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Author Topic: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?  (Read 4946 times)

loar1923

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Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« on: December 22, 2011, 08:23:00 am »

All right, hopefully this isn't a challenging question for a lot of people very much more knowledgeable than me about this.  I don't know how complex a problem this really is, but I hope to find an answer here.

I recently started work on my doctoral dissertation.  I'm an archaeologist, and I'm studying artifacts that have already been dug up and are stored in a museum.  Part of my work will require me to take high resolution, overhead views of each artifact so that I can analyze the images later.

I don't own a camera or lens any fancier than a Powershot, and I think it's probably not quite sufficient to the task.  So I'll be purchasing a new camera and at least one, and possibly two, lenses (depending on what I can afford in my grant budget - also a tripod for stability, etc.).

In general, these artifacts will be laying on a flat surface, matte background with appropriate lighting provided by a pair of movable lamps located on either side.  I plan to position the camera above them using the tripod (reversible center post) and trigger the shots remotely to avoid jostling the camera by touching it.

But, my biggest issue is knowing what lens is ideal for this.  I've considered the possibility of a micro 4/3 camera - the Pen E-P3 - which I've read good things about, and I like the smaller size (over something like the Canon Rebel line).  The problem, of course, is that the lens offerings for micro 4/3 are somewhat less in number than other formats.  Initially I thought I would need a macro lens, but I honestly don't think a macro lens is really going to be all that useful, because I don't need ridiculously close-up shots, just good clear images that don't distort shape / size / proportions of these artifacts at all.

The E-P3 comes with what appears to be a good 14-42 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, and I'm wondering if that might be sufficient to this task.  But I could use a bit of guidance.  I'm willing to change pretty much anything as long as I get decent images.  I have a budget that is somewhere around $1100-1200, although that also includes the tripod and a memory card (both of which I've already figured out - a Manfrotto 294 tripod and an 8GB Sandisk card, cost for both ~$190).

I realize with such a budget, options are somewhat limited.  I have to make do with the best I can get for that, there's no additional money (this is a fixed amount).

My thanks for any suggestions or thoughts!  I realize I'm not unique in my requirements, but I'm just not sure what the closest comparison is to what I'm doing.  So I apologize if I'm repeating questions that are frequently asked.
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pegelli

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2011, 11:29:06 am »

How about a Nex C3 or 5N with the kit lens and a 30 macro.
I think that's within your budget and 30 mm is actually also a good focal length for walk-around prime on APS-C.
Gives you what you need for your dissertation and also a nice set to use for general photography later.
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pieter, aka pegelli

stever

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2011, 12:13:58 pm »

the Panasonic G3 is available with kit zoom for $600 and will have better resolution than the Oly - pretty comparable to the NEX or Canon/Nikon APSC cameras.  i think you will find an articulating LCD with liveview to be extremely useful for what you describe.  you'll be shooting stopped down and probably be diffraction limited rather than lens limited so a kit zoom will probably be fine - and quicker for composition than a macro.

i strongly recommend shooting in RAW and using Lightroom both for development and managing the images.  the ability to adjust white balance, contrast, and sharpening (among others) is really useful for bringing out detail - and lens corrections work well (although Panasonic may already have lens corrections in it's RAW files). for your purpose i think you will find this a better investment than a better lens.
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Ellis Vener

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #3 on: December 22, 2011, 01:19:43 pm »

I also look at the Canon G12 and Nikon J1 or V1.

What size are the artifacts?
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tom b

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #4 on: December 22, 2011, 02:23:27 pm »

Instead of a tripod have you thought of a copy stand to hold your camera. Coupled with a camera with an articulated screen you would have a much simpler setup.

Cheers,
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Tom Brown

Ellis Vener

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #5 on: December 22, 2011, 02:38:40 pm »

Unless where you are working makes lugging a copystand too difficult that is a great idea. You might also look into adding one of the small and relatively inexpensive ringlight options like the  Polaroid LED Macro Ring Light (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/775325-REG/Polaroid_PLMRL_LED_Macro_Ring_Light.html ) as a fill light for your proposed lighting rig.
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Peter McLennan

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #6 on: December 22, 2011, 03:22:19 pm »

My Jurassic Nikon D300 and a $150 manual focus Micro Nikkor 55mm F3.5 produce images as sharp and detailed as I've ever seen.  I've recently taken to calling it a "Science Grade" lens.  This lens would work on many lesser Nikon DSLR bodies and is available at places like KEH with a full refund guarantee.  Just make sure it's the "AI" (auto indexing) version.

