Extreme macro: equipment & settings

Using the right equipment for Extreme Macro photography is critical. You’ll need the right type of camera, the right kind of close-up lenses and the right flash.

Camera

Damsel flyA digital camera for Extreme Macro photography should have a small sensor, a long zoom and hot shoe for an external flash. I use a Panasonic DMC FZ30, very similar to the newer FZ50. This small sensor, fixed 12x zoom lens camera has a 35mm equivalent of a 35-420mm lens. It features an eight megapixel sensor, image stabilization and a hotshoe.

Lenses

I like the Raynox DCR 150 and DCR-250 Achromatic close-up lenses. Both lenses are razor sharp, easily clip-on the camera, and are fairly inexpensive. The DCR-150 has a diopter strength of +4. This works well for larger insects and flower detail shots. The DCR-250 is extremely powerful with a diopter of +8, this lens works well for very small insects. Combining this with the 420mm lens of the Panasonic FZ30 achieves incredible magnification power.

External flash

My Sunpak 383 electronic flash unit has a rotating head and five output levels. For the bounce reflector I use a piece of white cardboard attached to the head of the flash unit and point is almost straight up . I adjust to power output for proper exposure.

Camera settings for extreme macro photography

hover flySince we have control of the lighting using the bounce flash, optimal exposure settings should be used. I set the camera on manual exposure mode and manual focus. For most situations, I use the smallest aperture for maximum depth of field. On the FZ30 camera it’s f11.

I usually set the shutter speed for 1/250th of a second.  This seems to be a good balance in stopping action and allowing in some natural light. It helps prevent the dreaded black background sometimes seen in macro photography.

The ISO is set to the lowest setting to achieve maximum detail and lowest digital noise, which on the FZ30 is ISO 80.  These small sensor cameras have a reputation for producing digital noise. But when ISO is kept at the lowest setting, the results for Extreme Macro photography can compete with any DSLR.

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