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Thread: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

  1. #1

    Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    I've despaired of finding a compact that will give me the sharpness, image size and the detail at pixel level I need so I would really appreciate some advice on (finally) finding the right SLR body and lens.

    It will be used 90% of time for flower and lichen photography.
    Not fussed about print size but some lichen are tiny so I need to get really good detail at pixel level, not a mega-pixel mush!

    Needs to be small and light enough that I can if necessary use it hand-held.
    Good ability for accurate focus in poor light conditions - under trees, shady side of rocks....
    Good, sharp JPG quality as my computer can't cope with RAW file sizes and I can't afford a new one

    Lens:
    For flowers a fairly shallow depth of field so the flower is in focus and the background +/- softened.
    For crustose (flat) lichens as much as possible of the frame in focus.
    As small/short/light a lens as possible as sometimes (in rock crevices etc) there's not much space.....

    I'd rather spend more at the start and get a really good lens than falsely economise and get a cheap one that won't give me the sharpness and image quality I want.

    Advise and suggestions really appreciated!

  2. #2

    Re: Need help choosing a dSLR

    How much of a budget are you looking at?

    It sounds like you're looking for something with a good macro lens. D60 + the newer AFS 60mm Micro Nikkor would be my suggestion. Looking at Amazon.co.uk that'll be about £800, but I suspect there are (significantly) cheaper options to buy from. If light in those crevices is so bad that f2.8 doesn't cut it, there's always the 105mm VR option, but that's another £300 on top...

    I suspect Colin will be here shortly to tempt you with tasty Canon offerings.

  3. #3
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Need help choosing a dSLR

    Hi Jenny,

    I was sure there were some posts here at CiC from someone with a compact shooting lichens, and when I searched, it was you! P6000 not working out then?

    One issue you will face moving to a DSLR from compact(s), which you might as well know now, is that the depths of field you have been used to will be long gone Expect about a quarter of what you are used to!

    The bigger the sensor, the less DoF for a given aperture. I have just experienced this myself moving from compact sensor to DX DSLR, but for much of what I shoot, this is an advantage, but it won't be so for macro/lichen pics.

    I was wondering whether, in view of your need for a small size camera, whether something using "4/3" or "micro 4/3" format might suit your quite specific needs. You'll benefit from the smaller physical size, a bigger sensor and lenses than you have now, with DoF about a 1/3 what you're used to. Downsides are limited lens range, especially in the very new micro 4/3 e.g. Panasonic GH-1, less so in the 4/3; e.g. Olympus E-620.

    This is just an idea, but do bear in mind it comes from someone (me), that just went Nikon to get a better lens range, although I did consider GH-1 briefly. So, I am not practicing what I preach - therefore I don't know the whole story regards owning one of these dinky cameras.

    HTH,
    Last edited by Dave Humphries; 19th May 2009 at 06:32 AM.

  4. #4
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    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    One option would be one of the Sony Alpha range.

    They have in-body stabilisation, so all lenses benefit from it, which would help with those low light conditions where a macro (ring) flash wasn't an option.

    The 50mm and 100mm f2.8 macros are both good, and they have just release a 30mm macro which would fit the 'small and light' requirement.

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    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    Sigma do good value macro lenses that are well used by many wildlife photographers. The size depends on exactly what you are going to photograph, including what you might want to do with the lens in the future. Their 105 and 150 mm lenses are popular and the 150 also works well for insects and those conditions where something physically stops you from getting as close as you would like. Sigma also make smaller macro lenses but you could end up wishing that you had bought something larger. So often it is easier to move backwards than forwards to get the best image size.

    Because I wanted more working space with insects, I went for the Sigma 180 macro, but this is a rather heavy chunky piece of kit which is best used on a tripod. In many circumstances you may find that the 150 is also better on a tripod.

    But, obviously, if money is no problem go for the best and most expensive lens that you can find.

    Cameras are more or less similar between the well known brands. I would suggest a Canon 400D or 450D would be suitable although I prefer the chunkier and heavier Canon 40D or 50D. Nikon have very similar alternatives and the others, such as Olympus etc, are also worth a look.

    In reality, I can only suggest getting a few prices together then visiting a few shops to view the equipment 'in the flesh' and see which handles best for you.

  6. #6

    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    Thank you for all your replies and suggestions.

    At the moment I'm seriously considering the Olympus E-620 with an Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm F2.0 Macro ...... I've just found out that a friend has that lens so I can try it out before deciding if its what I need. Then I'll have to learn how to do it justice.

    Would it be sensible to buy the body with the supplied kit lens as I don't want to lose the ability to take landscape photo's too?

    Hi Dave - yes I'm the lichen-lady and no, the P6000 didn't work out due to mega-mush instead of detail at pixel level ..... then I got a Lumix LX3. Nice camera (apart from that stupid lens cap) but I bought through a well known site and unfortunately it turned out to be slightly faulty...... but I was very, very lucky and got my money refunded.

