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From bridge to G3 for close-ups/macros with achromats

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by gardenersassistant, Sep 1, 2011.

  1. I posted this on another site and someone there suggested that it might be of some interest here. My apologies if this is all old hat to experienced G-series users. (And there may of course be some errors of fact that need correction and some errors of judgement that will benefit from a more experienced perspective.)


    The G3 is very good for close-ups/macros with add-on achromatic close-up lenses like the Raynox 150 and 250.


    I have used bridge cameras (Canon S3is and Canon SX10is) with add-on lenses (Raynox 150, Raynox 250, Canon 500D) for several years, mainly photographing flowers and invertebrates, with occasional sunsets/skyscapes.

    I have for some time wondered about using a camera with a larger sensor to improve image quality and improve my options for taking close-ups/macros on dull days with poor light (I prefer to use available light), taking close-ups/macros when there is a breeze, and increasing depth of field (DOF is narrrow for close-ups/macros but I like to get all of my subject into focus, or as much of it as possible).

    Based on my experience with the S3 and SX10 there were several things that were important for me:

    - being able to use an LCD rather than a viewfinder,
    - having an LCD which is articulated so I can take shots from odd angles,
    - being able to use the LCD while the camera is on a tripod (I have a complicated tripod with a reversable central column which has an adjustable arm attached to it, at the end of which I have a ball head, to which a focus rail is attached, and the camera attaches to the focus rail),
    - being able to use autofocus and autoexposure for my close-up/macro work
    - having manual focus available as a practical proposition when occasionally needed (unlike with the SX10)
    - having a camera and flash that work together to provide TTL metering when the camera is in Manual Mode (unlike the SX10 even with Canon flashes)
    - having a camera and flash that provide flash at any shutter speed

    With all this in mind I recently purchased a Panasonic G3 with 14-42 and 45-200 kit lenses and a Metz AF 58-2 flash.

    I decided not to purchase a dedicated macro lens at this stage because the Panasonic 45mm macro lens is extremely expensive, has too short a working distance for my liking and does not have practical options for going beyond 1:1 while retaining autoexposure and autofocus. The non-Panasonic macro lenses lack autofocus on the G3. So, I decided to use my three add-on lenses for now for close-ups/macros. Used on the 45-200mm lens on the G3 these three add-on lenses let me photograph scenes down to the same small size as the SX10, scenes about 11mm wide, which is "closer-up" than 1:1 for full frame (35mm wide), APS-C (21-29mm wide) or Micro Four Thirds (18mm wide).

    There is one weakness in this G3 setup as far as close-ups go which is similar to the SX10 setup. It concerns subjects that are relatively large, such as butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and craneflies. Because of their size these need either the least powerful of my close-up lenses, the 500D, or the camera used by itself with no close-up lens. The problem is that the 500D requires you to get within not much more than a foot from the subject, and these subjects can be quite nervous, making it difficult to get that close. Without any add-on lens the SX10 and the G3 allow you to get to about a metre from the subject at full telephoto. However, this can leave butterflies rather small in the frame. The G3 does have more scope for cropping than the SX10, but even so this is sufficient of a weakness that I am considering getting a Panasonic FZ150, which I would use for these larger insects using its tele-macro mode. It would also let me respond faster to these larger subjects, just having to pick up the second camera rather than having to dismount an add-on lens. I also envisage getting a 1.7x teleconverter for the FZ150 (assuming that it will work like the FZ100). This would give me maximum zoom of 1060mm in 35mm terms, which would give me more options for photographing birds.

    Continued in next post ...
  2. Some differences between the SX10 and the G3

    The SX10 uses a single, fixed lens. The G3 users interchangeable lenses. I am not keen on changing lenses out in the field (e.g. at the muddy, dusty, pollen-ridden etc nature reserves that I visit). However it turns out by chance that with my current setup I am unlikely to have to change the lens much. The 45-200 with my three add-on close-up lenses and with no add-on lens covers all scene widths from 11mm across to the equivalent coverage of a 90mm 35mm format lens. The only reason for my using the 14-42 would be for sunsets, skyscapes etc. The division between lenses at 45mm happens to be rather convenient for my purposes.

