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Author Topic: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES  (Read 25239 times)

Michael Erlewine

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CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« on: August 06, 2017, 04:50:41 AM »

CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES

I get asked how I do close-up photography, so I decided to write some of this down, rather than answer the same question many times, since it is likd of long. So, this article is for those that are interested.

I thought it might be helpful to outline some the various approaches to close-up and macro photography that I regularly use. In particular, since I use a variety of different lenses (most of them are not real macro), I push them toward the kind of close-up work I enjoy.

Bellows Work

I do a lot of work with bellows and have all kinds of them around my studio. However, in recent years I mostly use the Cambo Mini-Actus, with some minor modifications. As for cameras, I am using the Nikon D810 on the rear standard, but I also sometimes use the Sony A7RII. The D810 has better low ISO performance and generally produces better results than the Sony A7RII... in my opinion.

As for lenses on the Actus rig, Iím all over the board. There is no doubt that my most-used bellows lens (and most-used lens overall) is the El Nikkor APO 105mm f/5.6 lens. Note the ďAPO,Ē because the standard El Nikkor 105mm lens is quite ordinary compared to the incredible El Nikkor APO 105mm.

I also have used the larger version, the El Nikkor 210mm APO lens, which also looks good, but is very heavy and unwieldy IMO, so much so that I just sold my copy of this rare lens.

Another lens that I use on the Cambo Mini-Actus is the Nikkor AM-ED Macro 120mm f/5.6 lens and that too is a very fine lens, but just shy of the quality of the El Nikkor APO 105mm. I also have the 210mm version of the Nikkor AM-ED, which is great, but again, large and unwieldy.

Still other lenses I use with the Mini-Actus are the three Printing Nikkor lenses that I own, the 95mm, 105mm, and the incredible 150mm Printing Nikkor, and some LF Schneider lenses. These Printing Nikkors are very highly corrected APO lenses, but their coatings are not particularly modern, IMO. Great for the studio, but less useful in bright light and outdoors, but they are very, very sharp.

And there are many other lenses that I have tried on the Mini-Actus, too many to bother listing here, but they include a variety of large-format lenses, the Multiphot Macro Nikkors, and many others.

The main value to me of the Cambo Mini-Actus is its ability to tilt the front standard and compress an image front-to-back somewhat. This is particularly useful for stacking, where artifacts tend to multiply the greater the difference between the front and rear of the subject you are photographing. Using Tilt, I can telescope that down to something much more manageable in terms of generating artifacts through stacking.

When using the Cambo Mini-Actus, I tend to stack rather than take single shots. And by stacking I mean stacks from 50 to 150 layers. I have modified my Cambo Mini-Actus by purchasing a considerably longer rail and accompanying bellows. In addition I have replaced the rear standard on the Min-Actus (which has a fixed camera mount) with their new rear standard that allows me to switch camera mounts in seconds. This is very helpful.

I have also added a two-way level to the rear standard, and a focus-whip that easily attaches to the fine focus knob on the Mini-Actus. You can plug it in or take it out in second.

The Mini-Actus also allows both the front and rear standards to shift right and left, plus the rear standard can be moved up-and-down vertically. I donít shift much, but the sideways shift is good for panoramas or adjusting, etc.

Most of my Cambo Mini-Actus work is done in my small studio, but I have taken it out on many occasions and it is not clumsy or difficult to haul around. It really is small and light.

Prime Lenses for Close-Up Work

Another approach I use a lot is using prime lenses, including non-macro lenses for close-up work. I do not have many macro lenses that I feel are good enough for what I am looking for, although I have owned (and still own) many macro lenses. The list of parameters that make for a really great lens are enough that most lenses fail in one way or another. I still use them, of course, but I just donít consider them ďall aroundĒ lenses.

The exception would be the Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 Apo-Lanthar macro lens from Cosina. IMO, this is the best all-around macro lens that I know of. The CV-125 is a very fast lens (f/2.5), a very sharp lens, highly corrected (APO), has nine 9 aperture blades, a close focus of 14.96 inches (38 centimeters), a 1:1 reproduction ratio, plus a long focus throw (630 degrees)

Now, prime lenses can also be used to create a long stack of many layers, just as I do on the bellows, but there is another approach, that if used carefully, also does a great job, and that is what I call ďshort stacks.. These are stacks of 2-6 layers, where each shot is carefully focused to capture one or another part of the main image. They are then combined as a stack. I use Zerene Stacker, and have tried (I believe) most if not all stacking software. Zerene is easily the best of the bunch.

Short stacks can save time and are very useful in the field, where wind may pick up or the sun go behind a cloud, and so on. We simply examine the frame and the subject beforehand, deciding which points of the subject we want in focus. Also, with some of the larger prime lenses, stacking does not always work so well, so very short stacks, even of one or two layers, or, of course, sometimes no stack at all. Many times a single layer is best, using as high an f/stop as we can get away with.

Or, we can pick exactly what we want to have in focus and kind of paint in focus. For example, we may to devote a layer to each of the three flowers in a photo, and be using a fairly high f/stop like f/11 or so. And, in addition, we may want to do a refined stack of 20 or so layers just on one particular flower.

This idea of painting focus becomes the technique of choice if you are shooting a very fast lens, one with a razor-edge of focus that is sharp wide-open. In that case we literally (but slowly) paint focus exactly where we want to have it, and let the rest be the natural bokeh of a fast lens.

And quite often I use the wider well-corrected prime lenses, like the Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4, taking only a couple shots. I may want one shot close and a second a little farther back to get more sharpness in the background. Focus stacking does not always have to be used (or overused), but can assist in focusing just the parts where we want attention, and by using only a few layers. This is especially useful for landscape shots.

Focus Rails

I must have a dozen focus rails, but I use them very little, since they are not ideal for stacking. I use the Novoflex Castel-L Focusing Rack, with the Arca quick release. To this I add the Novoflex Fine Adjustment Handle. I use racks for lenses that have no helicoid, like the CRT-Nikkor, which is one of my favorite lenses. I also mount the camera and certain other lenses, whose focus throw is too small to get fine focusing. I used to have to put the Coastal Optics 60mm f/4 APO Macro on a rail because its focus throw was too small to do much with.

Extensions

As far as using extensions, my rule of thumb is donít. They always mess up the IQ of the lens. However, with high-quality prime lenses like the Zeiss Otus series, I regularly use Nikonís smallest extension, which is the K-1 Ring, which is 5.8 mm. This does not seriously destroy the quality of the lens it is on, but does allow me to get closer. I have, of course, all kinds and sizes of extensions, but they sit in a drawer, aside from the K-1.

Close-up Lenses

I have a lot of close-up lenses, but literally never use them. I have tried many times, but they mess up the IQ of the lens, to my eyes. I donít use them. The same with tele-adapters. A lens is a lens is a lens, and anything other or extra takes away from why we buy it. Turning a great lens into an ordinary lens makes no sense to me.

COMBINING F/STOPS

Another technique, one that has to be used sparingly and carefully, is to combine or ďstackĒ shots at different ISOs. Letís say you want the soft mood and bokeh of f/1.4, but may not have time to paint focus, due to outside conditions. It is not difficult to take a background shot at f/1.4 and another dead-center (but at a higher f/stop, with more depth of field) on a flower.

In the final photo you donít want the background in focus, because you lose some of the mood. In post you can stack or otherwise combine different ISO layers, but they can be very different, so feathering and touch-up is usually required.

For example, you can take a soft background of some flowers and place in the center of the flowers part of an image done at a much higher ISO. In that way, you can combine the effect of bokeh with sharp focus. You can do using this method, instead of painting in focus. As for myself, I prefer to paint in focus, but in the field there sometimes is no time to do a long stack, particularly  with wind, light, etc. A couple shots at different ISOs can look pretty good. This technique, however, IMO, is moving away from my preferred methods. But, it can work and to a significant degree.

