Category: Macro Photography
My Pentax K3 arrived earlier in the week, so this weekend is my first chance to give it a test drive. All I can say is that the more I use this camera, the more impressed I am. Here are a few shots from this weekend - ordered by how well I like them (favorite first) -click on an image for a larger file. These closeups were all taken with the Pentax K3, A* 200mm f4 macro, tripod mounted. Live view, with focus peaking was used to take most of these shots.
This morning I visited the Allegan Forest, which is crawling with hunters this time of year. In a field that reliably hosts Halloween Pennant and Calico Pennant dragonflies in the early summer, I took a few intimate landscapes. This moss shot is a stacked focused composite of several images.
Yesterday was a very windy day and lots of sprigs of berries, like this, were littering the ground. Not sure where they came from. Unlike the previous shot, this is a single exposure.
Another stack focus shot - a different kind of moss.
Didn’t want to adjust anything here…
Eastern prickly pear is pretty abundant in the forest - you gotta be careful where you drop down to take that bug photo.
Berries on moss. These almost look like grapes…
Another stack focused shot - some random leaves on the ground in November…
And lastly - during Saturday’s windstorm my wife and I went to South Haven in hopes of seeing big waves crashing against the lighthouse. Well - you gotta have high winds and they have to come from the right direction to make those big waves. But here is a snapshot of the lighthouse - again in the mode of test driving the K3 - with a Sigma 70-200 f2.8 EX lens. This is the earliest version of the lens, non-macro and non-DG - but it seems to work OK with the K3:
Pentax K3, Sigma 70-200 f2.8.
Autumn just getting started, but one maple in my yard is always the first to turn, and it always turns a brilliant red. So this afternoon I grabbed the Pentax K-01 and D-FA 100mm macro to take some autumn snaps in my little yard. I only shot for an hour in the heavy overcast, drizzly day. Here’s the results - click on any image for a larger view.
This leaf caught in some decorative grass caught my eye and motivated me to get out and make some photos. The harvester (I grew up calling the Daddy Long Legs) was a bonus.
Raindrops on Autumn Leaves
I live in the city and have a small yard - about 2700 square feet - but I’ve devoted about a third of ti to native prairie plants and they are taking hold. The grey coneflower booms in late July through mid September, but this year it lingered on a bit longer than usual. This one is probably the very last to bloom, here in October. I did not notice the leaf hopper till I processed the image.
Leaves on Pavement
Leaf in Thistle
Cosmos Seed Head
Bones In A Pot
Here are a couple of dragonflies and one damselfly from a trip to the Allegan forest yesterday. Click on any image for a larger file.
First - what I think is a Carolina Saddlebags, though the Red Saddlebags is very similar. I do not see the large “window” in the saddlebag on the wings that the Red would typically have, so my guess is the Carolina.
Here is another shot, not as good, but that shows the coloration on the face and wings a little better:
And then a common 12 Spotted Skimmer, which were out in abundance over the pond I was visiting:
Lastly, some sort of Bluet Damselfly. I used a different technique for this shot and focus stacked 16 separate images together to get better depth of field. I have not tried this in the field before, and it actually seemed to work pretty well:
Here we are in June already. Despite the cold spring, by now the dragonflies must be out. Last weekend - the last weekend of May - I visited a familiar field looking for the winged devils. I found a few, and took their pictures. This morning, first weekend in June, I noticed a common whitetail buzzing around my house. It kept landing on my car which I took to be a suggestion that I should get out to the country and look for dragonflies - so I did just that.
Here is a roundup of my first 2013 dragonfly photos - for each, click on the image for a lager file. All photos taken with a Pentax K-5, A*200mm macro lens, and DIY macro flash bracket.
Here is a female Twelve Spotted Skimmer from last weekend, first dragonfly shot of 2013. You may know that I go to great pains to get these shots, and in this case it was more painful than usual. The insect settled down in a clump of eastern prickly pear cactus, and despite all my best precautions I wound up sitting on a cactus, landing my elbow in a cactus, and pressing my hand on a cactus as I went to stand up. Prickly pear is more annoying than dangerous - the needles just stick in your outer skin till something happens to push them straight in, and then they just make for a tiny annoying prick. But for several days after taking these shots I’d settle into a chair or put on a garment and feel that annoying prick as a needle finally found its way home.
