Opening night

‘Twas the evening of 15th of September 2021 and a motley crew had gathered online for a meeting… a bit dramatic but it was the much-anticipated return of camera club meetings and our opening night, we were all excited to be back.

Around twenty members (we now have over 40) logged in to say hello, greet new members, and listen to Ron Bell’s back to basics presentation. Ron took us through the fundamentals of camera technology and operation. Mainly aimed at beginners and especially new members it never does any harm for our more experienced gang to mull over the basics again. Perhaps clearing away any of the bad habits we pick up over the years.

Zoom has been a boon for our club and kept the enthusiasm going during the lockdowns and will continue to help until normal service can be resumed. There are other video meeting arrangements but we have found Zoom easy to use for all and at the time of signing up it gave the biggest bang for our buck. Since then of course the likes of MS Teams has expanded and is probably just as good. However, we are all used to Zoom now so why change. It may be that future sessions at the camera club could become a hybrid of in-person and online meetings. It would certainly widen our choice of presenters. That’s a discussion for another day though as Zoom isn’t for everyone.

That said, of course, we always have teething troubles sharing screens, logging in etc. and it is a bit strange chatting to a collection of thumbnails. These things will become old hat within the next few weeks and we’ll be up and running.

Ron’s presentation, “tweaked” from last year, went down very well and prompted good discussions after. We look forward also to next week’s presentation by Paul Crawford which will give us a more practical approach to avoiding those blurry images.

North Berwick – A Grand Day Out

There was no club summer outing last year for obvious reasons. This year we didn’t know what restrictions would still be in place so the club opted for just an informal gathering at a place of interest with no enclosed gatherings or evening meal arranged. Members were free to mingle as much or as little as they felt comfortable.

With the above in mind, we opted for North Berwick in East Lothian, a little over an hour’s drive from Galashiels.

We gathered outside the Seabird Centre in the morning just to say hello then all made our own way around the area cameras in hand.

Some booked a boat trip around the Bass rock whilst others wandered along the beach front or in town. The weather wasn’t particularly nice to start with and a few showers appeared throughout the morning. It did however brighten a little later in the afternoon. I think most were glad they brought a coat or jacket, as it got decidedly chilly when stood still for a while.

Undeterred though, some fully embraced the holiday spirit although none were tempted to go for a dip in the sea.

The local seafood was very popular.

Lobster and chips

Judging by the Facebook page submissions our photographers managed to grab a good few decent shots, no doubt many of which we’ll be seeing later on at club meetings.

 

Overall, we had thirteen come along which isn’t bad given the situation. Here are a few of our images.

Laowa 25 mm Macro Lens

The Laowo 25mm 2.5x to 5x Ultra Macro lens.

Having been a good boy all year my reward on my birthday was a Laowa 25 mm macro lens. I’ve had a Canon 100 mm Macro lens for a good while and it’s a great all round macro lens for a full frame or crop sensor camera. I have even used it for Astro photography so it’s a handy bit of kit to have and the macro results are superb. It gives 1:1 magnification so if you wish to go a bit beyond life size macro to extreme macro, the likes of 5x magnification, you would have use a selection of extensions tubes and reversed lenses. It is easily possible produce fantastic images but can, but not always, sacrifice a little in quality, particularly around the edges. They are very cheap rigs to make up though and will get you into the realms of extreme macro at very little cost. The other approach is to use a dedicated ultra or extreme macro lens. There are two main contenders on the market.

Pretty much the king of the extreme macro lenses is the Canon MPE-65. Image quality is second to none. It does have a couple of minus points. It is a very big lens when extended out to 5x and it is quite expensive. At £1000 new and £600 for a well-used model it’s not for everyone’s pocket.

The new market leader for the average Joe is the Venus Optics Laowa 25 mm 2.5x to 5x ultra macro lens. Made in China, and what isn’t? this £399 model is more reasonably priced and a very solidly built lens. The lens comes in a nice foam packed box which contains also the warranty and a brief instruction leaflet. The lens is fully manual focus and has no electronic couple for the aperture ring, unlike the MPE 65, so your subject must be well lit in order to focus with the lens stopped down a couple of stops. There is no focus ring, focusing is achieved by moving closer to or further from your subject. This isn’t too much of an issue as at magnifications of 2.5x and greater it is nigh on impossible to photograph hand held so a tripod must be used or a use a studio macro rig (see last week’s blog post). The MPE starts at 1:1, which is manageable hand held, though focusing is still manual. However, I didn’t get the Laowa lens for photography out in the field. I’ll stick to my 100 mm for that. This lens was purchased to get as close as possible for the highest quality at an affordable price.

So how has it done? Brilliantly I’d say. I have a couple of examples of a fly at 2.5x and 5x and a Bee at 5x. Each were taken with my macro rig using either LED ring lights or remote speedlites. As mentioned there is no electronic coupling to the lens aperture so its manual exposure only and of course your camera will show aperture at 00. The camera exposure meter will still work though even though an exposure simulation won’t, just disable that part.

The working distance from the front of the lens is about 6 cm regardless of max or min magnification. However, when increasing the magnification the front of the lens extends out by about 8 cm so you will have to realign your subject. i.e. move it back.