Summary

So, there are some of the main approaches I use to take close-up photos. I seldom use the macro range 1:1 (or above) anymore, because more and more I like the context I get with a wider frame. Focusing on the eye of a dragonfly or honeybee, after a short while, is just not particularly interesting to me. I want to see at least the whole head of the insect in a setting that is natural. And microphotography interests me not at all, but I can appreciate otherís work in these areas, if it is superb. Those are some of the main techniques I use for close-up photography.

« Last Edit: August 06, 2017, 06:58:35 AM by Michael Erlewine »
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Michael Erlewine
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Paulo Bizarro

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #1 on: August 07, 2017, 04:46:05 AM »

Thanks for sharing your experience.

BartvanderWolf

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2017, 12:45:31 PM »

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the writeup, and sharing of your experiences.

Extensions

As far as using extensions, my rule of thumb is donít. They always mess up the IQ of the lens. However, with high-quality prime lenses like the Zeiss Otus series, I regularly use Nikonís smallest extension, which is the K-1 Ring, which is 5.8 mm. This does not seriously destroy the quality of the lens it is on, but does allow me to get closer.

This is somewhat puzzling to me. How do they mess up the IQ? They contain no optical elements, so they are comparable to lenses that do not use internal focusing groups of elements. I am assuming that stability is not an issue with well made lenses.

They also allow neat tricks like this newest product from the folks at Helicon Soft, the makers of Helicon Focus and Helicon Remote software. Their new extension ring, the Helicon FB Tube, can be user programmed for automatic focusstacking of close-up/macro scenarios, and as such avoids the need for tethered shooting for that automated functionality. Very useful for field work where legibility of Smartphone or Tablet displays can be difficult.

The only drawbacks as far as I can see are loss of infinity focus (not a problem with close-ups) and the absence of a 3.5mm audio socket on modern phones. Obviously fully manual lenses lack a focus driving mechanism, so they would also not work on anything else than a motorized focus rail like a Stackshot.

Cheers,
Bart
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2017, 01:13:42 PM »

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the writeup, and sharing of your experiences.

This is somewhat puzzling to me. How do they mess up the IQ? They contain no optical elements, so they are comparable to lenses that do not use internal focusing groups of elements. I am assuming that stability is not an issue with well made lenses.

They also allow neat tricks like this newest product from the folks at Helicon Soft, the makers of Helicon Focus and Helicon Remote software. Their new extension ring, the Helicon FB Tube, can be user programmed for automatic focusstacking of close-up/macro scenarios, and as such avoids the need for tethered shooting for that automated functionality. Very useful for field work where legibility of Smartphone or Tablet displays can be difficult.

The only drawbacks as far as I can see are loss of infinity focus (not a problem with close-ups) and the absence of a 3.5mm audio socket on modern phones. Obviously fully manual lenses lack a focus driving mechanism, so they would also not work on anything else than a motorized focus rail like a Stackshot.

Cheers,
Bart

I may not have used the right word or been clear enough. I can't speak for your work, etc. For me, messing with lenses with either close-up lenses, teleconverters or extensions are contrary to the lens as it was made to be used. Using something like the Zeiss Otus lenses, it is obvious as I add extensions, that I am losing image quality. Your experience my be different. I can get away with a little extension, say the K-1 Ring, but adding more than that, well, I might as well use a lens that does not need that extension, because my Otus is no longer behaving like an Otus.   That is just my experience.

Right now I am trying to add extension to the new Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 lens, and, again, the K-1 Ring is doable, but not much beyond that, but of course, it is a wide-angle lens.

Here is a first try at f/4, with a short stack, but there are lots of artifacts, etc. This lens is sharp and pretty well corrected, but there is still some problems with it.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2017, 02:18:10 AM by Michael Erlewine »
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Michael Erlewine
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BartvanderWolf

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2017, 01:39:49 PM »

I may not have used the right word or been clear enough. I can't speak for your work, etc. For me, messing with lenses with either close-up lenses, teleconverters or extensions are contrary to the lens as it was made to be used. Using something like the Zeiss Otus lenses, it is obvious as I add extensions, that I am losing image quality.