So - two shots in the prickly pear:
Here is another dragonfly form last weekend - I am not sure what it is. Body markings look like a Spiny or Beaverpond Baskettail, and it did have some green in the eyes like a Beaverpond. But, I don’t see any indication in my field guides that either species has brown tinted wings.
Then, this afternoon, I returned to the northern edge of the Allegan Forest looking for more subjects. As soon as I stepped out of the car I encountered several blue dashers. Let’s start with males showing the characteristic blue abdomen:
And some females or immature males (they are similar in appearance):
These Clubtails (family: Gomphidae) are typically abundant in these northern fields in the spring and early summer.
I’m not sure what species of Gomphidae these clubtails are, but they are fierce hunters. Here is one devouring an Eastern Pondhawk - itself a large species that also preys on other dragonflies.
As a parting shot - a female Common Whitetail, perched above dried leaves from last fall:
Spring has been slow to come to west Michigan this year. Yesterday temps hovered around freezing and the sky spat out a mix of snow and rain. Today started the same but in late afternoon the clouds broke and under a warm mid April sun the temperatures rose quickly, even into the mid 50’s. I toured my little backyard looking for some photographic subjects and found a few tiny midges sitting on the fence.
The midges were small - maybe 3 to 4 mm from toe to toe. It was breezy, but I thought I’d give the Pentax Q another test. Initially I shot with a 50mm macro lens, but the magnification was not enough for these tiny insects. So I changed up to a 100mm macro, added an extension tube to get beyond 1:1 magnification, and took a crack at it using the Bolt LED ring light. Here is the best shot out of about 100 tries - after about an hour the temps got even warmer and the midges flew off into the late afternoon. The bushy antenna suggest that this is a male midge.
Click on the image for a larger file.
Gear used to make this photo was a Pentax Q, D-FA 100mm macro, 25mm extension tube, LED ringlight and a tripod. taken at f4 and ISO 125. The image is not cropped.
The thing that gets me excited about the Q is not that it is a great do-it-all pocketable compact (because it isn’t) but rather that it is a great interchangeable lens KIT and I can carry a small bag and have tremendous capacity.
With that in mind, I wanted to come up with a macro setup that would compete with my DSLR / A* 200mm macro rig but be small enough to fit into a little camera bag. My choice for the macro lens was a Pentax SMC M50 f4 macro - a lens that I know to be remarkably sharp - on a generic Q to K mount adapter, and a Bolt VM-110 LED ring light (continuous light source.) I had to go with a continuous light source because the electronic shutter on the Q combined with a generic K to Q adapter will only flash synch at 1/13th of a second.
While the Pentax SMC M 50mm f4 macro lens is somewhat slow, I have used it in snow crystal photos in the past and know it to be remarkably sharp even wide open. It is also pretty small and light for a 50mm macro. Mounted on the Pentax Q it is the equivalent of a 275mm lens on a 35mm (a.k.a. full frame) system. The maximum magnification is only 1/2 life sized, but since the Q’s sensor is only about 1/4th of an inch across that still allows for some full frame photos of pretty small subjects…
The Bolt Ring light arrived earlier this week and I assembled the Q macro setup. Overall, it is a really sweet little outfit. Here is a photo of the Q, M50 & adapter, and Bolt ring light. While it is not tiny it certainly is quite compact:
OK - On to test the setup. I fired up the Bolt light and did a few tests on a $20 bill. Here is a test at maximum magnification:
An actual pixel crop:
That image was taken with the front of the lens / ring light about 5 inches from the bill. The Bolt ring light kicked out enough light to allow hand holding of the camera at ISO 400.