    The G3 autofocuses faster and more positively than the SX10. The SX10 is a bit slower at the best of times, and sometimes spends time "hunting" for focus. Thus far, either the G3 focuses very quickly or if it hasn't focused quickly then it most probably isn't going to focus at all. So, if there is any delay in focusing you try again. This is very good news for using the add-on close-up lenses, which will only focus in a certain range of distances from the subject. I am finding that the G3's quick (positive or negative) focusing response makes these close-up lenses sigificantly easier, and quicker, to use.

    To zoom with the SX10 you use (right handed) a little lever around the shutter button. To zoom with the G3 you use (left handed) a zoom ring on the lens. I prefer the G3 arrangement - it is quicker and can be more finely controlled.

    I found manual focus on the SX10 to be so fiddly and so lacking in subtle control that it was in practice almost unusable for me. As a result I haven't used manual focus much. I have found the G3's implementation of manual focus very good indeed and I have started using it for tricky shots. I am now convinced that some of my macro shots do need manual focus, although autofocus remains my default focusing method.

    The SX10 uses AA batteries. Rechargeable AAs are easy to get hold of and relatively inexpensive, and I would typically only change the batteries once during a day in which I captured 1,000 to 1,500 images. The G3 has poor battery life, perhaps 300-400 images (and I turn the camera off as soon as I have finished with one subject and until I find the next one). The Panasonic batteries are ridiculously expensive, £60 each, and they are chipped so that unchipped third party batteries don't work properly - they don't show battery life, or if they do they [this is disputed] they don't show it correctly). I initially bought two Panasonic batteries. When I realised just how bad the battery life is I weakened and bought another three, third party, batteries. There could be Warranty issues in due course, but I decided to take that risk, and also to live with the unreliable battery indication.

    The SX10's flash sync speed is 1/250 sec, while the G3's is a slow 1/160 sec. 1/250 imposes a significant restriction on using the SX10's flash for fill light on bright days. 1/160 makes this even worse for the G3. With an appropriate external flash both cameras will use HSS/FPS flash with TTL metering at above sync speed in aperture and shutter speed priority modes. Unlike the SX10, the G3 will also do this in manual mode. This means that with the G3 you can have full control over ISO (for noise and detail capture characteristics), shutter speed (for blurry/sharp characteristics) and aperture (for DOF), while retaining (exposure adjustable) use of TTL flash, including at shutter speeds faster than sync speed. This is good as I have encountered circumstances with close-ups/macros with the SX10 where I needed to work in this way to get the effect I wanted but could not.

    Continued in next post ....
  3. Macro/close-up image quality and technique issues

    Compared to my previous cameras, the G3 produces much better quality images, with more scope for cropping, and better capture of details and subtle textures. It is usable at much higher ISOs, giving more scope for using available light on dull days, and for the later stages of post-sunset land/water/skyscapes when light levels are extremely low.

    My wife is not a photographer but is a plantswoman who sees extraordinary subtleties in colours and is very particular about colour rendition for plant life, with which she is extremely familiar. I only had JPEGs available with the SX10 and after various experiments we decided that the SX10's colour rendition was nearest to reality when I turned the saturation right down, turned the red and green down too and used the Cloudy White Balance.

    We have now done similar experiments with the G3 and decided that the G3's colour rendition was nearest to reality when I used Auto White Balance, pulled its Amber/Blue balance 5 steps out of 9 towards Amber and pulled the Green/Magenta balance 2 steps towards Magenta, and also turned the saturation right down.

    I also have the Contrast, Sharpness and Noise reduction turned right down.

    I am finding that the images from the G3's larger (larger than superzoom, but still smaller than dSLR) sensor need much less post processing than SX10 images, often only the lightest touch in fact. They are a treat to work with. I had assumed I would want to use RAW but the JPEGs thus far seem to be fine for my purposes (and when I tried using RAW I found it problematic that there are significant periods when the camera is "dead" after using burst mode, and I do use burst mode, although thus far much less than with the SX10).

    Because of the difference in sensor sizes, for any given close-up/macro scene, to get the same amount of DOF with the G3 you need to use an aperture about 3 stops smaller than with the SX10 (e.g. f/8 on the SX10 equates in DOF terms to roughly f/22 on the G3). This has a couple of implications.

    1 At full zoom the SX10 ranges just one stop from f/8 to f/5.6. In terms of DOF, the equivalents on the G3 are f/22 and f/16. However, unlike the SX10, the Panasonic 45-200 can open up another three stops at full zoom, to f/5.6. This means there is much more potential for narrow DOF close-ups and macros on the G3. Much to my surprise I have discovered some narrower DOF effects that I rather like. Much to explore here I think.

