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Thread: Camera choice for macro photography

  1. #1
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    Camera choice for macro photography

    I do plenty of macro photography, particularly of butterflies. I use a Canon EOS 500 with a canon 180L macro lens and I shoot hand held at a high shutter speed in order to succeed in photographing as many species examples as possible. I am planning to upgrade my DSLR body to obtain increased ISO range, better AF functionality and particularly to further improve depth of field and detail in my photos. I have been debating whether to stay with a cropped sensor or move to a full frame body and your excellent and informative articles have confirmed my thinking that I would be better off with a higher spec cropped sensor such as the EOS 7D since a full frame camera such as the EOS 6D is likely to require me to be closer to the subject and/or reduce my operating depth of field. However your articles have now got me asking if I should be considering moving to a smaller format camera (for example a Compact System Camera) if one exists yet(or likely to soon) that is capable of providing better depth of field whilst still achieving DSLR image quality in a comparable sized final digital image? Any advice on this please?

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    Re: Camera choice for macro photography

    Hi Phil and welcome,

    I know of a number of macro photographers who use smaller format cameras for exactly the reason you outlined. But of course the final image is important and what you wish to use it for is crucial.

    Clearly ISO performance is not necessarily the best with some of these smaller beasts, so it will always be a trade off. Have you considered focus stacking for macro, as personally I do believe this is necessary to achieve the high quality results with end to end sharpness, but that is a personal thing. Certainly I would not look at shooting handheld. Butterflies do rest particularly in the cool of the morning until the sun heats up their blood supply, and that is the time I always find the best, as the light tends to be kinder anyway.

    I am not sure why you consider a fast shutter speed is crucial? Generally at rest butterflies can be very still for quite long periods. A tripod is a better bet. You want to capture as many species as possible, but would it not be good to capture just a few excellent shots rather than a dozen mediocre ones?

    Can you post a couple of pics and I am sure you will get some really good c&c that will help you no end.

    PS which bit of the planet do you occupy? You can put your location up in the user control panel, which will assist in providing some better answers than my generalisations here.

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    Re: Camera choice for macro photography

    Flying insects certainly require fast shutter speeds and a tripod can be limiting in the speed of locking on to the subject. Although quick release ball heads do considerably increase the success rate.

    Larger macro lenses tend to be rather slow in auto focusing; and flying insects, or those just flitting from flower to flower, do move faster than I can manually focus. Hence some advantages with faster smaller cameras.

    But camera shake and failure to successfully hold a focus means that 90% of my handheld insect shots get ditched.

    Working with narrow apertures (eg F14) does cause problems with shutter speed or high Iso, but I usually work with a Speedlite flash unless there is sufficient strong sunlight.

    Most of my flying shots seem to come from focusing on a suitable flower, with tripod, and shooting my subjects as they land or take off. But the success rate is still low.

    I use a 7D with Sigma 180 macro lens and Manfrotto tripod; and I am chiefly shooting for identification purposes.

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    Re: Camera choice for macro photography

    Phil,

    I do mostly macro and will soon be replacing my 50D, so I have given this a lot of thought. I've decided to stick with an APS-C camera.

    IMHO, The main advantage of a FF for macro would be lower noise at high ISOs. However, I rarely shoot macro at high ISOs. Most of my macro is either done with a highly diffused flash (in the field) or with halogen floods indoors. Some would point to the higher diffraction limit with the larger sensor, but for macro, this is close to a wash--you are almost always looking for more DOF, and you have to close a FF down a stop further to get comparable DOF.

    On the other side, a crop sensor has two major advantages for macro. The first is pixel density. When working at minimum working distance, that is, at 1:1, the image on the sensor is life size, regardless of sensor size. So, if you had a subject that filled the sensor on a 7D, it would fill the exact same area on the larger sensor of a 5DIII, but you would have a bit under 9 MP on the subject with the 5DIII, compared to 18 MP on the 7D. Since cropping is often necessary in macro work, this makes a difference.

    The second advantage shows up when you are not at MWD: the greater reach with a crop sensor, which you note in your post. I would much rather lug a 100mm lens in the field than a 180.

    Re better AF: that is independent of sensor size. There are cameras with both sensors that have excellent AF systems, and cameras with both sizes that have mediocre AF systems. Much of my macro work does not depend on AF, but I would personally find it handy to have better AF than my 50D has. (I keep AF on a back button, so it is only active when I want it to be, and I only use macro lenses with full time manual focusing. this makes it easy to go back and forth between AF and MF instantly. I do in fact use AF sometimes in the field, although it is usually not enough, because slight movements of the camera or the subject undo the focus.)

