My Gear: Make the little things count: Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro

Tamron SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Macro Di VC on the Canon 760D

Did you know that a butterfly’s eyes are dotted? It was surprising to me to see that on one of my own pictures. Macros – or close-up images in general – have always been fascinating me, because they allow you to take your time and see details that are usually overlooked.

Even for my old compact cameras I had some screw-on close-up lenses to take pictures of flowers, for instance. Considering my skill level and equipment at the time, the results were not very impressive, though. When I started to get deeper into photography in the fall of 2015, I quickly came across several video tutorials focused on macro photography. There many different technical approaches to doing this; e.g. the so-called “extension tubes”, which are mounted between the lens and the camera body, or retro-adapters, which allow you to mount the lens the other way around to your camera. These are widely used and inexpensive ways to get started.

However, I wanted to get seriously into this from the very start, so I immediately started looking for a dedicated macro lens. A review on a German YouTube channel brought the Tamron to my attention, and I was lucky to get a good deal on it by buying it used on eBay.

TAMRON SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 MACRO DI VC

Tamron SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Macro Di VC
Tamron SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Macro Di VC

One thing to consider is the fact that macro lenses aren’t just good for close-ups. They typically offer superior image sharpness, and with an aperture of ƒ/2.8 they also lend themselves well to making portraits. The model of the Tamron I have (F004) is currently (Feb. 2017) available for around 350 to 400 Euros on either eBay or Amazon. Since 2016, its successor (model F017) is available. The new model has a redesigned, more modern exterior, and according to internet reviews also some improved optics. However, the price point for it is between 650 and 700 Euros. From a value for money perspective, the old model is unbeatable in my mind, and has proven itself very well.

EQUIPMENT

Size and weight of the lens are in the mid-range. The lens alone weighs around 600g (1.3lb), and together with my 760D it’s around 1.200g (2.6lb). So it can be easily carried around, and, if necessary as described below, held in one hand. It comes with caps for the front and back, as well as a lens hood. The autofocus is relatively quick, and its range can be limited to different settings: 0.3-0.5m, 0.5m-∞, and full range. Thus, you can avoid the camera going through the full focus range when “hunting” for insects, which will save you precious seconds. Of course, the lens also has an image stabilizer – Vibration Control (VC) as Tamron calls it – which renders good results. You’ll have to keep in mind, though, that when working in close range, different rules apply for avoiding camera shake.

USE AND RESULTS

There are many different ways to perform macro photography. There is one thing however that you will always need: lots of light. When shooting close, especially when hand-holding the camera, the shutter speed should be as fast as possible to avoid camera shake. This close to the camera, the image stabilizer is of limited use – even at 1/100 of a second it’s not all that unusual to have some blurry images. When the sun is out, I grab my camera and the lens and go outside, looking for motivation. This is how I found the ice crystals, and the maple seed covered in white frost, in the example pictures below. While the bright sunlight around noon is shunned by landscape and portrait photographers due to harsh shadows and strong contrasts it causes, this is exactly what makes it ideal for macro photography because it emphasizes all the fine details.

If there isn’t enough sun, I use a flash in addition – either a dedicated macro flash that mounts to the front of the lens, or a regular flashgun which I hold in my left hand and then aim for the subject of my motivation as needed. I use wireless remotes, or a cable, to fire the flash. Handling the flashgun is a bit circumstantial, especially because it means having to hold and operate the camera with one hand as well, but it provides more freedom for setting the light. I took the photos of the butterfly and the bumble bee using this approach.

Of course the “hunt” for moving targets such as insects demands a lot of patience. The little beasts are faster than you think, as you will notice when you wish for one to just once sit still for a second. On a single weekend, I took about 500 pictures at our lavender bush – in the end, I kept ten.

Finally, you can set up your camera and flash around a table and position your object of interest in front of the lens. I fixed the dandelion in a small vase and then photographed it piece by piece. Close up, the depth of field is very shallow, so it’s impossible to get the entire blossom sharp from front to back in a single exposure. Hence I took several images, focusing on different areas of the dandelion – front, center, back – and then afterwards combined them in Photoshop to a single sharp image (“focus stacking”).

Looking for the tiny things, or tinkering with focus stacking, is a lot of fun for me, and the results are astonishing over and over again. The fantastic image quality the Tamron renders contributes to this as well.

ACCESSORIES

Over the course of the last year, I picked up a variety of accessories for macro photography; a macro ring-flash, a camera slider for the tripod, a cable for the flash and an additional close-up adapter. I will write more about those in future posts – in particular since now that spring is coming up, the number of interesting motivations quickly increases again.


CONCLUSION

Recommendation: I can highly recommend the Tamron to anyone taking a serious interest in macro photography. The old model (Foo4) renders very good results and provides unbeatable value for money.

What I’ve learned: Macro photography is great fun! No matter whether you’re outside, on the hunt for flowers, insects, and other details, or if you take your motivations back home and then carefully set them up – seeing all the fine details afterwards enlarged on your screen is amazing. And this is how I learned that a butterfly’s eyes are dotted.


LINKS

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.


