Best way to light macros?

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by Poki, Jan 22, 2013.

  1. Poki

    Poki TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 30, 2011
    The 50mm f/2.8 macro lens will be released soon, so I thought it would be interesting to see what everybody thinks is the best way to light macro photos on-the-go. I'm by far not an expert in macro photography, so please help me out on what to spend my money.

    On the one hand, there are 'ring lights' and 'ring flashes'. I did a quick calculation and it seems the Sony HVL-RL1 ring light with a light output of about 700 lux equals a flashgun with guide number 24 from a 1.1 meter distance. This means it should be bright enough for most macro shots. However, experience tells most photographers that flashes are always the way to go - but is this still true for macro shots?

    Then there are 'twin flashes' like the Sony HVL-MT24AM, which has two almost free positionable flash heads, both with a guide number of 24. With these, you should be able to control the direction of your light better. But not only are they extremely expensive, they need more time to set up and are bigger to transport than a simple ring light. Oh, and these have the 'old' Minolta hotshoe, while the RL1 already uses the standard hotshoe.

    Then there are of course cheaper versions from various brands of these things. However, in most cases I was not able to find the light output of ring lights (after all, the predecessor of the RL1, the RLAM only produced about 250 lux of light), and I don't know how well the metering works with non-Sony flashes on Sony cameras.

    What are your tips? Which setup do you use to light macro scenes outdoors?
  2. Grisu_HDH

    Grisu_HDH TalkEmount Veteran

    Dec 16, 2012
    Southern Germany
    Real Name:
    I have a manual Sigma MD lens and I always use natural sun light, I don't take any extra light with me, except a small and cheapish flashlight that gives non spotted and soft light.
    Than I use a greycard for the white balance and thats it...
    But I'm a just-4-fun macro guy, no pro ambitions!
    I'm not sure if its wise to use a heavy ring flash on the NEX... is there a ringflash available compatible with the Sony Macro lens?
  3. Poki

    Poki TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 30, 2011
    I seriously doubt a small LED flashlight could provide enough light for serious macro shots - but it might work well for just softening the shadows.

    The only thing you have to look for is the filter thread. The Sony ring light is compatible with 49 and 56 mm filter threads, so yes, it should be compatible with most current E-Mount lenses. It's also quite light and not too big at all - but damn expensive and I wasn't able to find even a single review of it online. On the other hand, it is able to put out 700 lux of light - 4 times more than its predecessor, but I'm not able to find the output rating on cheaper ring lights ...
  4. xXx1

    xXx1 TalkEmount All-Pro

    Jan 15, 2013
    Led ring lights seem like a good idea but they are not. They work for tripod shots and longer focusing distances but have problems with shorter focusing distances and exposure times. The problem with shorter focusing distances is that there are too few leds and you cannot use diffusers as they have too little power. You need surprising much light for macro work when using old enlarger lens as a macro lens.

    Ring lights have problems with adjusting the direction of light.

    I am building twin flash system using two of these:

    and this (available from ebay much cheaper):
    INFMETRY:: Fotopro Flexible Dual Flash Mount For Macro Photographer

    I probably need to purchase better flashes but I haven't been able to find cheap, small and adjustable slave flashes compatible with Nex.
    I may construct a few neutral density filters for the flashes to control the power.

    I plan to use an old enlarging lens (90mm) or lenses with extension tubes as this macro thing isn't very serious for me. 50mm is quite short focal length outside but works fine inside. That of course depends about magnification needed.

    First tests have been promising but my enlarging lens (Vivitar LU) isn't excellent. I can upload some images next weekend if there is interest.
  5. Poki

    Poki TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 30, 2011
    Well, that's why I tend to the Sony one - the complete front is a diffusor, and it has enough power to still light the subject. But positioning could be a problem, right.

    I don't plan to use any kind of enlarger lens - the Zeiss 50mm 2.8 should be satisfied with just about as much light as any f/2.8 lens needs - and it should be much sharper than any enlarger or lens with extension tube, as Zeiss has shown in its Planar lens guide. And yes, 50mm is not that long, but for an APS-C sized sensor, it's just about okay.

    A dual flash system might be a good idea, and your construction seems cheap, but how to trigger them wireless - with a working TTL metering?
  6. applemint

    applemint TalkEmount Veteran

    Sep 20, 2012
    I use natural light as well but I did make a couple of homemade cheap lighting options - an amazon Kindle reading light and a foil lined kitchen towel tube as a flash diffuser/extender for the clip on flash. The Kindle light only really worked if/where the subject was right in front of the lens; but the kitchen roll thing worked quite well. Got some very strange looks when using it though. :)

    The Pringle tube flash diffuser is where I got the idea - I just made a smaller version for the Nex using a kitchen roll tube.

    Here are the two budget solutions where I got the ideas from:

    Use a Pringles Can as a Cheap Diffuser for Macro Photos

    Do-It-Yourself MAL-1-esque macro lights - Micro Four Thirds User Forum

    I might try an led ring light this Spring though - you can pick them up quite cheap on ebay or amazon. They are often described as a ring flash light but they are constant led lights not a flash. About £20 to £30 eg: Macro Ring LED Light for Canon: Camera & Photo
  7. Poki

    Poki TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 30, 2011
    The pringles idea looks neat, but as I want to do macros regularly, I would prefer a more pocketable and potentially better looking solution.

