This blog is a user's perspective on the Micro Four Thirds camera system. Read more ...

Lens Buyer's Guide. Panasonic GH4 review.

My lens reviews: Olympus 9mm f/8 fisheye, Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6, Leica 25mm f/1.4, Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8, Lumix X 35-100mm f/2.8, Sigma 30mm f/2.8, Sigma 19mm f/2.8, Lumix X PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, Lumix X PZ 45-175mm f/4-5.6, Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, Panasonic Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6, Panasonic Leica Lumix DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro, Panasonic Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6, Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake, Panasonic Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 pancake, Panasonic Lumix G HD 14-140mm f/4-5.8, Panasonic Lumix G HD 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6, Panasonic Lumix G 8mm f/3.5 fisheye, Lumix G 7-14mm f/4, Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye, Tokina 300mm f/6.3 mirror reflex tele, Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 circular fisheye lens
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Thursday 25 August 2011

Interesting macro images with a fisheye lens

If you want a very wide lens for the Micro Four Thirds system, there are two choices: The Panasonic Lumix G 7-14mm f/4 and the Olympus M.Zuiko 9-18mm f/4-5.6. The Panasonic lens is the widest, and is also the most expensive. Both are considered to be quite good.

But it's easy to forget that there is a third choice, the Panasonic Lumic G 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens.

When considering which of these wide lenses to buy, I landed on the unconventional choice: The fisheye lens. My reasoning was that it has the widest field of view, and is the most compact. The compactness can be illustrated by this picture:

But I was also fascinated by the very short minimum focus distance. In the specifications, this close focus distance is stated as 0.10m. This doesn't sound very impressive. But keep in mind that the focus distance is measured from the sensor plane. So the distance from the front of the lens is only about a couple of cm, or about one inch.

This close focus distance opens up a number of creative possibilities. Below is one example. I put a LEGO figure very close to the lens. It is actually slightly closer than the minimum focus distance. But to keep it reasonably in focus still, I set a very small aperture, f/18. And I used manual focus to make sure the focus was as close as possible.

The resulting image, when cropped a bit, is this:

I think the distorted perspective due to the very wide field of view makes the image interesting.

A big drawback with this method is that the lens casts shadow on the subject. It is very difficult to achieve a proper lightning, as the field of view is very wide. Putting a light source close, so that it illuminates the clown's face, will usually make the light source visible in the picture. Which is not the intention, clearly.

Let's see what we can do when taking the lens outdoors. Here is a picture of a butterfly:

Unlike the clown picture, this image is completely uncropped. It was taken in the same way, by setting the focus as close as possible, and using a small aperture, f/11, for a very deep depth of field. I used ISO 250 and 1/60 second shutter speed.

To take the picture, I put the front of the lens about 2cm from the butterfly. Of course, this made it rather stressed, and it left the scene shortly after. So the time I had to compose the image was very short.

Looking at the composition, it is clear that it leaves quite a bit to be desired. For example, the butterfly is squarely in the middle of the image, which is usually a bit boring. It is common to put interesting objects about 1/3 from the frame edges, to make the image more exciting. This is usually referred to as the rule of thirds. Some Panasonic cameras can be configured to show the guidelines that correspond to the rule of thirds in the display, to aid in the composition. Here is an example from the Panasonic GH1:

The Panasonic GH1 display, configured to show the rule of thirds guidelines in white. Placing interesting items where these lines meet usually gives an interesting composition. It is common to place the horizon along one of these lines.

Also, it would be fine if the flower shape was repeated more times in the frame.  We can see one uncluttered flower in the right part of the image, but two more would be fine.

Finally the background could be more interesting.  Let's say we had a couple walking down the path behind the butterfly.  That would surely make the image a lot better.

But planning all this is very difficult, since the butterfly will leave the scene after a split second when putting the camera in it's face, literally.  I still think this image illustrates well the creative potential of the lens.

Looking at how a typical macro image of a butterfly looks like, let's consider this one taken with the Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 1:1 macro lens:

This is what a macro picture usually looks like. Even though it was taken with a small aperture, f/7.1, the depth of field is still very thin. So the background is completely out of focus. The other exposure details are: ISO 100, 1/100 second.

The thin depth of focus is an advantage: It means that you don't need to worry about the composition of the background. The background will be blurred out. As long as the bokeh is pleasing, you can put your energy into keeping the subject interesting.

But it can also be a disadvantage. The background could potentially be used to make the image more interesting. Putting an insect into an environment, rather than just picturing it with the background blurred out, can make a very stunning photo.

But a macro lens will virtually always keep the background out of focus, even with a very small aperture. This is due to the relatively long focal length. The macro lens used in the picture above has a focal length of 45mm, which is pretty common for such a lens.

The fisheye lens, on the other hand, has a very short focal length, only 8mm. This gives a deeper depth of focus (DOF), and keeps the background more in focus.

The conclusion here is that the fisheye lens can be used to make very interesting close up images. But as the background is more in focus compared to when using a macro lens, the composition can be very tricky.