Hints, Tips and Recommendations:
Close-up, Macro and Focus Stacking
Use the Correct Gear
The cheapest and quickest way to start close-up photography is to try using your existing lenses, compact camera or phone. Long focal length zoom lens can be used to photograph butterflies for example. The widest focus setting of an optical zoom will allow the closest approach. However for very small things that is probably not going to work unless you have some of the equipment described below.
Do Not Go Too Close to the Subject: Phone Camera Example
Regardless of what equipment you use, do not go closer than you need to the subject in order to capture the desired image. This will give you maximum depth of focus. It might be better to zoom optically from further away using longer focal length rather than coming close to the subject.
For closeup photography with a phone (such as the Samsung S10 lite, examples above and shown below) it can sometimes be best to ignore any built in macro camera and use the main camera sensor.
If the main lens and camera or your phone produces distortion and peripheral blur and artefacts when closely focused, set the focus to infinity in pro or advanced mode and use a clip-on lens. That way even although the magnification might be less the image quality will be better.
Choosing a Compact Camera for Macro
Check the macro performance of a compact camera or camera lens before buying. The distance of closest focus, field size or an explicitly stated magnification are useful when reading specifications in advance of purchase. (See the example of a Sony compact camera with a close focus point of 8cm at wide angle.) If you are buying a compact camera in a shop check how close can you bring the front of the lens to the text on the price tag? Try zooming in and zooming out. Wide angle allows you to get closer but can introduce distortion, which is sometimes not noticed but can be more problematic on text or small man-made objects.
Macro with Extension Rings
If you want to increase magnification with your existing interchangeable lenses, use a set of automatic extension rings (sometimes called tubes) that maintain the electrical connections of the camera body to the lens.
Do not waste your money on cheap rings that do not have metal contact plates and spring loaded connector pins. Rings (or tubes) have no lenses and produce their effect by moving the lens further from the sensor. Tey are also very light and compact to carry. Sometimes one ring is enough. Remove the rings when you need to return to conventional photography. Store the rings with their caps on to minimise dust in your camera.
Even if you later buy a macro lens the extension rings will still come in very useful.
Using a Supplementary Magnifying Lens
An alternative (or addition) to extension tubes is a good quality magnifying lens which is attached to the front of an existing lens or compact camera. One that is widely used by macro enthusiasts is the Japanese-made Raynox 250. The macro expert, Johan Ingles-Le Nobel, has stacked the Raynox 150 and 250 lenses together.
I do not use the the plastic lens holder shown above. Instead I use 43mm adapter rings of various sizes depending onto which lens I am adding the Raynox. eBay is often the best place to buy step-up or step-down adaptor rings.
Combining a Macro and Supplementary Lens and Extension Tubes in High Resolution Mode
Adding a Supplementary Lens (or Filter) to a Compact Camera
You can attach a magnifying lens (and filters) to a compact camera even although it might be made of plastic and not have any screw thread. The Magfilter adaptor is a magnetic device that comes with a stick-on metal ring (which can be removed with dental floss).
Understanding (Macro) Lens Characteristics: Choosing the ‘Sweet Spot’ for Aperture
In order to create really high resolution and contrast macro images with a prime macro lens you should find the aperture that provides the highest central and edge-of-field resolution and ideally the lowest chromatic aberration. For the Olympus 60mm macro the optimal aperture is about F5.6. That information was obtained by reading a lab test review at Opticallimits.com.
Understanding the Effect of Aperture and Depth of Focus for a Lens
You should also try to find a depth of focus table for your (macro) lens in order to understand how varying the aperture size will affect the Depth of Focus. Notice that for the Olympus 60mm lens with the subject at 19 cm from the sensor, in the first column on the left, closing the aperture alters the depth of field by less than a millimetre, although it has a very large effect when the lens is focused on infinity (last column on the right).
Focus Peaking Display
Use magnified focus assistance, and/or the focus peaking display setting in your camera or phone to know the point of focus and the limits of focus depth. You might need to set focus peaking options to maximally obvious as shown in the video below.
Using a light source
When using macro with living creatures sometimes an artificial source of light is required. Cheap brands of on-camera macro light are available. Flashes can also be used off camera with radio controllers. Battery powered LED Torches and lights can be useful in the filed and mains powered LED bulbs work well with difdusers
Focus Stacking (even with Canon or Nikon Cameras)
In order to overcome the resolution limitations imposed by a small aperture use focus bracketing or in-camera focus stacking. Those techniques are most effective if the camera is attached to a tripod. If using the camera hand-held, shoot short bursts with a fast shutter speed and focus bracket rather than focus stack. If buying a new camera, consider its ability to do that automatically. If you own a camera that has neither of these automatic capabilities change the focus in a series from near to far or vice versa, whenever that is easy to determine. If you own a Canon or Nikon camera you can purchase the Helicon FB tube to capture in automated focus bracketed bursts.
Focus Stacking the Easy Way
Olympus in-camera stacking might be a hundred times faster to use, when it works. Occasionally the method is inadequate. High resolution sensor shifting mode cannot be used with in-camera stacking.
Focus Bracketing Automatically In-Camera
Focus Stacking Software
It is best to use specialist Focus Stacking software rather than a general purpose product like Photoshop. Although Photoshop can be used to automatically align and stack a series of images, it does not give the best focus stacking results. Photoshop does however make a very good job of stack alignment.
The two leading focus stacking programs are Helicon Focus and Xerene Stacker. Helicon Focus Pro is much faster, can cope with RAW files and has good focus retouching capability, so I use that. Nevertheless, the auto-alignment of hand-held images is in my experience inferior to Photoshop. A free 30 day trial is available for Helicon Focus and Xerene Stacker.
Photomacrography.net is probably the world’s most useful public macro forum for amateur photographers.
extreme-macro.co.uk is probably the best website on the planet to learn about extreme macro techniques.
Tips and images by: Steve Campbell