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lbedogni

Macro focusing techniques

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Hi, just wondering what focusing technique anyone uses for macro. I have seen different photographers have their go-to technique as the only way to do macro focusing, but I see pros and cons in any of these:

- single af: works weel, but in case of particulate in the water, you might focus on backscatter rather than on the subject. Also with slow focusing lenses, in case you miss the focus, it may take some time to go back to the right focusing distance.

- continuous af: very handy, but the percentage of slightly off shot raises a lot as the accuracy is lower.

- manual af: certainly precise, but it may be difficult if you're not very stable or without a tripod.

- manual af and peaking: this helps when there is a small current as you can get immediately a feedback on where is the focus, but again with particulate in the water it may get distracting

- anything else?

 

What are your thoughts on this?

 

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Hi Ibedogni

I think I have been through most, if not all, of these techniques: but always come back to the same one - Single AF. And that's with a Nikkor 105VR on a D500 - so DX.

The only problem i sometimes find with the technique is the autofocus being able to establish a lock in less bright environments. But either a pilot light on the strobe or a focusing light almost always solves this. Can't say I ever had a real problem, on macro, with backscatter using Single AF or one of those two illumination methods.

Very occasionally I end up using Single M with manual focussing but this is generally when I didn't have a focussing light - but then why did I not just use the strobe pilot light? Hmmmmm...... 

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2 hours ago, lbedogni said:

 

Hi, just wondering what focusing technique anyone uses for macro. I have seen different photographers have their go-to technique as the only way to do macro focusing, but I see pros and cons in any of these:

- single af: works weel, but in case of particulate in the water, you might focus on backscatter rather than on the subject. Also with slow focusing lenses, in case you miss the focus, it may take some time to go back to the right focusing distance.

- continuous af: very handy, but the percentage of slightly off shot raises a lot as the accuracy is lower.

- manual af: certainly precise, but it may be difficult if you're not very stable or without a tripod.

- manual af and peaking: this helps when there is a small current as you can get immediately a feedback on where is the focus, but again with particulate in the water it may get distracting

- anything else?

 

What are your thoughts on this?

 

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I think it depends to a great extend on the camera and the lens...

With EM1II and Zuiko 60mm  (or, more seldom, Pana 45mm) macro I prefer CAF

 

Wolfgang

 

2 hours ago, lbedogni said:

 

 

 

 

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I have too a oly em1.2 with the 60 macro. In C-AF however most of my shots tend to come out slightly soft.

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It is so camera and lens dependent...

With Nikons (D500/D850) i often use 3D Continuous AF. Although the subjects are frequently not moving that much, I often am!

It also allows me to recompose simply as the subject moves through the frame. It does take some trust in the AF system.

 

 

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It is so camera and lens dependent...
With Nikons (D500/D850) i often use 3D Continuous AF. Although the subjects are frequently not moving that much, I often am!
It also allows me to recompose simply as the subject moves through the frame. It does take some trust in the AF system.
 
 
A lot of trust ;) I mean, my topside tracking works well, but I tried it underwater and it is not so reliable, especially in not-so-clear waters.

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I always use single AF, but for me the difference came when I started to use thumb focus. Using the AF with the shutter makes than every single time you push the shutter button the AF moves and you loose the focus. When using close up lens I normally set the focus with the AF without the close up lens and after I put the close up lens and set the focus manually by moving the camera forward backward.

This is with a Canon reflex and a 100 mm macro canon

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With every camera I have owned, autofocus in macro has locked on just behind where I would ideally like the focus to be. Assuming good lighting, it focuses, but a mm or two too far back. Hence even in good conditions, I lock focus and then rock back a fraction to get the desired focal point.

For a sequence of pics, I focus, lock or disable AF, then rock to get desired focus for each pic.

In poor vis or with a shy subject, I use a light to focus on something nearby at similar distance, then reposition, wait for the shot, rock to focus and shoot.

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I'm using C-AF with my EM-1 II in combo with back button focus.  It can be tricky particularly with the 60mm macro as it will lock onto particles - in this case pumping the AF can help a lot.  You can assign peaking to one of the Fn buttons, but it's not always easy to see and doesn't stay on - it relies on moving the focus ring to activate it.  I use peaking a bit out of the water but haven't found it useful UW as yet.

