DST came into effect on Sunday, which is a breath of spring. The light now lasts into the evening hours, the first buds are appearing on the trees, and there are crocuses blossoming in the neighborhood. It’s time to get back into the field and get moving again, so I dragged myself outside last night.

I was still too lazy to drive up to the park. But I did put the Takumar 135mm f/3.5 on the extension tubes, mounted to the 7D, and threw the whole thing on the tripod. I worked with what was lying around: the neighbors daffodil shoots from the driveway, a feather near the garage, and some lichen on a piece of slate in the yard. It isn’t the most interesting subject matter every, but for an hour of purely experimental shooting, it was perfect.

My explorations into macro photography are starting slow. Right now I’m using the Takumar 135mm with my Vivitar extension tubes, via M42 to EOS adapter. It’s a slow system, and finicky, which I figure is a good thing. The slower I work at this, the better the results will hopefully be. I also have a Takumar 55mm lens coming from eBay, so between the two I hope to find a combination of lens and tubes that really sings.

That’s a lot of my confusion right now, not knowing exactly how everything comes together to work the best. The extension tube has three segments, which can be used independently, together, or in any combination in between. There’s a formula to help with this (of course), where the length of the extension tube, divided by the focal length of the lens, gives the magnification. In my case, that’d be 68mm of extension tube / 135mm of lens = .6x life size. Which means this isn’t actually true macro, since I’m not capturing my subjects at a 1:1 ratio, but it’s the best I can do at the moment. On the other hand, my new 55mm lens will come out to: 68mm/55mm=1.24x, or better than life size.

But enough math – in actual application, the setup works pretty well. As I’d heard, focusing is primarily done through moving the tripod, often fractions of an inch at a time, until the subject is essentially in focus. This is just as finicky as it sounds, and requires moving the tripod back and forth, or the center column up and down, to achieve the proper distance before framing the subject and using the lens’ focus ring to fine tune it.
The best comparison is to the microscopes we all used in our high school biology classes. Remember the two focus wheels, one for coarse focus, and one for fine? You adjust the coarse focus (the tripod) to get everything into position, then adjust the fine focus (lens focus) for millimeter-sized changes.

Forget trying to manually focus the lens through the viewfinder. Without a true MF screen, it’s hopeless. LiveView is the lifesaver is this case – I wouldn’t even try this kind of shooting on my 400D, which lacks LiveView. I start with LiveView at its default, full-screen view. Depending on the angle of the lens to the subject, the band of focus should become apparent as soon as you get the rig in the proper position. From there, I zoom in to 5x in LiveView to fine-tune the focus via the lens.

This is challenging, to say the least. The moment you touch the camera, the whole thing jiggles, which can make it very difficult to see if your adjustments are having any effect. There’s a lot of trial and error here, a lot of time spend making very small adjustments, waiting for the vibrations to fade, and then checking and re-adjusting.
It goes without saying that, when you finally trip the shutter, mirror lock-up is necessary. I recommend a wireless shutter release, too. I used the 2-second timer, but even as I was doing it I knew that I was losing shots here and there because that just wasn’t long enough for the vibrations to fade after I touched the camera.

A couple of tips:

  • I shot in open shade as the sun went down, and continued into twilight. This called for longer exposure times, but also made for soft, smooth lighting, which was much easier to balance and work with the first time out
  • my lens is already a fast(er) telephoto, with a thin DOF; converted to macro, the DOF is razor thin. Stopping down is essential, as it not only thickens the DOF slightly, but also gives you a little latitude for slight focus errors
  • I can’t speak for all MF lenses, but the Takumars have a DOF preview switch on the side that switches from wide-open (perfect for focusing) to stopped-down at the chosen f-stop (for shooting). It’s an excellent design feature and really makes life easier

The results? About 20 frames over the course of an hour, of which I kept the images here in the post. It’s challenging, to say the last. But I enjoyed it. It was a different kind of work, and I think that when spring hits, with all its colorful subject matter, I’ll be able to have a lot of fun with this. But I still have plenty to learn, including some technique.

More to come…

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

Facebook Google+  

Related Posts: