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Macro Photography from the beginning

by Güray Dere

Before Taking Photos

Primary school years … Almost every day, all the big stones in the vicinity are turned upside down, the stacked logs coming from tree cuts are rolled up and always there is something new underneath them … A piece of freshly chewed gum is affixed to the end of a string. Big wolf spiders, which think that it is a prey, is kept like a fish and taken out of the nest and examined while trying not to be bitten.

Secondary school years … Every day in the summer, the garden is scanned with notebooks in the hand.  New arrivals, new nesting species are marked with funny made-up names.  Their behaviors are noted and their appearance are drawn.  Mantises and spiders are fed… One day the aquarium in the house is secretly emptied and filled with stones and soil. Rosary beetles, spiders, black buggies are put inside. In the following days, they are fed and observed… Binoculars purchased by difficulties are used like a microscope by the inverse way discovered by chance (This was my first reverse lens experiment. It magnifies well in close distance. Try it if you haven’t). Fly  wings and parameciums are observed through an amateur microscope and their drawings are made… Then the season ends with numerous bites and stings.

Then comes high school, college, business life, marriage. I have not met photography yet.

Macro With Compact Digital Machine

Canon A85

Then in 2004, 
the first enthusiasm, my new digital compact camera entered my pocket. This small 4MP monster called Canon A85 didn’t come out of my pocket until its last breath in 2009, it served very well. It surprised me with its image quality and its success in macro mode. I was interested in historical artifacts and newly learned panoramic shooting techniques. But the love of flowers and insects had begun to rise. 5cm distance with a relatively wide angle lens (5mm corresponding to 35mm) offering a large depth of field prevented me from acquiring another machine for a long time! My begining to macro photography started thanks to my Canon A85.

In 2009, the breakdown of A85 and the birth of my daughter coincided with the same period. A new camera search started immediately.  Considering the compactness and vivid colors of my old Canon I decided to have another compact Canon. Since I wanted to get even closer shooting macro, I searched for something that could focus to 0cm. I turned to the ones that are known as SLR-Like. My goal was Canon SX10 IS. 10mp sensor with 28mm-560mm lens seemed to work for not only macro but also birding. (Sensor size? What’s that?)

Canon SX10 IS

I was unaware of the fact that the light through the wide-range zoom lenses would look for a path between so many layers of glass and a tiny aperture until it reaches equally small sensor.  So I couldn’t shoot a bird or something.

I chose the wrong model.

I struggled for a while and stubbornly used the machine. Even tried tele angle macros!? Sometimes I liked the experiments. I could shoot a butterfly 3m away without scaring it and I could get beautiful bokeh in the background. (What is bokeh?)

Maybe it wasn’t a very bad machine. If I didn’t zoom in too much, and if I was outdoors with enough light I’d get a good picture. But the main goal was to document the growth of our baby. I couldn’t use my favorite natural light. I couldn’t even use ISO 400 for indoor shots and I couldn’t shoot without flashing on my daughter’s face. (Did someone say ISO? What’s that?)

Bebek Defne
Bad ISO 400 performance

My expectation was higher. I sold the camera and advised the buyer to take something else if he was shooting in a dim light.

Choosing a DSLR camera

The target was now an SLR camera. In the same year (2009), Pentax, which made a big leap with K-x, won my heart. I realized on the first day that the SLR world is a whole new experience with its 23.6mm x 15.8mm (APS-C) sensor dimensions and advanced technology, which is 13 times larger than the A85 and 6.17 x 4.55 mm SX10 sensors.

Pentax is still my personal choice as a brand that can do the same job with more affordable budgets. With the SR (shake reduction) mechanism on the body, it provides serious comfort in the use of old manual lenses. Normally it allows you to make clear shots in conditions that require a tripod … To a degree, of course 🙂

Pentax K-x

K-x was my new machine. I entertain myself with the 18-55 kit lens for a short time. Then i got a Tamron lens which I looked the world in 90mm through it for the next 2 years. Tamron 90mm f2.8 1: 1 macro lens is almost attached to my camera. I realized the real macro starts with a 1: 1 magnification. In the later articles, I will mention Tamron 90 abundantly and compare everything to it.

If we look at my daughter’s photos, they are all in 90mm till she’s 2 … Tamron’s 90 is very successful in portraits.

Note: If you do not want to allocate an SLR budget or already have a compact camera, you can use them to access the macro world. Most machines allow very close-up shots. If you provide enough light they offer considerable detail. And you can use Raynox close up lens family to move your macro work one step further.

Update (May 12, 2015)

All of what I wrote above is up to date. It’s our imagination that limits us to macro shooting. We can make a macro shot by adding a few small pieces to whatever camera we have. So what can I recommend to friends who are comfortable with their experience and budget?

Top Level Macro Equipment

Since this article was published, I have tried many equipments and techniques in the last 2.5 years. If I had nothing, how would I start now? I could suggest 2 ways.

  • A Canon full-frame body and a MP E-65 lens. With these two, all kinds of macro shots can be taken from the field to the studio. This is for those who want to dive macro from the upper level. But those who have no experience may have difficulties.
  • A Sony full-frame body and various enlarger and microscope lenses. This is my current choice and my system. This is cheaper and very flexible in terms of body compatibility. I like having options and plenty of experimentation. You can improve the system step by step. Of course it is also possible to use the MP-E 65 with Sony.  Using adapters we can use everything with a Sony.

Note that no regular macro lens appears in the list. You can add it to both sides. Any macro lens in the range of 90mm to 180mm and the a Raynox DCR-250 add-on offer a very comfortable macro experience. You can’t go to “Extreme macro” high-magnifications, but based on my experience so far at least 50% of the shooting can be done with these two.

Of course, regardless of your choice, you have to spend money on accessories. Tripod, precision rail, tube, bellows, lighting … These are your greatest helpers.

May the light be with you.

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