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10-27-2010, 05:00 PM   #1
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True MACRO vs. Close Focus

The same day I ordered my first digital SLR, a K100d, I also ordered a Sigma APO-DG 70-300. My primary photo subject is horses, and the 70-300 seems to be perfect for that use (see ocalahorsepix.com if you are interested). One of the features of the Sigma is the MACRO function. Yes, I know this is not a true MACRO lens.

One day while our horses were doing nothing interesting I began to play with the close focus feature, and came up with a couple of nice images. (I've attached two or three samples). I was so pleased with the results I blew the rest of my photo budget on a true MACRO via Ebay. Totally manual, but a true MACRO never the less.

As soon as it arrived I was back in the same field trying to duplicate some insect photos I've "wowed" at for years. I quickly discovered that a bug or lizard that will let you shoot from 3 feet (the approximate minimum focus of the 70-300) will be long gone when you try to move in to 2 feet, much less 2 inches. I really missed the 300mm. I never expected to be able to hand hold the MACRO, and I couldn't. I also could not use a monopod consistently. The tripod worked, sort of, after I built a substitute close focus rail, but even a very slight breeze not only moved the subject out of the depth of field, but often right out of the view finder. As luck would have it, every time I had the MACRO on the camera some horse would finally do something interesting and I was stuck with 80mm when I needed 250.

I called a friend who is good at insect MACROs and he offered to show me some tricks. The first trick was a cold refrigerator filled with a good selection of insects in various plastic containers (He assured me that chilling the insects was not lethal, at least for a few days) Then the real tricks appeared: glue boards, like you find in insect/mouse traps, ultra fine sewing needles and foam project boards, and various tubes of glue. "Don't you ever take MACRO's outside" I asked. He replied "God himself does not have time to take MACRO photographs of insects outside"

The purpose of this post? People who think they want or need a true MACRO to photograph insects, lizards, flowers etc. might want to consider a used close focus zoom lens from Ebay first. Start with easy shots, and if you like the MACRO thing, and you have a lot of time, you can always resell the zoom and but a true MACRO

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10-27-2010, 05:11 PM   #2
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there is a flipside to this argument, my Pentax FA*200mm f/4 ED macro gives me plenty o working distance and if I ever need more I can put a 2X teleconverter with negligible loss if image resolution. Macro lenses aren't all designed to be used only at their maximum magnification. Gone are the days where macro lenses were only good at macro work, many of them can be used for general photography(there are exceptions though) and deliver superb results. You don't even really need a macro lens to do macro work,with reversed lenses stunning results can be achieved.


I have reservations about putting insects in a refrigerator however, I do occasionally move my subject matter indoors where wind and rain will not get in the way of me getting a good image. But I draw the line at anything that may be harmful to my subjects.
10-27-2010, 05:22 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by Digitalis Quote
there is a flipside to this argument, my Pentax FA*200mm f/4 ED macro gives me plenty o working distance and if I ever need more I can put a 2X teleconverter with negligible loss if image resolution. Macro lenses aren't all designed to be used only at their maximum magnification. Gone are the days where macro lenses were only good at macro work, many of them can be used for general photography(there are exceptions though) and deliver superb results. You don't even really need a macro lens to do macro work,with reversed lenses stunning results can be achieved.


I have reservations about putting insects in a refrigerator however, I do occasionally move my subject matter indoors where wind and rain will not get in the way of me getting a good image. But I draw the line at anything that may be harmful to my subjects.
^ this

I frequently put blue bottle flies in the fridge to slow them down so I can transfer them to my pet cages but you will notice I do not post pictures of any BB flies

Sounds to me like your friend is lazy, and not willing to put the effort in. Granted I shoot macro's indoors every once in a while, but thats bringing the whole flower pot inside where I can concentrate without the wind ruining my shots and the sun beating down on me (SoCal's heat is pretty bad at times ).
10-27-2010, 05:32 PM   #4
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I only use macro lenses at work for electronics, i'm too slow to be able to use them on insects and plants outside!

10-27-2010, 08:28 PM   #5
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I don't use my macro inside - there isn't enough room! I use the M 100/4, and Catch-in-focus at ISO 320 or 400. Example here - the Flicker is not Flickr - it's the name of the insect, a Least Flicker. He/she is about 2.5 cm (1 inch) body length. The flower is one of my wife's pansies. Click the thumbnail to go to the picture in my PF gallery.

10-27-2010, 09:03 PM   #6
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I own the Sigma 70-300 also and have had a lot of very nice "macro" shots from the lens. Most of my close up shots are taken from a kayak on the water so the longer distance works well for me. It's difficult to shoot bugs up close with a short lens. I never have tried to "pose" half frozen bugs by putting them in the fridge. Sounds kind of silly to me. I enjoy getting outside and shooting and don't mind getting a little wet and dirty doing it. I don't own a true 1:1 macro either but use extension tubes on occasion. I tend to get my best results with the Sigma.
10-27-2010, 09:36 PM   #7
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Just to point out to anyone reading this and thinking that the sigma 70-300mm is better for macro than a dedicated macro, you will never get even 50% of the Image quality period (first hand experience) between the two.

Not to say you can't achieve good results with the sigma
10-27-2010, 10:12 PM   #8
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So wsteffey - you never said specifically what lens the photos you posted were taken with?

10-27-2010, 11:03 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by LesMizzell Quote
So wsteffey - you never said specifically what lens the photos you posted were taken with?
read again
10-28-2010, 12:10 AM   #10
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The day I get tempted to start to freeze or glue insects because I'm lazy I'll give up this hoby. Large part of the fun is the patience and preparations needed to get a good macro of an insect in its natural habitat.

If I go to the museum and shoot stuffed birds I could with the same arguments get "good" bird shots with the kit zoom. Would it make me satisfied? No.

Try make this sort of shots with glue, needles or freezer...


And how on earth am I going to be able to teach my kids that while it is OK to kill a wasp or mosqito etc that annoy them, it is not OK to be cruel and tear the legs of the same creatures, if I start to treat bugs with needles and glue just to get a picture of them?
10-28-2010, 01:00 AM   #11
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Shooting insects in the wild with a macro lens can be done, but it requires patience. A ring flash also helps a lot. But all this is not for the faint of heart.

Because of this, I agree that what most people actually are looking for when they ask about "macro" is a lens with close-up capabilities.

But don't expect to be able to replicate the results you can get from a macro lens by just using a close-up zoom.

I would post some samples, but the site where they're hosted is undergoing maintenance. I'll do it tomorrow.
10-28-2010, 01:47 AM   #12
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At least I now have an excuse for cockroaches in my fridge
10-28-2010, 01:52 AM   #13
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Dedicated macro lenses will always be better in terms of IQ, color and contrast rendition than a close focus consumer zoom. I don't even find the Tamron 70-200 close focusing ability able to compare with what the FA 100/2.8 macro can produce.

Nevertheless, for a newbie, that would be the progression - from consumer zoom with pseudo macro to true macro later on, but for those keen on macro work from the start, I'd suggest bypassing the consumer telezoom and just getting the right dedicated macro lens from the start
10-28-2010, 02:47 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ash Quote
Nevertheless, for a newbie, that would be the progression - from consumer zoom with pseudo macro to true macro later on, but for those keen on macro work from the start, I'd suggest bypassing the consumer telezoom and just getting the right dedicated macro lens from the start

+1 not to mention the time you save by going the dedicated route instead of fiddling around with dioptre lenses and suchlike.
10-28-2010, 05:25 AM   #15
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all the posted images were taken with the 70-300
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