Starting macro gear
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BenV
Registered: Jan 01, 2008
Total Posts: 7830
Country: United States

Macro photograph is an area I have not explored much. I owned the Nikon 105 VR for a few months, used it for some flowers outside and noticed such slight movement resulted in a completely out of focus image. I knew I was doing something wrong, but since I mainly used the 105 for head shots, I didn't think about it much. I've got some free money coming up soon and I want to get 'more serious' so to speak, about macro. It looks fun. Specifically I want to chase bugs (I'm the very outdoorsy type) on my spare time.

Now that you guys know what I want to do, where do I start? Budget is always a concern. I plan on purchasing the Sigma 150 after reading tons of stellar reviews and seeing its nickname 'bugma', I already own a nice gitzo tripod. What other gear might I need? Also, since bugs are usually on the ground, will I need another means of support since my tripod won't go that low? Whats a good quality dedicated macro flash? Is it at all possible to use an existing flash (SB-700)?
As far as I know, all my macro needs will be out in the wild, I won't have any type of 'studio' set up for the little bugs.

I'm sure I've got other questions, but if anyone can offer advice and/or feedback, its always appreciated.



Andre Labonte
Registered: Dec 21, 2005
Total Posts: 13040
Country: United States

TRIPOD and not any tripod but a good one. In general, the tripod should be able to support 3x to 4x the weight of your gear in order to be stable enough for 1:1 macro work and get good sharp images.

CABLE RELEASE using a cable release and MUP are good ideas too.

Once you have the two above items, you should be in good shape. The 105VR is a good all-around macro lens and should be fine for bugs. Learn to manual focus well. You might as well turn the AF off and be sure the VR is OFF. VR hurts more than helps on a tripod. In very good light, and if you are very stable, you might get away with a monopod, but tripods are best.

If chasing bugs and you want something longer than the 105VR, consider the Tamron 180. It has the most 1:1 working distance from the subject to the front element of the lens of ANY micro lens on the market. It is tack sharp and only cost ~$700.

Did I mention a good TRIPOD? If not, be sure to get a GOOD tripod.



BenV
Registered: Jan 01, 2008
Total Posts: 7830
Country: United States

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 can look into purchasing?

I'll definitely do some research into the Tamron 180, ty for the suggestion.



Zebrabot
Registered: Aug 10, 2010
Total Posts: 918
Country: United States

A monopod is more useful than a tripod for insects. they fit in more places and easily brace under your foot for closd to the ground shots.

A tripod works ok if you have a good ballhead.



tjpenton
Registered: Jan 04, 2011
Total Posts: 275
Country: Canada

A manfrotto 055xprob would be a decent setup that would let you get close to the ground due to the legs extending to 90 degree angles and the center column can hang upside down or sideways . Sturdy setup as well



Genes Home
Registered: Mar 12, 2008
Total Posts: 1414
Country: United States

1. Since you already have a good tripod, let's skip that issue. Add a nice monopod to the mix, as you will most likely find it easier to use when photographing outdoors.

2. I have the first version of the Sigma 150mm macro. Big, heavy, sharp as a tack, and NOT for sale. I can highly recommend it.

3. Definately a remote release. I prefer wireless as there is less to tangle up.

4. For flash, visit the Macro forum at this site and just search for flash. You will find lots of really innovative flash systems made out of yesterday's trash. A diffuser for the flash you have is the most important item. You can add a "flex arm" later, once you get a feel for your photographic direction.

5. If you decide to go really small you will need a set of KENKO extension tubes to let you get more magnification out of your lens.

Gene



BenV
Registered: Jan 01, 2008
Total Posts: 7830
Country: United States

tjpenton wrote:
A manfrotto 055xprob would be a decent setup that would let you get close to the ground due to the legs extending to 90 degree angles and the center column can hang upside down or sideways . Sturdy setup as well


We'll for the time being a new tripod won't happen. I've spent upwards of $1300 on my legs/ballhead and don't really plan on replacing it any time soon. Right now I'm more concerned with a ring light and a lens. TY for your input though. Maybe in the future I will look into a different tripod



ytwong
Registered: Dec 29, 2003
Total Posts: 1515
Country: China

105 VR is a competent macro. I would suggest just go shooting and see then see what kind of problem you ran into before further purchases. Everyone has different shooting habits, some use super sturdy tripods, some use monopods, some rather use flash/macro flash for freeze the movement, and there are people who specificly use DX bodies for macro (to gain more DOF).

I once use 60mm (sometimes with 2X TC) on film to chase bugs... not very pleasant way to work but works.

Haven't done insects macro for a while... these are taken years ago back in the days I was a newbie in photography. Some of them are scanned from dirty 4x6 prints.
Camera : Nikon F90X
Film: Kodak 100 / Agfa 200 (negative)
Lens : AF-D 60 2.8
TC(if used): Tamron 2X
Flash: SB-22












BenV
Registered: Jan 01, 2008
Total Posts: 7830
Country: United States

Genes Home wrote:
1. Since you already have a good tripod, let's skip that issue. Add a nice monopod to the mix, as you will most likely find it easier to use when photographing outdoors.

