Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wild Bug Hunt

So what should I be doing when I am low in cash, but still in high trigger happy mood? I figured I could go macro frenzy. This time, I have a real macro lens in hand, no more tricking my non-macro lenses in thinking that they were macro and forced them mercilessly to work macro for me. I have got a copy to try out, and I did not have to travel far for this trial out session. The park nearby my house which I have always been reluctant to go for jogs, I found it very inviting for insect photography. Ironic is it not, when photography comes in the equation, everything becomes willing.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

For those of you who are new, or have not followed my historical progress in macro photography, here is a quick recap:

1) I started macro by using the standard kit lens 14-42mm combined with the Hoya +4 close up filter.
Pros: Very usable results, even at full 42mm zoom. Could get really close to the subject, as close as 5cm. Autofocus works, and combined with manual override, focusing was a breeze.
Cons: The magnification is still very limited. Even compact cameras can produce much better macro results.
To view the pictures this combination produced, click here.

2) I used my zoom lens 40-150mm for tele-macro.
Pros: Ability to shoot subjects from 1.5m or further away, and this is useful not to startle butterflies or bees.
Cons: Results are not even close enough to be considered as anything near to what macro stands for. Works only for large subjects, like butterflies with huge wings.
To view the pictures this option produced, click here.

3) I combined the tele lens 40-150mm with the Hoya +4 Close Up filter.
Pros: Capable of achieving almost full macro 1:1 magnification at full 150mm zoom !!
Cons: Autofocus was disabled, and the zoom lens suffer from serious chromatic aberration issues from 100-150mm end. There is also an adverse impact on the details captured, images appear very soft throughout all zoom range.
To view the pictures this combination produced, click here and here and here.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

After all the experiments I have carried out over the last year, I have concluded that while the cheap alternatives to macro lenses can get you some decent and usable macro shots, but those shots are still far from what macro satisfactory standards are, and the only option to produce a good quality macro is none other than using macro lens. Of course, provided there is enough cash to go along with it.

Nevertheless, like Jian (click) has pointed out to me, all those trial sessions I have done before, though results were just so and so, they have prepared me in a lot of ways, expanding my knowledge in macro-photography. I may not be that good yet, but of course, we all improve from one point to another, and I am seeing slow but stark progress in my pictures. Throughout all the previous attempts, I have gained the following:

1) Basic knowledge about macro. Stuff like stopping the F-number to achieve greater depth of field.

2) Steadying the hands !!!! This is the most tricky part, though I have still improved, but theres still a lot to work on. To obtain that shake-free shot, you not only have to steady your fingers, but also your entire body from the way you bend you knees, hold your breath and so on. I kid you not !!

3) Manual focusing. I was totally put off by the idea of manual focusing the first time I used it, but through all the attempts, manual focusing gave me the most accurate results, as it allowed me to pin point the exact zone of focus. Although I still have hit and miss focusing manually, but I feel completely comfortable using it now, and I consider this a huge step forward.

*click* to see the awesomeness

4) Flash macro. As much as I hate to admit it, flash is VERY necessary in macro photos, even shooting under bright day. I am still improving in getting the exposures right, but having an external unit of flash improved the shots dramatically.

5) Have patience. Patience is crucial in all photography, but especially so in macro. Bug hunting is not easy, and the bugs are not readily available for you to shoot. You have to find them, under the leaf, behind the stick, and in all impossible places. And most of the times, they run away from you, or face their butts towards your lens. If you could wait just a few minutes, maybe you will spot a bug you have missed while scanning the area, or the bug may feel safe enough to come closer to you.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

To all the bokeh (blur background in images) worshipers, and those who think that every good photo MUST have bokeh, then your ideology will work against you in macro. This is one particular field of photography where you require great depth of field to accomplish wider zone in focus. Hence, your F 0.01 lens (exaggeration intended) may be fast and bright, but utterly USELESS in macro. When you are photographing something as tiny as 3mm, you will find yourself using aperture of F10-F22, and the greater the better to obtain as sharp of a shot as possible of the entire subject. Yes you may think that just having the eye focused and the rest of the body blurred seems nice, but you will find it so hard to even just focus the eye right at such a small scale image, and in the end you end up squeezing the eye of whatever sorry insect that you were shooting because you could not get the tack sharp shot of the eye after 100 attempts.