    Now I need a camera!
    Jenny

  7. #7
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    Hi Jenny,

    Welcome back; I forgot my manners last time

    I shortlisted the E-620, although I never got to play with one in the shop, so I can't help too much. As I recall, you can probably get this with 14-42 or 14-42+40-150 or 14-54 lens(es), the latter is I understand, the better quality lens. I have no idea whether it might also have close enough focusing to be considered as approaching macro though.

    I went Nikon in the end (D5000), I got the body only and an 18-250 Sigma with a useful close focus distance that's handy for insects, just as Geoff says (for Sigma's other lenses). However, for lichens you won't need that, and is is a bit of a beast and almost certainly wouldn't suit your subjects.

    I would recommend going to a dealer and trying the E-620, and some others though, it took be the best part of two hours to reach a decision, but I haggled and got a sensible discount on the body (better than many, but not all, online stores) and some more off the lens, memory card and bag I bought with it. I obviously paid a bit over the odds for the accessories, but I'd rather the dealer was still in business if I need anything else. But I digress

    Good luck with the hunt,

  8. #8
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    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    It seems I might be able to add some insight to this discussion since I have recently transitioned from a fixed-lens camera to a DSLR. I like taking macro shots of flowers and insects and had been using a Sony F828. The advantage of F828 for macros is the very sharp Zeiss lens and close focusing distance. Since it has a small CCD (8 MP), there is great depth of field and there is quite a bit of detail, especially if shooting in RAW format. The disadvantages are the great depth of field, the lack of image stabilization, and fixed lens. If I wanted to isolate the subject from the background the depth of field even with low f-numbers is still too deep, so the DSLR provides an advantage in this instance.

    In going to the DSLR, I obtained a 50mm f/2.8 macro lens. I chose the 50mm over longer focal lengths for two reasons, 1) I was used to close working distance of the fixed lens camera and 2) the 50mm was rated as having better image sharpness, less chromatic aberration, and less vignetting than longer lenses. I understand that the longer focal length macro lenses and zoom lenses with an extension tube would give a greater working distance.

    I have been taking a lot of macro photos with the DSLR lately and have the following observations: 1) even with image stabilization a high-quality tripod that can get close to the ground is imperative. The need for a tripod is frequently driven by the slow shutter speeds needed to offset the small apertures needed to give better depth of field. 2) live view is also important. I cant imagine the contortions I would need to make to get my face up to the viewfinder when working so close to the ground.


    Just a note, this is my first post on this forum. I have been lurking for a while and really enjoy reading the very informative discussions. This forum seems to be more about photography and less about collecting cameras and lenses.

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    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    Quote Originally Posted by John C View Post
    Just a note, this is my first post on this forum. I have been lurking for a while and really enjoy reading the very informative discussions. This forum seems to be more about photography and less about collecting cameras and lenses.
    Hi John,

    Great to hear from you - and great to have you with us too. Now that you've overcome your "stage fright" How about popping a reply onto the welcome thread and telling us a bit about you? (Go on - don't be shy)

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    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    Jenny, one lens that's quite different from most is the Canon 65mm MPE. This lens requires manual focus, which for macro work is advisable anyway. The uniqueness is that it magnifies from 1x (life-size) to 5x. For a camera, I'd opt for whatever Canon you can afford. Weight won't be as important since, expecially for the lens I just mentioned, a tripod will give the best shots. You can search on photo.net or pbase.com for pics taken with particular lenses. That can be handy too.

    Joe

  11. #11
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    All,

    I just want to clarify something I said sloppily in post #3 and was sort of repeated again in John C's post above (with a MP figure); it is not the MP size that affects DoF (and many other things) when we consider sensors.

    When I said "small sensor", I meant physically small, here are some comparisons;
    36 x 24 mm = Full frame (i.e. same as 35mm film, so crop factor = 1)
    28.7 x 19 mm = APS-H Canon (crop factor = 1.3)
    23.6 x 15.8 mm = APS-C Nikon (crop factor = 1.5)
    22.2 x 14.8 mm = APS-C Canon (crop factor = 1.6)
    17.3 x 13 mm = 4/3 & micro 4/3 (crop factor = 2)
    7.6 x 5.7 mm = Compact with 1/1.7" sensor (crop factor = 4.7)
    5.7 x 4.3 mm = Compact with 1/2.5" sensor (crop factor = 6.3)

    It is my belief we can predict the DoF to be expected when moving between formats by dividing the new crop factor by the old, i.e.

    intended crop factor
    current crop factor


    Thus, when I moved to APS-C Nikon (cf1.5) from 1/1.7 (cf 4.7), this gave 1.5/4.7 = 0.32, or about a third.

    So for macro, that's 1/3 the previous DoF for my subject
    But for portraits, that's 3 x more background separation
    It is important to remember this comparison must be at the same f number

    Please be advised this is a new theory I have developed this morning writing this post, so it could be wrong - do let me know if you disagree (be nice ).

