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Thanks for the response Andre,
I use the Arca Swiss Z1 ballhead on a nice Gitzo tripod, it holds the 200-400 rather well, not too worried about the D3 and a small macro lens on it. My concern is if the bugs are on the floor, my tripod doesn't go low enough to focus down there. I'd imagine if the bugs are on a plant maybe shin height it would work. But for the stuff on the floor am I forced to lay down (not a problem) and do the best I can, or is there an easier setup I...Show more →
OK, you clearly have the tripod covered
A good monopod would be a great addition. more manuverable ... but not so great for bugs right on the ground ... back to the tripod for getting lower:
I have two Gitzo tripods and both get very close to the ground ... some of the ones with a center column can't get that close unless you replace the center column with a "short" column. I did this on my lightweight 1228 ... cost like $50. That may help with getting lower. OR, if you have a center column, it can be flipped around to hang between the legs of the tripod ... looks funky but works great. For macro work, I usually use my heavier 3541XLS.
One challenge I found when working off a tripod is getting both the framing I want AND the focus. Framing changes fast with very little change in distance at short focus lengths. Two ways to solve this that I know of:
1) Use a focusing rail ... expensive, heavy and slow, but great if you are doing copy work which you are not.
2) Use a nodal rail and slide it back and forth in your clamp to get the framing you want, then focus. Not too bad a method and gives you 6" or 8" of play depending on what rail you get.
Two other options for getting "closer" to the bugs:
1) Longer lens like the Tamron 180, Sigma 180, or the Nikon 200. This Sigma and the Nikon are very expensive and quite large. The Tamron is the cheepest and smallest.
2) Hand hold and use a ring flash or macro flash system to "freeze" the bugs with higher shutter speeds. The trick is then nailing focus while hand holding (or on a monopod). Since bugs are on a surface and you have light from the flash, you can afford to stop down a bit to get more DOF. Two things to be aware of for this: 1) a shorter lens will work better if you go this route ... the 105VR would be ideal 2) This is one place the Tamron 180 sucks since it has a funky filter ring system that allows you to rotate filters when the hood is on ... great if using a polorizer but sucks with macro flash because the weight of the flash causes it to turn on its own. But, I would not use a flash system on the lens with a longer lens like the Tamron 180 anyway ... but that's me.
PS ... the big issue with tubes is you loose a lot of light and your focus range becomes restricted. Better for non-moving things. And you get more mag with longer tubes and shorter lenses. And yes, you loose DOF, but that is true with longer lenses too.