The only issue with this specific lens is its close working distance.  If your objects are very small (say coin-size), you might want to consider a longer lens.  The Micro Nikkor 105mm F4 costs about the same, used, and delivers nearly comparable image quality.  It allows the camera to be twice as far away for the same field of view.  Lighting is easier.

The DSLR route enables "live view", a highly magnified LCD panel view of your image before you shoot it.  This function may or may not be available on M4/3 cameras and is invaluable given the focus accuracy demanded by macro shooting.  Now that I've used it, I wouldn't want to shoot macro without it.


Like scanning, macro photography is time consuming.  You only want to do this once.
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theguywitha645d

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #7 on: December 22, 2011, 03:22:50 pm »

I help a lot of researchers with this problem and the biggest issue is light and the lack of understanding to control light to get images that are good enough for extracting the required detail and to be publishable. I hope this is a place you can revisit as it will give you time to work the bugs out. If this is a one time visit, practice with your equipment and similar lighting.

As far as optics, what are the sizes of these artifacts? You ideally would want a lens a little longer than normal for the format, especially if you want to take measurements off the images. However, if they are large artifacts and you have a short working distance, you are kind of forced into wide focal lengths.

If they are small artifacts, depth of field can become an issue. I would also look into getting a copy of Helicon Focus--you don't need the pro version. You can then take a focus stack and make a sharp image when you return.

You also may stretch your budget by getting an APS DSLR and putting more money into the optics. If the object distance allows, a good 50mm or 55mm macro lens would be very good. For m4/3, a 45mm lens may be a good answer. The lit zoom would be good if you have lots of unknowns, but I would always try to go to the longest focal length I could use.

Shoot RAW. If you absolutely need to shoot JPEGs, shoot RAW at the same time. RAW can save your butt if the JPEGs are screwed up--if I am giving you the impression that researchers come to me with really bad JPEGs and then want me to perform miracles on them so they can be published in a journal or book, I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. ;)
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loar1923

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #8 on: December 22, 2011, 04:44:40 pm »

Wow, these are terrific responses, and very helpful!  So to address a few questions...

1) I will be able to visit / spend long hours over several months at the location, since it's at my university and there's no problem with access.  So I can work out the bugs very early (before I get very far into shooting) and then just go at it until I'm done.

2) Artifacts will vary in size somewhat.  Some are small - say, roughly the equivalent of the diameter of a quarter or half-dollar - and others will be fairly large, maybe the diameter of a tea saucer or small pie plate, give or take.  Most are somewhere in between.  They are all stone, antler, or bone.

3) Lighting should be relatively all right - it's a well lit room, but I also have access to several light sources that can be positioned as I need them.  I may look into a small light tent to diffuse the light a little more homogeneously, but I've taken photographs in this setting before and the lighting was quite sufficient for good images, I just didn't have a decent enough camera before (or the go-ahead for the project) to take photos of everything.

4) I have to admit that I'm trying for a relatively adaptable setup, since this is a one-time thing (grant-wise) and I hope to be able to continue to use this equipment for other projects down the line, both of a similar nature and in a more field-type setting.  The tripod seems a bit more adaptable for that kind of multi-use arrangement, but I'm certainly considering other options as well.

5) I had been considering RAW format.  I'm definitely aware of the problems of JPEGs, and I'm absolutely not interested in those kinds of artifacts, so to speak.

Last... I'm anticipating having the camera set around about 10-12 inches above the photo board / platform / artifacts.  I do intend to take measurements from the images - in fact, I hope to take most of my measurements from the images if possible, to limit the amount of handling I have to subject them to.

I just got back from a trip out to a couple camera places, and was able to talk to some folks about these things.  One fellow suggested a 50mm macro lens (in the 4/3 format with an adapter) might be the way to go if I went with a micro 4/3 body.  I'm not sold (by the way) on a micro 4/3 camera, but the size is appealing - the larger DSLRs are just a bit much, and could be a problem if I needed to take them into certain field settings.  But ultimately it's about the data, not the style of the camera.

