Sunday, July 25, 2010
Macro Nature Photography for the Canon Camera System
This post is primarily me pontificating on camera gear and techniques- it's different from my usual post, but if you like it, I might discuss nature camera gear and offer photography tips more frequently. All images here were taken with the recently discontinued Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX DG IF HSM APO. -Tom
Up until Friday afternoon, I was taking my insect photographs with a variety of lenses. I use the Canon system, and my primary go-to macro lens was the ef-s 60mm f/2.8 which is designed for Canon's line of crop sensor cameras like the Rebel series and the XXd series (30d, 40d, 50d, and now the 7d). The Canon 60mm ef-s lens is small, light, extremely sharp, and focuses quickly. Perhaps the best feature about the lens is that it is small enough to use my digital rebel's on-board popup flash, which I often diffused with tissue paper or bounded downwards with a small reflector. Using this setup, I could get quick, easy photographs of small insects.
However, the downside of this lens is that I had to have the camera very close to my subjects. This worked out OK, but I often would scare the insect that I was trying to photograph and it would fly away. For dragonfly and butterfly photography, I was using telephoto lenses that could get me fairly large magnifications, especially if I cropped the images a little bit. But I often couldn't fill the entire frame with a small butterfly or damselfly- and I certainly couldn't get super tight close-ups with mega-detail like yesterday's powdered dancer and prey image.
So I needed another option. I needed a telephoto macro lens. Canon makes such a lens, the 180mm f/3.5L, a super duper lens that is currently selling for $1300. Although I have no doubt this is an incredible lens, I just didn't want to spend that much cash, especially when a seemingly viable alternative exists. After looking at example photographs and reading a review by Juza, I decided that the Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX DG IF HSM APO Macro in a Canon mount would help me get the type of photographs that I wanted.
This lens was recently discontinued by Sigma, but B&H photo is still selling new copies. Since I am "cheaping out" on this lens in the first place, I decided to look for a used copy, and sure enough, KEH camera brokers had what I was looking for. I placed my order, and my lens arrived Friday afternoon.
After a few dozen shots and copious "chimping" (photographer's speak for looking at photos on the back of your camera), I knew I was going to love this lens. The sharpness is amazing, and so is the color and contrast. And after some concerns that the lens would be to big and heavy, I found it to be quite light compared to my Canon 100-400L. And I could simply get images that I couldn't get with any of my older lenses.
The Sigma 180 isn't an easy lens to use- the depth of field is extremely narrow and the long focal length mean I'll need to use a tripod, have great light, or use high ISO's. But only after a weekend shooting with this new lens, it's just amazing!