So far so good. In reality, though, I don’t expect to take hand held macros of 1/2 inch items on a casual basis, so here is a more likely scenario - a shot taken with the front of the camera about 1 foot from the bill. Again, it looks good to me:
Again with an actual pixel crop:
Now to try it in the real world…
We have had a late spring and the crocuses are just starting to bloom. The crocuses draw honey bees and my routine spring training involves going after the bees with my insect macro setup which hopefully gets me into shape for summer insect shooting. This spring I decided to try the Q setup…
Unfortunately, things did not go entirely as planned. I took a bunch of test shots, none of which were any good. But I immediately noticed weird artifacts popping up in the shots:
Arg… So this is the dreaded “rolling shutter distortion” I’ve heard about…
Here’s what’s going on: the Q does not have a physical shutter (i.e. - metal louvers that open and close to expose the sensor.) Most dedicated Q lenses have a leaf shutter built into the lens, but when using the Q to K adapter there is no shutter. In this case, the camera uses an “electronic shutter” where it turns the sensor on, reads the light levels, then turns it off. But it can’t do it all at once, so it turns on parts of the shutter sequentially. While it is still very fast, things like bee’s wings are faster and so they create distortion. You can read about this on Wikipedia.
So where does that leave me… I was quite excited about using the M50 macro on the Q. The native Q lenses are very impressive and versatile - the 01 is a fast normal prime, the 02 is a solid normal zoom (equivalent to a 28-85mm full frame zoom), the 03 fisheye is a very sharp ultra wide angle (17mm equivalent) and the 06 telephoto is a remarkably good telephoto zoom equivalent to 85 - 250mm).
The 50mm macro is a good idea and equivalent to a 275mm f4 macro, but falls short in the narrow category of flying insects. It still works great for taking pictures of $20 bills, flowers, and other stationary or slow moving items. Here are a few bees, and one fly, taken with the 50mm that illustrate that:
So for the next step I think I will try a Raynox 250 close-up adapter on the 06 telephoto zoom. It is not too expensive and would be generally useful on setups other than the Q. Alternately I might get the official Pentax Q to K adapter which has a built in shutter and would overcome the rolling shutter distortion - but would also require manually setting the shutter and shooting in TAv (ISO priority) mode.
Going back to my opening point about the Pentax Q (or Q10) - the beauty of this system is not that it is simply small but rather that it is versatile and small. My biggest frustration with DSLR’s (and before them film SLR’s) is that short of carrying a very hefty bag I could not tote a serious macro setup or broad range of lenses. To be able to cover everything from (in 35mm equivalents) 17mm to 275mm in one small bag, and to have the equivalent of a 275mm macro lens in that small bag is itself quite exciting. And while many online reviewers can’t get over the Q’s small sensor size. At lower ISO’s the output from the Q meets the most demanding standards, and at higher ISO’s it is fine for non technical applications. The small sensor size does mean that you are limited if you want shallow DOF, but if you are a macro shooter like me you will still be hungry for DOF in high magnification shots. In fact, given the image quality, the enhanced DOF from the small sensor, and compatibility with existing lenses, I’d expect the Q / Q10 (and beyond) to become a cult classic of serious macro photographers who also appreciate portability in their gear.
Folks on the PDML have been posting their 12 best shots of 2012 lately… I’m a little late and can’t say that these are my best shots, but they are my favorites for the year. To make it a baker’s dozen I added an older shot that I finally worked on enough to be happy with in 2012. So here are my 12 for 12 (click on images for a larger file):
Snow Crystal (January, 2012): It barely snowed at all here in SW Michigan in 2012, but I managed one nice crystal shot in early January:
Spring Colors (March, 2012): Why wait for fall for foliage colors? Spring tree blossoms and buds captured on color film wiht the Pentax 6x7:
Around the House (April, 2012): My boy Jazz - psycho cat Qu’est-ce que c’est? Made with a Pentax LX and Kiron 105mm f2.8 macro lens on Fuji Neopan 400, rated at 400. Developed in D76 1+1.
Jumping Spider (May, 2012): Pentax K5 and A* 200mm macro:
Ebony Jewelwing (May 2012): A common but elusive damselfly. Pentax K5 and A* 200mm macro:
The Jewelbox, St. Louis, Missouri (June, 2012): Sort of a street photo. Infrared converted Pentax K10d:
Gateway Arch in Infrared (June, 2012): Speaking of St. Louis… note the troop of Boy Scouts in the lower left corner, best seen in the larger file.
