Category: Macro Photography
Here are some fairly high magnification photos of a stinkbug - the only insect that I have recently encountered here in December’s chill. These bugs have been something of a nuisance as last winter and again this year they try to get into the house in late autumn and one or two might appear at any time during the winter. In this case, when I saw it walking across the floor I put it in a jar and then into the freezer. An hour or so later had it pinned and ready for photographing.
Here is the first image, taken at about 2.5x life sized (be sure to click on it for a larger and uglier file):
Here is the second image, which is a more extreme magnification of ~10x:
These aren’t the best examples of this type of photography but the first one is passable. Here are a few technical notes about technique:
Both shots were made using a Pentax K-01 16 megapixel APS C camera. The K-01 was Pentax’s somewhat quirky mirrorless body. I chose it because its focus peaking is excellent, having no mirror means no mirror shake and the sensor in this camera (made by Sony) is one of the best APS-C sensors out there.
One problem I experienced with both images was a loss of sharpness due to the shake of the camera’s shutter. This simple solution to this was to light the photos using flash and crank the shutter all the way up to 1/4000th (the fastest that the K01 can do.) A single flash with a few pieces of white matboard as reflectors did the trick.
The camera was mounted on a focusing rail to allow it to be evenly moved along to create a set of images for stacking. I put a 2 inch spring clamp on the little knob on the focusing rail, which became a small lever that greatly improved my ability to make fine adjustments to the rails’ position.
A Pentax 50mm DFA f2.8 macro lens was used for the first image. This was just a straight macro shot - the lens was set to it’s closes focus point and then mounted on an additional 68mm of extension tubes yielded about 2.4x lifesized magnification. This was shot with the lens wide open at f2.8. With the extension the effective aperture was f7, which should be below the threshold where diffraction starts to limit sharpness. I am lucky enough to have an old set of extension tubes with full electronic contacts, so the TTL flash handled the exposure just fine.
The second photo was made using an Otamat 10mm f1.7 lens mounted on the K01 along with 68mm of extension. I bought this and the 20mm Otamat lens some time ago, but never got around to experimenting with them. The lens I have is mounted on a Pentax body cap so it just attached directly to the extension tubes. I held a ruler up to the lens and just over 2mm filled the frame. Since the K01’s sensor is 23.7mm wide, its safe to say the magnification of this setup was about 10x. Backing into the aperture calculation, the effective aperture would around f19, so diffraction would be expected. Since TTL flash is not supported for the Otamat lens (no contacts to communicate with the body) I just shot with manual flash, which was easily done by taking a few test shots and adjusting the flash’s power setting. This this case the stack was over 100 images (very shallow depth of field.) Unfortunately, this image is just not as sharp as I’d like - I assume due to diffraction.
Both images were stacked in Zerene Stacker. I initially stacked them both in Photoshop CS6, but this was very time consuming and produced poor results - lots of halos and other artifacts.
I’m hoping to explore this technique a little more, hopefully with some more appealing subjects. I have to say - after impaling the stinkbug on a pin, I immediately understood how they got their name!
I’m letting the bull thistle grow here and there, for the sake of the goldfinches. Here is a thistle head as it was today, July 8, 2014 - not ready to flower yet by a long measure. An insect is upon it - probably a grasshopper or katydid nymph. Click for a larger image.
This image is made form 18 exposures, stack focused together, taken with Pentax K3 and A* 200mm macro lens.
Spring 2014 is advancing ever so slowly… Here it is, late May, and there are still many trees just starting to push out leaves. At long last, a few days of warm temperatures have finally brought out some spring dragonflies.
Dot-tailed Whitefaces (Leucorrhinia intacta) are usually the first to appear around here, and this season is no exception. Here are a few from the Allegan Forest (click on the images for larger files):
A Frosted Whiteface (Leucorrhinia frigida):
These Clubtail Dragonflies (Gomphidae) are usually abundant in May - I have never gotten a positive identification on them. Today I only say this one - hopefully more are on the way:
Lastly - an unidentified Bluet Damselfly:
All images were made with a Pentax K-3, SMC A* 200mm macro lens and AF360FGZ flash. Come to think of it… this was my first excursion into insect photography since purchasing the K-3 last November. I think it passes muster!
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.