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draft article on Cheap Macro
Posted By: RioRico, 07-16-2011, 08:35 PM

Yo! I sometimes tire of re-typing some of the same helpful replies to the same excellent questions. I should write more articles, save my fingers a bit, eh? Here is a draft article on Cheap Macro. I'd like your comments and corrections before I submit it. Do your worst!

UPDATE: This draft is now dead. The official 'live' version is now here [ https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-lens-articles/152336-cheap-macro-b...lose-work.html ] and all further comments should go there. Thanks for everyone's help!!
__________________________________________________________

CHEAP MACRO -- Buying or exploiting a lens for ultraclose work

I see many questions like, "Can you recommend a macro lens for under US$200 (or whatever)?" Well, it all depends on what you mean by 'macro' and 'lens'.

'Macro' usually means reaching 1:2 (0.5x) or 1:1 (1x) magnification. Reaching 1:1 isn't hard and needn't be expensive. 'Lens' can be anything from a superduper new multipurpose tool, to something you've salvaged from broken binoculars. The choice may depend on whether flash is needed. On a Pentax P-TTL-only dSLR, using flash can be tricky without an AF or other A-type lens. (Or maybe I'm just a wimp!)

The options:

* MACRO LENSES
* New or used AF macro lens -- not cheap, and you don't really need or want AF for macro work, but good for portrait and short-tele work as well as macro.
* Used A-type MF macro lens -- still not cheap, but you can easily use flash.
* Used non-A-type MF macro lenses, still not cheap (usually) and flash is tricky.

* FLASH-FRIENDLY TRICKS
* Lens extension with aperture control: A-type macro tubes or deglassed TC's.
* Closeup adapters -- very-to-fairly cheap, and you keep auto focus and aperture.
* Teleconverters -- macro-focusing or otherwise, A-type or not.

* EVERYTHING ELSE
* Lens reversal using a cheap mount-reversal adapter.
* Reverse-stacking using a cheap thread-reversal ring.
* Lens extension, totally manual, with cheap macro tubes and/or bellows.
__________________________________________________________

Some basics: No lens can focus closer than its focal length, and that point is also where you get maximum magnification. Short lenses are for close work. Longer lenses allow (or force!) you to work a bit further off. Macro lenses 60mm or shorter are generally for studio work; those 70mm or longer are more suitable for field work; those 200mm or longer can be a bit clumsy handheld. Fine macro work often requires flash and/or a tripod. Autofocus and fast lenses are NOT your friends when shooting macro. A-type auto aperture is handy, though. And except with close-up adapters, MACRO SHOOTING EATS LIGHT! For every X increase in magnification, you lose X+1 f-stops of light.
- DEFINITIONS:
- Clean Macro: No extra glass between the camera and the subject.
- A-Type: Pentax-A manual lens or extension, with auto-aperture contacts.
- MF: Manual focus -- AF: Autofocus -- all Pentax AF lenses are A-type.
- Flatfield Sharpness: Necessary for flat subjects; optional otherwise.
- Tricky Flash: trial-and-error; P-TTL flash is easier with A-type gear.
MACRO LENSES: For 'dedicated' AF or MF macro lenses with auto-aperture control, you gotta pay. Pentax, Tamron, Sigma and others make popular macro lenses -- see the reviews. For 'dedicated' MF macro lenses without auto-aperture control, you still gotta pay. I have three fine manual macro lenses, by Kilfitt and Asahi and Vivitar-Komine... and I rarely use them, preferring to put lenses on CHEAP EXTENSION (see below).

PRO: Easiest to use; flatfield sharpness; for more than just macros.
CON: Fairly to quite expensive.

A-TYPE EXTENSION: With aperture-control extension, you use A-type macro tubes on your AF or A-type camera lens. Such tubes may be hard to find, and not cheap. But A-type teleconverters ARE fairly cheap, and their glass can be easily removed, and you retain aperture automation and thus flash support. These are usually about 25mm thick, so two of them on a 50mm AF lens puts you at 1:1. This is probably the cheapest way to do clean macro with flash.

PRO: Clean and simple; easy flash.
CON: Not quite as easy as macro lenses; eats light; not flatfield sharp.

CLOSE-UP ADAPTERS: Simple uncorrected meniscus +dioptre closeup adapters are cheap and are not great; but corrected adapters can give brilliant results -- see the Raynox Club thread. The fairly inexpensive Raynox DCR-250 reaches 1:1 at about 150mm on a couple lenses I've checked on my K20D. Your mileage may vary! That is, the exact magnification depends on the actual focal length and the focus distance. Adapters don't interfere with AF or auto-aperture; flash is no problem.

