Friday, May 6, 2011

Macro El Cheapo. Macro photography on the cheap, and some lessons learned

ISO 500      40mm       f/5.0       1/125sec
Being a landscaper, I love plants. So plant and flower photography is something I enjoy. To get interesting photos of plants you want to get in really close to the subject. The problem with this is in order to get a good sharp photo with a nice blurred background you want a nice macro lens. The problem with this is macro lenses are very expensive. So what are the alternatives????

Cheap (very crap) ebay extension tubes
I was reading up on this and discovered that one way to achieve this kind of magnification is to use extension tubes. These tubes contain no optical elements, their sole purpose is to move the lens farther from the image plane. The farther away the lens is, the closer the focus, the greater the magnification, and also the greater the loss of light (requiring a longer exposure time).
Good automatic extension tubes are also quite expensive and out of my budget. But I did find some cheap ones on ebay. They didn't have any fittings for auto focus or aperture but I thought for €10 they were worth a go.

My camera with the extension tubes on
Well I can tell you now, they are not worth a go, they are the crapest things I ever bought on ebay. Not only did they not work, but the also caused me quite a lot of anguish when they apparently got welded stuck onto my lens. They came without any documentation or instructions so I had no idea what to do. In a panic I went on line looking for answers. And it didn't take long to find many people with the same problem.
Lucky I found a forum where someone had the answer. So just in case you end up in this predicament I will now explain what to do.

So on the crappy extension tubes there is a little threaded screw thingy that doesn't seem to have much purpose. Its function is not to be twisted (as logic would make you think), it is in fact meant to be pushed down and towards the tube. Treat that screw as if it were the lens release button on the camera and push it in the same direction to release it from the lens. If you've tried to release it by other means it may be stuck. Just twist the lens a little so that the pin is not binding and then push the button in the same direction as the camera lens release button.
How to take the cheap ebay tubes off.
 The only remaining thing to do is chuck them in the bin! (I did contact the ebay shop, to share my frustration and my opinion of their product, and to be fair they did offer me a refund if I posted it back to them, but for the sake of €10 it was not really worth my while)


Close-up lens kit
After this I picked up a set of close-up lenses that screw onto my 18-105mm kit lens. These work pretty well. The kit has three lenses that have +1 +2 and +4 magnification which can be screwed together to make various amounts of magnification. And at a fraction of the cost of a macro lens at €50 they are money well spent.

Original image without close-up lens

There is some distortion around the edges of the image that dose increase with the more lenses you use, however this usually isn't a problem as for most macro shots you want to be blurring out the background as much as possible anyway. Remember to use a large aperture with macro photography to really blur out the background of the image. (At the beginning aperture or 'f' numbers really confused me, as they go against logic. You would think that the larger the aperture opening the larger the 'f' number, when in fact it is the opposite. A great tip I got over at learning the light was 'The more 'f' numbers, the more focus'. So for macro you want less focus in the surrounding image so you want less 'f' numbers)

ISO 200      105mm    f/8.0      1/160sec 
 Pretty much all of my macro shots are taken using my close-up lenses. I generally favour using the +4 and +2 lenses together, in fact I tend to leave them screwed together in my camera bag, that way I keep the void between the two lenses dust free.

It is also worth using a tripod when using these lenses as getting a sharp focus is a bit tricky. Generally what I do is, using my 18-105mm lens at full zoom with the close-up lens on, move the camera back and forth to the object till you find your focus point and only then use the focus ring on the lens to do your final adjustments.

ISO 200   92mm    f/25       1/13 sec