Lens for small insects and flowers

Hello,
I bought myself a Canon Rebel T7 (1500D in other countries) for two main reasons, bird photography and capturing tiny insects, grasshoppers, bugs, etc that rest on flowers, leaf litter, up in trees and other busy fore and backgrounds.
In having the intention to capture these two categories primarily, I purchased a 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III lens hoping it could do both things.
This lens is great for capturing birds or any subjects at a distance, but I was frustrated with its inability to focus on small subjects such as moths on flowers, or any close subject that requires high detail.
As a “beginner” photographer, Ive done some research and learned that my 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III lens is practically unable to capture those kinds of subjects.
Many people use macro lenses for this, but Im afraid that with no zoom capabilities of a 25 or 50mm lens, I will be unable to get close enough to these small subjects in busy fore/backgrounds to capture them with enough detail to ID to species.
I think that on the longer range bird photography, my 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III will be good enough for the near future, but I would appreciate someone’s take on lens recommendations or tips for small insects taking into account the previously mentioned.
Thank you!!!

1 Like

These are two different types of lenses. Aye.

For good small flowers and small bugs and moths etc you do want a macro like the 100mm. There is another Canon thread with canon based options recently if you search. I dont shoot canon (pentax) but 100mm macro is def my go to for those types. And it does not do birds unless ya get pretty dang close even then will be lots of cropping. I think 100mm macro was the major reply for such inverts and small flower macro photog as well from others.

I have a 150-300 for if i want to try for birds.

1 Like

I only can agree with the first comment, check the previous thread. 50mm lenses as far as I know get somewhat different results than 100mm, I’m only familiar with 100mm macro, you need to be as close as possible, usually you’ll be not a spying naturalist, but a mountain hanging above your object of interest. So, don’t care much on how close you need to be, zoom is not needed for macro, 70-300 lens will allow you to photograph stuff from afar, like butterflies, but it’s very much not what you want for macro, you need to run from your insect to just focus on it and quality will be lower. (I had the similar-stats lens, but Nikkor one, and it’s more of “I photograph birds, but also sometimes insects when I can”)

2 Likes

Before you invest in a macro lens you might want to consider something like a Raynox 250. It clips on to the front of you existing lens allowing you to get “macro” style photos depending on the lens you couple it with. Otherwise a macro lens in the 50 to 100 mm range is the way to go.

3 Likes

As mentioned by kevintoo, why not check out the Raynox?

I put together a sampler from a couple months of shooting with one on my Canon SX540. Less weight, size, price and likewise less anxiety about theft or accidental loss. Also very flexible between camera bodies/systems.

Here’s the sample page.

2 Likes

Stackable extension tubes are also a good way to dip your toes into macro, I’ve had good results using a 70-300 lens with them. On a lot of them (at least on the budget end), it will mean manual focus, and all of them will lose you plenty of light. The upsides are as Marina mentioned, even with the extension you’ll still be able to take pictures from far enough away that you won’t scare your subjects.

Another significant downside is that swapping between “naked” lens and using extension tubes can be a bit fiddly, especially when you stack 2 or 3 of them. If you’re taking photos in a very dusty/humid environment it might not be ideal (especially since overall I’m not that confident in the weather sealing of most of these).

thanks for this because I was wondering on the efficacy of these type of things

When looking for macro lens keep in mind the Working Distance if you want to shoot in the field. That’s the Minimum Focus Distance minus the length of the lens at closest focus. With 100mm Macro lenses it’s typically around 5 inches, or 120mm. Shorter lens will have very short working distance. You will have contend with light loss as magnification increases. at 1:1 where subject is projected life size on the sensor, the real aperature is about 2x what you set through camera/lens control, or 1/4th the light received on the sensor. You’ll want to have your own light source in most instances.

examples with dedicated macro lens and speedlight diffuser
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/139107987
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/136628749
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/136628738

Macro lens (or filters) like Raynox or Hoya add more magnification to longer lenses than short lenses. they are typically sold in sets, measured in diopters. Advantage is easy of use, light weight, and no light loss. You can stack them for more magnification. Disadvantage is loss in sharpness and increased color aberation compared to dedicated macro lenses, even with expensive doublet/triplet designs.