Having said that, Olympus DSLRs have the upper hand when it comes to Macro photography, since it has greater depth of field in comparison to other manufacturing brands of cameras. I can get away with F16 in a shot to achieve that desired depth of field, which a full-framer (Canon 1Ds MarkIII or Nikon D3) will need to use F32 to accomplish the similar effect. It is recommended not to push beyond F16 when you use any lenses, as the sharpness tends to drop significantly as you stop down further. Yes, Olympus may not produce as nice bokeh as Nikon and Canon. When it comes to taking pictures of tiny bugs, it is the other way around. The less bokeh, the more area you will have in focus.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

If you think macro is the only photography that requires greater depth of field, think again. There is also landscape, but we shall talk about that some other day.

So what are the things worth highlighting in this session?

1) Most of the bugs I have found this session were extremely tiny !!!!!! Some were as small as 2mm if I measured correctly. This truly pushed the lens to its limit.

2) The lens was capable of 2:1 macro magnification, but a lot of the time I found myself not using the maximum magnification, just to fit the entire subject. Most of the pictures here were crop-free, save a few badly composed ones, which I did very little cropping only. More magnification can be accomplished if I added on an extension tube.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

3) Spiders and dragonflies are easily found. They were almost everywhere. However, most of the spiders and dragonflies are of the same species, or closely related. I guess that is the limitation of just photographing bugs in a park, for more colourful, and dangerous looking insects, I guess I have to venture into the real jungle. *gulp

4) The baby praying mantis was TINY !!!! Less than 1cm in length. It was so cute, and I failed to capture the cuteness.

5) I know you guys must have seen macro pictures of HUGE spider eyes, and obviously this lens was not capable of doing that, unless we are dealing with much larger spiders. The spiders in the pictures are approximately 1.5 cm or less in length. Maybe using an extension tube could help?

6) My common camera settings are: ISO100, Shutter speed: 1/40s-1/80s, Aperture F12-16, Manual Focus with TTL Flash (bounce adapter attached). Setting vary from shot to shot depending on lighting conditions, and obviously the size of the bug.

7) I spent more than four hours just to capture around 80 pictures, and most of the pictures were trial and error. Most of the time was spent on hunting the bugs.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

8) It was not easy taking those pictures, as the bugs usually do not stay still, or stay at one spot for very long. I have very limited chances to snap the pictures, some of them were truly lucky ones, and one time shot only.

9) I used manual focus all the time, setting to 1:2, 1:1, 1.5:1 or 2:1 magnification factor. Having a fixed focus, it means that the only way to get the shots was to gently rock your body back and forth until you find that sweet focus zone.

10) I think I exerted a few liters of sweat throughout the shooting session. Steadying the shots, keeping the frame right, require the whole body at work. I should bring a huge bottle of water the next time I hunt bugs.

11) How did I get so close to the bugs? Skills I tell you. Skills.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

On the whole, I am quite happy with the overall outcome of the pictures. This macro lens, 35mm F3.5 Zuiko may be a budget macro lens from Olympus, but the image quality is screaming nothing budget at all. I was quite amazed by the amount of details this lens was able to resolve, and gosh, the overall sharpness was just breathtaking. Click the images for enlarged views to pick up those sharpness. The contrast and color were typical of Olympus style, which I have grown to love very much. There are tiny traces of chromatic aberration though, which can be eliminated through post-processing. This was expected since ED element was not included in the lens. Considering the low-price tag, the capabilities and functionality in 2:1 magnification macro shooting, producing pleasingly sharp results, I think I am sold.

I shall be getting a copy soon, preferably a second hand unit, and I will make it happen.


  1. Gee! Macro photography seems interesting!
    Tsk tsk..

    I should stop visiting your blog! :P

  2. i see kungfu panda's mantis! :D cute la wei...

  3. hey allen,
    come come macrroooooo

    LOL... mantis is always nice.. but this one is damned tiny.

  4. wow that is absolutely amazing! the eyes are so huge!


