentax 1.4X-S)

– Extension tubes set

In 2013 i wanted to cut the number of lenses and weight in my camera bag, at the same time i decided to be a dual systems user (Pentax and Canon), Pentax for their WR, small metal lenses (DA 20-40mm Ltd and DFA 100mm Macro WR)  , Canon for their long lenses and Zoom lenses choices for wildlife.

I sold some of my Pentax lenses, even my DA35mm Macro Limited !  In December 2013 i added a Canon 70-200mm/4 L (price was too good) and a Pentax DA 20-40mm/2.8-4 Limited WR. So now i have 2 zoom lenses for each system, the Canon zooms covers more range but are heavier and not weather resistant.The Pentax zooms are both weather resistant, smaller, lighter and of high built quality. Lets not forget that ALL my lenses are stabilized with Pentax SR. Here is my complete kit for each system:

CANON

– Canon 7D and T3i

– Canon 15-85mm/3.5-5.6 IS (575 gr.) (Filter: 72mm) (great for travelling and vacation)

– Canon 70-200mm/4 L (705 gr.) (Filter: 67mm) (will be used for landscape, wildlife and Frogs)

– Canon 400mm/5.6L (1250 gr.)

– TC 1.4X II (220 gr.)

– Extension tubes set

PENTAX

– Pentax K20D and K-01

– Pentax DA 14mm/2.8 (420 gr.) (nothing like this lens in the Canon line-up, that wide which can focus so close)

– Pentax HD DA 20-40mm/2.8-4.0 WR Limited (283 gr.) (Filter: 55mm)

– Pentax DA*50-135mm/2.8 (685 gr.) (Filter: 67mm)

– DFA 100mm Macro WR (340 gr.) (nearly half the weight of the smallest 100mm Macro of Canon, ALL FF)

– Tc 1.4 X (Tamron AF and Pentax 1.4X-S)

– Extension tubes set

From left to right:

Canon 15-85mm/3.5-5.6 IS, Pentax HD DA 20-40mm/2.8-4.0 WR Limited, Pentax DA*50-135mm/2.8, Canon 70-200mm/4 L

As you can see, those 4 zooms are a big part of my kit now. Those 4 zooms are very good to excellent, the 15-85mm is the “weakest” one of the group but it’s still in the very good territory, it’s not perfect but if you know how to use that lens it will produce very good photos. In fact, last August during our family vacation in New Brunswick and PEI i took 90% of my photos with the 15-85mm even the photos for my Stock Photo Agency. They replaces many of my good primes i had, they certainly delivers the IQ i need.

There is more to a lens than being THE sharpest lens … versatility, weight and FUN are certainly high on the list, but you also have to consider Bokeh, contrast and distorsion. Zoom lenses tend to have more distorsion than a Prime lens, especially the WA zooms. Now my camera bag is lighter and i change lenses less often in the field, especially useful in bad weather, even more when i’m using my Pentax Weather sealed lenses.

Do i take all those lenses with me every time ….. never, but i have choices now and take the lenses i need to do the job and i know they will all deliver great photos for me. I bought the Canon 70-200mm/4 L because i already owned the TC 1.4X II and i knew that it would work well together and it’s true after using this combo i can attest it still deliver very good IQ when used properly. Next summer i will use it with that TC1.4XII and also with my Extension tubes for photographing frogs, it will be a great addition for that kind of subjects. Another plus for that lens is that it takes the same filter size as my Pentax DA*50-135mm.

Taken with my T3i and 15-85mm IS, it was really useful for taking this photo, i was able to change focal length quickly to capture the action.

Snowy Owl taken at a local Zoo (Ecomuseum of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue), my first subject with my 70-200mm/4 L with the TC 1.4X II.

I really like my Pentax DA*50-135mm/2.8, sharp and weather sealed, my favorite lens for landscape photography especially when it’s raining. I took that shot in autumn during a light rain, i didn’t protected my K20D + DA*50-135 at all, i was able to continue shooting without worrying about my gear.

Old Canal on a cold morning, i like that place when the nights are cold, in the morning everything around is frosted. My Canon 70-200mm/4 L was perfect for that shot and also for taking close-ups of the old canal.

Another one on a cold foggy morning at -23C with the Pentax DA*50-135mm, i was able to fine tune my composition with a zoom since i couldn’t get closer since i was already standing at the edge of the river.

One of the reason i switched to Canon for my wildlife photography was the choices in long lenses.The 400mm/5.6 L is also very useful when i’m photographing frogs from a distance, or i can add a TC-1.4X or Extension tubes to get closer.

