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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Tamron 90mm ƒ/2.8mm Macro:
Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.