    2 When using available light, to achieve the same DOF as the SX10 for a particular scene with the same ISO means that the G3 has to use a three stop slower shutter speed (e.g. 1/40 sec versus 1/250 for the SX10). To achieve the same DOF for a particular scene with the same shutter speed means that the G3 has to use a three stop higher ISO (e.g. ISO 800 versus ISO 100 for the SX10). In strong light (or when using flash as the main light source) this difference does not matter as you can simply use a slower shutter speed on the G3 with no adverse effect. However, when the light level is not so good and you are working with shutter speeds that are so slow that reducing them would increase blur unacceptably, then you have to up the ISO on the G3 (or use flash). Fortunately, in terms of image quality, ISO 800 on the G3 will give (IMO) results as good as the SX10 at ISO 100 (in fact, better results IMO). However, even though the G3 can in general produce much better quality images than the SX10, when using available light on dull days for close-ups where DOF matters the G3 does not have nearly the quality benefits over the SX10 as you might expect.

    I am still using a tripod most of the time, but a few days ago I had a photo session at a garden my wife and I visited. I wanted to be less obtrusive so I worked hand-held. To my surprise it worked quite well. It was an overcast day and I assumed to begin with that I would need to use flash. However, I had a very frustrating time with my first subject trying to get it to look natural. So I gave up with the flash and used available light. Much to my surprise, and despite an intermittent slight breeze, it worked fine. I got some decently fast shutter speeds by using some higher ISOs and larger apertures than previously. ISOs up to 800 turned out fine. I am now experimenting with ISO 1600 and, very occasionally, ISO 3200, both in situations where there is potentially more to be gained in terms of sharpness and detail by using a faster shutter speed than may be lost because of noise.

    I have mentioned in another thread [on another site] that distance to the subject is very important when using add-on lenses. This is still the case with the G3, but for some reason it seems to be less of a problem. I think this may be because of the speed with which the G3 decides whether it is going to focus or not. If I'm not at a suitable distance I won't get focus - with the G3 I know this very quickly and can adjust the distance. And on the other hand, if the camera does acquire focus it appears almost all the time to be "good focus" and not the "I'm telling you I've got focus but I haven't really found a good sharp focus" that I could get from the SX10.

    The G3 lets me use a remote shutter release. I love it. I use it a lot of the time when the camera is on the tripod. (unless I have to keep my hands on the camera to track a moving subject). As well as shutter release for single shots, you can half press for autofocus and hold down for bursts. When working with the remote shutter release I turn the image stabilisation off. For hand held, or when using the tripod but keeping my hands on the camera, I have the image stabilisation on.

    The G3 self-timer is inflexible with just three fixed options. The SX10 lets you define both the delay and the number of shots. The ability to use a remote release makes this much less important for me than it would otherwise be.

    Bad news on the remote shutter release front though. I bought a third party remote shutter release but it has already stopped working properly. I do work the equipment very hard, but for it to be going flakey after just a few days of use is very disappointing.


    The G3 works well for sunsets. I suspect it is handling the high contrasts of sunsets better than the SX10. It also seems to be capturing colours better. There is a light, almost transparent turquoise colour that appears in some sunset skies that I was never able to capture with the SX10, but which is captured by the G3. Also, my wife says that the G3 does quite a good job in capturing some very subtle gradations of colours and delicate colours that we get in some of our sunsets, whereas the SX10 colours are rather crude by comparison.

    The G3's better low light/higher ISO performance is obviously useful. The G3 plays nicely with the panorama software that I use, Autopano Pro.
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  4. ~tc~

    ~tc~ Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 22, 2010
    Houston, TX
    Ok, for us ADD folks, is there an abridged version?
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  5. The G3 is very good for close-ups/macros with add-on achromatic close-up lenses like the Raynox 150 and 250.

    Which makes me a happy bunny. (Unlike the battery life, or the slow sync speed.)

    You can get just as much DOF as with a small-sensor camera, but you can get much less DOF than with a small sensor camera, which opens up interesting possibilities.

    It handles colours very nicely.

    Overall image quality is very good compared to a small-sensor camera, although when light levels are low and getting large DOF matters this advantage decreases significantly.
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