Extension tubes can be a very inexpensive way to try out macro. There’s no image quality loss, though you will have to contend with light loss, and maybe internal reflection creating glare on the image. You will also lose infinity focus with extension tubes. Magnification effect increases with shorter lenses, you will lose working distance as you add more extension. You can end up with negative working distance with the focal point inside of your lens. Not very practical with longer lenses since you will have to add considerable extension to gain appreciable magnification.

examples with extension tube on normal 100mm lens
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/42307213
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/47416715
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/47474036

Though not designed for Macro, Tele converters can be an option as well. Typically 1.4x and 2x versions. I find it more flexible in the field if my primary subject is macro, I use a Sigma 150mm Macro lens with 2x TC, I get 2:1 magnification on the close end with about 7~8" working distance, and 300mm on the far end with infinity focus, enough for birds in a pinch.

there is very good information on macro setups here and useful calculators for different macro setups, as well as photography in general.
https://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials.htm

Robert O’Toole’s page also has excellent lens comparisons and additional information on shooting macro beyond 1:1
https://www.closeuphotography.com/

for a lens that can do telephoto and 1:3 macro adequatly well is Sigma AF 400mm/5.6 Tele Macro. Older lens but good glass and versatility if you can find a clean one. Will have to dig around to see if there’s a version available for your mount or if there are adapters.

2 Likes

My favorite lens for field macro is:

venus optics 100mm f/2.8 lens

100mm so it has some reach, and with 2x maximum magnification, you can capture the smallest insects.

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/145971398

Lovely shot, but aren’t those ‘Hanging Thieves’ fairly large – like a couple of centimetres in body length? In my personal vocabulary, that’d be a mega-macro bug. But for iNat ID purposes, the mag and detail in the shot you show here would probably cover the detail range for stuff in the 1-2mm range (‘micro-macro’?).

The smallest insects? Dicopomorpha echmepterygis (a Fairy Fly) measures .139 millimetres in length. It’s actually invisible to the naked eye!

As I mentioned above, I use a Raynox-250 for macro and the closest I’ve gotten (handheld) is a frame width of about 2mm. Here’s a cellar spider closeup from that experiment:

The Raynox gave me about a 4-inch distance between the spider and the Raynox lens.

Lovely shot, but aren’t those ‘Hanging Thieves’ fairly large – like a couple of centimetres in body length? In my personal vocabulary, that’d be a mega-macro bug.

Check out the versatility of this lens

The Host Insect at low magnification:

The Parasite on its back at high magnification:

All I had to do was twist the focus ring on the lens and move the camera closer (handheld) to change magnification. No messing around with lens extenders.

1 Like

You also had to part ways with about $500.

Thanks.
@Bufface, what camera do you have? Have you tried that lens on a Canon body?
After doing some reserach on the Venus Optics 100mm f/2.8 lens, I see that there are negative comments about the lens not having Image Stabilization or Auto Focus.
Im thinking that not having auto focus is not a big deal, considering that in macro environments there may be many leaves, branches, etc in the way of your subject that could make AF frustrating.
However, I think that no Image Stabilization could lead to unsharp photos. This thought is somewhat disproven by your examples photos.
Can you please let me know your thoughts on this? Not having AF or Image Stabilization?
Thanks.

@tallastro what camera do you have?
what would you say are the cons of the Raynox? I feel like the price and images are “too good to be true”
there must be a setback or two.

I don’t know about this lens, but I shoot macro with stabilizer off, don’t see a difference when it’s on and sound+vibration doesn’t help focusing. I also don’t use autofocus unless it’s something big like a mouse+ size when hand focus is just not handy. So, if those are the only downsides to it you see, get it.

2 Likes

I could imagine that you might or might not have to tweak the exposure depending on the base lens. The diamater of the Raynox is not that large. Otherwise it should be pretty good.

I have DCR-150, -250 & -5430, but I don’t use them quite the way you intend to. I use them as tube lens behind a microscope objective. That usually reveals CA problems quite readily and there are pretty much none with those.

In macro I almost never use AF, so the Laowa objectives should be very good for the job too. It could be a problem with a body that does focus stacking automatically, but I don’t think yours does. (?)

1 Like

That is not quite true. They force the lenses to operate far from their design point. That increases aberrations. How much depends on the base lens.

1 Like

True in the sense that extra air between the lens and sensor doesn’t degrade the image as additional elements in the optical path would.

Some lenses take to extension tube better than others for sure.

Can you elaborate on this? Very curious to the exact setup here and the typical shooting condition for it.

The principle of the setup is pretty much the same as with stacked lenses, where the front lens is reversed and focused at infinity and the rear lens is focused at infinity as well. The magnification is the ratio of focal lengths.

When the rear lens is replaced with close-up lens (and you need a good one) you have to find a collection of tubes that places it exactly a focal length away from the sensor. What that “exactly” means depends on the NA value of your microscope objective. Higher NA requires more accurate positioning. With low NA ± 1mm should do.

If the tube lens has the same focal length that is recommended for the microscope objective, you get the same magnification that is printed on the objective. If you have longer or shorter focal length, you have correspondingly more or less magnification. Do note that you can run into problems with objective coverage with shorter tube lenses or even just with FF camera. On the other hand, using too much longer tube lens will usually end in a situation that you have a picture, but the resolution is limited by the microscope objective, not the camera and the image will be soft overall.

The DoF is very small, so these require stacking and a studio setup. I use them mostly to photograph genital slides of small moths.

1 Like