Taken during a light rain, Canon 7D with 400mm/5.6L protected with a rain cover.

Conclusion

I think that i now have 2 systems that works well together and fits my needs and shooting style, i’m satisfied with what i have and can cover all i need to shoot. The only thing i will maybe change in 2014 is trying to update my K20D to a newer Pentax camera, i dropped it 4 times up to now and i had to put duct tape on it to keep it Weather Reasistant …. a very tough camera. The 7D is very tough also, i dropped it last summer in a pond while photographing frogs with my 400mm attached and they both survived after some drying time with rice !

The Canon gear is more a working set-up while the Pentax is more based on fun and high quality built metal and WR lenses. They both can be used to produce great photos and i will continue using both unless Pentax comes up with many choices in long prime and zoom lenses that are WR. An excellent DA* 400mm/5.6 or a DA* 100-400mm would probably be enough for me to come back a full time Pentax users, especially now that the K3 is a better choice for fast action photography.

The Canon 18 Mp sensor is good but still not on the same level as the Sony 16 Mp EXMOR sensor found in many Pentax cameras and the new 24 Mp sensor in the K3 looks very good also. Canon needs to come up with a better crop sensor, maybe in the 7D MK II ?


Canon 70-300mm IS, my impressions.

I wanted a telephoto zoom lens to go along  my 400mm/5.6 L and 7D. I didn’t want to spend too much because my goal is to buy a 70-300mm IS L or wait to see if Pentax would come out with the 135-400mm WR that was on the roadmap. It’s a lens that will be used in vacation or when i don’t need or want to carry my 400mm lens. I read many reviews and user opinions before i finally bought one when a store here in Canada was selling brand new ones for 420$ . I could also have bought the 70-200mm/4 L as it was 600$ (i already own a TC-1.4XII), but i wanted to have a lens with IS.

The built quality is cheaper than my 400mm/5.6L and all my Pentax lenses (i don’t own cheap lenses for my Pentax cameras). I was aware of this before buying it, so not a problem. The focusing ring is not the best i’ve used and MF with LV is manageable at best.

Male Green Frog in the morning light.

Canon 7D with 70-300mm IS, 21mm Ext. tube, at 300mm, ISO 250, 1/320 sec. at f/11, tripod.

100% crop of the shot above with PP in Photoshop and sharpening applied (amount around 95 and radius at 1). You can see some CA in the highlights.

One of the reason i bought that lens was to photograph frogs which would need the use of Extension tubes on some occasions. At 300mm with extension tubes the sharpness is quite good , not as good as a Macro lens but good enough for publishing photos in a magazine. At shorter focal length the IQ is quite good, but with extension tubes and zoomed out from 200mm to 300mm the set-up is not very rigid and is prone to vibration so you need a solid tripod, i also use LV to focus and 2 second delay with a remote release.

7D with 70-300mm IS with 65mm of Ext. tubes, at 190mm, ISO 320, at f/10, tripod, remote release.

I’m lucky to have a young Cottontail Rabbit that likes to live in my backyard and he have a favorite spot just in front of a black spruce where it’s well hidden from predators. He’s now quite accustomed to see us in the backyard and i can get close to him with my camera and he even sleep when i’m close to him!

Here it is looking at me, below are crops from that shot, i was also trying Spot AF.

Canon 7D, at 300mm, 1/250 sec. at f/6.3, ISO 800, tripod, RAW.

Zoomed to 100% with no PP and no NR.

With some PP, sharpening in PS7 (Amount 89, Radius 1.0).

From what i’ve shot with that lens up to now it reflects what i’ve read on some reviews and user reviews, it’s quite good up to 200mm when stopped down 1 stop, at 300mm IQ drops but by stopping down to f/7.1 IQ is relatively good, not up to a prime lens.

This shot was taken near the minimum focusing distance of the lens using LV at 10X magnification.

7D with 70-300mm IS at 170mm, ISO 500, 1/25 sec. at f/6.3, tripod and Polariser filter.

This is a 100% crop of the previous shot.

A shot taken at “normal” distance, more standard use of the lens.

7D, lens set at 90mm, ISO 100, 1/50 sec. at f/10, tripod.

Sure it’s not as sharp as a prime lens at longer focal lengths but when stopped down it can produce very good photos until i can buy the 70-300mm IS L ! I’m now getting to know that lens and use it more often for photographing frogs and it’s doing very well. For the price i paid it’s a good value even if the built quality could be better especially the focusing ring that could have a better feeling. I wish that Canon would give at least the lens hood with their lenses like Pentax do.