PRO: Very to fairly cheap; simple, easy; auto-control if desired.
CON: Imperfect image quality; not flatfield sharp; can be quite acceptable.
___________________________________

SIDEBAR: +DIOPTRE CLOSEUPS

I call these 'strap-ons' and they range from cheap uncorrected meniscus screw-ins to the not-too-expensive corrected 2-element adapters from Raynox, and their ilk. Dioptres are additive -- stack +1+2+3 to get +6dpt. For reference, the Raynox DCR-150 is +4.8dpt and the DCR-250 is +8dpt.

The close-up attachment lens diopter selects the working distance, while the focal length of the host lens determines magnification. Here are focusing distances in inches and metric:

+1 >> 20-38" (500-950mm)
+2 >> 13-20" (330-500mm)
+3 >> 10-13" (250-330mm)
+4 >> 8--10" (205-250mm)
+5 >> 6.5-8" (165-205mm)
+6 >> 6-6.5" (153-165mm)
+8 >> 5" ---- (127mm)
+10 > 4" ---- (102mm)

Simple uncorrected meniscus strap-ons show aberrations, especially at the image edges, that you might not like -- no edge-to-edge flatfield sharpness, nope! But they can be OK for shooting rounded stuff head-on. And a +1dpt strap-on can turn a cheap slow 18-55 kit.lens into a decent portrait lens with thin DOF. These only cost a few bucks per set and are worth playing with, and FUN!

I mentioned adapters made by Raynox. These screw into supplied clip-on mounts that fit lenses from all makers on all cameras, as long as the host lens' front diameter is 52-68mm. The spring-loaded Raynox clip *can* be forced onto a 49mm-diameter lens, but I prefer to use a cheap 49-43mm step-down ring.

Most macro work eats light. Close-up adapters don't, and are good for dimmer shooting situations. Meanwhile, meniscus strap-ons can do other things, and other optical strap-ons and filters exist. Stay tuned for the article on those. [I'll link it here after I write it, soon...]

PS: Member PaleoPete posted his binocular lens macro rig. From his description that its working distance is about 5in, I can guess that the lens is about a +8dpt, like a Raynox DCR-250. Some of you experimenters with extra binocs lying about can try this CHEAP MACRO trick, eh?
___________________________________
TELECONVERTERS: Using teleconverters, you add glass between the lens and the camera. Ordinary TC's increase focal length (and f-stop) while keeping the same working distance, effectively increasing magnification. Macro-focusing TCs let you work closer and with more magnification. TCs magnify whatever problems the host lens may have. All TC's reduce the light reaching the camera. AF TC's are rare and expensive; A-types are less so; both of these are suitable with flash. I have some TCs. I don't use them; that's all I have to say about them.

PRO: Simple.
CON: Not the cleanest; eats light; magnifies lens problems.

LENS REVERSAL: Many macro shooters work with a reversed prime lens -- but reversal just brings you close to your subject. (Working distance is about 45mm with Pentax-type prime lenses.) You still need some extension to gain magnification. A lens with a deep front inset effectively has built-in extension; others may need an added tube. Lens-reversal is cheap, easy, and clean. Just about ANY lens can be reversed. That's how I recycle some non-Pentax lenses that I would otherwise not use. Or I can use a Pentax lens normally, for non-macro work, then flip it around to get real close.

You can reverse a zoom. DA lenses lack aperture rings; they won't do. But any FA or F or MF zoom can be reversed, with a working distance somewhere around 1.3-2x the focal length. Even a lousy zoom, reversed, can give good results. I do this with the A35-80, arguably the worst lens Pentax ever sold. At 35mm I get 1:1 magnification at about 5cm distance; at 80mm I get 1:2 magnification at about 15cm, and it will focus past infinity. A real macro-zoom! NOTE: Lenses labeled as MACRO-ZOOM, ain't macro. They rarely go beyond 1:5 magnification. But MACRO uses less ink than CLOSE-FOCUS so that's how lenses are labeled. Go figure...

PRO: Cheap and easy; flatfield sharpness.
CON: Close working distance; no auto control.

REVERSE-STACKING: You can reverse-stack lenses and can gain great magnification. Mount a longer PRIMARY lens on the camera; then use a male-male thread-reversal ring, then screw a shorter SECONDARY prime on that. (If you're really cheap, just use gaffer's tape to hold the lenses nose-to-nose.) Magnification is the ratio of the Primary:Secondary focal lengths. A 35mm secondary stacked onto a 105mm primary gives 105:35= 3:1 magnification. A 25mm stacked onto a 200mm gives 8:1, which gets into MICRO-photography territory.