Depth of field is an issue for any macro photographer. When using a 100 mm macro lens at 1:1 at f8, the DoF will be about 1-2 mm. With extreme macro that drops to 0.8 mm at 2.5x and 0.1 mm at 5x. You don’t have much to play with so careful stacking is the key. I’m still working on that part.

Experimenting and research indicates the best compromise between depth of field, sharpness and aperture is f5.6. It seems to be working well for me anyway. F16 does suffer from excessive diffraction and probably best avoided as the gain in DoF is minimal.

All in all it is a great lens and, with practice, you won’t be disappointed. The MPE 65 is a little better quality wise but only at laboratory test level. For me this Venus optics is a winner because of it’s compactness, build quality and simple basic operation. I just love it. A lot more practice on the stacking set up is needed though but watch this space.

 

Constructing a macro table top studio

Constructing a portable table-top macro studio

Living in a house with wood floorboards, I needed a solid base for macro photography. I found that when working at high magnifications even with the sturdiest tripod there was always some relative movement and vibration between my tripod and subject due to slight movement of the carpeted floor caused by me moving, or breathing, or earthquakes. This was not desirable when focus stacking a large number of images as it makes the images harder to align. The solution was to have camera and subject on the same solid platform. Any floor movement or vibration was therefore applied equally to subject and camera as they both firmly fixed to the same baseboard. Working distances vary from 18 cm to 2 cm so there was no need for anything large.

From a piece of 120 cm x 50 cm x 1.8 cm MDF board (B&Q £10) I cut the base (30 x 40) an addition layer (30 x 30) and 2 side walls (30 x 5). Screwing the sidewalls to the additional base layer then that to the larger base then marked a centre line.

An arca-swiss nodal rail was screwed to the base along the centre line then 2 small guide batons 5 cm either side of the centre line for a cantilever stage to slide back and forth on.

 

I finally fitted a 50 x 30 baton along the back of the base with a groove routed along its length. This was to slot an A4 clipboard for holding background papers. The resultant studio base is quite heavy and very solid. I used 30mm screws through out except for fixing the little guides.

From the images, you can see the Super-Mag macro-focusing rail mounted with an arca-swiss plate onto the nodal rail which was screwed to the base. Along the sidewalls I can mount clamped LED ring lights, as shown and a magic arm for holding the subject at various distances. Speedlites fitted with small soft boxes and remote triggers can be clamped to the rail if flash is required. Particularly useful if photographing live subjects and the short flash duration is required to freeze motion. In practice though I find using 3 LED ring lights like the one shown in the image, positioned one from the side, one more from the top, and one on the background gives me all the light I need for my dead  insects and small flora. The LED lights are all USB powered from a small hub at the side of the base. White or silver reflector cards can be easily positioned where needed.

 

MkII of this may be a bit wider with extra slots to move backgrounds closer (or I may just use another clamp) and some tracks to keep the cables tidy, but for now this works a treat and I’m experiencing no vibration issues at all. I am looking forward to trying out more extreme macro stacks with this set up.

The LED clamp lights, nodal rail and other bits and pieces I found on Amazon, where else?

Gala Camera Club’s first blog post

 

Welcome to Gala Camera club’s new Blog Page.

Our intention is to give readers an idea of what we get up to in the form of club reports, what our interests are by including articles written by our members, and what motivates us.

With the above in mind here is our very first blog post. An article on why you should join a camera club by our Vice Chair Kat Slater

 

Happy faces at at a club meeting

 

Why should I join a camera club?

That is a good question and the truth is you don’t have to but…. Many photographers have been happily taking photographs for decades and never once paid a subscription to a club. But they have colleagues and friends who are photographers; go on forums; attend events and read articles, in other words share experiences and learn –  and that’s really all a camera club is – a place to meet like-minded people, share knowledge, learn and improve skill levels. 

It seems obvious, doesn’t it, if you play tennis, you join a tennis club, bowls, or cricket club. Some people join clubs to take part in competitions and the same goes for photographers. Camera Clubs can be the place that gives them the opportunity to have their work judged and critiqued in a safe environment. Galashiels Camera Club (GCC) has some very talented and skilled photographers and has had a lot of success in club competitions, but if that is not what you want out of your membership that’s fine. There’s no pressure to take part in competitions – but you should attend the judging nights, you’ll be inspired by the photographs; introduced to a range of different types of photography you might never have considered or even knew about, and literally see the world through someone else’s lens. A number of members take photographs for their own enjoyment (as it should be) and are happy to gain knowledge from club members on how to improve their skills and take the photos they like taking… just better.

The club’s weekly meetings cover a range of topics and activities from introduction to photography and equipment, practice nights using the club’s studio equipment; presentations from club member’s and experienced photographers and there are a number of photographic outings . The club members choose the syllabus and activities so there is something for everyone, and no one is going to nod off when you speak about refraction, depth of field or the perfect shot you nearly got…. So perhaps the question should be why wouldn’t you join a camera club? 

Katrina Slater, Gala Camera Club member

(a happy snapper, dabbles in competitions)