One of the great things about having photography as a hobby is meeting other photographers. I’ve always worked with folks who were also into it, some that freelance their talents and others that even own a part-time business. So when I found out that one of my newest co-workers was a photographer, I stalked him on Google to find his website – it’s pretty amazing, so check out Jeff’s work for sure. And when he happened to walk past my desk the next time, I stopped him and told him how much I liked his commercial photography. We talked for a bit, the group of us photogs, finding out who does what and I confessed that I really do whatever I want, but I’ve been experimenting with macro photography lately. Jeff mentions he has a macro, offers to let me borrow it, and the conversation wrapped up.
Well, wouldn’t you know a few days later Jeff stops by my desk early in the morning and places a Canon lens on my desk. I was flabbergasted that he was so willing to let me borrow his equipment (I tend to be protective of mine because I know how much it costs!), but he said to keep it as long as I wanted. I’m not one to take advantage of kind people, so I only held on to the macro lens for a week or so, but made use of that time to learn more about it.
So far my only experience with macro photography has been with my 50mm; detaching the lens from the camera body and turning it around, holding it with my free hand. This “freelensing” technique (where the lens is not mounted on the camera body) allows you to take a 50mm lens and use it to magnify your subject like a macro lens would do. If you don’t flip the lens around but detach it from the camera, you can create a really cool tilt-shift-like image. But I’ve yet to try that on for size. *adds to to-do-list*
So I did what any normal person would do and walked across the street in my pajamas into the empty field where wild flowers are growing. We have a number of flowers that spring up and I got some really cool macro shots of oxeye daisies a couple of months back (which I haven’t shared yet), but sadly those are gone now – luckily these pretty blue chicory wild flowers have taken their place. Little did I know that they would wilt quickly taking them from outside to in, but I wasn’t about to take pictures of flowers in that field in only my pajamas.
The plan was to photograph the blue flowers with both the newly acquired 100mm macro lens and also by freelensing with the 50mm, just to do some comparisons. I’d never worked with a macro lens before, so I wanted to see if it was easy to use, if I liked it and would I ever want to look into purchasing my own. But before I break down the pros/cons of my experience, the photo below will give you an idea of the size of the chicory blossoms:
Freelensing, 50mm Prime
Camera and Lens: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF50mm f/1.2L USM
Settings: f/–, 1/500 sec, 50mm, ISO 3200
Like the last few times I’ve used this method, I broke a small sweat and cursed a little bit. It’s amazing how just the tiniest movement changes everything that is seen in the viewfinder. And how frustrating it is. But at least there’s only one camera setting you have to deal with and that’s your ISO; it’s the surest way to increase the exposure of your image. There’s no aperture control whatsoever – and you have to actually get fairly close to the subject to have it come into focus. But even as both of my arms get tired, I really do like the dreamy look that it produces.
Macro Lens, 100mm Prime
Camera and Lens: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Settings: f/3.5, 1/250 sec, 100mm, ISO 4000
The first thing I had to do was increase my ISO even more; having the lens attached to the camera body definitely meant less light leaking in. This 100mm macro is a prime lens, so there’s still a lot of body movement to find the focus that you’re looking for, but less cursing. I did keep my aperture quite low at f/3.5 since with freelensing the depth of field (DOF) is severely limited; I wanted to have a closer of comparison of my images. But I believe that f/3.5 hindered the auto-focus and I ended up manually focusing while in this setting.
What I find most interesting though is how different the color is. The macro lens produced images with a much deeper blue/purple color. And I couldn’t frame the flower the same as I did above because the lens requires an amount of distance between it and the subject; I had the lens set on 0.31m, but I still couldn’t get as close to the subject to recreate the framing above. Regardless, you can see how much better it can focus on the flower’s stamen. I think it’s a completely different look for the same flower.
After all of that, I wanted to see how the lens worked with a higher aperture, so I stopped down to f/8.0 (1/80, ISO 8000) and I believe it’s even more interesting. It still has an ethereal feeling around the outside of the petals (and with them wilting and curling, there’s more depth to work with), but you can see everything. The antlers of the stamen have texture. You can see little hairs on the back of the petals. And the color is even different; I can see pinks toward the center of the flower and blues further out. The best part was that the auto-focus worked much better, so the narrow DOF definitely played a part in that headache.
So what’s the consensus? The 100mm macro lens does you give a lot more control than freelensing and obviously translates color differently. But with that control, you still have limitations with your DOF; the aperture will open all the way to f/2.8, but the auto-focus was difficult to work with even at f/3.5. I did like the idea of it being a prime though; I know some people like zoom lenses, but I really believe managing the distance between the subject and your body by actually moving helps you understand how all the photo-elements work together. But I don’t think that a macro lens will be on my wish list any time soon. My 50mm has been kind to me and I’ll admit that I really do dig the dreamy and delicate outcome that I’ve gotten with freelensing – it’s different, no two images are the same and it’s kind of haunting in a pretty way.
I think that with the macro increasing the aperture might be the way to explore the tiny things in the world. Because you get to see more of that small thing you’re photographing. But that’s why it’s fun to experiment, even with borrowed lenses.