The Primary can be a zoom, although I prefer primes. The Secondary should be a manual prime with an aperture ring. Use the Secondary's aperture ring to control exposure, and leave the Primary wide open. Stopping-down the primary can cause vignetting. You want the front objectives to be fairly close together; lenses with deep insets can cause vignetting. Space between the lenses will increase magnification VERY slightly.

Reversing or stacking primes ALWAYS puts you at that same close working distance of about 45mm. That is good for studio work; not so good for the field. Be sure to use a hood with any reversed lens, to reduce flare. HINT: Macro tube sections work well as hoods.

PRO: Easy to achieve great magnification; flatfield sharpness.
CON: Close working distance; no auto control; eats light.

CHEAP EXTENSION: I love simple cheap extension (tubes and/or bellows). You can put a prime or a zoom on extension for close and macro work; I prefer primes. An Industar-50/3.5 on 50mm of cheap M42 tubes with a safe cheap flanged M42-PK adapter puts you at 1:1 for a pittance. For not much more, is my favorite: cheap bellows and tubes mounting cheap enlarger lenses, copy lenses, other lenses without focusing mechanisms of their own -- non-camera lenses. You can shove just about any optical material into a bellows!

Many many types of tubes and bellows exist; I can't discuss them all here. I prefer cheap simple ones, and not only for macro work. Both PK and M42 tube sections can be used as adapters for weird lenses -- just glue a tube section to the lens body. Tube sets are dirt cheap, often well under US$10 shipped for 50mm of extension in 3 modular sections. I have about 6 sets of each and I need more. M42 bellows are cheap, PK bellows are a bit more. Bellows for other mounts can often be easily adapted to PK -- just replace the mount hardware with a cheap flanged M42-PK adapter.

PRO: Cheap; clean; flexible usage.
CON: No auto control; eats light.
___________________________________

SIDEBAR: ENLARGER LENSES ETC

I love cheap enlarger lenses! EL's have edge-to-edge flatfield sharpness; they need hoods to avoid flare; they are FUN! A small bellows, some cheap macro tubes, and a handful of EL's will take you far. They also give me a great feeling of freedom. I'm not limited by whatever lens designers thought was A Good Idea.

On my K20D or K1000 I use a 50mm EL for close studio work; 75mm for slightly further macro work, and portraits; 90-110mm for portraits, and short-tele and moderate macro work; and 140-200mm for even more distance. I buy such EL's for under US$10 usually, sometimes four for a dime, maybe as much as US$20 for a Leitz or Nikkor. Premium brands can get expensive but the cheap guys work well too.

EL's have aperture rings, often with the numbers printed upside-down. Other lenses non-camera lenses can be put on extension: projector, copy, xray, process, other specialty glass. These typically DON'T have aperture rings. They can be used wide-open, or you can improvise baffles or Waterhouse stops for greater sharpness. Reversing an EL or other non-camera lens may increase sharpness also. EL and other non-camera lenses usually aren't designed for flare resistance, so be sure to use a hood.

Many European and some Japanese EL's have a 39mm thread, the same as M39 and L39 /LTM (Leica thread-mount) lenses. Some Japanese EL's have a 42mm thread, same as M42. Many USA EL's have inch-based or various non-standard threads. Some non-camera lenses have NO threads and must be taped or otherwise secured into adapters. Cheap adapter: a one-buck plastic body cap with a hole cut in it!

PRO: Cheap; EL's have flatfield sharpness.
CON: EL's rapidly become addictive!!
___________________________________
My recommendations: If you have the money and want a sharp versatile lens, get a new AF macro. (I'd love to crawl in the mud with a DFA 100/2.8 WR!) If you're real cheap and fairly lazy, get a set of meniscus close-up adapters; if not quite so cheap, get a Raynox. If you don't mind working real close, try lens reversal and stacking. If you want cheap clean basic macro, get a set of macro tubes or de-glass an A-type TC. If you want to experiment cheaply, get bellows and tubes and enlarger lenses. If 10x isn't enough magnification, get a microscope!

And there you have it -- the basics of Cheap Macro. I didn't say much about 'dedicated' camera macro lenses nor AF TC's because they ain't cheap! REAL cheapskates don't even buy macro tubes -- they get PVC pipe from hardware stores, and improvise. Online searches will reveal macro setups made from Pringles potato-chip cans. How cheap can YOU go? And I'm not discussing technique because enough is enough. I'll let the macro pros tell us how they do what they do, eh?

