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Cheapest entry to digital macro photography

Russell Edwards , Dec 23, 2010; 12:08 a.m.

I am looking to get back in to macro photography at minimal expense and am looking for some suggestions on the best way to do this.
I have a nice Zuiko 50/3.5 macro lens for OM system, gathering dust along with all my other old OM gear as the cheap point-and-shoot digital has made it difficult to justify the expense of feeding the film SLR.
From what I can gather, new macro lenses start at $400+ so I am thinking it might be best to get an entry-level DSLR with basic zoom for everyday use, and use the Zuiko with an adapter for macro use-- is that reasonable? I am also toying with the idea of the same trick with an Olympus PEN (a giant phallic EOS with a little Zuiko 50 on it would look just a bit odd!) but am wondering how well you could manually focus on an LCD screen...
Still, this is probably going to be out of reach for me. Is there anything worth looking at on the used market? It seems to me there is very little out there that is much cheaper than the entry level new models.

Responses

Gil Pruitt , Dec 23, 2010; 01:05 a.m.

There is always this guy Plonsky. http://www.mplonsky.com/photo/article.htm#cam Worth a look!

JC Uknz , Dec 23, 2010; 02:34 a.m.

If you do it the old way before 'macro lens' came into being it can be quite cheap. The extension tubes for my Canon DSLR cost me $29 Australian on Ebay. They are simply tubes so we are back to the old time manual working. No great problem for macro if your lens has an aperture ring [essential really unless you make yourself some Waterhouse Stops] and focusing ring ... not that the later is needed since an accepted technique is to set focus and move camera in and out to get required focus.
If you want to get closer then there is the option of Bellows which can cost rather more, mine was less as a store sale and I doubt if the assistant realised the proper price when I got mine for $20 .. still it was stuff they wanted to move. [Back in the days when money was worth it :-) ]
Buying a lens suggest that you consider getting a good quality longer focus lens ... mine is a nice Takumar 135mm with adaptor ring from M42 [yes it is THAT old] to EOS. The advantage of using a longer focal length lens is that it keeps you away from the subject.
In getting tight images the idea is not always to get close but rather to get the tight framing. There is little or not difference in depth of field at these distances irrespective of what focal length you use and staying away from the subject has various advantages in lighting, safety, scaring subject matter [ though I have found insects remarkably tolerant of a camera being pushed under their noses, so-as-to-speak :-) ]
Something a wee bit expensive to be considered is a focusing rack. This enables you to mount the rack on a tripod and then move the camera in and out to find focus. A monopod is a half-pie way of doing this while giving you considerable support for steady results. I have found sliding my hand supporting the camera along the floor resulted in nice results of insects sitting on the floor/table etc.
Hope these suggestion are of help to you .... yes a macro lens would be very nice and easy for limited work down to 1:1 but extension tubes/bellows will take you further, probably at less expense. The macro lens is a modern 'convienience tool' ... nice but expensive :-)

Bill Tuthill , Dec 23, 2010; 01:19 p.m.

Fuji S100EXR or S200EXR. Same great lens, one with higher resolution (and more purple fringing) the other with unbelievable dynamic range, under $400 used. Raynox converter can be added for ultra macro. (I am not sure how to define 1:1 macro with digital, hmm...)

JC Uknz , Dec 25, 2010; 05:12 a.m.

Bill .... Wouldn't it be pretty much the same whatever camera you are using. Macro is, if you accept the definition, a 1:1 image on the sensor, or somewhat larger, so with a P&S this means something perhaps 8mm across and, unless you have a long zoom model to help get tight framing, is pretty well impossible to maintain IQ ... even with my x12 zoom it would mean a 9 or 10 dioptre CU lens and I don't trust more than 2 dioptre to maintain reasonable IQ ... though I did take some shots with a 10 dioptre plastic magnifying glass, the glass went back to my workshop draw afterwards.
Without ever using a macro lens I assume that designed for an APS-C body they enable you to fill the 24mm sensor with a 24mm subject with their maximum zoom.
A trouble with this discussion is that many people use macro when actually they are only thinking big close-ups, and not so big close-ups either :-)

Steve T. , Dec 26, 2010; 11:02 a.m.

http://www.adorama.com/searchsite/default.aspx?searchinfo=Canon+Close-Up+Filters

Research "Canon Close-Up Filters" at the link above at Adorama. These are a high quality magnifier that can be threaded onto a lens just like a filter. They come in 2 styles, the 250D and 500D, depending on the focal length of the lens you are mounting it to. These are head-and-shoulders better than the cheapie magnifier filters that can also be obtained. They won't get you to 1:1 macro, but they'll get you closer than all these "macro" zooming lenses that aren't able to get much more than 1:2, if even that.

This was my entry into close-up photography, I used a 500D model with my Tamron 18-250 zoom lens and got very nice results. Since then I upgraded to a Tamron 90mm macro lens a couple years later so I could obtain 1:1.

I'd support JC's suggestion of the extension tubes, too. Or a reversing ring so you can mount a normal or wide prime lens to your camera backwards, providing magnification. When I reverse mounted a 28mm prime to the end of a full set of extension tubes (60-ish or so mm of extension) to my Pentax K20D, if I recall the math correctly I easily received 2:1 macro.

Here are some frost photos I took last winter. http://steves-stories.blogspot.com/2010/01/fun-with-ice.html First two photos are using the Tamron 90mm macro, full image size then cropping down. The third photo will show the 28mm prime reverse mounted out on the end of a set of extension tubes. The used 28mm prime (old manual lens) cost me around $30-40, the extension tubes I bought off Ebay for around the same.

Bryan Peterson's book "Understanding Close-Up Photography" and John Shaw's "Closeups in Nature" would be great book references for you. Note neither of these is dedicated exclusively to macro, but macro and close-up in general are discussed in depth.

dee d , Jan 02, 2011; 04:06 a.m.

I am not sure about cheapest , but a micro 4/3rds camera [ or any of the new ' mirrorless ' cameras ' will accept all your old Zuiko's with an adapter . A set of m43 extension tubes is about £8 from China , and an adapter about £20 shipped to UK [ check e-bay for costs in USA ]
My Panasonic G1 was £290 ex-dem with replacement battery and charger , but G1 bodies are turning up as people upgrade to the later bodies .
I use my old Minolta SR tubes and a 50mm MD / MC lens , or a cheap Vivitar 100mm macro lens , which becomes 200 on m43 .
I am more interested in still life abstracts , so have no idea how the set up would work with bugs etc !
I am however blown away by the results Plonsky achieves with a Canon G3 and a lot of experimentation .... now where is that Canon G2 ?

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