2. I have the first version of the Sigma 150mm macro. Big, heavy, sharp as a tack, and NOT for sale. I can highly recommend it.

3. Definately a remote release. I prefer wireless as there is less to tangle up.

4. For flash, visit the Macro forum at this site and just search for flash. You will find lots of really innovative flash systems made out of yesterday's trash. A diffuser for the flash you have is the most important item. You can add a "flex arm" later, once you get a feel for your photographic direction.

5. If you decide to go really small you will need a set of KENKO extension tubes to let you get more magnification out of your lens.

Gene


I've got 1,2 and 3 covered. I'll look into #4 big time. #5, would it be safe to assume the more tubes, the shallower DOF?



Andre Labonte
Registered: Dec 21, 2005
Total Posts: 13040
Country: United States

BenV wrote:
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 can look into purchasing?

I'll definitely do some research into the Tamron 180, ty for the suggestion.


*************************

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.

Cheers,
Andre

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.



NightOwl Cat
Registered: Feb 19, 2007
Total Posts: 7545
Country: United States

Something else might be a focusing rail, came across this in yesterday's mail

http://www.adorama.com/MCFRSS.html?src=bazaar



DaveOls
Registered: Sep 30, 2011
Total Posts: 1214
Country: United States

While you're at all this, look into focus stacking to increase depth of field. Michael Erlewine has a number of small booklets on the subject that are free at macrostop.com, I think. You can download them to your computer or laptop.



Andre Labonte
Registered: Dec 21, 2005
Total Posts: 13040
Country: United States

DaveOls wrote:
While you're at all this, look into focus stacking to increase depth of field. Michael Erlewine has a number of small booklets on the subject that are free at macrostop.com, I think. You can download them to your computer or laptop.



Works great for stationary subjects ... bugs are hardly ever stationary long enough.



binary visions
Registered: Dec 28, 2004
Total Posts: 2247
Country: United States

I think you might be over-thinking how close you have to get to the ground. There are lots of bugs on plants that stand a bit off the ground, you just have to look for bugs in such areas

I mean, yes, it's great to have a tripod that will go super low, but bugs are everywhere, not just two inches off the ground.

Also, the absolute best time to go looking for bugs, in my opinion, is first thing in the morning when the sun is coming up. I have a 300mm f/4, a 52mm extension tube, and a tripod. It's not incredibly maneuverable, but in the cool weather of the morning the bugs will be as still as the plants they rest on. Plus, great light!



SAng
Registered: Apr 27, 2008
Total Posts: 493
Country: Canada

I don't think anyone has mentioned this yet, the 'Post your setup' thread on the Macro forum has lots to chew on:

http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/780820



BenV
Registered: Jan 01, 2008
Total Posts: 7830
Country: United States

SAng wrote:
I don't think anyone has mentioned this yet, the 'Post your setup' thread on the Macro forum has lots to chew on:

http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/780820


spent a good hour just browsing that today thanks for the link



BenV
Registered: Jan 01, 2008
Total Posts: 7830
Country: United States

binary visions wrote:
I think you might be over-thinking how close you have to get to the ground. There are lots of bugs on plants that stand a bit off the ground, you just have to look for bugs in such areas

I mean, yes, it's great to have a tripod that will go super low, but bugs are everywhere, not just two inches off the ground.

Also, the absolute best time to go looking for bugs, in my opinion, is first thing in the morning when the sun is coming up. I have a 300mm f/4, a 52mm extension tube, and a tripod. It's not incredibly maneuverable, but in the cool weather of the morning the bugs will be as still as the plants they rest on. Plus, great light!



ah makes sense, I'll be sure to give that a try as soon as I get my gear. thank you!

p.s.
wonderful photo



woos
Registered: Apr 10, 2012
Total Posts: 249
Country: United States

Robert Otoole has some nice posts on this kind of thing. Most of them have pictures showing the camera+flash stuff he was using for the macro shots .. check it out http://www.robertotoole.com/



LMT1972
Registered: Oct 26, 2008
Total Posts: 730
Country: Australia

Some good advice here but some of it is fine in theory but not so practical. If you are going shoot full flash leave the tripod at home and shoot handheld or with a monopod. Extra Working distance is nice but not necessary in most cases if you know your subjects (most folks in the macro forum are using 65-105 focal length). If you are going to use a tripod and shoot natural light go with a longer focal length but if shooting full flash the 105VR will be fine (I use the Tamron 60 f2 + tubes and find the working distance is fine).

As for focus stacking live subjects only crazy people do that

Cheers
Leigh



Andre Labonte
Registered: Dec 21, 2005
Total Posts: 13040
Country: United States

woos wrote:
Robert Otoole has some nice posts on this kind of thing. Most of them have pictures showing the camera+flash stuff he was using for the macro shots .. check it out http://www.robertotoole.com/



That's right, the OP does have a 200-400 which should work great with tubes. In fact, for larger flowers, tubes + a long telephoto is my prefered method of doing close up shots. Never thought of it for bugs, but for big bugs that makes a lot of sense ... not sure about smaller bugs...someone with more experience in that area would have to speak to it.



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