BIBLIOGRAPHY (actual books!)
FIELD PHOTOGRAPHY by Alfred Blaker (Freeman) ***
CLOSEUPS IN NATURE by John Shaw (AmPhoto)
CLOSE-UP PHOTOGRAPHY by William J. Owens (Petersen)
CLOSE-UP AND MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY by Adrian Davies (Focal)
UNDERSTANDING CLOSE-UP PHOTOGRAPHY by Bryan Peterson (AmPhoto)

Thanks to members jolepp, yeatzee, jatrax, abacus07, pacerr, GeneV, PaleoPete for suggestions. The fixes are in! The discussion thread for the draft version of this is here [ https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-slr-lens-discussion/152178-draft-a...eap-macro.html ] in case you want to read the comments.

UPDATE: This draft is now dead. The official 'live' version is now here [ https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-lens-articles/152336-cheap-macro-b...lose-work.html ] and all further comments should go there. Thanks for everyone's help!!

Last edited by RioRico; 07-18-2011 at 06:14 PM. Reason: small corrections and elucidations
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07-19-2011, 06:10 AM   #46
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QuoteOriginally posted by yeatzee Quote
Yeah i guess your right, but if your using a $300+ ring flash your probably using a modern day macro lens anyways.

As for manual flash work, again, trial and error but only for a couple shoots. Eventually you learn your setup and what is required flash wise to achieve what you want at any given aperture/magnification etc.
I actually have a Tamron 52B and 52BB 90mm/2.5 adaptall macro lenses that have A contacts with the correct adpatall-2 mount. There are some nice A series mf lenses out there. I used to have the Vivitar 105 Series 1 until it developed problems with the focus and aperture ring. I replaced it with the Sigma 105mm EX DG. In ttl mode, I can use my old macro-Tak 50mm on my *istD body with either of my ring flashes.

07-19-2011, 08:35 AM   #47
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QuoteOriginally posted by Blue Quote
I actually have a Tamron 52B and 52BB 90mm/2.5 adaptall macro lenses that have A contacts with the correct adpatall-2 mount. There are some nice A series mf lenses out there. I used to have the Vivitar 105 Series 1 until it developed problems with the focus and aperture ring. I replaced it with the Sigma 105mm EX DG. In ttl mode, I can use my old macro-Tak 50mm on my *istD body with either of my ring flashes.
I raised the same point regarding the *istD body and TTL and Rio said he wanted to make the guide hardware/model independant. (i forget the exact wording) but in my opinion, a feature like TTL flash when discussing using legacy lenses is an important feature. Note that while the discussion largely is around DSLRs, and the current lineup that does not support TTL but only supports P-TTL, for any old timers still shooting film, or shooting the *istD (DS DS2 and I think DL) TTL flash IS a viable option to consider, as well as the bodies are relitively cheap these days
07-19-2011, 10:20 AM   #48
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
I raised the same point regarding the *istD body and TTL and Rio said he wanted to make the guide hardware/model independant. (i forget the exact wording) but in my opinion, a feature like TTL flash when discussing using legacy lenses is an important feature. Note that while the discussion largely is around DSLRs, and the current lineup that does not support TTL but only supports P-TTL, for any old timers still shooting film, or shooting the *istD (DS DS2 and I think DL) TTL flash IS a viable option to consider, as well as the bodies are relitively cheap these days
Hi Lowell -- I added a note that some (many?) SLRs support old TTL and that users should read their manuals. Again, I just can't list all the possible cameras; and folks should be familiar with their own, certainly more familiar than *I* can be!
07-19-2011, 10:28 AM   #49
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
I raised the same point regarding the *istD body and TTL and Rio said he wanted to make the guide hardware/model independant. (i forget the exact wording) but in my opinion, a feature like TTL flash when discussing using legacy lenses is an important feature. Note that while the discussion largely is around DSLRs, and the current lineup that does not support TTL but only supports P-TTL, for any old timers still shooting film, or shooting the *istD (DS DS2 and I think DL) TTL flash IS a viable option to consider, as well as the bodies are relitively cheap these days
I know, I was just pointing out to Yeatzee that some vintage lenses are p-ttl compatible via the A contacts and older non A lenses were ttl compatible on 3 models of Pentax dSLR bodies.

QuoteOriginally posted by RioRico Quote
Hi Lowell -- I added a note that some (many?) SLRs support old TTL and that users should read their manuals. Again, I just can't list all the possible cameras; and folks should be familiar with their own, certainly more familiar than *I* can be!
It is actually easy as far as Pentax digital bodies go, there are 3 that are ttl compliant. *istD, DS and DS2.

