Macrophotography

People are always attracted to extreme close-up views of anything, especially where commonplace items are displayed in an unfamiliar perspective… such as a closeup of a leaf, fibers from a carpet, skin texture etc. This is because the human eye cannot focus closer than about 5-6 inches (125mm-150mm) without the use of optical aids. Close-up photography captures this amazing unseen world, and is endlessly fascinating. This is a world where one does not have to travel to exotic locations for subject material… it is all around us, and a few feet of backyard provides an infinite realm of photographic possibilities.

In normal photography, the standard 50mm lens has a minimum focusing distance of about 18 inches. With specialized accessories, or with a dedicated macro lens, this minimum focusing distance can be reduced to a few inches, with corresponding increase in the image size on the film. The easiest way to enlarge is by cropping, of course, where the area of interest is enlarged to the desired magnification. However, this range is very limited, and even with the best low grain slow film, enlargements will be blurred and grainy. This is a 35mm format issue, since the film size is so small. Larger formats can be cropped and enlarged to a greater degree with little loss in resolution, provided a tripod and slow, fine grain film has been used.

1x or 1:1 magnification ratio means that the lens is capable of reproducing an image at full or life-size on the film. In the case of 35mm photography, the film dimension is 24mm x 36mm, with a diagonal of 43mm. In 35mm photography, this 24x36mm canvas is all that is available to the photographer, whether he or she chooses to photograph a vast landscape or a small flower.

Let us consider an example… the US Quarter has a diameter of 1 inch (25.4 mm). If the coin were photographed at a 1:1 magnification by whatever means, it would not completely fit in the 24x35mm frame size since the frame is only 24mm on one side. Remember, this is on the FILM. This will be a very high resolution image and actually printed on a standard post-card size 6×4 inch print (150mm x 100mm), the final image will be about 4x life size.

There’s a lot of confusion and misconceptions when it comes to macro photography – the most basic being the question of “what is macro photography?” Lens manufacturers haven’t made it any easier, indiscriminately labeling all their close focusing lenses as “macro lenses”. There are true macro lenses, of course, but these generally give a magnification of 1:2 or 1:1 (0.5x to 1x magnification).

# Close-up Photography– up to 1:2 to 1:1 or 05x to 1x magnification (with close-up diopter lenses and extension tubes)

# Macro Photography – 1:1 to 10:1 or 1x to 10x magnification (with extension tubes, macro lenses or bellows)

# Photomicrography – greater than 10x magnification (with microscope and special adapter for the camera)


Close-up lensesThe cheapest way is to use simple screw in close-up lenses that are attached to the front of the lens just like filters. These close-up lenses are cheap and easy to use, and are supplied in a set of 3, with each having a specific strength in “diopters”, such as 1, 2 and 4. They can be used alone or combined for greater effect.

However, they have a very shallow depth of field, and most of the subject towards the edges will be blurred. Their ease of use and low cost makes them attractive, and they are sufficient for generalized use. The blurry nature of the images can be used to good advantage when photographing very small subjects like tiny insects, or flower stamens or lichens and moss, since the rest of the field other than the area of interest will be pleasantly out of focus. When combining close-up lenses, make sure the lens with the highest diopter value is closest to the lens.

Hoya Close-up Supplementary lenses 52mm

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Extension TubesExtension tubes provide better results than the crew-in close-up lenses – they are simply hollow tubes on which a camera lens can be mounted, and come in sets of 3, with widths of 12mm, 24mm and 36mm (dimensions for Vivitar extension tubes – other manufacturers use other tube length combinations). With a 50mm lens mounted, they are capable of 1:1 or better magnification, however, stacking the tubes increases the lens distance from the film plane, and cuts the image forming light substantially, leading to long exposures. A tripod is recommended when anything more than a 36mm extension is used.

Vivitar Extension Tube set

Vivitar Extension Tube Set
Vivitar Extension Tube Set
Vivitar Extension Tube Set

BellowsExtension tubes are easy to use, and reasonably priced. However, the fixed width of the tube sections provides limited flexibility. The way around this is to mount the camera to a bellows, mounted on a rail unit with a mechanism for moving the lens and camera back and forth on the rails to adjust the focal length. Bellows extensions are usually about 150mm – 160mm in length, and can be infinitely variable within this range. Depending on the lens mounted on the bellows, different magnifications and working distances are possible.

Mounting a normal 50mm may provide 1x to 3x magnification, while a 35mm lens may provide greater magnification, but a closer working distance. 75mm and 150 mm lenses provide correspondingly greater working distances, but less magnification. It is possible to get dedicated flat-field “bellows” lenses of various focal lengths, but they are likely to be expensive.

