Thursday, August 21, 2014

A tiny damsel, larger than life

I took a brief stroll around the work campus this afternoon, between showers. As is almost always the case, I had my camera in tow. The lenses vary, but this time the mega-macro Canon MP-E 65 lens was bolted to the Canon 5D Mark III. I wrote in some detail about this awesome niche lens HERE. The MP-E is not normally my default lens for traipsing about, as it does limit one's options. I like to have it in the pack and close at hand, but have some other more versatile lens attached to the camera.

However, time was tight, and I had decided to just seek macro material on this brief foray. I struck Odonate gold when I spotted a tiny Fragile Forktail, Ischnura posita, resting on a leaf just off the path. This damselfly is truly Lilliputian; perhaps only the Eastern Red Damselfly, Amphiagrion saucium, can lay claim to such minuteness among our damsel fauna. One might pass off a Fragile Forktail as a strange small fly or some other inconsequential bug without a good look.

The forktail gave me one chance for a shot, and it appears above. The flashes spooked it further into the foliage, and that was that. But this image is not bad, and may help allay some criticism of the difficulty of using the MP-E 65 lens in the field, and without a tripod. As small as this damselfly is, it can barely be squeezed into the MP's field of view, even at its lowest magnification. This shot is slightly cropped; on the original, much of the abdomen was visible, but not the terminal end - it was out of the field of view. Had I had more time to compose, I could have got it all in the image (barely), but I wanted the head shot and was focused on that. You can even make out tiny orangish mites - one between the eyes, one on the lateral black stripe, and a few on the underside of the thorax. With some slight tweaks in Photo Shop, which I have yet to do, the exposure will be picture-perfect.

The MP-E 65 lens has no focus ring - the photographer just moves the camera until the subject comes into focus. Turning the ring on the lens increases magnification, all the way to an amazing 5x power. It is like looking through a microscope. I find I can handhold the rig without undue difficulty at 1x or even 2x; anything beyond that requires some sort of stabilization. An issue with shooting unrestrained live animals such as this damselfly is the very close working distance required with this lens. The front of the lens was probably six inches or less from the damsel when I made the image, and a lot of critters won't put up with that sort of intrusion. If they will, the photographer can bag some incredible images, far beyond what even an extremely capable macro lens such as Canon's 100 mm L-series can produce.

I've only had a few weeks practice with this lens, but am honing in on its sweet spots. The best setting I've found thus far is: ISO - 100; aperture of f/16; 1/200 shutter speed. Flash is essential and the rig to have is Canon's twin lite flash setup, where the flashes are mounted on a ring at the end of the lens. The flash commander mounted on the hotshoe is set to ETTL mode, and communication between flash and camera is generally excellent. The twinlite flashes also have small pre-lights mounted on them, which can be activated with a quick double-tap of the camera's shutter release button. Those lights allow the photographer to easily see the subject and compose the image before firing the shot. Pre-lighting is often helpful, even essential, as the tiny aperture of the MP-E 65 lens lets very little light in and thus one's view through the view finder is often very dim.

If you are a serious macro photographer, I would highly recommend this lens. Of course (and I have no relationship with Canon!), you must shoot a Canon body. No other manufacturer, insofar as I know, makes a comparable lens.


Anonymous said...

I think my favorite damsel, the Citrine Forktail has those beat in the tiny department. Luckily it is bright yellow so it sticks out a bit if you happen to be looking its direction

OpposableChums said...

Yikes! You must have moved in on this fella sooooooo slowly...