Saturday, July 16, 2016

5 Reasons Why Olympus Micro Four Thirds System Is Suitable For Insect Macro Photography

I have written lengthily before about my shooting techniques when it comes to Insect Macro Photography, if you want to find out more about the equipment I use and how I get my shots, kindly read my post here (click). 

In this post however, I will not discuss about how to shoot, but rather why I find that Olympus Micro Four Thirds system is highly recommended for newcomers to photography who want to explore the world of insect macro.

Being the mirrorless system, Olympus OM-D and PEN cameras are generally smaller and lighter than DSLR alternatives. Adding useful features such as 5-Axis Image Stabilization, large Electronic Viewfinder and built in wireless flash TTL control capabilities, you basically have all the tools necessary to shoot extreme close up insect macro. The M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens offers a large magnification of 2 to 1 (in 35mm equivalent) which is plentiful of magnification for small insects shooting.

Image Credit: Tian Chad

Image Credit: Tian Chad

Here are the five reasons why Olympus Micro Four Thirds System is Suitable for Insect Macro Photography


From my observations, most of the time, insect macro shooters will carry around their large DSLR cameras which are mounted on tripods. While this method is guaranteed to give you optimized image output due to complete mitigation of hand-shake, movement is limited, and setting up can be cumbersome. Imagine if your beautiful butterfly decides to hop on to another flower after you have just spent about 3 minutes getting the tripod ready for that shot.

Olympus OM-D and PEN cameras are built to be much smaller in comparison to DSLR, and very light. Mobility is the key concept in designing Olympus cameras, and using cameras so small and so light, there really is no need to carry a tripod around. I can easily hand-hold the camera and a macro lens with one hand, while the external flash on another hand (please do read on how I shoot my insect macro here, if you have not). Most importantly, if the insect moves, or changes position, as long as the subject is within reach I do not need to waste time and effort readjusting the tripod, I can shoot immediately without being slowed down by setting up.

If you have not done a serious macro hunting in the forest (we have rainforests in Malaysia), you will not know the difficulties of hiking and braving the treacherous terrains of the jungle floors. Having lighter equipment is a God-sent, I remember the days I used the Olympus DSLR E-5 not too long ago, I am only 32 years old now and I am starting to have minor back problems due to lagging those heavy DSLR cameras and lenses around.


Olympus believes in true hand-held freedom when it comes to photography. I understand that some sort of photography (long exposure landscapes, night sky photography, as well as products and studio shoots) will require mandatory use of tripod, but us consumers, hobbyists, who use the camera for our  own purposes, not for commercial use, do we really need to carry around a gigantic tripod just to shoot a tiny little spider?

Having the 5-Axis Image Stabilization opens up a whole new world in photography! A lot of people often underestimated the importance of a good image stabilization system, It works effectively for me. If I am shooting the insect without using flash, I will rely on slower shutter speed and the 5-Axis Image Stabilization to steady the shot and not have to use crazy high ISO numbers. On the other hand, if I am using the wireless flash technique (as shown in the photographs above) I will rely even more on the 5-Axis Image Stabilization since I am practically holding the camera and lens with only one hand.

Also, the 5-Axis Image Stabilization can be previewed live, meaning, while shooting, the Image Stabilization will steady your live view, or your view through the electronic viewfinder, thus having a smooth, non-shaky view while shooting. As the magnification gets larger, the view gets shakier, and overall shooting experience is much better with a powerful Image Stabilization system.


The one constant complain, or something that can be regarded as a weakness for the Micro Four Thirds format, is the less ability to render shallow depth of field. While most photographers would crave for the beautiful bokeh, and want to create as blur of a background as they can, rendering super shallow depth of field, in the world of macro photography, you actually do want to have MORE depth of field. You want to see more zones or areas in focus. Imagine if the depth of field is too shallow, you can only see the eye in focus, which is not desirable as the wings of the insect and the patterns on the body can be beautiful as well.

If you use a full frame system, to get the same depth of field as the Micro Four Thirds system, you need to stop down twice as much.


I genuinely think that having a correspondingly good lens is extremely important for the type of photography you do. Olympus has the M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens which is just a brilliant lens for macro photography. It is small and light, weather sealed to match the higher end Olympus OM-D bodies, and super sharp straight out from F2.8 the widest opening aperture.

Furthermore, this M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens provides a true 2 to 1 magnification factor (in 35mm format equivalent), meaning that you get a rather large magnification capability out of this lens. A very tiny insect (eg, an ant) can be magnified to large enough scale to fit the entire frame, revealing all the beautiful tiny details of the subject.

To grasp the magnification capabilities, you can refer to the examples below:

I am sure everyone knows the typical, generic size of a Lego figure. 

The higher the magnification is, the more you can fill the frame with the tiny subject. 


There are many methods to light your subject, and yes, for macro photography, lighting is extremely crucial. Some would recommend the use of LED light, and use light painting over the subject (I wonder how many insects can stay so still for you to do light painting), some would recommend use of dedicated powerful flash. No one will recommend the use of direct flash firing, and some sort of diffusing and reflecting methods for the flash will be applied. There are so many ways to create a DIY macro flash diffuser, and they give different quality and output, so I will not go into detail on which one works better. As for me, you can see I use a generic brand tiny softbox attachment thingy on my Olympus FL-50R flash, which I fired wirelessly off camera.

The reason why you should be using a wireless flash? Because sometimes, subjects do not just pose nicely on top of a leave, at your eye level for you. Many times, the insect will be under a leaf, or inside a flower, or behind a branch. The position is never ideal, and having the ability to move the light around gives me complete control of how I can light my subject, and I can shoot them at more places.

Caterpillar underneath a leaf, with flash

This shot was out of focus, and was taken without the flash firing (my mistake in adjustment). The out of focus part aside, you can clearly see why flash is necessary in keeping a balanced, brightly lit subject. 

If you are a newcomer to insect macro photography, and you want to consider which camera and lenses to purchase, please do give Olympus Micro Four Thirds system a consideration. An OM-D camera (with 5-Axis IS) and the M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens, and perhaps an external flash to go along with the setup.

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  1. I entirely agree Robin. The point si very simplex: if the subject si small the greater the format the greater the magnification you need. An insect 1 cm long shot at a 1:1 magnification will be 1 cm long on the sensor of my olympus, on the twice as large sensor of my pentax ks1, on a full frame DSLR and even on an Hasselblad. In order to take advantage of a greater sensor you would need much greater magnification, which is unpractical. The same goes with long teleobjectives for distant subjects: in my Olympus I use the 40-150 mm in a full frame I would need a 80-300 to cover the same angle and in a Hasselblad a 120-500!

  2. Great shots. The flash really does make a big difference.

    I've also found that the 40-150mm f2.8 is great for close up photography since it gives you a little more working distance, but the minimum focus distance is also very short. Plus the manual focus ring can be very helpful.

    And one other great aspect of using Oly for this is the focus stacking feature available on some bodies.

  3. Great shots and good advice. I have long admired your macro work as well as your street stuff.....