Spiratone marketed an excellent series of dedicated (and reasonably priced) bellows lenses years ago. These include the tiny 35mm f/4, the 150mm f/4 and the 75mm f/3.5 flat field lens. They sometimes show up on eBay and almost impossible to get as a set.

Bellows and Bellows Lenses

Here are some examples of macro pictures using the Spiratone Bellowscope and bellows lenses on the Sony Alpha 700

Spiratone 35mm f/4 Macrotar
Spiratone 35mm f/4 Macrotar
Spiratone 35mm f/4 Macrotar
Spiratone 75mm f/3.5 Flat Field
Spiratone 75mm f/3.5 Flat Field
Spiratone 75mm f/3.5 Flat Field
Spiratone 150mm f/4 Macrotel
Spiratone 150mm f/4 Macrotel
Spiratone 150mm f/4 Macrotel
Spiratone Bellowscope
Spiratone Bellowscope
Spiratone Bellowscope
Spiratone Dupliscope
Spiratone Dupliscope

Macro lensesMacro lenses are designed with a special floating element that permits the lens to be extended far beyond the range of the normal 50mm. They are designed to be very sharp at extremely close focusing distances, about 4- 6 inches. While they can be used as a normal lens, they may not be as sharp when focused at infinity.

Most of the OEM and Third party companies manufacture excellent dedicated macro lenses that can provide 1:1 magnification; however, these are likely to be expensive, especially if they are AF lenses. Sigma makes a beautiful 50mm f/2.8, expensive when compared to manual 1:1 lenses, but cheap when compared to the Canon, Nikon or Olympus 4/3 lens. In any case, it’s advisable to switch to manual mode when using a macro lens, since the AF mode will have the lens “hunting” like crazy.

They are great for general photography at normal distances. Among the manual macro lenses, the Olympus 50mm f/3.5 macro lens is designed to produce a 1:2 magnification an Olympus extension tube is needed to increase the magnification to 1:1. A couple of them are always on sale on eBay, but I’ve always felt that the high prices they go for aren’t justified for a macro lens that only goes to 1:2.

The Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 macro and Panagor 55mm f/2.8 are true 1:1 macro lenses and are simply magnificent. They are sometimes available on EBay for less than $50, and I’d advise anyone to grab one without a second thought. In the longer focal lengths, the Panagor 90mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro is a great buy. This lens is also a awesome portrait lens. As a macro lens, the 90mm focal length gives a better working distances as well, as compared to the 50-55mm range. Sigma, Tamron and Vivitar also make great longer focus macro lenses as well in the 90-105mm range. The Vivitar 90mm macro was made for them by Komine. It’s very similar to the Kino made Panagor 90mm.

A special example of a macro lens system is a macro-teleconverter, which can provide a 1:1 magnification when fitted to a 50mm lens. In this case, the extension is built into the teleconverter, and converts the 50mm into a macro lens. Excellent examples of this type of teleconverter is the Vivitar 1:1 Macro Teleconverter and Panagor Macro Teleconverter, both made by Kino Precision.

Macro Lenses

These are my dedicated macro lenses on Minolta and Olympus mounts:
Olympus mount Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 1:1 macro
Olympus OM mount Panagor 90mm f/2.8 1:1 macro
Minolta mount Sigma AF 50mm f/2.8 1:1 macro

I have other macro focusing zoom lenses, like the Vivitar Series One 70-210mm f/3.5 which goes down to 1:2.2 magnification but since they are not dedicated macros, I will not go into them here.

Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 1:1 macro
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Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 1:1 macro
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Panagor 90mm f/2.8 1:1 macro
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Panagor 90mm f/2.8 1:1 macro
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Sigma AF 50mm f/2.8 1:1 macro
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Sigma AF 50mm f/2.8 1:1 macro
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Special Purpose MACRO CamerasHoneywell Pentax Repronar 805A

The Honeywell Repronar 805A slide copier was made by the Heiland Division of Honeywell. The camera is an Asahi Pentax with fixed bellows lens 50mm f/4, mounted on a bellows rail with a rack and pinion mechanism for advancing the lens or the camera body.

The Repronar is a special purpose Pentax camera supplied as part of the Heiland/Honeywell Repronar 805/805a Slide Copier system. The original Repronar system dates from 1961 and I think they were made until the early seventies without much change. The camera is an integral part of the system, and cannot be separated – at least, not easily. It comes off as an assembly, with the bellows and rail attached. The lens is fixed to the bellows permanently.