I could understand that if the lens is used outside its design envelope, e.g. focusing closer than the shortest focus distance, its performance would suffer. In fact, most (non-dedicated Macro-) lenses seem to be optimized for a subject distance of several metres. So close focusing would be an issue antway, unless used in reverse orientation.

Anyway, thanks for clarifying.

Quote
Here is a first try at f/4, with a short stack, but there are lots of artifacts, etc. This lens is sharp and pretty well corrected, but there is still some problems with it.

Nevertheless, beautiful (especially the first one).

Cheers,
Bart
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stever

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #5 on: August 08, 2017, 12:05:11 PM »

I'd be interested in your comments on lighting as well.
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muntanela

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #6 on: August 08, 2017, 12:57:09 PM »

I'd be interested in your comments on lighting as well.


I too, particularly in the field (high mountain fields). I'm using a  hand held flash diffused by a Lumiquest Mini Softbox and activated by a trigger, but I have poor notions about lighting.
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #7 on: August 08, 2017, 01:06:15 PM »

I'd be interested in your comments on lighting as well.

I'm afraid I can't be of much help as for lighting. I have all kinds of flashes ( big and small), ring lights, plus many different kinds of light setups (hot, fluorescent, LED,etc.). However, I don't use them and don't seem to like anything but natural light.

I do like diffusers and reflectors, mostly diffusers and my tiny studio has all kinds of large and small diffusers (some the size of doors), especially those with a 3/4 stop. I also have some four fiber-optic lights, but don't use them... much. It seems to me that natural daylight is the best of all worlds when it comes to lighting. Wish I could be of more help, so I will listen to what others use, if they will share it. To me, artificial light just looks off to me.
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Michael Erlewine
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stever

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #8 on: August 08, 2017, 08:59:47 PM »

I agree that flash is not an ideal solution (which is why i continue to look for improvement) - but - there are a number of subjects and situations that require flash for a usable image.

in general i've found that a "main" source from above with a second fill more or less opposite and fairly near the lens works for many situations and is more satisfactory than a single flash (regardless of how the flash is diffused).  For smaller subjects i don't see much difference between the small soft boxes and small plastic diffusers (on both flashes).  With the Canon, Nikon, etc 2-flash systems dialing the ratio in is convenient.  However with 2 small flashed triggered at the same level (with ETTL) adjusting the distance and/or angle of the diffused flashes for balance is not difficult.

A third flash behind the subject can soften the flash effect but it's a nuisance in the field and not much good for moving subjects without an assistant.
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muntanela

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #9 on: August 09, 2017, 04:12:44 AM »


 a "main" source from above 

At what distance, more ore less, from the subject?


with a second fill more or less opposite and fairly near the lens
 

Opposite to the photographed subject?

P.S. Don't you like some side  lighting?
« Last Edit: August 09, 2017, 04:19:14 AM by muntanela »
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stever

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #10 on: August 09, 2017, 09:57:11 AM »

- distance depends on the subject (but main light about the plane of the lens), height above the lens is partly a matter of convenience, 6-9 inches seems to be enough for small subjects with 70 to 100 mm lens
- fill opposite to (or about 180 degrees) from the main flash at about the plane of the lens
- side light - main light is to the left or right of the lens, not directly above (and fill not directly below)
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bjanes

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Re: Helicon FB Tube?
« Reply #11 on: August 09, 2017, 03:52:49 PM »



They also allow neat tricks like this newest product from the folks at Helicon Soft, the makers of Helicon Focus and Helicon Remote software. Their new extension ring, the Helicon FB Tube, can be user programmed for automatic focusstacking of close-up/macro scenarios, and as such avoids the need for tethered shooting for that automated functionality. Very useful for field work where legibility of Smartphone or Tablet displays can be difficult.

The only drawbacks as far as I can see are loss of infinity focus (not a problem with close-ups) and the absence of a 3.5mm audio socket on modern phones. Obviously fully manual lenses lack a focus driving mechanism, so they would also not work on anything else than a motorized focus rail like a Stackshot.

