It's hard to say when I got into close up and macro nature photography. My first 'real' camera was an Olympus OM10 (with manual adaptor!) and it didn't take me long to get a set of extension tubes to add to the 50mm and 135mm lenses I'd bought with the camera in the mid 80's. But I was always limited by the cost of film and could only afford to use the occasional roll to go closer than I normally did for my main plant and garden subjects.
|Olympus OM10, T20 flash, extension tubes on 50mm lens. I keep it for sentimental reasons. No reasonable offer refused.|
I'd shoot the occasional butterfly, dragonfly, or larger insect hand held, using the 20 or 36mm tube in the set and exploiting the extra working distance of a 135mm 'close focus' (3ft/0.93m!) lens. The results weren't fantastic though just about good enough to use to illustrate the odd on line article when scanned on my old Olympus scanner. Typically, I've only kept some low res images - but I still have the original slides and could re-scan if needed.
|Large white, Pieris rapae, taken in the 1990s|
Rather than extension tubes I went for my first macro lens, the Canon 50mm f2.5. It only goes to 0.5:1 (half life size) unaided but can manage 1:1 (life size) with a 25mm extension tube. On the smaller sensor 300D I could shoot at about the same equivalent magnification as with the Olympus gear. Bought used, I had a basic macro set up for less than £200. Results were better than I hoped. The long years of practice handholding and supported with a tripod had obviously had some effect and I was producing shots that I was pleased with.
Shots like these from 2005:
|Phygelius 'Salmon Leap'. 1/100sec, f3.5|
|Libellula depressa. 1/250sec, f13|
|Tricyrtis hirta, single flower detail. 1/60sec, f9|
I was happy for a couple of years. I could capture lots of detail and, more importantly, could keep shooting until I was satisfied that I'd got the shot, something I could never afford to do with film. But it still wasn't quite enough. I needed more working distance for the more active insects and to use longer focal lengths to narrow the field of view and produce smoother backgrounds. I needed off camera flash for smaller insects.
In 2008 I bought a used 400D and 430EX flash. Adding the 25mm extension tube to my previously acquired Canon 28-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS and 80-200mm f4-5.6 II (an underrated lens for a rock bottom cheapo) gave me extra working distance and softer backgrounds but the image quality wasn't up to 50mm macro standards. For all that I got a few decent shots, either tripod mounted or using the flash with a diffuser on the hot shoe.
|Early purple orchid, Orchis mascula. Canon 28-135mm IS, natural light|
|Brimstone butterfly, Gonepteryx rhamni. 80--200mm, flash|
|400D, Tamron 90mm, Kirk bracket and 430EX - my relatively low budget macro flash kit|
|Empis livida - a robber fly, taken in 2010 with this kit|
|Lasioglossum calceatum. 2012. I added a 25mm extension tube for this one.|
|An unidentified (as yet) small hoverfly. 2012|
|Utetheisa pulchella, the Crimson Speckled Flunkey, a day flying moth I photographed in Cyprus with the 55-250 / 500D close up filter combination.|