The thing about macro photography is that one always wants to get closer—to shoot at higher magnification and get a better look at some tiny creature. Or at least that is certainly true for me. My 35mm macro lens gets me to 1:1 magnification, but I often want to get closer. Instead of taking a photograph of a fly, I want to take a photo of a fly’s face…that sort of thing. I have to admit I am very envious of Canon users who have the option of using the MP-E 65mm macro lens which focuses to an amazing 5:1! But I shoot with Olympus equipment and I’m not about to switch and start building a whole new system at this point. So I have been looking at other options for shooting at magnification higher than 1:1 in the field (rather than in the studio).
This past winter I bought a Nikkor 50mm F2.8 enlarger lens off eBay for a whole $20.00. This lens has a reputation as a good sharp macro lens when reversed on a bellows. So using a couple of $2.00 adaptors (also off eBay) I tried mounting the lens (reversed) on a vintage OM telescopic auto extension tube 65-116 on my OM-D EM-5 body. The result was magnification of almost 2:1 with the auto extension tube collapsed, and almost 3:1 with it fully extended. Surprisingly, the working distance is very respectable at 6.5cm (collapsed) and 5.5cm (extended) compared to only 3.5 cm for the 35mm macro (at 1:1).
The drawback of course is that the lens is totally manual, so when you stop it down to increase the depth of field, the viewfinder gets darker. You also lose light due to the extension of lens away from the body: when the telescopic auto extension tube is fully extended there is a loss of about three stops of light. With the lens stopped down to F11 you are looking through the lens at the equivalent of F32. It is dark and a little difficult to see well enough to focus.
I tested this gear on the same day that I shot the photos for my last post (see Weevil meets flash diffuser) and with the same weevil. I again used my DIY foamcore flash diffuser.
Hand-holding the camera at this magnification is really tricky: it is very hard to keep the subject in focus and you are working with very little depth of field. In an effort to keep the weevil from moving around I offered it a drop of maple syrup. Being a good Canadian insect, it happily sipped while I photographed it. All it needed was some back bacon and a beer…
The photo at the top of the page is the best result I got with the Nikkor lens that day. All-in-all I’m reasonably satisfied. I expected some loss of resolution due to the extension, but it didn’t turn out too bad. Interestingly the images taken with this lens have higher contrast and more muted colours than those I shoot with the Zuiko 35mm macro. So this set-up definitively doesn’t produce images as nice as the Zuiko, but the price was certainly right; and I was able to photograph a tiny insect taking a drink from a drop of syrup…and that’s pretty cool!
The technical stuff:
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5
Lens: Nikkor 50mm F2.8 enlarger lens
Settings: manual exposure (F8 @ 1/200 sec)
Lighting: Olympus FL-36 flash (Full power)