Bart,

Have you used Helicon Tube? About 5 months ago I posted a message on LuLa if anyone had used it and got only 1 reply from a member who reported only that he had seen no reviews of the device and did not have it.

An alternative is Helicon Remote which works Wi-Fi enabled cameras such as the Canon 5dM4 and Nikon D750. Many more cameras will work with a USB connection with an OTG adapter. This rules out Apple phones and the iPad, which lack USB. Other Nikons such as the D810 would require a US$600 wi-fi adapter (WT-5a, grossly overpriced).  Like Michael, I would prefer not to use a ring that attaches to the lens. If the D850 will have wi-fi as rumored, prospective buyers of Helicon Tube might want to wait.

Regards,

Bill
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muntanela

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #12 on: August 09, 2017, 05:14:37 PM »

Thanks, stever.
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NancyP

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #13 on: August 09, 2017, 05:36:34 PM »

I haven't tried this with my Canon autofocus macro lenses EF 180mm macro or EF-S 60mm macro, but apparently there is a step-focus capacity in Magic Lantern firmware that allows sequential automated focus advancement at specific intervals.
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BartvanderWolf

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Re: Helicon FB Tube?
« Reply #14 on: August 09, 2017, 05:42:06 PM »

Bart,

Have you used Helicon Tube? About 5 months ago I posted a message on LuLa if anyone had used it and got only 1 reply from a member who reported only that he had seen no reviews of the device and did not have it.

Hi Bill,

No, I have not tried it but I thought I'd mention it in case someone else had and could add some personal experience from using it.

Quote
An alternative is Helicon Remote which works Wi-Fi enabled cameras such as the Canon 5dM4 and Nikon D750. Many more cameras will work with a USB connection with an OTG adapter.

Yes, that's what I use, either tethered (using an OTG USB cable made by Lindy Cables, no separate adapter required) or via a WiFi connection by a Portable Wireless TP-Link Router to my Android tablet/phone.

Cheers,
Bart
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David Sutton

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #15 on: August 09, 2017, 06:01:42 PM »

I haven't tried this with my Canon autofocus macro lenses EF 180mm macro or EF-S 60mm macro, but apparently there is a step-focus capacity in Magic Lantern firmware that allows sequential automated focus advancement at specific intervals.
Magic Lantern have two methods for focus stacking. I found it simple to use and worked very well.
From memory, I think it also created a script for sending the files to Helicon.
David
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bjanes

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Re: Helicon FB Tube?
« Reply #16 on: August 10, 2017, 09:18:52 AM »

Yes, that's what I use, either tethered (using an OTG USB cable made by Lindy Cables, no separate adapter required) or via a WiFi connection by a Portable Wireless TP-Link Router to my Android tablet/phone.

Bart, Thanks for the tip on Lindy Cables. They have presence in the USA and their prices are very reasonable.

Which TP-Link router do you use to control your camera via Helicon Remote? I have a TP-Link TL-MR3040 with flashed firmware from qdslrdashboard to control my Nikon from their software, but it does not appear to work with Helicon Remote.

Thanks,

Bill
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Miles

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Re: CLOSE-UP TECHNIQUES
« Reply #17 on: August 10, 2017, 10:29:35 AM »

I don't have much to contribute here, but I do appreciate all the information that has been shared.  I'm sure it will influence my future purchases.

Miles
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BartvanderWolf

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Re: Helicon FB Tube?
« Reply #18 on: August 10, 2017, 10:38:00 AM »

Bart, Thanks for the tip on Lindy Cables. They have presence in the USA and their prices are very reasonable.

Which TP-Link router do you use to control your camera via Helicon Remote? I have a TP-Link TL-MR3040 with flashed firmware from qdslrdashboard to control my Nikon from their software, but it does not appear to work with Helicon Remote.

You are correct, I mixed things up, the TP-link TL-3040 works with the DSLR Controller App which I use for my Canon. and the qDslrDashboard application. For HeliconRemote a wired Tethering is required.

I use a 1-metre length Lindy OTG cable for my tablet/phone which works fine, but I have not tried longer lengths yet.

Cheers,
Bart
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