Visitation #1… (April, 2012) If these photos were music they would be pop songs…. nothing wrong with that but sometimes you want to really rock out. So I started the Visitation Project in the spring of 2012. Pentax LX, Kiron 100mm macro, Neopan SS pushed to 200 and souped in D76 1+1:
Dashing Blue Dasher (August, 2012): Ever a favorite Dragonfly - the drought this year really hit the mid and late summer species, so the Blue Dashers hung around for a long time.
Finches and Thistle (August, 2012):I let a few bull thistles grow in my wildflower garden and the goldfinches loved them. Here’s one munching on the seeds. Pentax K5, A*400 f 2.8, SMC 1.7x AF converter:
Pastoral Scene (September, 2012): I traveled to central Indiana a lot in the last few months of the year and bought a Pentax Q kit in late August to take on the road with me. Marvelous camera - a shot from my tavels:
Autumn Colors (October, 2012): 2012 brought a beautiful fall to West Michigan and I managed bump into it one October morning. Pentax K5 and DA 16-45 f 4 zoom:
Baker’s Dozen: The Shady Spot Taken in 2010 and worked on since then, I finally made a photo from this exposure that I like. I could say that I really like it. Pentax LX, fa 20-35mm F4 AL lens, Rollie 400 IR film, Hoya R72 filter.
I’m really enjoying my new Pentax Q kit… the dang thing is just so much fun I find myself snapping shots like crazy, but somehow I feel that when I want to take a serious photo, it is there. It is just a joy to use, unlike most compacts that I’ve tried.
But in one area I have hopes for serious applications - and that would be in the realm of extreme macro photography. I’ve commented before that the very small sensor size found in compact cameras is a real boon to macro photographers because it allows for excellent DOF at wide apertures. The Pentax Q with a K to Q adapter applies a 5.62x crop factor to the focal length of lenses. So that D-FA 100mm macro turns out to be a 562mm macro… Very cool.
The great thing about the Q and SLR lenses the macro work is that the lenses give tons of working room. You can quite easily shoot a small bug from a yard away (with the 200mm lens) and get frame filling shots.
But, the Q’s tiny sensor poses a challenge to any optic. The photo receptors are so small that only the highest resolving lens can take advantage of them. Diffraction takes a toll at fairly open apertures and small amount of color fringing can make an image too soft to use beyond web sized images.
So I’ve been testing the Q with a variety of lenses. Here are the results so far (I have a lot of testing to do yet.)For each image there is first an un-cropped full image (reduced to web size) followed by an Actual Pixel crop.
All of the shots below were taken with the camera and lens firmly on a tripod, usually using the 2 second self timer to minimize any shake from pressing the exposure button. No flash was used. Had I used flash I think that the apparent detail could have been higher, since proper lighting can accentuate details.
Macro lenses first, in descending focal length order.
Pentax A* 200mm f4 macro:
Well, you’d *expect* a lens like this to deliver, and it does a fine job. Clearly the best I have tried so far.
Here are 3 shots, with actual pixel crops following. I took these on breezy overcast day, so I pused the ISO a bit. The first shot is ISO 640, the second two are ISO 800. The Q can get noisy but keeps the color noise down. Overall, I find ISO 800 workable, which is a surprise.
I think the shots above are at f 5.6. I did a series of shots, starting at f4 and stopping down a click with each successive exposure. By f 8 diffraction really impaired the level of detail. F 5.6 seemed to be the best compromise between sharpness and DOF. The last shot is at 1:1 magnification… Depth of field is still pretty tight even with the Q’s small sensor.
Pentax D-FA 100 f2.8
This lens fared pretty well, though not up to par with the A* 200. The shots below were taken at f4. The ISO was 250, 125, and 250 respectively.
Kiron 105mm f2.8 Macro
A legendary lens from the 80’s that back in the days of film was virtually unrivaled. Sadly, it is not up to the demands put to it by the Q. The chromatic aberrations in the fly shot really mess up the details in the eyes. The test shot of the cocklebur is just as bad. I’ll keep this for shooting with Tri-X!
These shots are at ISO 125 and 160 respectively - so while the Q is pretty good at higher ISO’s, it never gets to truly low noise levels at low ISO’s….