07-19-2011, 10:44 AM   #50
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QuoteOriginally posted by Blue Quote
It is actually easy as far as Pentax digital bodies go, there are 3 that are ttl compliant. *istD, DS and DS2.
And then all the way back to... the Spotty? And zillions of other M42s, and PK clones, and any TTL film or digicam that an M42 or PK adapter can fit, and any non-P-TTL camera that may be released in the future, and... But you get the idea. The article is about cheap macro, not just on Pentax dSLRs only. Sorry, I just won't go that way.
07-19-2011, 11:14 AM   #51
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QuoteOriginally posted by RioRico Quote
And then all the way back to... the Spotty? And zillions of other M42s, and PK clones, and any TTL film or digicam that an M42 or PK adapter can fit, and any non-P-TTL camera that may be released in the future, and... But you get the idea. The article is about cheap macro, not just on Pentax dSLRs only. Sorry, I just won't go that way.
I wasn't suggesting anything. I think you completely missed the point though. And no, the spotty doesn't support ttl flash. Furthermore, I didn't say ttl film bodies but dSLR as in digital SLR bodies. Just for the record, the first Pentax film body to support ttl flash was the LX and the only other manual focus film body was the SuperProgram. All auto-focus film bodies do. That is all the Pentax film bodies. This means those zillions of m42 and other lenses could be used with more sophisticated flash (i.e. ttl flash) regardless if it has A contacts or not whereas P-TTL requires lenses with A contacts. I do assume you are talking about Pentax bodies and not Nikon bodies though. However, its your article and therefore your prerogative to write about taking macros of gold fish using a Nikonos IV. You did make it a lot harder on Pentax ttl flash than it needed to be though. TTL metering is a horse of another color.

Last edited by Blue; 07-19-2011 at 11:25 AM.
07-19-2011, 11:25 AM   #52
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QuoteOriginally posted by Blue Quote
However, its your article and therefore your prerogative to write about taking macros of gold fish using a Nikonos IV. You did make it a lot harder on Pentax ttl flash than it needed to be though.
That reminds me, I should have bought that Nikonos II for US$175 at the national pawnshop in Mexico City. Missed a good one... Anyway, I write about what I think I know, and I just don't think I know enough about macro flash to write about it adequately. A guy's gotta know his limits, etc.
07-19-2011, 04:13 PM   #53
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Harking back to my comment about Wiki-like resources, and I know some folks have different opinions about 'em, that's the advantage -- you can use "plug-in" type side bars/links to fill in discrete topics (like P-TTL?) without affecting the main topic or screwin' the original author to the wall over an area of weak knowledge.

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07-19-2011, 05:44 PM   #54
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QuoteOriginally posted by pacerr Quote
Harking back to my comment about Wiki-like resources, and I know some folks have different opinions about 'em, that's the advantage -- you can use "plug-in" type side bars/links to fill in discrete topics (like P-TTL?) without affecting the main topic or screwin' the original author to the wall over an area of weak knowledge.

H2
I completely agree - especially if articles are hyperlinked in the depth direction; flat text gets too big if any depth is developed. Large articles are off-putting to readers especially those looking for answers to particular questions - they need to be able to browse a well indexed stack because often they were not able to precisely pose a question in the first place.

The site has a wiki section that is not being well utilized. Perhaps we could exploit it productively? I'm willing to try.
07-19-2011, 07:30 PM   #55
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QuoteOriginally posted by newarts Quote
The site has a wiki section that is not being well utilized. Perhaps we could exploit it productively? I'm willing to try.
I've never blogged or 'Wiki-ed' but I have collaborated on technical articles. The most satisfactory process IME is when a very few like-minded people with acknowledged expertise produce a draft in private to be critiqued (that's different from criticized, by the way) before being opened as a draft for general comment. Sort of a 'by invitation only' until the central group is happy with the product.

I believe most knowledgeable folks would be reluctant to be involved with a "free-for-all" group-grope over such potentially controversial topics as we have here.

RR's macro article has been well handled here in that regard but it's important that a stated policy recognizes the author(s) as the ultimate, controlling authority of the content. I've been pleased to see him maintain control over the content and intent of his subject.

QuoteQuote:
Perhaps we could exploit it productively? I'm willing to try.
I'd say pick a topic, define your intent and the boundaries of the article and then invite a very few folks to critique by PM and see what happens.

One other useful aid is to enlist a competent copy-editor and trust 'is input on grammar, clarity and usage -- especially on a multi-language forum. The best critiques I've ever gotten were on the order of: "Uhh, just what did you mean to say here?" and "Are you SURE about that?".

And to para-phrase a quote about repeating history, without thoughtful and meaningful keywords and adherence to a disciplined policy regarding FAQ's we're bound to hear the same questions over an' over an' over again despite the search box.

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