Macro with Micro 4/3 (MFT) : Normal & Wide-angle working

Following my recent move to micro 4/3 (in the shape of the remarkable Panasonic GH4), I have been doing a great deal of experimenting…and learning. Here, I must record a debt of gratitude to Rob Sheppard whose work I admire greatly  and who, in typical pioneering spirit, moved to this format well before I made the jump. His writings on his experiences convinced me that this was for me, too…I had made a wrong move to a Sony NEX 7 and needed something with an SLR feel and more logically structured menus.

Although the Panasonic GH4 is much praised for its video abilities, it also happens to be a superb instrument for stills photography – particularly for the various aspects of macro photography that fascinate me. Considered below, and in two subsequent posts, are some of the aspects  that have impressed me as I negotiate the learning curve: a. Viewfinder focusing aids, b. Olympus 60 mm f/2 .8 macro lens and c. Samyang 7.5 mm f/3 .5 rectangular fisheye…

 A.  Viewfinder Focusing Aids

There are various “standout” aspects of the GH4, but for me the most remarkable has been the ease of focusing compared with any DSLR I have used to date. The camera’s focusing modes can be customised in all sorts of ways but the one thing I find particularly useful is that, in manual mode, the touch of a button creates a defined area in the centre of the screen which is magnified compared with the rest: this area can be adusted in size eventually filling the whole screen – I rather like seeing the small area compared to the whole view. As we age, our ability to discern fine detail (and also the contrast in details) decreases – anything that helps is welcome.

Rhaetian poppy (Papaver rhaeticum) a plant of screes and morraine on limestone in the Dolomites. Nr Refugio Lagazuoi 2762m - above Passo di Falzarego, nr Cortina, Dolomites. July 2016,

My idea of an ideal wide angle ‘macro’ subject: Rhaetian poppy (Papaver rhaeticum) a plant of screes and morraine on limestone in the Dolomites. Nr Refugio Lagazuoi 2762m – above Passo di Falzarego, nr Cortina, Dolomites. July 2016,

When I’m using manual focus (the only option with various legacy lenses) I can focus the Panasonic GH4 with true precision – especially since detail edges are enhanced in blue by a focus peaking option. The trick is to focus precisely at maximum aperture and then stop down because the increased depth of field when you stop down first and focus can be deceptive since a position of exact focus is hard to determine – essential you get a false positive and not until the images are viewed after taking do you see that.

I thought it might help to blog about my experiences on changing format and systems for others who might contemplate doing the same or, indeed, of getting a micro 4/3 body to employ with a range of legacy lenses from different manufacturers.

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A flower I have long loved…the corncockle (Agrostemma githago) in the rain during a trip to the Sibillini mountains in June 2016

As a general aid, the image intensifier built into the viewing system ensures bright images even when a lens is manually stopped down to small apertures. To be frank, I really love using this camera – it has a feel of real solidity and quality and I am old fashioned enough to appreciate that. Through force of habit and choice I tend to use a viewfinder rather than an LCD screen – I find such screens pretty useless in anything other than low light but am gradually weaning myself onto employment of touch focus on the camera LCD screen when the ambient light is not overwhelming. For macro work, the image provided by the EVF is as good as any optical viewfinder I have ever used – and I never thought I would hear myself saying that. Well, OK, perhaps on reflection it is just pipped by the method I once used with the cross hairs on the central portion of a fine glass screen with my old Nikon F4 where you had to focus and move your head slightly from side to side until there was no parallax between cross hairs and the image detail in the clear centre spot…purely high precision studio stuff, perhaps more nostalgia than accurate memory.

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A collection of blues – common blue (Polyomatus icarus) and Mazarine blue (Cyaniris semiargus) feeding on mineral salts in the damp ground near an animal trough in the Sibillini. Composition is not perfect for the grass stems intrude…to have removed them, however gingerly would have scared off the feeding insects…there is often a trade off between reality and what one imagines is the ideal if you care about the welfare of your subject.

Thus far, the budget will only run to a couple of dedicated lenses and my choices (though typical of me) will not be the sort of lenses that most people immediately think of. I have an Olympus 60 mm f/2 .8 macro lens and a Samyang 7.5 mm f/3 .5 rectangular fisheye…

First a few words on the Olympus lens and then on the Samyang lens and finally on a remarkable device from Metabones is called the Speed Booster which I shall cover in a separate post.

