Friday, July 1, 2011

D7000 macro with extension tubes and the Afghan Girl lens …

So what is the Afghan Girl lens you ask? Well, that would be the lens that was used to shoot the incredibly famous Afghan Girl on the cover of National Geographic:

Click on the image to read her story. It’s quite something.

Anyway, the lens used on that shot was a variation on the legendary 105mm f/2.5 manual focus lens that was all the rage way back when (60s and 70s) as a portrait / short telephoto lens. And for good reason … the sharpness of this lens still puts many a lens to shame.

I have owned two of these … a near-perfect copy of the AIS lens with built in hood, and a nice copy of the Ai lens (which precedes the AIS in age) which I still have. I sold the other in my quest to get the D700. I will regret that sale to the end of my days. But the new one seems about as sharp so I can’t really complain too much.

In addition, the experiment for this article was to mount that lens on the end of a cheap extension tube that I bought from a Chinese vendor on eBay a few years ago. It is an ultra cheap set of three rings that screw together with end caps that provide connection to the body and the lens. The cheapest sort of connection, but nonetheless a functioning one.

Here’s what the kit and the lens and the D7000 look like before I actually put it all together.


The tube I will use is the largest of the three, which stands next to the camera with the end caps already attached. The lens is on the camera for now and the other two rings are screwed together and provide a stand for the lens. The extra rings were left out of this exercise because I planned to shoot hand held and did not need any more magnification.

This is a just for fun exercise, because when you shoot high magnification you should either use a tripod, or use a flash to stop the action. You can get the info you need from John Shaw’s Field Guide to Nature Photography, which you can link to here.

So, I got the kit put together and walked out into my front yard garden. It had just rained and I was intent on capturing droplets on leaves, since I consider those images to be rather nice looking …

The huge Honey-Bell Hosta near my front step was soaked.

I’m not thrilled with the color on those. Later, I changed my conversions to use shade white balance, and that greened things up considerably. Of course, you can help yourself by shooting with a polarizer filter, which cuts the glare from the sky. Wet leaves reflect way too much sky, which is usually grey during the best lighting, so you really cannot get the best saturation under these conditions unless you cut through that glare.

Here’s what the last one (which is my favorite by the way) looks like with shade white balance instead of “as shot” …

That’s probably too strong, but one presumes that there is a happy medium somewhere between.

Something I have not mentioned yet is that the early exposures are shot at 1600 ISO because the lighting is quite low and I am shooting at high magnification. Need the shutter speed when going hand held. But the D7000 is remarkably noiseless at 1600 ISO. The aperture here is f/2.5 … which is actually wrong. There is no electrical connection to the camera with this cheap sort of extension tube, so have to write down the actual aperture, which I did not do :-) …

The shutter speed is 1/400s. The last couple of images are shot at 400 ISO … to get the exact EXIF data you should click through to the actual image and then use a browser plugin for EXIF display. Very useful …

The bokeh on this lens is first rate. That combination of razor sharp wide open and magnificent bokeh is why this lens is legendary. To match it, you have to go all the way to the 85mm 1.4AFD or 1.4G and now you are looking at something north of $1200 cad for the AFD lens and $1900cad for the G lens. (As I write this, Henry’s Photo has the AFD lens on sale for 1100 …)

They are both amazing, but if you can stand to shoot manual focus, you can match it for under $100 … I paid $225 for the AIS version and sold it for the same money; then I later paid $89 for the Ai version that shot these images. I cannot be without a copy of this lens. That’s just how it is …

Here’s an image I shot by backing away. I have removed the extension tube for this shot … think of Kissing Gouramis

I then shot a fly with the naked lens and show the image here with an insert to show the clarity and detail. Not bad, although grainy from having to pull shadow detail.

With the extension tube back on I can focus much closer. The fly was hopping away as I got close but it always landed back onto the rail, so I was able to sneak a bit closer each time.

Here is a crop from that image, which is back at 1600 ISO because of the increased magnification.

Obviously, a big increase in shadow grain, and yet there is an awful lot of detail here.

And one more image, cropped a bit as I recall. This is the best I got in this session, and when you get one good image from a hack session like this, you must take that as a success.

The clarity of the eye (think about how small that is) is astounding. This is what we try for every time out. Not too shabby for a $10 extension tube and an $89 lens.

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