Thursday, July 9, 2015

Close-up photography compared -- 4 cameras and 4 lenses.

You can tell I'm beginning to go a little stir-crazy being cooped up in my apartment recuperating from my surgery and I start doing projects like this. Nonetheless, something that has always interested my is why I prefer one camera/lens combo over another for certain still life subjects.

It is one thing to get so hung up on equipment that it becomes an end in itself, more an impediment to creative thinking than an asset.  It is another to make equipment choices more specifically based on the aesthetic results you can achieve with a particular camera/lens combination in the varying photographic situations we find ourselves. Many photographers use a very modest assortment of gear. This often because they mainly photograph the same subject type, and a sparse combo allows them to master one thing and apply the characteristics intuitively without the interference of equipment decisions. I understand this point of view, but in my career I am faced with such a vast variety of subject matter that I have learned to marry my equipment choices to particular tasks.

At any rate, that is why I found myself with four cameras and four different lenses to test on some variegated roses - that and the fact that I am getting bored sitting around my apartment for the past week.

The results below are more about the lenses and less about the cameras. All were taken with back lighting from a window and no front fill. A situation like this is naturally going to impart some softness and low contrast to the scene.  This is going to exaggerate the soft quality of lenses that already have a soft quality to them, like the Macro-Switar, and Fuji 23mm when used at f/2.

Leica M 240 with Kern Macro-Switar 50mm f/1.8:

This is an old lens I had adapted over to Leica M mount. As an older lens it has not been designed and coated to work best with modern digital cameras. Consequently, it delivers a very soft effect, especially at open apertures. Coupling this with a relatively long focal length and very wide open f/1.8 aperture it can really throw the background completely out of focus.

Fuji X-T1 with Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8:

The Zeiss Touit 50mm is the only true 1:1 macro lenses in the group. It and the Kern also have the longest focal length. The macro quality allows me to get in as close as I want, while the long focal length coupled with an open aperture produces a very pleasing bokeh effect on the background.

Fuji X100T with Fuji 23mm f/2 lens:

This combo is rapidly becoming one of my favorites for close-up photography. There are three reasons for this: First, it allows me to get in close with a moderate wide-angle focal length making it easier to create relationships between the subject and its environment. Second, it has an f/2 aperture resulting in a selective focus that isolates the subject from its out-of-focus environment. Third, it produces a soft effect when used close up and wide open. Of all the lenses I tried this one allowed me the most versatility in exploring the subject by altering the relationship of subject to background.

Sony RX100 IV with Zeiss Vario-Sonar 8.8-25.7mm at f/2.8:

I would normally not choose this combo to do close-up photography, The RX100 is a camera I have with me when I don't want to carry anything bulky. It does have a close-up feature that extends its versatility and I thought I'd see how the results compared to the other lenses. The close-up feature only works at the widest 24mm equivalent focal length. This is a really wide angle to be using in tight and naturally delivers more depth of field than the other options. I used it at f/2.8 here, but probably should have kept the aperture wide open.

I do not find any of these close-up combos to be better than the other. What I was trying to accomplish with this experiment was to discover how they differed and what this difference did to my approach to the subject.

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