B.  Olympus 60 mm f/2 .8 macro lens

When this lens arrived I must admit I had a shock – compared with all other macro lenses I own (apart from various specialist bellows lenses) this is tiny. However, it is a very neat, beautifully constructed optical device and the image quality is stunning.

The silver striped hawk (Hippotion celerio)

The silver striped hawk (Hippotion celerio) – a small but beautifully elegant and sleek hawkmoth. I was very impressed with the sharpness and precision of focus possible from the first images I made with the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens.

I’m not easily impressed when it comes to macro lenses and in a search for the ‘Holy Grail’ have owned optics from Nikon, Leica, Canon, Mamiya, Sigma, Zeiss,  Olympus and others – in fact, I still have most of them and have long used them on various adapters attached to some of the rigs that I use for serious inside and outside studio work at high magnifications. It has always seemed to me that the best balance of resolution and contrast in lene designs is often provided by those camera manufacturers whose business also includes the manufacture of precision lenses for microscopes: Nikon, Leica, Olympus and Zeiss all fall into that category. Sigma does not make microscope lenses, but its macro lenses are second to none and the 150 mm f/2 .8 Sigma macro has been my favourite lens for fieldwork on various Nikon bodies.

Larvae of the spotted fritillary (Melitaea didyma)

Larvae of the spotted fritillary (Melitaea didyma) feeding on a plantain species and a very pleasing background Bokeh at f/5.6.

Some people complain about the ‘focus on a wire’ method where, instead of the traditional focusing thread, there is a small motor which is driven by rotation of the focusing ring and that in turn moves the lens elements. This Olympus lens offers the best focusing “feel” I have experienced other than on top range legacy lenses with manual focus since it offers just the right amount of mechanical resistance giving the feel of a high precision helical thread. Some photographers with little experience before the digital revolution might think of this as ‘stiff’ but it is important for precise work, especially in video.

Venus' looking glass (Legousia speculum veneris) a weed of cornfields

Venus’ looking glass (Legousia speculum veneris) a weed of cornfields here photographed with a shallow depth of field and natural light under a sky with very diffuse cloud…

I have used the 60 mm f/2.8 Olympus macro a great deal with natural light for one of the advantages of micro 4/3 with its 2X crop factor is that you get the same depth of field at f/8 as you would at f/16 with full frame – that is, of course, when you fill the same proportion of the viewfinder with the same subject. I’ve often written on this and explain why it happens: it is not ‘magnification’ as some have written in error, it is due to the portion of the image circle needed to fill the sensor and the cropping that tales place. If I could change just one thing it would be to have a lens of longer focal length but thus far no-one makes them for MFT. However, for use with adapters I have a wide range of substitutes from of full-frame optics from my collection: 60mm, 105mm, 150mm and 180mm…

For a lens this sharp you would have to pay a substantial sum for full frame optics – I was able to buy this lens from UK Digital for less than £200 when I took into account the £75 rebate offered by Olympus…well below half of the price of a Nikon 105mm f/2.8 and easily its equal optically. The definition is simply superb – with crisp contrast and quite rapid (for me) and precise autofocus.

The thorax of a convolvulus hawmoth (Herse convolvuli) showing a 'face' made up by the hairs.

The thorax of a convolvulus hawmoth (Herse convolvuli) showing a ‘face’ made up by the hairs.

C. Wide angle macro

There have been some interesting developments (lenses, lighting and cameras) in the possibilities available for extending the scope of wide-angle macro using micro 4/3 since Clay Bolt and I published Wide-angle macro | The Essential Guidewhich will very soon be updated (a promise).

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Mountain avens (Dryas octopetala) is what is known as an arctic alpine plant and is a relict of past glaciation. The flowers are formed on cushions of dark green leaves and are heliotropic…they follow the sun throughout the day.

There are two further items that I shall be detailing in separate posts so as not to clutter this one. These are:

a. Samyang 7.5 mm f/3 .5 rectangular fisheye and

b. Metabones Speed Booster XL 0.64 .

 

©  Paul Harcourt Davies – neither images(s) nor text may be used in whole (or in part) without the express permission of the author.

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