    It is also only a "rule of thumb" to help provide realistic DoF expectations for people considering format jumping.

    This might seem to indicate that sticking to the smallest size sensor possible is wise for macro-ers, but this would be a false (or at least, incomplete) conclusion.
    There are many other reasons why moving to a larger physical sensor size is a good thing; lower noise, better dynamic range.
    Plus the other benefits that usually acrue from the technology change to DSLR like; ability to change the lens, range of lenses offered (this varies a LOT with different formats, so beware - research well what lenses you might want in future and if avoiding the kit lenses, how much these will cost), enhanced camera features, etc.

    Hope that helps (why not try the thumbs up/down, it's instant and painless),

  12. #12
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    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    Regardless of what camera you finally choose to go with, if it employs a Bayer color masked imager, you will get photos below the optimum clarity.

    The reason is all Bayer cameras attempt to eliminate aliasing artifacts, those Moiré patterns visible in some photos, by means of a soft focus or blurring filter, so much for paying that extra for a high resolution imager.

    I found that the US company LDP can perform a Hot Rod Conversion which replaces the anti-aliasing soft focus filter with a clear optical window with the same refractive index.

    The resulting camera performance will now achieve the maximum clarity possible while risking an occasional Moiré.

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    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    Quote Originally Posted by Steaphany View Post
    Regardless of what camera you finally choose to go with, if it employs a Bayer color masked imager, you will get photos below the optimum clarity.

    The reason is all Bayer cameras attempt to eliminate aliasing artifacts, those Moiré patterns visible in some photos, by means of a soft focus or blurring filter, so much for paying that extra for a high resolution imager.

    I found that the US company LDP can perform a Hot Rod Conversion which replaces the anti-aliasing soft focus filter with a clear optical window with the same refractive index.

    The resulting camera performance will now achieve the maximum clarity possible while risking an occasional Moiré.
    Personally, I wish that they'd do away with the AA filter too. Not sure how much difference it would make though as there are other parts of the process that also introduce softening.

    The good news though is that capture sharpening does and EXCELLENT job of countering this.

  14. #14

    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    Thank you all for your very detailed replies and though I'm not at a level to be able to understand the more technical stuff yet I really appreciate the suggestions and advice.

    I'm still waiting for a chance to try out the Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm F2.0 Macro and at the moment using my Finepix f31 again - less MPs but much, much better detail at pixel level and sharper focus.

    Bearing in mind the longer working distance and all the other factors with a dSLR I'm wondering whether I should consider a field microscope with a camera attached instead as I need spores for a lot of lichen identifications and can't afford both.......

  15. #15
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    Quote Originally Posted by gardener View Post
    I'm wondering whether I should consider a field microscope with a camera attached instead as I need spores for a lot of lichen identifications and can't afford both.......
    Hi Jenny,

    Possibly, but I only say that because inspired by your interest in lichens, I took a few shots at the weekend and was amazed at the detail in them when I got back in front of the computer, there was stuff there I never even saw with the naked eye (not even with my glasses )

    I'll post one later.

    So, thanks for broadening my horizons,

  16. #16

    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    Be warned, they are fascinating and can become very addictive...... I'm looking forward to seeing your photos.
    Some are photogenically stunning and when you see the shapes and patterns up large on a computer screen its like looking into a whole new micro-universe. (Bit like Alice disappearing down the rabbit hole!)

    For a record of my obsession so far there are photographs here: Irish lichens

    Getting decent photo's is hard enough but its a doddle compared to trying to identify them!

  17. #17
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    Quote Originally Posted by gardener View Post
    Be warned, they are fascinating and can become very addictive...... I'm looking forward to seeing your photos.
    Some are photogenically stunning and when you see the shapes and patterns up large on a computer screen its like looking into a whole new micro-universe. (Bit like Alice disappearing down the rabbit hole!)

    For a record of my obsession so far there are photographs here: Irish lichens

    Getting decent photo's is hard enough but its a doddle compared to trying to identify them!
    Hi Jenny,

    I see what you mean
    About them being interesting and addictive

    I'm really impressed with the website by the way; that's the just kind of thing I design at work, look ups with photos, etc. Did you do that?

    Food beckons, chat later,

  18. #18

    Re: Help choosing a dSLR for macro photography

    Hi Dave,

    My partner built the initial wildflower website a couple of years back and told me the best way to learn xhtml was to make a copy and play around with it using NotePad to learn what the code does.....

    I used his code for templates, creatively copied and pasted using Notepad with IE and Firefox open to see how it displayed and then checked for valid coding using W3.org. I think I learnt most from tracking and fixing my mistakes!

    My version of www.irishwildflowers.ie went up a couple months later and just kept getting bigger as I photographed more species and added different sections. Unfortunately its all manual rather than running off a php database so if a species name gets changed I have to correct it manually all the way through the site.......

    The wildflower website has about 1000 species now and I decided the lichen had better shift to a site of their own as they were getting too many to tuck away in a sub-section!

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