It’s a Small World After All

I have been interested in macro photography for a while now, but I have been reluctant to buy a dedicated macro lens. I wasn’t sure I would use a macro […]

Written By Rob Knight

On November 5, 2012
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I have been interested in macro photography for a while now, but I have been reluctant to buy a dedicated macro lens. I wasn’t sure I would use a macro lens enough to justify the expense. Most macro lenses are in short-telephoto focal lengths, and that is not really in my wheel house for everyday shooting.

Oddly enough, it was the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm “kit” lens on the OM-D E-M5 that convinced me to buy a macro lens. The 12-50mm has a built in macro mode that gives you a 1:3 magnification, lets you focus a bit closer than normal and locks the focal length at 43mm (86mm equivalent on a full frame camera). The maximum aperture in macro mode is f/6.0, which is much slower than a dedicated macro lens and makes using a flash mandatory in all but the brightest conditions. I used this macro mode a TON during my last workshop in Costa Rica. On our night hike in the cloud forest I used macro mode almost exclusively, and wished I had a longer reach and higher magnification. I longed for a better view of the the tree frogs, lizards, bugs, etc. I came home looking forward to the release of the Olympus MSC ED M. 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens.

I pre-ordered my 60mm macro from Showcase Photo&Video here in Atlanta, and I picked it up last week. The fit-and-finish of the lens is excellent. It is about the same length as the 12-50mm zoom and it is weather sealed (That will definitely come in handy in the rain forest). The filter size is 46mm, so I can use the step-up rings I already have for the 12mm f/2.0. Naturally there is no hood or pouch included (Olympus, please check out the nice hood and pouch that come with Panasonic lenses… PLEASE).

There is a focus-limiter switch on the barrel of the lens. The settings are basically close-up, full range, long range and 1:1. I suppose you could use 1:1 and hand-hold the camera, but it would be a neat trick. As far as I can tell, the 1:1 setting is mostly for shooting with a macro focussing rail. This is the one I use from Really Right Stuff. You would set the camera on manual focus (MF), set the lens to 1:1 and use the macro focussing rail to move the camera and focus where you want. So far I have been using the 60mm handheld using the AF, and the focus is fast and accurate on the OM-D E-M5.

It is amazing how shallow the depth of field is when shooting close to subjects with a telephoto lens (120mm equivalent). At f/2.8 the depth of field is barely enough to render a butterfly’s entire head in sharp focus. I stopped the lens down to f/5.6 for most of these shots in order to get a bit more in focus. Stopping down also gives you a tiny margin of error if the AF doesn’t grab exactly where you want it to.

I used an Olympus FL-600R Flash for all of these images. The flash was on the camera with a LumiQuest Ultrasoft diffuser. This diffuser extends the flash beyond the front of the lens and allows me to add soft directional light for close-ups. I can change the angle of the flash head depending on the distance to the subject to add fill light and help colors and details pop. I use the flash in “fill-in” mode using TTL metering, and I use the flash exposure compensation to change the flash output as necessary. For these I was between -.3 and -1 EV, depending how much ambient light was on the subject.

The 60mm macro lens is SHARP, even wide open. The only problem at f/2.8 is the shallow depth of field I mentioned earlier. Your technique is really important to hold the camera still and keep the razor-thin plane of focus where you want it. Of course the solution is to use your tripod, but that’s not always going to be possible. I think you’ll be stopping down for most close-up work (f/5.6-f/8), but it is nice to be able to open the lens to gather light if you need to. At longer distances the shallow depth of field becomes less of an issue.

Although a bit longer than a traditional portrait lens, the 60mm macro will do a nice job in that role. This lens would produce very sharp portraits with pleasing out of focus backgrounds at f/2.8. The longer focal length helps to soften the background, even with the smaller 4/3 sensor.

I’m very happy with the Olympus 60mm macro lens. I am looking forward to exploring the capabilities of the lens and employing some other macro tools. I’m sure I will have lots to show you from this lens in the near future.

1 Comment

  1. Jim Miller

    Nice write up, Rob. A friend of mine was just talking to me about the OM-D E-M5 last weekend after I showed him some of dragonfly work. I wasn’t too sure how something that size would handle macro work and this helps answer the question. Thanks for sharing.

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