Thanks for all the comments so far, and for any additional advice y'all can offer.  It's very much appreciated!

EDIT: One additional question.  I intend to set up a photo backing / board that will permit the easiest removal of background for publication, but I don't want to use something that will show dirt easily or quickly.  I had considered using a green or blue (roughly like the colors of the green- or blue-screens in movie fx) matte-finish board.  Is there any chance that this could throw the color balance of the photo off?  I've noticed less expensive cameras have a tendency to adjust to the light / color in the image, and I want to ensure consistent color balance and lighting, and make it easy to process these images (Adobe Photoshop) and remove unwanted backgrounds for potential publication.

How would you guys suggest dealing with this?  Am I on the right track or is there something else I should be considering?
« Last Edit: December 22, 2011, 04:48:30 pm by loar1923 »
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Bart_van_der_Wolf

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #9 on: December 22, 2011, 07:28:27 pm »

EDIT: One additional question.  I intend to set up a photo backing / board that will permit the easiest removal of background for publication, but I don't want to use something that will show dirt easily or quickly.  I had considered using a green or blue (roughly like the colors of the green- or blue-screens in movie fx) matte-finish board.

Use a neutral gray/grey background, do not use a colored background without specific software that can reduce the colored specular reflections coming from the edges. Instead of a neutral background paper or board, you could also use a translucent back-lit background (opal glass is expensive, but more scratch resistent than acrylic). That would make removing the background very easy, but make sure to mask off the areas outside the camera's field of view, in order to minimize veiling glare. By varying the background light intensity/exposure duration, you can make sure that the object can be separated from the background easily, regardless of the object's color.

Quote
Is there any chance that this could throw the color balance of the photo off?

No problem if you use Raw files instead of JPEGs. Just use, in addition to a size reference, a neutral gray reference like a Whibal.

Cheers,
Bart
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Ken Bennett

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #10 on: December 22, 2011, 08:37:55 pm »

A camera like the Panasonic G3 with the articulated LCD screen is great on a tripod, especially with a reversed center column. The kit 14-42mm zoom would be fine for the size objects you have described. It will focus closely enough to easily resolve the smaller coin-size objects. The larger objects are, of course, no problem. You'll almost always want to use it at the longest focal length, to move the camera away from the subject a little and reduce distortion. Shoot at moderate apertures, like f/5.6 or f/8, and check the histogram to make sure you have good details in highlights and shadows.

The m4/3 cameras will provide excellent image quality for your purpose. I would not hesitate to choose this format, even with all the larger cameras that I have available to me at work. You could use the Pan/Leica 45mm macro lens, though that is very pricey and I don't think you'll need that much magnification for the types of objects you are shooting. If you need a macro lens, an old ~$75 Canon 50mm FD Macro film lens with a $30 adapter for m4/3 will work, though of course it's manual focus. I use a 90mm Tamron manual focus macro lens on my Panasonic cameras and it works very well.

Please avoid the blue or green backdrop. Seriously. The color will reflect onto your objects and cause problems later. Use a neutral or slightly warm background - paper is fine, just put down a new piece when the old one gets damaged.

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John Nollendorfs

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #11 on: December 22, 2011, 09:30:12 pm »

For the range of artifact sizes you are doing, would highly recommend a small copy stand. Use neutral background. An articulated view screen would help greatly. But even better, use tethered shooting with a laptop! This way you can have copy stand at a comfortable height, and not have to be peering through the top of camera.

Would highly recommend the Nikon D5100 with kit lens. Buy second hand MicroNikkor 55mm for more closeup work. Get "control my Nikon" software for only $10. Use the USB cable that comes with your camera. Works really well.

http://www.controlmynikon.com/

The D5100 is a very compact and lightweight camera. Delivers some of the best image quality possible. Would be quite good to use in the field.

Good luck with your project.

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elf

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #12 on: December 23, 2011, 12:14:47 am »

I think you need a larger budget :o http://gigamacro.com/gigapixel-macro-imaging-system/

But seriously, lighting will be the biggest issue. Diffuse lighting will tend to flatten the subject and lower contrast.  This may or may not be a good thing. I'd recommend reading Light: Science and Magic (http://www.amazon.com/Light-Science-Introduction-Photographic-Lighting/dp/0240808193) You will need to make sure all of the lights are the same color temperature.  If there are windows in the room, this will be a bigger problem.