The camera has a waist-level type viewfinder with ground glass viewer and an attached enlarging lens for critical focusing. The lens is a high quality corrected flat-field preset Takumar 50mm f/4 copy lens capable of being stopped down to f/32. The whole camera is mounted on a 12 inch (30 cm) long rail. With the bellows fully extended, it is capable of 4x magnification. Although the camera designed to be operated from the Repronar stand and base for slide duplication purposes , but can be removed and used as a macro system with a little ingenuity.

It’s still possible to find the camera with an intact bellows and lens in good condition for a reasonable price. I picked this up out of curiosity, especially since this provided an opportunity to examine a early Asahi Pentax SLR. Of course, the lack of pentaprism means that the image on the ground glass is uncorrected (mirror image), but that makes it even more interesting – a throwback to the old days.

Since the Repronar comes WITH the camera and lens, what’s not to like? Also, the camera is a very early BLACK Pentax SLR without a prism. It comes with a waist-level viewfinder (actually, eye level, when the camera is mounted on the Repronar base.

The real beauty of this system is that it has a scale device attached to it which makes setting for different magnifications very easy – the magnification range is 1/2x, 2/3x 1x, 2x, 3x and 4x. Just set the required magnification, fine focus and fire away. Using the flash is simplicity itself. Turn on the flash switch in the base, make sure the camera sync cord is connected and fire. The camera assembly can also be dismounted from the base and used as a bellows mounted camera provided you can stabilize the system horizontally.

Although the system can be used for transparent and semi-transparent subjects (flower petals, insect wing details etc) with the built in flash, the Repronar really comes into its own as a Macro system if you can get enough external lighting to the mounting platform. The best way to do this is to take the whole thing outdoors and place it on a table in open (sky illumination or in sunny situation. Mornings are best. All that remains is to set the magnification and provide sufficient exposure.

Here’s what the Honeywell Repronar’s Asahi Pentax Camera and 50mm f/4 bellows lens can do when stopped down to f/16 with Fuji 100 film

Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a
Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a
Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a
Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a
Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a
Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a
Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a
Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a
Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a
Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a
Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a
Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a
Honeywell Pentax Repronar 805a

Yashica Dental Eye (I)As for the Yashica Dental Eye, that was an unexpected purchase – I saw this early version of the Yashica SLR Dental series, and couldn’t resist the fixed 50mm f/4 macro lens with built-in ring flash. This version doesn’t even have the numbering like the later Dental Eye Cameras (II and III). Anyway, it was stored in its original case, so at least it hasn’t been banged around in the back of someone’s closet. There was a rangefinder based dental camera prior to the Dental Eye (called the Oral-Eye). I thought Dental Eye was a bad name for the camera, Oral Eye is even worse. The full name is a mouthful – Yashica Dental Eye Intra-Oral camera. It’s clear that they weren’t using their marketing folks here to come up with some pleasing name.

Anyway, what was common to all of the Dental use cameras was that they were EXPENSIVE. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Hey, they had the market until Canon moved in. To counter that, they based the Dental Eye III on an expensive Contax, specially modified, but it was too little, too late. Canon wasn’t going to give up on such a lucrative niche market that easily. Some of these specialized cameras seem to have held their value – at least the II and III. Even today, the Dental Eye III goes for around $700-$800 on eBay, with the Dental Eye II averaging around $400. In comparison, the old Yashica Dental Eye is a bargain as the camera sells for about $100. That’s in 2007 prices.

This early Dental eye SLR was popular with dentists, but apparently the in-your-face (literally!) working distance with the 50mm was very uncomfortable (imagine that) since they practically had to get into the patient’s mouth. Ugh. The later versions came with a 100mm f/4 so that the good doctor could work from further away.

The original Dental Eye is a bit harder to find, although one turns up occasionally on Ebay, original black Yashica case and all. The case has a molded enclosure for the camera and lens. The slot on the left is for holding 4 AA 1.5v batteries in the upright position, and the slot on the left is for the removable eye-cup.

Depending on the condition, it goes from anywhere from from about $100-200. By condition, I mean the cosmetics – the camera/flash unit may be fine, but the leatherette may have deteriorated (all older Yashicas seem to be prone to this problem – I think the Contax as well – the covering they chose is made from a spongy material that falls apart after about 20 years, I guess).

Yashica Dental Eye
Yashica Dental Eye
Yashica Dental Eye – front view

Here’s what the Yashica Dental Eye Camera and fixed 50mm f/4 lens can do with Fuji Super 200 film

Microphotography

Just something I’m trying out. Check out my post on using a microscope with a camera adapter


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.

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