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Make your own macro lenses

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Make your own macro lenses

Macro photography experiments with old lenses and accessories

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Keith Cooper looks at two ways of using old equipment for a real life job, finding new close up uses for two different lenses….

The other day, one of Northlight Images’ clients asked us if we could produce a photo of a very small object.

This is just the sort of challenge I welcome (note that there are quite a few macro related articles here – see the drop down category listing at the right)

macro view of components

I -could- spend £700 on a Canon MP-E65 lens, but that’s a lot of money for a project that’s only at the ‘can you see what you can do’ stage.

Update: I did buy the MP-E65, but second hand

Some time ago I built an adapter to fit a Canon 1Ds to a 5″x4″ view camera.

It was as much to experiment and learn about camera movements as for any serious photographic use. I did note that it was potentially useful for macro work.

This short article shows two different approaches I took, and which I used for the particular job.

Photographing the very small

Many people have probably experimented with focusing their camera as close as it will go and come away with images that whilst interesting, could have done with being just that little bit closer.

I’m not going to cover all the intricacies of macro photography here (there are many books and web sites devoted to it, if you get into it), but I’ll show some techniques are simple to experiment with.

First, let’s start with enabling your normal lens to focus closer.

I use a set of extension rings to hold the lens further away from the camera.

For my Canon DSLR I need extension rings that connect the electronics of the lens to the camera body.

You don’t need to buy expensive sets of rings – there is just air inside of them – no glass.

The small flowers below are only a 4-5 millimetres long – I used a Canon TS-E90mm lens with a couple of extension tubes.

succulent - flowers

mamiya sekor c 55mm f2.8 lensAll very good, but the electronic component I need to photograph is much smaller

Using the view camera

It turns out that if you take a lens further and further from a camera sensor, then the magnification you get increases.

This is how the extension tubes work.

However, normal photographic lenses are not usually designed for such use, and the quality of the image deteriorates as you increase the magnification.

One very simple way that often fixes this, is to turn the lens round, so that the end that normally faces into the camera, faces your subject.

Here’s a Mamiya 55mm lens.

The photo below shows it mounted the wrong way round on a metal ‘lens board’ for a large format camera.

This is a lens I sometimes use with a shift adapter on my Canon 1Ds3.

The metal plate just has a hole in it the right size for the front end of the lens to poke through. A few blobs of hot melt glue holds it firm without damaging the lens, and making it easy to remove.

55mm lens mounted on lens board for macro use

Here’s the lensboard in place on the camera body.

There is far more about using this in my original viewcamera adapter article.

mpp 4x5 camera with 55mm lens for macro

I have to say, it works a treat, with precise adjustment, and even allowing modest camera ‘movements’ to adjust for the very small depth of field you get with higher magnifications.

Only one slight problem…

Below is the studio camera stand that I use for our small product work.

The rail at the top is an adjustable slide (Manfrotto 454), whilst there is a fairly hefty pan/tilt head attaching it to the arm of the stand.

This all works a treat with a Canon 1Ds3 and lens attached.

manfrotto 454 focus rail

Unfortunately, tilt it forward with the view camera attached and the whole assembly just isn’t hefty enough.

So, the view camera approach work fine, as long as I don’t need to tilt the camera downwards by more than a few degrees

Lighter and simpler

I looked round our collection of assorted ‘stuff’ to see what else would do.

assorted optical bits and pieces

lens attached to extension tubesAfter lots of experimenting, I found an old M42 screw fit 28mm ‘Sirius’ lens fitted backwards straight into the space at the front of my extension tubes.

Note the bit of hot melt glue – holds the lens in place and causes no damage to the lens or extension tube.

Note that you can get adapters that go from a screw fit for the lens filter ring, directly to a Canon EF lens bayonet (just like mine, but without the glue)

I did think of using my Olympus Zuiko 24/2.8 lens, but it would need a bit of cardboard to activate the aperture stop down

Note that the Sirius 28mm has a manual setting for aperture, between f/2.8 and f/22.

One thing to remember is that as you add extension tubes, the effective aperture becomes much greater than what the lens ring suggests.

This means that lighting becomes more critical.

If you are photographing anything capable of movement, then flash is almost essential.

The combination of hefty studio stand and solid attachments, meant that I could happily take shots at a quarter of a second, with no movement blur.

I took shots with the camera tethered (using DSLR Remote Pro) and with live view enabled (so the mirror is up)

The micro adjustment slide made for much easier focusing, although the lens’s own focus mechanism did allow for some very slight adjustment.

If you do decide to experiment with higher magnification macro photography, then you will immediately realise that the depth of field available is very very thin.

The higher effective f-numbers also mean that diffraction will soften your image at higher ratios.

The set-up below gives around 5 times magnification, so that with the full frame sensor of the 1Ds3, you will fill the frame with an object 7.2mm x 4.8mm ( 4.5mm x 3mm on a Canon crop sensor camera)

The lens focuses at a point some 50mm in front of it.

You may find that a lens hood cuts down on flare and gives a higher contrast image. I used 20mm of a cardboard tube that just fitted over the 42mm lens mount. I blackened the inside of it with a black board marker pen.

28mm extreme macro lens

Best detail came from the lens set at ~f/8 although better depth of field might make up for the more obvious softening from diffraction by moving to f/11 – f/16

If you want more depth of field, you might look at focus stacking, where multiple images are composited together to get a better depth of field – this is not as easy as it might seem, and if you try it, you’ll find that even specialist stacking software doesn’t always work.

Actual use

As I said, this was for a test project for one of our clients – if I was going to be doing shots like this more than a few times, I’d probably get that specialist Canon MP-E65 lens and a flash unit for specialist macro use. [note: In 2012 I did indeed get an MP-E65 and MT-24EX flash]

However… there is only so much equipment I’ll buy on a whim, just to try things out ;-)

I can’t show the actual object I was photographing (which was 0.75mm square and had writing on it), but here is a somewhat larger electronic components where the pins are spaced 1mm apart.

If you look carefully you can see another problem with using very high f-ratios… dust spots – far more than you’d ever see in normal use.

Here’s another test shot of a microprocessor chip – this image looks great as a 16×22 print.

8741 microprocessor chip photo

Extension tubes.

If you are using tubes with a Canon lens, you need one to control the aperture setting of the lens from the camera

With a manual lens such as the 28mm, you can use simple extension tubes – remember that these won’t work with Canon lenses.There are also adapter rings that fit the filter ring of your lens and allow it to fit right into a Canon extension tube.

Make sure you get the correct filter size.

So, if you’d like to experiment, get a set of extension tubes to try with your standard lenses, and if you want real detail, have a look in camera junk shops or Ebay for suitable old lenses.

I was able to get good results (albeit with slightly less magnification) with several different ‘standard 50mm’ lenses from old film cameras.

Remember too that if you are using a crop camera, then you are effectively getting even higher magnification, with the crop sensor.

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More experimental and How-to articles

All articles and reviews are listed on our main Articles and Reviews page, or use the search box at the top of any page. Experimental items, hacks and how-to articles are all listed in the Photo-hacks category Some specific articles that may be of interest:

  • Using old lenses on your DSLR
  • The 1Ds digital pinhole SLR camera A Canon 1Ds pinhole camera, making a 50mm 'standard' pinhole and a 200mm zoom version - results are compared to a lens some £1400 more expensive.
  • Canon View Camera An adapter ($20) to use an old MPP 5x4 view camera with a Canon 1Ds. Article shows details of construction and just what it can be used for. Could be adapted for any DSLR and many old large format cameras.

More of Keith's articles/reviews (Google's picks to match this page)

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