Macro Experiments

05th July 2017

Macro photography opens up a fantastic other world. There are numerous ways to get up close and I've been trying an unconventional approach.
Macro photography is specifically when the image formed on the camera's sensor is life size or larger. Anything else is just close-up. Don't fall for marketing hype (no zoom is a macro lens).

That said, most photography, even with a 'proper' macro lens falls into the close-up category unless you're at the minimum distance which gives you that life size image. Let's face it, that suits most of us most of the time. But there are times when getting closer is useful. I hear you say 'why not crop?' I won't go into that right now, but that's rather like preparing a huge meal, taking a few spoonfuls to create a small portion and throwing the rest away.

There are specialist lenses and gear for getting closer. Expensive and cumbersome, and better suited to the studio, but good. Using extension tubes on a macro lens is useful. However, I had other ideas. I'm trying not to be too technical but it does go with the territory.

Canon's Extenders are meant to be used with a small range of their lenses. Indeed they are designed just so. The Extenders have a protruding front that fouls the rear element of less that aren't designed to be used with them. Hello to the EF 12 mm extension tube! This creates just enough separation between the lens and Extender so that they fit together. So what are the benefits and drawbacks?

Firstly the benefits. I've been using the combination with a 1.4xExtender for a while. It allows me to get an image larger than life size on the camera's sensor. So smaller subjects come within decent range, and less smaller ones won't be as small. So now I was ready to try the 2x. These have a reputation for lowering image quality especially with shorter focal length lenses and zooms in particular. With the top range lenses there is still a small loss of quality, and it depends on what you want or need and if it helps get the shot how important that is to you. As I already had these two pieces of gear it wouldn't take much to find out if it was viable. Oh, and the other benefit is that it gives you a very welcome greater working distance for normal close-up subjects such as butterflies (if you haven't got a long focal length macro lens).

Secondly, the drawbacks. Yes you lose light as you do when using the Extender normally. The plane of focus is extremely small so achieving focus especially on a moving subject is, let's say, challenging. Tripods are an option as they always are with this type of photography. Flash illumination is the best, or at least most practical solution. It has to be used off camera via a cord or as I use it via a radio trigger. Ring flash is another option.

But what about the results? Well I was pleasantly surprised. Certainly for the number of occasions I'll need to call on this method the detail and image quality are not bad at all. I choose not to go much below f/11 as diffraction effects can adversely affect quality. Any increase in depth of field by using anything smaller at such close distances is so minimal you'd not notice it. I haven't bothered much about edge quality (though it looks ok) as the main interest in such images is going to be in and around the centre.

I appreciate it's very difficult to tell when looking at web sized images but I think most people would be happy with the results.

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2017

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