As I mentioned in the prior post, I try get a few shots of honey bees in crocuses each March. I think of it as a little spring training to get ready for more serious insect shooting in the warm months to come. The crocuses are later this year but I managed to spend a little time chasing bees this weekend. This time I used the tried and true Pentax K-5 and A* 200mm macro setup, along with a conventional flash.
I have to try to teach the bees some new tricks, because they all did the same thing - dive into the crocus head first, rummage around, spin ’round counter-clockwise and then buzz off to another flower. That made it easier for me to practice. Here are the better shots from Sunday afternoon (click on the images for larger views):
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.
The weather is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you’ll get. Here it is, the first day of spring, and it is 18F, cold and snowing lake effect snow. I spent an hour or so outside hoping for some snow crystal images, but the snow is effervescent and not photogenic. Here is one photo from tonight - maybe the last for this season:
Click on the image for a larger file. I am not sure where the green tones come from - never got those before with this setup - but maybe it is just the power of the first day of spring.
Here are some more snow crystals from last weekend, February 2-3, 2013. I’ve shifted to the Pentax K-01 exclusively for this work. The image quality is outstanding (same APS sensor as in the Pentax K5) and the focusing aids make it a breeze to get quickly get the crystals in sharp focus. I’ve also come to see just how much diffraction affects these shots - so no more stopping down past f8!
No cold weather snow is in the forecast so it might be a while before we have more snowflake photos:
Here are a few more snow crystals shots - taken this morning (February 2). After a little bit of experimentation, I bought a Pentax K-01 mirrorless camera to use for snow crystals. Being able to focus using the screen on the back of the camera, aided by focus peaking and being able to magnify the image, is a tremendous boon. And the K-01 image quality is astoundingly good. It helped me have a very product morning!
Here are a few shots - more to follow in the next few days. Click an image for a larger file.
A few months ago I bought a Pentax Q system. While this camera is usually criticized for its very small sensor, I saw a tremendous opportunity for macro photography. I really enjoy the camera and use it for a wide variety of purposes with excellent results, but I have been hankering to try some snow crystal shots with it.
Why snow crystals? The sensor on the Q is a diminutive 6 x 4.5mm in size. A large snow crystal would be about that size, meaning that one could get a frame-filling snow crystal image (for a large crystal) at a simple 1:1 magnification, and smaller crystal could easily be photographed at 2:1. This makes for a much simpler setup than what is required for shooting snow crystals on an APS-C DSLR – where magnification needs to be 4:1 to 8:1. The Pentax Q is compatible with all my existing Pentax flash gear and focus peaking should simplify focusing. So I figure I’d give it a try.
So today, when it finally snowed, I tested the Q on my snow crystal macro setup. I usually use a reverse mounted 50mm macro lens (Sigma EX 50mm f2.8) on a bellows (135mm maximum) and extension tubes (180mm maximum). A flash is used to light the crystal from below. I decided to try the Q first with this setup, but just the lens and bellows. Due to how the bellows mount on the macro-focusing lens, they have to be extended to at least 48mm. So, here is a plastic ruler, the metric scale, taken with the Pentax Q and 50mm macro lens reverse mounted on a bellows extended to 48mm. As you can see, the frame covers less than 2 mm on the longer axis. That would be great for many snow crystal shots.
So here is one of my first shots. Not a pretty crystal, but the shot is clear enough:
One of the problems I saw right off is that the flash stays in P-TTL mode, even though P-TTL needs access to the lens’s electronic data to function properly. I could not figure out how to get the flash into manual mode, so I just worked with it the old-fashioned way, and put a diffuser over it to manage the power level.
So here is another shot – even at the minimum magnification, the crystal was too big to fit in the frame:
But… What’s that magenta rectangle in the middle of the shot? It can be minimized by desaturating the image, but I don’t like it. Here’s the desaturated image:
So… Plan B – skip reverse mounting and just use a macro lens mounted normally and shoot at 1:1 or 2:1. I tried the DA-F 100mm macro, but the working distances posed a problem with my tripod setup. So, back to the Sigma 50mm. The lens will go to 1:1 on its own and with a 25mm extension tube it will do 1.5:1. So I setup the Sigma 50 mm macro lens on a 25mm extension tube.
An early test - here again the crystal was larger than the 1.25:1 magnification that I had set up the lens for:
Here’s a very “fluffy” snow crystal lit by a flash from below and compact florescent lights from above:
By this time the snow had stopped… So that was it for today’s experiment. I’ll continue working with the Q for this kind of photography – need to work out what is going on with the flash and test some other lenses. I guess that the magenta triangle was some sort of lens flare from the reverse mounted lens, but there is still a bit of it in the shots taken with the lens forward mounted. I have never seen that in shots taken with other cameras (I’ve used this setup with the *ist-D, K-10D, K-7 and K-5.)
As for noise – at ISO 160 there is very little noise. The advantages of the system way out weight the disadvantages.
More experiments to come - assuming it snows some more! At the end of the day, the grass is till poking out of the snow. Less than an inch fell today, but more is coming.
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.