Typically, macro lenses are utilized to shoot close..., to create imagery beyond what we recognize as standardized parameters. These tools though versatile are limited in what they are capable of accomplishing. Most macro lenses will focus close enough to achieve full 1:1 (or at least 1/2) life-size reproductions. This may be acceptable in most applications but what if the subject or circumstance requires getting an even closer look? To achieve greater than life-size reproduction one must implement specialized equipment designed for the task. Extension tubes and/or bellows assemblies can be attached to existing camera/lens combinations to increase the distance from the subject to the film plane…thus enlarging the subject in the frame to reveal its secrets down to the tiniest detail (…kind of like how moving a slide projector farther from the screen makes the projected image larger).
This wheel bug was photographed at approximately 3:1 (3x life-size) with a 105 mm 1:2 macro lens attached to a bellows unit at full extension (190 mm). This assassin bug was barely an inch long but the most minute details of this formidable predator were revealed .
It’s important to remember that when shooting in extremes in macro, light loss and depth of field will be minimized and movement of the subject or camera will be amplified.
Even greater magnifications can be achieved when a reversing ring is used to mount a wide-angle lens (backwards) onto a bellows. This jumping spider was photographed by mounting a reversed 35 mm lens onto a bellows at full extension. The resulting image equates to around 10X life-size. The intimate details of this miniscule arachnid are recorded and displayed in a way our naked eyes could never possibly perceive. (Yeah,.. that’s me reflected in those tiny eyes.)
At these great magnifications depth of field is literally measured in microns so a small aperture, a rock-steady support system and an immobile subject are essential elements in maintaining sharpness for the multi-second exposures that may be required.
On the other extreme lies the challenge of pulling distant objects to within reach…and without mortgaging the house to buy that prime super-telephoto lens. Tele-converters, in conjunction with a high-quality telephoto lens can be the answer. Even when two compatible converters are stacked, the resulting image quality can be an acceptable compromise for that extra reach at a fraction of the cost of a super-telephoto.
This canvasback was paddling along a distance which have resulted in it being represented as a tiny spec on the frame at 300 mm. By adding two 2x tele-converters, the effective reach of 1200 mm greatly increases its size in the frame while maintaining acceptable sharpness and color reproduction.
Of course, as in shooting in extreme macro, there are trade-offs to consider when stacking two or more tele-converters. Color shifts, fringing and vignetting can occur but are minimal when utilizing matching lens/converter combinations. Both the lens and converters must be of high quality to achieve acceptable results. Two stops of light are lost for each 2X converter…(one stop with a 1.4X). While this can make stopping action more difficult, the longer available shutter speeds can be beneficial when attempting to imply motion.
The photo of this icy waterfall was taken at mid-day with a 300 mm lens at f-22 and two 2X converters. The resulting light loss allowed for a much slower shutter speed than would have otherwise been possible on such a bright sunny day.
(This photo shows the frozen falls from the same location with the 300 mm lens only. The colors are better represented but it was impossible to “veil” the falls.)
When attempting to stack multiple teleconverters, image sharpness will be compromised considerably unless steps are taken to minimize the effects of the movement of the camera body during exposure. A stable tripod and using the timer or a remote trigger to operate the shutter hands-free will help but some "jiggling" of the camera may still occur.
The attached photo shows a home-made wooden stabilizing device which helps to eliminate camera shake when stacking teleconverters to achieve greater reach. The 300 mm lens collar attaches firmly to one end of the support and the camera body is bolted to the other. The entire assembly attaches to the tripod via quick-release plate to create a stable shooting platform with an effective reach of 1200 mm. I recently constructed a similar stabilizing platform to accommodate a 2400 mm. lens/converter assembly. This extreme telephoto can pull in those distant "specs" on the horizon quite well but requires a very sturdy support system. Sometimes, extreme measures may be your only option when that once in a lifetime opportunity comes along.
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