Tele-Zoom Macro

... Journal Entry

As Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” and a great way to get close up photos is to take advantage of the close focusing capabilities of modern tele-zoom lenses especially where getting physically close to the subject is a challenge like snapping plants that are further back a in flower bed for example.

Now I am not talking true macro photography here for which I would use my 60mm f2.8 macro lens usually with STF macro flash when getting very close up to 1:1 life size magnification say of detailed parts of insects. Rather I am talking close ups with a macro vibe where the maximum magnification might be, say 0.21x (Micro Four Thirds) / 0.41x (35mm format equivalent).

Apart from the all important "reach", there are a number of other reasons why I really like using my tele-zooms for close up work:

  • As quite often being constrained to working from a single spot to be able to get the angle to view my subject, the only way to get flexibility in framing it is by zooming
  • Typically I get better depth of field with my tele-zoom working at a distance than would do if I was able to work closer up with my macro lens
  • I can work with natural light, which I prefer, as being at a distance from my subject I can normally avoid casting my own shadow over it or indeed that of my camera and lens.

I have a number of tele-zooms I use for this sort of work. My number one favourite is my OM System M.Zuiko 40-150mm f4 Pro with its minimum focusing range of 0.7 metres. This is a 80-300mm 35mm equivalent constant f4 lens giving the maximum magnification of 0.21x (Micro Four Thirds) / 0.41x (35mm format equivalent) which makes it the ideal choice.

When the reach of 40-150mm is insufficient I will resort to my Lumix 100-300mm f4-5.6 II Power OIS this 200-600mm zoom in 35mm equivalent provides tremendous reach but is more challenging to use with its variable aperture which reaches f5.6 quite quickly as you zoom out and being optically a bit soft at the 300mm end.

I will also use my Olympus 14-150mm f4-5.6 II super zoom if that's all I have with me on a travel light walkabout though again it is less than ideal for the purpose for much the same reasons as the Lumix 100-300mm.

Now there are a few practical things to think about when snapping tele-zoom close ups:

  • Windy days are a nightmare for obvious reasons; early mornings often provide the stillest conditions and coincidently the most conducive light
  • I use single point AF and direct it at the area of the subject I want the camera to focus on
  • I often like to use "echoes" with a single bloom in focus in front of the frame and other similar ones blurred behind "echoing" it
  • I check carefully for extraneous objects in the frame which a brief glance around it wouldn't notice but which will stick out like a sore thumb and spoil the picture when I review it later
  • I check the depth of field; too much or too little depending on my intended effect spoils a good picture. Getting to know your lens helps with this too.

I sometimes use the Focus Stacking function on my OM Systems cameras to get the desired full focus depth on my subjects whilst retaining the background blur when using the widest open aperture on my lens.

Finally, I can often grab insect action, especially bees, when snapping flowers as they are in their natural habitat so to speak. I intend, as this Spring moves into Summer, to take advantage of the Pro-Capture function in my OM-System cameras to try and grab them taking off and flying away from the flowers they have been drinking nectar and gathering pollen from. Wish me luck.

I may also have a go at butterflies doing this too. It should be a fascinating challenge.