My venerable Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM  macro (to use its full, slip off the tongue, title) virtually lives on a Nikon D7100 body.  For over a decade, it has seen heavy use and I am continually amazed by the detail I have been able to squeeze out of it.  

There really cannot be a better endorsement than that from a confirmed macro fanatic whose search for sharpness is akin to a personal quest for the Holy Grail.

I first wrote a paen of praise for this lens first on the Pixiq blog and then on the Images from the Edge – blog both now, in the scheme of things, lost and gone. Clay Bolt and I set up Learn Macro with the express intention of collecting together material new and old on ‘macro’ in its widest senses (literally) and so I thought that this was a good time to take another look at this lens…a kind of 10th anniversary.

Sigma announced an upgraded version of the original 150mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM macro lens at Photokina 2010 which then became the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM with an extra pair of letters added to the name to indicate that it incorporates Sigma’s patented optical stabilising (OS) system. A few months ago, during a week’s trip to the Sibillini, high in Italy’s Apennine mountains I was able to use this latest version extensively when fellow traveller Dr David Read wanted to try out another Sigma faithful (the superb 15mm f/2.8 rectangular fisheye) and I ‘generously’ agreed to a temporary swap.The latest version of the lens is clearly superior both in terms of speed of focus and the way it snaps positively into sharp focus. I don’t think I can resist for long and then my son will get another of his dad’s cast-offs.

Robber fly (Engelepogon brunnipes) with prey...a grab shot just outside the kitchen door

This is the ‘go to’ lens for those close to home shots: a Robber fly (Engelepogon brunnipes) with prey – a grab shot just outside the kitchen door.

For 35mm work (albeit on an APS-C sensor) the 150mm f/2.8mm macro is still my working ‘field lens’ of choice… On Micro 4/3, to which I am slowly migrating, I can also use it via an adapter as a ‘legacy’ lens but am currently in love with the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 for that format which has to be the sharpest macro lens I have ever owned. Olympus are microscope makers ‘par excellence’ and they know what they are doing with lenses. I still have a full set of their lens heads made for use with the OM series of film cameras. I can also lay my hands on a Sigma 180mm f/3.5, a Sigma 105mm f/2.8 and a Nikon 105mm f/2.8 which are all excellent lenses  and yet, for use in the field, I use the Sigma 150mm with my Nikon equipment and the Olympus 60mm f/2.8  (120mm equivalent on full frame) with a Panasonic GH4. I suppose I have to admit to collecting macro lenses and I could add quite a number of others to the list….including two super-sharp optics  from Laowa : the 15mm f/4 wide angle macro and the 60mm f/2.8 macro. Horses for courses and all that for this is both work and passion.

I just want something I can pick up, not think too much about and use to record nature as I see it ‘close to home’: here a scarce swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) gets the Sigma 150mm f2.8 macro treatment.

Photo magazine reviews always produce lots of charts of MTF (modulation transfer function) and quote figures with the slightest of differences to justify somewhat specious ranking in comparative reviews of macro lenses. Call me an old cynic (readily admitted) but I cannot escape the feeling that, with few exceptions, reviewers ‘talk the talk’, even ‘walk the walk’ but seldom take macro photos …anyone who did could get great pictures with any of today’s crop of dedicated ‘macro’ lenses. It is mostly down to technique not equipment – though the latter helps.

I certainly don’t have MTF equipment in my studio (it is cluttered enough anyway) but what I have to do is to make my lenses work for their living. I am fanatical about sharpness when I want it – examining all images at 100% and even (just for the hell of it)  200% in Lightroom 6 and later in Photoshop  on a 27” iMac screen. I can then simply see how a lenses satisfies (or doesn’t) my highly unreasonable demands.

Conclusion as previously: the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro is superb and I know a whole bunch of pros who think the same.

If you want more then read on…. Read More

I was really delighted when, over a year ago Luis Manuel Iglesias Nuñez asked me to provide a preface for a book he was writing.



We have never met but we have built up a strong link because of our shared interest in the small things in this world. Luis had bought and read a copy of a book of mine on macro photography, quite a few years ago, that had been translated into Spanish.

And here is the result, a superbly illustrated work – the text is authoritative and in Spanish …but the pictures are that universal, visual language and they are of superb quality with a very wide range of subjects and techniques on display.

This is a highly personal book for it reveals the way Luis takes his photographs and provides an insight into his lifelong passion for the natural world….particularly its smaller inhabitants.

It is easy to get locked into a particular style in any photographic field and many do so in close-up photography, using one macro lens and depicting the same few species in the same way. For example, if you look at the results in various UK competitions, then there is a sameness…nice pics yes, but nothing to write home about…and yet, when you begin to look wider into European competitions there you see a tremendous diversity of techniques, styles and subject matter. It comes as quite a shock to see the standards out there… and we all need that jolt at times to prevent complacency setting in. Read More

Nowadays, we are spoilt by technology and there is a tendency to think in terms of a camera controlling the output of flash guns via its DTTL exposure system. Even better, it can do this without the use of cables via a WiFi set up. However, the arrival of digital cameras has made the use of older manual flash guns easy, even though you are denied the camera’s DTTL system.

Once upon a time, a flash gun was simply triggered by a camera hotshoe or, off-camera, via its flash synchronisation (synch) socket. Other ‘slave’ flash guns for fill-in or back lighting could be triggered via  simple photoelectric triggers that fit the flash hotshoe and reacts to the main flash pulse with a very slight delay.

To get correct exposure demanded a flash meter – an exposure meter that can respond in a very short time (milliseconds). Readings were transferred from meter to camera and flash gun positions adjusted accordingly. Many professionals in studios used a polaroid film back to get a rapid assessment: with close-up work experiments had to be done with flash gun position noted and frames taken over a range of apertures to find the optimum. Nowadays you can use your camera’s LCD screen to make a visual assessment of exposure.

Eyespots of the wings of the Spanish moonmoth (Graesiella isabella) photographed using a Nikon SB 29 macroflash as a manual gun - designed for a TTL system it did not function with DTTL flash meterin

Eyespots of the wings of the Spanish moonmoth (Graesiella isabella) photographed using a Nikon SB 29 macroflash as a manual gun – designed for a TTL system it did not function with DTTL flash metering so the exposure was tweaked via the camera’s LCD

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