Toms Macro Breakdown

An article about doing macro shots with Russian Gear.

A short intro to Macro photography

Or getting a bit closer....

There are times that you just want a nice close up picture. But how? Allthough some lenses get close, they rarely come close enough. In this little article about macrophotography I'll be concentrating on the Russian stuff. Allthough it is also usuable in general for other cameras.

Now then, back to the business at hand, Macros. The shot on the right was made with digital camera in macromode at a distance of 10 centimeters. This is what we want. A nice close up. The other was made with a Russian Volna 9 macrolens at a distance around 20 centimeters.

Well... This is what we want... now how do we get close on our subject?
What is it going to cost us and what are the drawbacks?

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Extension Rings

Doing good macro work on the cheap.

Incredible cheap macro system. That is how we can describe macro rings. On ebay their price can be around 8 to 10 dollars or euros and in a secondhand photoshop anywhere between 5 to 15 dollars or euros. This wil get you 3 to 4 rings varying in size from 5, 6, 8, 10, 14, 25, 27 millimeter and there are more variations. They work on a very simple principle. They change the focallength of the lens. Another variation is the Reversal lens, it simply puts on the lens backwards on the camera. Though I love the general idea, the Reversal ring I don't like. The reversal ring exposes the back element of the lens and it is hard to protect it. You can get good results with the Reversal ring. But I would not recommend it. It isn't as versatile als the Extension rings. And there is a real danger that you can damage the lens rear element. You can however protect the rear element of the lens using an extension ring.

Both these shots were made with extension rings. Good quality.

Then there is one left, the close up filter. A lens that can be put on front of the normal lens so you can make macros. These are usually intended for cameras with a fixed lens and I can't say that I have seen good quality among them. But I don't have much experience with them.

The Summ up....

Extension Rings

  • A lot of mounting... read screwwork.
  • Lens now only usuable at short distance
  • Very Cheap
  • Capable of very good quality macros
  • Versatile system, several rings
  • Some rings can be used with auto lenses

The Reversal Ring

  • A lot of mounting... read screwwork.
  • Lens now only usuable at short distance
  • Rear element is exposed
    (but can be protected using an extensionring)
  • Can't mount extra filters
  • Prone to flare
  • Cheap
  • Capable of good quality macros

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The Add on Close up filter/lens

  • Not allways high quality
  • Lens now only usuable at short distance
  • Can be expensive
  • Can't mount extra filters
  • Prone to flare (needs lenshood)
  • Perfect if you don't have a removable lens on your camera
  • Can make reasonable to good macros


Ultimate Macro system?

Yes, it does look like a reject from the 1920'ties from the last century. But Bellows can be used for extreme close up work. The next step up from rings and a must for a macro nut. To stay in the Russian field, these bellows are very good when used with a Helios-44-2, Industar-50-2 or a Vivitar 135 mm. Sharp and extremely close. It is also not very expensive, second hand it can be had for anywhere between 40 and 100 dollars or Euros. On ebay they can come as cheap as 15 dollars or euros. But they are not easy to work with. You need a tripod. And the bellows don't take autolenses. So you need a preset lens to work with. Allthough the whole bellow system is somewhat cumbersome it does work great. And because you work with a tripod anyway you can go for those low speed, sharp shots.

In this shot a Zenit-11 is equiped with a Helios 44-4 (with auto/manual switch), bellows, polarisation filter and minipod, the remote release cable is not in this shot.

  • Big system
  • Cumbersome to use
  • Requires a tripod or minipod
  • Bellows can be damaged
  • Doesn't take autolenses
  • Gets extremely close, 1 to 2 centimeters
  • Cheap system
  • Capable of very good macros

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Macro lenses

Best investment?

In my
Volna 9 vs Industar 61 L/Z article I compared two Russian macro lenses. Though both ended up as almost equal. The Volna 9 was the stronger of the two in both sharpness and closeness. The Macro lens is the ultimate upgrade for anyone who is really serious about doing a lot of macros. Granted that if you are serious about macros you have to have bellows but the macro lens is much more better. It is excellent for field work, no extra screwing or setting up a tripod. You don't have to switch lenses if you want a standard lens, don't have to fiddle with rings. For both fieldwork and serious macrostuff this is the best thing.

  • Both lenses can be hard to find (esspecially the Volna 9)
  • Preset, no autolenses
  • Cheap macro lenses compared to other brands
    Volna 9, 50 to 80 dollars or 55 to 90 Euros.
    The Industar 61 L/Z, 20 to 60 dollars or 25 to 70 Euros.
  • Excellent quality, esspecially the Volna 9
  • Doubles as a standard 50 mm lens.
  • Comes close (Industar less than 30 cm, Volna 9 less than 24 cm)
  • Front lens element is way back in the lens, no lens hood needed
  • Multicoated
  • Excellent for field use

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What now?

Well.... you got to ask yourself this question... Do I feel lucky?
Or better put in the context of this article, am I serious about macros?
Or do I just shoot the odd flower every now and then?

If you are serious.... then the Volna 9 or at least a good macro lens that focusses down to around 20 centimeters is the best way to go. Offcourse it can't hurt getting a bellows system too. Just because of the fact that a macro lens handles like any other lens (it just gets closer) makes it the perfect choice.

If you just shoot a few flowers or if you are just not sure yet if you like doing macros. Get yourself a few extension rings. They are incredibly cheap and if you don't like it you don't loose much money. And they are hard to beat price quality wise.

Then offcourse we have digital cameras, allthough it does not really fit into shooting with Russian gear this article is about macros so they cannot be ignored. In digital cameras there is one brand that just is way ahead of the rest, Nikon with its Nikon Coolpix series. The 950, 990 and more of these series focus down to 1 inch, 2.5 centimeters, which can only be beaten with rings or bellows. A digital camera like this will set you back a lot more than bellows, rings or even a good macro lens. In the long run it is even cheaper than film. But since the development on digital cameras is so fast (my 2.11 megapixel is allready after not even 2 years of use obsolete) we will just have to wait and see what develops here. But if you are serious about macros and wanted to jump to digital, the Nikon series is the way to go. 2.5 inches is hard to beat.

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