After I got my Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM lens, I wanted to use it as single lens for both birding as well as macro. I have used Canon EF 300mm f/4.0L IS USM successfully in the past and got pretty good result. It was a great macro lens but the reach for bird photography was not there as its performance 1.4x teleconverter was average. 2.0x convertor was bad. f/2.8 lens was great with both these convertors and remained as sharp as original. This prompted me to try it as single all in one lens.
As a test I tried shooting female Common Mormon Butterfly (Papilio polytes)sitting on rose leaves during rain. You can check the details about the butterfly in article Male Common Mormon Butterfly.
The photo on the top shows my presently favored approach. It is shot using Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS II USM using ExpoImaging Ray Flash Adapter on Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash. The exposure using flash ring adapter gave a nice even light and ISO 200 with aperture of F/14 produced nice deep (in macro terms) depth of field. I was working nearly a feet away from the butterfly. Some insects get intimidated by such proximity of humans and it is difficult to capture them. If you notice the flash also made the background dark as the ambient light was very low. This can help to isolate your subject from cluttered background. But it also produces an unnatural look to the photo. Some shy critters will not allow you to approach this close.
Here in my second photo I used Canon EOS 7D with Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens on Canon EF 1.4x II Extender. The light was pretty low as it was raining heavily. So I used ISO 3200 to get hand holdable speed of 1/180th of second exposure at f/4 aperture. This setup gave me a sufficient working distance of around 3 meters from butterfly. I was standing under shade of roof and shooting this butterfly which was protecting my gear from rain. The safe distance allows you to get those shy type of critters easily.
There is price to pay for this comfort (I am not talking about the price of the lens here 😉 ) The lens is heavy, depth of field is very shallow. As you can see at f/4 aperture which was possible under the existing light butterflies antennae are out of focus even though the eyes are. Since the camera is far off I can’t use the flash and ring adapter to light up also. I can now use the naked Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash to throw as much light at the subject. Light reaching subject will be low. I can use either Better Beamer flash extender to concentrate the light on the butterfly or I can keep the flash off camera close to the subject. In the field this is difficult to achieve with fast moving subjects.
As you can see there is no easy shortcut to take for macro photography. Dedicated macro lens has advantages and several plus points. Using such an lens can achieve a great magnification and closeup shot of the subject. In the future blogs let us see how we can use extension tubes to alter minimum focusing distance and thus increasing magnification.