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Macro Choices for Reef Aquarium

Discussion in 'This or That? (MFT only)' started by horseplay, Aug 12, 2014.

  1. horseplay

    horseplay New to Mu-43

    Dec 15, 2013
    I have e-pl5 with the 14-42mm and 40-150mm kit lenses. I also own the Panny 20mm 1.7. I also maintain a reef tank and I want to take some Macro shots of the corals I keep. For example, like this:

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    I need to take pictures in the 4" - 18" distance through the glass of the aquarium. These corals are 1/2" to a few inches. Of course I also like to take pictures of other small things like flowers and insects etc ... But primarily I would like to take good macro shot of corals. Manual focusing is ok but of course auto is a bonus.

    I have been doing some research including using the "Macro" setting of the E-PL5. Honestly I am very confused and not sure what to get. Looks like choices are:

    1. Extension tubes. These are very cheap but I am not sure whether it will satisfy my own specific need.
    2. Oly MCON-P01 (or P02). I do like the slick look.
    3. Raynox macro conversion lens. I guess these are similar to the Oly conversion lens.
    4. Legacy macro lens with extension adapter to 1:1 + mount adapter.

    What is the best option? Any other suggestions?
  2. MajorMagee

    MajorMagee Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2011
    Dayton, OH
    In most cases true Macro is probably not going to work for you because the short working distance will place your camera in the water. I often take "macro" shots with longer lenses that have a relatively short minimum focus distance.

    E-P5 with Zuiko Digital 70-300mm and EC-14 1.4x Teleconverter at 425mm, f/7.9, 1/125 sec, ISO 1600 from 4.5 ft.
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  3. GoatsAndMonkeys

    GoatsAndMonkeys New to Mu-43

    Aug 13, 2014
    This is my first post. I am usually a lurker, but I used to be in to reef aquariums so I thought I would chime in.

    Generally speaking your going to want to have all the lights off in the room and the curtains drawn so the only light is the aquarium lights. To further limit reflections you will want to be as close to the glass as possible. If you can be against the glass even better. It is for this reason that I recommend relatively short focal lengths.

    Because you will be at home portability doesn't matter. I would recommend getting a generic 43rds to m43rds adapter and using old four thirds macro lenses. they are going for peanuts these days. One good macro lens I would recommend is the sigma zoom which recently went at auction for about 20 bucks shipped. I like the sigma macros. They are cheap in general but the IQ is fantastic. THey are all APS-C lenses adapted for the 43rds sensor so the size is big but the sharpness is fantastic. That lens for Nikon or Canon is $500 new. If you read some reviews for it you will see the weaknesses are in the corners of the APS-C frame which won't affect you. I would recommend making a saved search for it on ebay and setting a $75 dollar snipe for it on gixen. You're pretty much guaranteed to win the lens. The only downside is the front element moves but it will give you a better idea of what focal length you really want.

    A good list of macro lenses is available here. Legacy glass is also a good idea, but four thirds is almost as cheap and offers auto focus and exposure.
  4. Paul80

    Paul80 Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 6, 2014

    The biggest issues you will need to overcome is #1 the thickness of the glass which with Aquariums can be quite thick, mine was made from 12mm glass and #2 no matter how clean you think your water is with the very high flow rates used in marine aquariums there is always a huge amount of microscopic items whizzing about which show up as thousands of little white spots if you use flash.

    Having said that I found the best way was to go the Macro lens route with two flashes, one firing through the end of the tank and one firing from the top and the camera tripod mounted as well. Corals are good subjects as they don't move around too much in the flow, just try taking decent shots of the fish ;) 

  5. MizOre

    MizOre Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 26, 2011
    I have extension tubes, but don't use them for aquarium shots. A relatively close focusing telephoto lens might be adequate (I mostly photograph fish with Sony gear, but have done some with a GF1). The two micro-43rds lenses I used (checking Lightroom data now) were the Panasonic 20mm lens (fast and close focusing) and the Lumix 100-300 mm zoom, mostly at 100mm. The best shots appear to be from the 20mm lens. I'd look at going for sharp, fast, and close focusing. The 20mm Panasonic lens has a minimum focus of a litttle over half a foot (0.66 ft).

    My fish are two and a half inches long to up to five inches long.

    This is what I got with 100 mm and extension tubes. Area on the mask is around 2 by 3 inches:

    [​IMG][/url]ExtensionTubeMaskDetail by rbb_56, on Flickr[/IMG]

    If you're passionate about photographing the corals at life size, the best purchase would be a 50 to 105mm macro lens and focusing rails to use on a tripod. The cheaper solutions are a bit more tricky to work with (I had a dedicated 105mm macro for a APS-C Nikon system in the past). My lens could autofocus and the VR did actually help even at one to one, but that gets into a range where manual focus on a focusing rail might be faster.
  6. MizOre

    MizOre Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 26, 2011

    I take fresh water fish shots with on camera flash at a 45 degree angle to the glass. Samples here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rebecca_ore/sets/72157644841019327/ Your light set up is better, but mine is possible without having extra flashes. My 130 gallon tank was made with 9mm class. My German builder said that US and Central Americans over-build tanks and stands (a number of people on a Nicaraguan FB fish group as well as some US expats went nuts when they saw his stand for the tank but I'm not in a major earthquake zone).

