Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Q&A Part 1

I've been getting a few emails (mostly at my Flickr account) with questions about macro photography. From time to time I'm going to post them here in the hopes that regular readers of my blog will see them and I won't get asked the same questions too many times ;)

"Love your macros, just some questions, how come your pictures in macro are so close to the subject like the bees, what lens do you have? as I don't seem to able to get as close as that.

is the lens very close to the subject?
or are using macro filter or extension tubes"

Add to it this question:

"hey, it s me again, i came across your photos on flickr and i m looking for advice, i have nikon and 1:1 macro lenses and i would like to get higher zoom, should i buy extension tube?how do u take your beautiful macro photos?

best greetings


For more than a year now I've been shooting macro exclusively with the Canon MPE-65mm macro lens. It is a macro only lens (no infinity focus) that can go from life size to five times life size magnification with just the turn of a ring (looks like a zoom ring). The distance from the front of the lens to the subject (the working distance) at life size is four inches and it drops to 1.6 inches at 5x. There is no Nikon equivalent (I get that question a lot too).

I'm going to post a couple of questions about the MPE-65mm and then answer them all at once. First question:

"I bought a the Canon 100mm 2.8 macro a while ago to give macro a go and was a little disappointed when the shots wasn't as close as I wanted it to be, (when I saw your pics it sparked my interest again so wanna give it another go) so my question is what I do to improve this?

1) get accessories (what would you recommend) for my current 100mm macro and then maybe get a MPE-65 further down the line when my skills improve.
2) or just buy a new toy MPE-65 :)"

Second question:

"My wife really wants a macro lens and she loves the pictures the Canon MPE65 takes. She never shot macro but is pretty good with a camera. Is this lens way to hard to learn with? I have been told to get her the 100mm but she really likes the MPE65."

Third question:

"I was considering buying the Canon 100mm Macro lens... then i found your photo stream !!! ... (oh dear thats now up'd my budget by a fair few hundred ! )

I am now thinking of purchasing the MPE-65 for use on a 400D..."

I had some of the same questions when I first got into macro and the advice that I got is what I'm giving to you now: Get some experience shooting at life size (or above life size with extension tubes, a teleconverter, or a close-up filter like the 500D) before you get the MPE-65mm macro lens. The MPE-65mm is like no other lens:

1) There is no infinity focus so it can be used for macro only.

2) The working distance starts at 4" from the front of the lens and it drops to 1.6" at 5x.

3) No auto focus -not that it would do you any good anyway. The depth of field is so shallow, even at F11, that the camera wouldn't be able to put the area of sharp focus where you need it to be.

4) The focus lock indicators in the view finder do not work -on any camera that the MPE-65mm lens is attached to.

So the learning curve with the MPE-65mm lens is VERY HIGH. I'm not saying that you can't pick it up as your first macro lens -you might be a natural with it. But I know a lot of people who jumped right into macro with the MPE-65mm and after a few weeks of frustration they sold the lens...

"I am very new at photography so I am saking for a bit of advise.

What would be a good macro to buy if I had all the money in the world???

What would be the best afford for someone with no money ??"

My answer is the same for both questions: Get a macro lens in the 100mm range and practice shooting at life size. If you like it then add some extension tubes, a teleconverter, and /or a close-up lens like the 500D (just don't use a 500D and a teleconverter at the same time -the image quality is poor). Then if you really like shooting above life then pick up the MPE-65mm.

I get a lot of questions about the flashes that I use and how I diffuse them. Let me say that the way that I shoot macro is just one of many -I don't think anyone is an authority on any photographic discipline. So if you have a standard camera flash then you can use it to shoot macro. I think a dedicated flash like the MR-14EX is easier to use, and even the MT-24EX is great once you learn how to diffuse it and get the quality of light that you want. But your speedlights or a 430EX, 580EX, etc. will work just fine -all you have to do is diffuse it and get it close to the subject (so the flash duration will be short). You don't have to get a dedicated macro flash -but it is more convenient to have one. Experiment and see what looks good to you -part of developing your own style ;)

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