(Drat! That could have been a good shot!)
XR Rikenon 50mm f2
Rumors on the Internet persist - is this one of the sharpest lenses ever? Since the Q is pretty demanding, I thought I’d give it a try. I only made a half hearted effort - I put the lens on two 12 mm extension tubes and then back onto one. The sky was clear and the sun was bright, but the wind was gusting like made. I took less than 10 shots and decided to stop wasting by time… but then found this image stuck in the middle of a bunch of motion blurred photos:
That was at ISO 200. The results are close to the D-FA, and certainly warrant another try with this lens.
A* 300mm f4
OK - aside form macro photos, I was also interested in using the Q as a compact birding camera, so I tested it with an A* 300 f4. On the Q this lens is the equivalent of a 1686mm lens on a 35mm camera. Unfortunately, the A* 300 was not up to the job - a couple test shots, first of a goldfinch and second of a house finch.
For an example of what I would *like* to see, here is an actual pixel crop of a photo I posted recently, taken with the Pentax K5 APS-C sensor camera and A*400mm lens with AF 1.7x converter (equivalent to 1360mm on a 35mm camera.)This is from a recent post.
Well - I’m still hoping for clarity like that on the Q. If you are peeking at the noise levels in the bird images - the top goldfinch photo taken with the Q was at ISO 500, the house finch, aslo taken with the Q, was at ISO 200. The K5 goldfinch shot was at ISO 800…
But, to give the birds photos some perspective, here is an old photo (circa 2002)of a Yellow Warbler taken with a Pentax Mz-S and the same A*400 / 1.7x converter setup as used with the K5. It was taken on Kodak E100S and scanned on a Canon Canoscan 4000F. I’d say that the level of detail - which at the time I considered to be quite good - and noise - which also was state of the art back then - is comparable to what the Q is producing with the A* 300. Well, the Q might not be quite as sharp… But, I certainly hope to get useable bird photos from the Q, ultimately.
I have a few more 50mm lenses to test yet - most notably I’d like to try the Pentax 50mm f1.7 (I have both an FA and M version on hand), SMC M 50 f4 macro, and Sigma EX 50mm f 2.8 macro.
For birds… I’ve finally come to regret selling my A* 200 f2.8…
West Michigan sweltered under the great drought of 2012 throughout the early summer, but in late July we began to get sporadic small rain events, in the last week we were blessed with a 24 hour soaker. The brown lawns are now green again, though the stunted and withered crops are unlikely to recover.
Today I drove out to the Allegan forest to see if the red dragonflies have appeared. Some summers they are early, others they are late. This year, they are running late. In August 2011 the red dragons were well established and darted through the sky like crimson joys. Today I found the undifferentiated yellow amber dragons that someday will turn red, but no bright red subjects yet.
It’s been a while since I posted some dragonfly shots, so here are a few photos from late July and early August. Click on any image for a larger file.
First off - some Blue Dashers - the first two from July, the last one from today:
And here is a somewhat rare visitor - a Red Saddlebags. They seldom perch but this one landed high up on a mullein stalk and let me take its photo:
A Green Darner, perched low in vegetation:
And lastly - the red meadowhawks, still young and yellow or amber, surely to be brilliant red sometime soon:
For a detailed look at this guy’s face, click here.
Let’s hope for some brilliant red ones in the weeks ahead!
2012’s unusually hot and dry June and July have kept the dragonflies (and other critters) at bay, so I have few new shots to share. In the spring this year looked like it would be a great season, but my hopes are shriveling up like the brown grass in the fields. The pond I like to frequent in the ALlegan Foest has dropped over 4 feet from its peak last fall, and may be back on it’s way to becoming the vernal pond that it was when I first found it over 10 years ago.
I’m awaiting the arrival of summer’s red dragons - the various red meadowhawks - but in the meantime here are some lingering early summer species:
I seldom am able to photograph males in the their full glory - blue/grey body, white bands on their wings. Here is a fully matured male and a male starting to mature below:
These are still abundant - male and female shown below.
Let’s hope for a little rain and the arrival of the meadowhawks.