Sunday, July 13, 2014

1.4 + 25 + 180 + 430 = long distance macro

It's not maths.  Or, even worse, algebra.

The 1.4 is the Sigma 1.4x teleconverter that I bought last October (used from MPB Photographic.  I've had a couple of items from them and their service has been excellent.  Highly recommended if you're in the UK.).

The 25 is my Canon 25mm extension tube.

The 180 is my Sigma 180mm f3.5 IF HSM macro lens, the older, non DG model.

The 430 is my Canon 430EX flash.

Add in a Kirk macro flash bracket, off camera cord*, softbox diffuser and, of course, a camera and they make up my tripod mounted macro flash kit.  It's big, it's fairly heavy, it's unwieldy - but the results are great.

A lot of my macro flash work so far has been carried out with the kit I've illustrated previously.

Freehand macro flash kit - Tamron 90mm macro, 25mm extension tube, 430EX on bracket
I still use it but it's got two problems.  Firstly, I'm getting on a bit and there are days when I can't hold the combination freehand and reliably nail focus with any degree of accuracy.  To be blunt, I shake a little and, unless I can contrive some support - sitting on a camp chair with elbows on knees works well - even flash images can blur and miss focus.  Secondly, working distance is low and I often need a bit more separation between myself and the subject.

So this is the solution:

Tripod mounted macro flash setup

It gives me a working distance of  about 12-18in / 30-45cm for macro ratios from 1:1 up to about 1.6:1.  The extra working distance allows the tripod and gear to be manoeuvred into position without upsetting nervous subjects.  When working completely with flash the lighting is close enough to the subject to freeze motion now I don't have to worry about camera shake - and far enough away to give a more natural appearance to the background as the flash intensity doesn't drop off as rapidly as it would with closer work.  And these are the type of results that ensue.  All shots are full frame.

Female long legged fly, Dolichopus ungulatus

Calliphora vicina, a male bluebottle blowfly
The combination also works well with natural light / fill light for slightly larger subjects taken at a greater working distance:

Immature female violacea form of the blue tailed damselfly, Ischnura elegan

As can be seen from the watermarking on the three images, the quality at 100% passes the QC hurdles for acceptance by Alamy.  Yes it's unwieldy.  I can manage the weight easily enough although manoeuvrability is a little lacking.  It's not as flexible as my hand held combination - but the ability to accurately set focus more than outweighs any loss in flexibility.  In short, it works for me, and I'll be using it for many more shots to come.

*To answer the obvious question of why I don't use the wireless flash facility of the Canon 600D with my 430EX it's a matter of convenience.  I don't have a separate cold shoe to mount the flash on the bracket so I use the off camera cord. 

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