If a black background is suitable, try Proto-Star flocking: http://www.protostar.biz/flock.htm  This does an excellent job of trapping stray reflections from the background.

Even though tripods are considered to be stable, at macro ranges they are not.  A copy stand with vibration isolators (sorbothane) will be much better. At higher magnifications, you will also need to deal with the vibrations from the shutter.  The easiest way is to use short duration flash.

The field of view for a 50mm lens on m4/3 is about 3.5 inches which will not work for your larger subjects (APSC sensors won't give a significantly larger FOV).   You'll probably need several lens to cover all of the subjects or be able to change the subject to camera distance significantly.

Consider shooting all subjects in 3D. You'll be amazed how much more detail is visible.  The only requirement for shooting 3D is to be able to move the camera (or subject) an inch or less horizontally.

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Dennishh

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #13 on: December 23, 2011, 10:46:38 am »

Having worked for several prestigious museums as a contract photographer, I am aware of your situation. In order to have all the possible information that you need to analyze these objects in the future what you really need is the maximum resolution possible. Unfortunately because of tight budgets and you having to buy your own camera this becomes a problem. Most large museums will have 60 to 100 megapixel backs that can cost an incredible amount. To overcome this situation we have used 21 megapixel DSLR's and stitched images, usually three to increase the resolution. One way to do this would be to purchase a used Canon are Nikon full frame camera and attach a shift lens to it giving you the ability to stitch. Another way like one of the other posters has mentioned was the GigaPan unit that would automatically provide a multiframe stitched image for you to use. I'm not sure about the GigaPan ability when photographing in as close as you need to be. Optimally with your budget I would use a Sony NEX-5 with 30 mm macro and a GigaPan unit set up on a studio stand above your objects. The lighting the you have should work sufficiently as long as you use a gray card in every shot so that you can later balance the images to neutral. If I had to do it today I would use my Canon 5DMK2 with a Zork shift adapter and a Pentax 645 Macro lens. The nice thing about the Sony for you is the articulating screen which would make it easier to operate from an overhead position. The Canon and Nikon full frame cameras have live view so you can monitor it from a computer.
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theguywitha645d

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #14 on: December 23, 2011, 01:48:52 pm »

I do intend to take measurements from the images - in fact, I hope to take most of my measurements from the images if possible, to limit the amount of handling I have to subject them to.


Then you want a longer focal length lens, 1.5x or 2x the normal focal length (the length of the format diagonal). Wides can give distortion and perspective that will affect your measurements. This presents a problem for larger objects if lens to object distance is limited. Can you turn the objects on their sides so that you can position the tripod at any distance within the confines of the room? That would be ideal.
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IanB

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #15 on: December 26, 2011, 07:02:51 am »

Are you familiar with the late Peter Dorrell's work at UCL in London? I'd suggest reading his book before you splash out any money on kit: "Photography in Archaeology and Conservation (Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology)" (ISBN 978-0521455541)

This is also a very good starting point -  http://www.scribd.com/doc/431586/Short-Guide-to-Digital-Photography-in-Archaeology. Page 12 on is useful.

HTH
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loar1923

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #16 on: December 26, 2011, 02:16:50 pm »

Thanks, everyone, for all the fantastic information and suggestions.  I'm going to implement a lot of these in my plans for the upcoming work.

You've made things very much clearer, and I appreciate it enormously!
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Robert Roaldi

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #17 on: December 27, 2011, 06:57:53 am »

As others have said, it'd be good to save some budget for lighting. The original 4/3rds lens line-up included both a 35 mm (70 mm equiv.) and a 50 mm (100 equiv.) macro lenses. A second-hand Olympus E-420 for about $200 or so, body only, and maybe another $200-$300 each for the lenses, also second-hand, might get you all the equipment you need. Throw in another couple of hundred and you could get a E-620 instead, if you preferred.

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Re: Not quite product photography, not quite macro - lens help?
« Reply #18 on: December 30, 2011, 07:51:11 pm »

Instead of a tripod have you thought of a copy stand to hold your camera. Coupled with a camera with an articulated screen you would have a much simpler setup.

Cheers,

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