    Only problem with the cheap ones is you can't find out how bright they actually are. Spending 30€ on a light that puts out 200 lux is in most cases worse than spending 250€ on one that puts out 700 lux.
  8. xXx1

    xXx1 TalkEmount All-Pro

    Jan 15, 2013
    If you want 1:1 magnification with 50mm lens you need to position it 50mm from target. With aperture 2.8 depth of field will be few millimetres. So you need small aperture and to benefit from good resolution short exposure time so that camera shake won't be a problem.

    The enlarging lenses are quite good. The best ones have very high resolution (and do cost quite much, several hundred USD used) and even the good ones are pretty good. Better than many camera lenses. They need to be, you can't make a good enlargement without good resolution and some use them quite successfully for macro. Google for example El-Nikkor macro to see examples.

    No TTL for this system, triggering is with kit flash and these slave flashes are set to S2 position. That works but there is no possibility to adjust power.

    Here is a test of (cheap) enlarging lens as a macro:
    Nikon 75mm El-Nikkor enlarging lens test
  9. Poki

    Poki TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 30, 2011
    Yeah, I know that enlargement lenses can be quite good. But after seeing the comparison of the 50mm macro Planar vs a 50mm ZM with a quite expensive enlargement lens I'm totally convinced that a high quality macro lens is the way to go if you want to print huge.

    No ability to control the power output and to have to fire off the kit flash are two quite big drawbacks though. Could cost some time setting up - and in some cases it could even cost the shot. Still wasn't able to find a review of the HVL-RL1, so I probably have to look for another solution ...
  10. xXx1

    xXx1 TalkEmount All-Pro

    Jan 15, 2013
    This all depends about money. I need a few macro photos about plants and using about 150 USD isn't much as all the components can be used otherwise (except the enlarging lens) but ttl twin flash and Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 is going to cost 2500 USD . I think that a used manual macro lens in range of 90mm - 105mm (Tamron, Tokina) isn't a bad option.

    One big restriction is the resolution of camera sensor. It is pointless to use lens with much higher resolution than the sensor and I use Nex-C3. I believe that the resolution is something like 75 lp/mm.

    So the question is largely money vs. image quality. As always. Those TTL twin flashes are quite temping,

    Tumax makes a TTL setup like mine, don't know it's price (or if it really exists) :
    Welcome to TUMAX
    Digital Macro Flashes|Twin Flash DMT

    Here is an interesting article about 100mm macros:
    Best macro lens: 8 tested | News | TechRadar
  11. Poki

    Poki TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 30, 2011
    Of course Zeiss Macro Planars are expensive - but they're great lenses without doubt. Lens resolution vs sensor resolution: First, a lens is not only defined by its resolution, and second, sensors are going to get more and more resolution in the future, so chances are high your next camera will have 24 or even more MP - and your expensive lenses will hopefully deliver.

    I'm still not sure wether to get the Sony HVL-RL1 or a twin flash. I read quite a bit about macro lighting in the past hours, and as it seems, not only the Sony ring light is one of the best on the market, it's also quite cheap compared to twin flashes from Sony, Canon or Nikon. So I'll look for some sample images lighted with both of them and see which light is more flattering.
  12. xXx1

    xXx1 TalkEmount All-Pro

    Jan 15, 2013
    Ring flashes are ok as they provide enough light. Ring lights are not very usable as they don't provide enough light (ok for stationary subjects but even flowers in light breeze are not ok, remember you just used a lot money for a very high resolution lens and resolution of resulting image is sum of subject movement, camera movement, resolution of lens and resolution of sensor). The problem with ring flash is that light comes from every where and there is no shadows so images look like 2D. There is a reason that those twin flashes exists.

    I don't need TTL. Setting up the lens and flashes takes time but works. Macro focusing rails are helpful. Real problem is lack of adjustable small flashes.

    Btw, regular 4 battery flashes are too heavy for my macro set-up.

    HVL-RL1 provides 700 lux and they say it is good for a feet. You need lots of light for macro work. Especially with extension tubes, bellows etc. (when you move lens further away from sensor the amount of light hitting the sensor falls rapidly [inverse square law]). HVL-RL1 is a led flash so I hope that there are going to be cheaper alternatives to it. The unit I did purchase didn't give enough light and it didn't have good diffuser.
  13. Poki

    Poki TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 30, 2011
    Well, that's exactly why I look for the HVL-RL1 - it is said to put out 4 times the light of most regular LED ring lights - and it looks to have a good diffusor. But there is not a single review online, and even if it's a perfect ring light, there's still the question whether the resulting photos look as 'natural' as with twin flashes. I'm still unsure what to do ...

    Then there doesn't seem to be any info if the Sony HVL-MT24AM can trigger other Sony flashes - if so, they could be worth their money.