    Some choices will depend on the end use of the photos -- mine are for documenting "how are the fish doing?" and "when did they spawn" and "how big were the babies at that date?" Shooting for magazines or for large prints will require a more careful set-up.
  7. You can see some of mine here -


    all with the pm2/p5 and oly 60mm.

    I don't use a flash for mine (have been trying to work out the best way to do this if at all for the last few weeks, given the existing lighting arrangement and tank dimensions - 5'x3') - to be honest I haven't actually felt that constrained not using one so far.

    I'm a total amateur at this still but in any case - if you're doing corals you have life very easy as compared to shooting fish. I've found i can get down to about 1/4 @ iso200 or so hand held with the P5/60mm and come out with something reasonable (as opposed to fish which is straight to 1/320 @ 1600). 18" is getting to about the point where 60mm is maybe a little bit short, the shots of the skunk clown and bubble tip, and the green acro are about 18" or so - like - it's not bad and I'm sure if I was better I could use it better, but you're definitely getting to a point where you're approaching the end of where you'll get good polyp detail and still have the ability to downsample a crop of something. Under that I don't feel really constrained by it much. For fish I'd really like something longer on the camera with better AF, with the 60mm at workable distances it's about a 5/10 on the fish freakout scale (like half as bad as physically chasing them around with a net).

    Other really neat thing turned out to be the JJC lens hood for the 60mm, it's a collapsible plastic hood and it's just about perfect for resting the camera against the glass.
  8. horseplay

    horseplay New to Mu-43

    Dec 15, 2013
    Glad to see a lot of people into the aquarium hobby here. A lot of information to absorb and then research.

    These two below are the best shots I got, using the Panny 20mm and Macro mode. These are in the front of the aquarium so I am using the minimum possible focusing distance of the lens, which is 0.66 ft. Anything further back will be two small so I will need to crop the picture which reduces IQ.

    I'd like to be able to have more magnification, How do I do that? I am not ready to spend the money for the Oly 60mm or the ec-14 yet so will the Sigma macro do the job or something else? How about the MCON-P01?

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
  9. MizOre

    MizOre Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 26, 2011
    Try the tubes if you can't afford a macro lens. Or a magnifying lens in front of the main lens's front element.

    The advantage of flash is getting reflective colors (most blues, purples, and often greens).
  10. MajorMagee

    MajorMagee Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2011
    Dayton, OH
    These were with the PL20mm.
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

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  11. I think really you should start by working out what the target here is - are you trading or selling frags, or taking photos for yourself to track growth, checking for aefw/red bugs, or showing off the tank (or all of them?). The latter two are really the only ones where I'd start worrying about cropping all that much. And you'd be surprised how few people even on reef forums will ever actually look at a photo at anything other than your forum/thumbnail display size :D . In general use even for fish shots at higher ISO I've found even about 33%-50% downsample is actually not all that bad for my purposes.

    The MCON and extension tubes sound like they'd be decent to start with then, they're pretty cheap in comparison. Just to bear in mind that "minute detail at 4" to 18" away from subject" is pretty tricky for any one thing to pull off, one is the domain of a true macro lens, the other is the realm of a longish telephoto. Plus, you know, general fishtank stuff, in that you're trying to get a shot of a moving subject under poor light through glass and a medium that will refract immensely if you are even a few degrees off level :D 

    The other option - I have one of these on backorder since they're OOS seemingly everywhere - is one of these portholes (they make big & small ones). This is like a ghetto underwater housing for the lens only, and lets you tip the camera into the water to get better light (since it's not travelling through glass and is bouncing straight back to you) with no refraction from the water/glass and no reflections on the water from your lights.
  12. flamingfish

    flamingfish Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Nov 16, 2012
    Some people regard cropping as a taboo on the level of cannibalism (human cannibalism, that is; most reef inhabitants are perfectly fine with nibbling on their neighbors). I can't agree. Some situations frequently require cropping, and to my mind photographing itty-bitty critters underwater is one of those situations. The question is how large you need the final image to be. I doubt that you will often want to blow up one of your tank pictures to sofa-size. With the resolution of today's cameras, I imagine that most of the time you're going to be able to get a picture of sufficient size and resolution to satisfy you even if you have to do some cropping.

    Bottom line is that you shouldn't be sweating the situation too much. There are several options available within your budget, and all have advantages and disadvantages. You won't really know whether a method works well for you until you've practiced with it for a while.
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