  5. hey marcus,
    ahha yeah man !! the power of macro photography... it reveals details that our naked eyes cant see.

  6. macro not my thing haha. So macro lens, forget about it (for me). Landscape, photojournalism and portrait will do =)

    Anyway, go get the 100mm Macro instead =P

  7. Hey ven,
    you mean the sigma? Im on budget though, LOL and though I do love macro, but I do not plan to spend a bomb on it.

  8. Oops sorry, I meant the 50mm f2. I know, that one cost a bomb though.

    By the way, how much did you pay for your FL36R?

  9. i saw baja hitam..haha love ur macro shots!!! dun poison me macro hahaha..

  10. hey ven,
    the 50mm cant do 2:1 magnification, unless you add extension tube to it. ahahah... yeah its expensive !!!

    hey funkye,
    Thanks. Go go macro !!!

  11. For god sake, leave the bugs alone!! They do have off days too. :P

  12. hey chong,
    LOL... I did not disturb them lah, i photograph them as where they were. I respect the insects too u know kekkekekeke

  13. Hahaha at last, you admit your skill d:D

    You really are suitable for macro photography with your steady hand and great patience.

    And nothing beats your passion for photography :D

  14. You liar!! :P

    And yeah... Don't be surprised that you can still produce bokeh at F16 with a macro lens.

  15. hey jian,
    LOL nolah.. skill to get close to the subjects only.
    Haiyoo.. macro lens not cheap ler.... expensive photography ahahaha... after the lens, then extension tube, then ring flash... the list goes on...

    hey chong,
    LOL... and yeah, still can get bokeh but not creamy kind.

  16. @ ven.. the 50f2 cost a bomb meh? i'm getting bored with it already:
    compare that with the price of the 14-35 or 35-100.. -_-"

    robin... who's macro lens did you try out? a 2nd hand one should do you good.

  17. hey brandon,
    LOL bored of your 50mm? lemme save you some trouble, give it to me !!!!!
    ahahaha... the lens belong to a friend (not from screw screw though), but that person wants to stay hidden. Gotta respect people's privacy.

  18. wah liao.. so private one.. i suspect its the other kuching guy on your blog..hahah

    give it to you? see first lah.. when i come back m'sia.. ;p i'm bored of my 12-60 and 50-200 too.. how leh ? ;p

  19. hey brandon,
    LOL... u bored of your lenses so fast one.. WTF...
    Give them all to me !! i am sure i will never get bored of any of them ahahahahah

  20. Awesome photos Robin :) I don't even like bugs, but your shots are pretty darn sweet.

  21. hmm.. too much of olympus aura here.. better run out of here! Yikes!

  22. the olympus aura here certainly overwhelms.. better don't visit my blog too then.. hahah

    i got bitten by the f2 bug :S

  23. wah lao eh...those big eyes damn cool... when can i borrow oh? LOL

  24. hey clara,
    You know what, I have spider phobia !!! Never imagine myself going that near to the spiders.

    hey allen,
    ahahhah, nolah, we are all open minded people. Important thing we all learn from each other and share.

    hey brandon,
    LOL... i should stay away from you... you have too much poison.

    hey chun chow,
    ahahaha... you want ah? i can arrange something.

  25. brandon: for a lens that I won't be using, yes it means a bomb :P. And no way, not in the foreseeable future that I will ever get close to 14-35. Quality is one thing, range is too small for my usage.

  26. hey ven,
    I quite agree with what you have just mentioned, functionality is quite important as well. Though the lens may be superb in quality, but the question is, do you need that high of a quality?? I am pretty happy with even what the kit lens could offer me now.

  27. kit lenses are great.. but the SHG ones are just magical. the 35-100 is sharper than the 50-200 wide open, hands down. contrast, and bokeh improve as you go up the ladder. prob not for everyday use, but you'll see the difference, definitely.

  28. hey brandon,
    yeah, the F2.0 is damned sharp, seen sample pics of it. But its not cheap, and for usual people like me and ven, the kit lenses should suffice.

  29. but i am using the 12-60mm kit now though haha (my only lens). Still, 14-35 is ridiculous price wise.

  30. hey ven,
    OMG why is everyone using that lens. I want one too T.T


    read the comments section