    I once wrote out a longer list of pros and cons and sent them to one of the best and most experienced macro photographers I know. He agreed and says that even though he has a 5DII, he most often uses his crop sensor camera for 1:1 macro. He uses the 5D more with an MP-E 65.

    I'm going to hang tight and see what Canon announces later this year. For what they are worth, rumors have it that both the 60D and the 7D will be replaced. If so, one would have the choice of a 7DII that is presumably better, or a 7D at bargain prices.

    Dan

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    Re: Camera choice for macro photography

    Hi Ian

    Thanks for the welcome and your help with this. I have only just heard of focus stacking so certainly plan to try it and assume therefore that I also need to purchase a tripod as well to do this so will follow up on both of your recommendations. I agree that early morning is the best time for finding less mobile subjects - you are right a fast shutter speed is not always crucial but gives me more flexibility for wind moving flowers around and hand held operation. I am down under in Australia and have updated my location. Phil

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    Re: Camera choice for macro photography

    Hi Geoff

    Thanks for your advice. It is helpful to know that you also use a 7D plus tripod and a flash is certainly on my wish list to experiment with but I assume that if one uses a flash that this disturbs the butterfly so this may be a one shot experience (unless the butterfly returns to a favoured location as they sometimes do)? Thanks for the information on the type of tripod that you use and I have now heard of a "quick release ball head" Phil

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    Re: Camera choice for macro photography

    Hi Dan

    Thanks for the extensive feedback which I appreciate. So far I have been shooting outdoors and there is usually plenty of sunlight in Australia, although the preferable early morning timeslot can be more of an issue as regards enough light when in the bush with high eucalypts around. Based on all your responses I plan to experiment with a flash. I agree completely with your comments on full frame v cropped sensor pro's and con's. I also like having a lens which will allow me full time MF - I usually walk in the bush with it on AF so I can fire off a quick first couple of shots whilst I approach the butterfly (in case it only stops for a few seconds as they often do) and then use MF if the subject is more cooperative (which happens for me about half the time). I plan to hire a camera with more configurable AF such as the 7D which would allow me to try expanding the AF region from a single point to see if this helps me with these early quick shots. Your mindset regarding timing for upgrading your body aligns 100% with mine, I have also read the rumours about Canon announcements later this year on the 7D and am planning to wait and see what it offers/how it is priced. Phil

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    Re: Camera choice for macro photography

    Most insects don't worry too much about flash; but butterflies with open wings can be the exception and they will twitch their wings as fast as the flash speed. Sometimes this has a positive outcome but it can be a problem.

    When their wings are folded there is normally no problem. And with many species it is essential for closed wing side shots to enable identification.

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    Re: Camera choice for macro photography

    Without doing much of it despite having a bellows my understanding has been that the small sensor camera is a prefered choice for macro, not that I would call a butterfly a macro subject if taking the whole body, or big close-up work. Here I have been using a limited super-zoom camera [ x12 zoom as on my avatar] with a moderate close-up lens [ 2 dioptre] to do 99% of the big close-ups I take. This is using a 430mm Angle of view lens.
    On changing to MFT I have greatly increased the degree of amplification I can use with higher ISO but so far with only a 280mm AoV lens I don't get so tight a framing. But with a say the 45-200 lens I would get a moderately wide view to 'find' the beastie and the 200mm end gives me a 400mm AoV which has me back to the satisfactory magnification of my bridge camera.

    So I feel that MFT gives one the advantage of using a shorter focal length lens with for most purposes the quality of APS-C. being the reverse of a change to full frame in this aspect. The difference is 60%.

    A further 'feeling' with regard to focus stacking from experience with my editor in making hand held panoramas where several frames have to be registered is that this is fairly easy so long as your editor permits you to reduce the density of the upper layer so you see the lower one through it. I use PSP and I think PS permits this too. Since the AoV changes as one changes focus I assume the focus stacking programmes are capable of handling this so all one needs to do is a basic register prior to the stacking process. Again I have not done any FS so just a surmise that a slow rate of burst while changing focus would deliver the goods ... one day I will try this What I am trying to say with this long para is that a tripod may just not be essential.

    Though I use one for inanimate subjects except for yesterday when I took this one at 3200ISO, the height of the step is 9mm to show an annoying end to the cut of the mill as the cutting tool reaches the end. Never struck it when using bigger mills previously so took photo to seek opinions from experts
    Camera choice for macro photography
    Need I mention this but the focal length of the lens used does not affect depth of field for a given sized image only the perspective.
    Last edited by jcuknz; 16th April 2013 at 10:46 PM.

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