EXAMPLE IMAGES:

Dandelion - Composite of nine images by focus stacking
Dandelion – Composite of nine images by focus stacking

 

Butterfly on a lavender bloom
Butterfly on a lavender bloom

 

Bumblebee on a lavender bloom
Bumblebee on a lavender bloom

 

Maple seed with white frost in the morning sun
Maple seed with white frost in the morning sun

 

Ice crystal on a car roof on a frosty January morning
Ice crystal on a car roof on a frosty January morning

My Gear: Refresh – SSD in a MacBook Pro

Mission accomplished: the SSD in its new place

For nearly six years, my MacBook Pro model “Late 2011” has proven itself as a reliable companion whenever and wherever I’m traveling. When I bought it, I consciously made the decision to go for a – for that time – loaded configuration. On the one hand side, I wanted to be able to run demanding software, and on the other hand, I wanted to have a hardware that would remain up to its task for many years. So far, this strategy turned out well. My main computer is a mid-2010 iMac, which will still be good for some time. It was certainly more expensive than a PC when I bought it, but I’m still happy with it, while many of my friends or colleagues are on their second or third PC over the same period of time. So over their lifetime, both the iMac as well as the MacBook Pro have been well worth the initial investment.

However, in one respect the MacBook Pro has considerably lost its punch, and that is performance. This applies in particular to starting the laptop up, as well as launching bigger programs. Once an application runs, there is no reason for complaints. In talking with friends, it was soon clear that the old hard drive was the bottleneck. This assumption is supported by the observation that my iMac, even though being more than a year older, still is a lot quicker – but then it had a SSD built in from the start, which holds the operating system and applications.

THE CONVERSION: HDD OUT, SSD IN

The advantages of a SSD compared to a classic hard drive are obvious: it grants a significant boost in performance, while at the same time using a lot less power. Also, SSDs have now become very affordable. Currently (Feb. 2017), the Samsung EVO 750/850 as well as the SanDisk Ultra II come highly recommended. I have chosen the latter, with a capacity of 960 GB, to replace my old 1 TB hard drive.

The conversion of an older MacBook Pro like mine fortunately is very easy. After saving all relevant data – for instance by means of an up-to-date TimeMachine backup – the laptop is switched off and turned upside down. After removing the ten screws with a small  Phillips head screwdriver, the lid can be taken off.

Everything ready for the upgrade: SSD, MacBook Pro, Tools
Everything ready for the upgrade: SSD, MacBook Pro, Tools

On my 15″ model, those are seven short and three longer screws. In case you forget which screws goes where: don’t worry about it. When putting it back together, simply start with the long screws, as they will fit only into the proper holes.

After taking off the bottom plate, the interior becomes visible
After taking off the bottom plate, the interior becomes visible. The hard drive is in the bottom left corner.

After six years of intense use, quite an amount of dirt had gathered inside the casing. I cleaned it out carefully before proceeding. Then I went to removing the old hard drive. It’s held in place by an easily removable bracket fixed with two Phillips head screws. Once that is out, the hard drive can simply be taken out, and the combined plug for the power and SATA connections can be pulled off.

Removing the old Hard Drive
After removing the bracket that holds the hard drive in place, it can be removed and the cable can be unplugged.

The next step is a bit fiddly: The hard drive is mounted on four screws that fit into rubber fasteners inside the laptop casing. These four screws need to be transferred to the new SSD now. This requires a small Torx (TX) 6 screwdriver as well as a considerable amount of patience.

SSD ready to be mounted
The new SSD ready to be mounted. Switching the the four screws from the old hard drive that hold it in the rubber mounts of the housing was the most fiddly task of the entire upgrade.

The assembly is then done quickly and in exact reverse order: the combined power/SATA plug is securely plugged into the SSD. Then it is placed into its rubber mounts and the holding bracket is screwed back into place. Last but not least, the lid is closed and secured – done!

As the old hard drive certainly was no miracle performance-wise, but still in good overall shape, I quickly put it into an external USB housing. After thoroughly deleting its contents, it is free for future use.

In the meantime, the old hard drive moves into an external USB casing
In the meantime, the old hard drive moves into an external USB casing

The last remaining step was freshly installing macOS Sierra on the MacBook Pro. By means of flash drive that I had converted into an installation media beforehand, this was quickly accomplished as well. Including installation of all relevant application, the whole conversion was done well inside of one afternoon.

All that remains is reinstalling the software
All that remains is reinstalling the software.

CONCLUSION

Recommendation: In particular for the owners of older laptops with a classic hard drive, the conversion to a SSD is very worthwhile. Good and sufficiently large models have become very affordable by now. On an older MacBook Pro such as mine, the modification is quick and easy. In particular when starting the computer up, the gain in performance becomes evident: while it used to take several minutes to boot and log on until it was ready to actually do something, it now boots in about 20 seconds. Logging on takes about another half minute and then I’m good to go. All in all, this afternoon was well invested!

What I’ve learned: Formerly, when I worked (and played 🙂 ) with PCs, tuning and rebuilding them was more or less a daily task. Hence, switching the hard drive was no challenge. SSDs have overcome their teething problems and are an established media now. It did surprise me that even models with large capacities no longer cost an arm and a leg. I am confident that my MacBook Pro, primed like this, will be a trusted companion for several years to come.


LINKS

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.

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