With the EM-1 MkII manual focus is not really an option the way the focus ring is geared is too slow and it gets slower with gearing if you use the focus gear , so you need to persist with AF.  What other settings are you using for your images?

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I do not use continuous autofocus nor tracking. For shots that are not super macro I use single point AF sometimes with flexible adjustment (not the same as CAF but in a way similar)

However that does not tell me if I have reached maximum magnification for that I use manual focus there is a guide that tells me if I am at the closest focus point and then with peaking and magnify I steady myself. 

I do not really have many shots out of focus so I never felt the need of anything more I think there is an element of dexterity and situation with macro and you need to steady yourself somehow instead of using tools to counter it if possible

Interestingly I have started out of total boredom shooting my macro lens on land with flowers and guess what the same technique applies and the issues with autofocus are similar to underwater.

 

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On 12/8/2020 at 11:10 PM, ChrisRoss said:

You can assign peaking to one of the Fn buttons, but it's not always easy to see and doesn't stay on

Actually it stays on. I assigned it to one of the front FN buttons, and when I press it it always stays on until I deactivate it.

On 12/8/2020 at 11:10 PM, ChrisRoss said:

What other settings are you using for your images?

Speaking of macro, I usually start at around F/8 and 1/160, then adjust depending on the available light and desired photo. Other main settings are single shot, ISO 200, 1 AF point.

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You're right, I'm thinking of when I'm using it on land with the 300mm f4 - going to MF and back  it goes off then and when you half press the shutter.  f8 is a reasonable starting point and what I usually use.  I also set the small AF points as if there is something else with more contrast  under the AF point than what you are trying to focus on the camera will switch to that. 

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On 12/10/2020 at 1:03 PM, ChrisRoss said:

You're right, I'm thinking of when I'm using it on land with the 300mm f4 - going to MF and back  it goes off then and when you half press the shutter.  f8 is a reasonable starting point and what I usually use.  I also set the small AF points as if there is something else with more contrast  under the AF point than what you are trying to focus on the camera will switch to that. 

Ok, so pretty much the same settings here, however it seems that I am struggling with sharp pictures :) I have also a pretty stable buoyancy underwater, so maybe I should investigate something else. 

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On 12/11/2020 at 12:22 PM, lbedogni said:

Ok, so pretty much the same settings here, however it seems that I am struggling with sharp pictures :) I have also a pretty stable buoyancy underwater, so maybe I should investigate something else. 

I notice you use the Olympus 60mm Macro. I shoot with this on an OMD EM5 MKii. I struggled with the sharpness so did some experiments on land earlier this year to see how the image quality degrades as you close down the aperture.

I find it easy to get pin sharp when shooting a really shallow depth of field, however I've concluded that images will never be that sharp past f10 - the quality loss is just too much. I'd recommend doing some experimentation and seeing if that's the problem you are encountering. 

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On 12/11/2020 at 11:22 PM, lbedogni said:

Ok, so pretty much the same settings here, however it seems that I am struggling with sharp pictures :) I have also a pretty stable buoyancy underwater, so maybe I should investigate something else. 

In general I find sharpness is much better on larger subjects if you are 500mm you have about 10mm depth of field at f8.  If you go to min focus at 1:1 your depth of field is only 0.5mm .  You may be quite stable but your subject often is not swaying in any surge that there is, I was reminded of this shooting the weekend trying to get shots of a pygmy pipehorse at very close to 1:1 and it was swaying in the surge - but in sync with it - needless to say the keeper rate dropped off.  In this case I tend to shoot more frames. 

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15 hours ago, mark kirkland said:

I notice you use the Olympus 60mm Macro. I shoot with this on an OMD EM5 MKii. I struggled with the sharpness so did some experiments on land earlier this year to see how the image quality degrades as you close down the aperture.

I find it easy to get pin sharp when shooting a really shallow depth of field, however I've concluded that images will never be that sharp past f10 - the quality loss is just too much. I'd recommend doing some experimentation and seeing if that's the problem you are encountering. 

Yes I tend not to go over f/11 (occasionally f/16, but very rare). I'd say my problem is not a lack of sharpness, but rather focus being slightly off.

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5 hours ago, ChrisRoss said:

In general I find sharpness is much better on larger subjects if you are 500mm you have about 10mm depth of field at f8.  If you go to min focus at 1:1 your depth of field is only 0.5mm .  You may be quite stable but your subject often is not swaying in any surge that there is, I was reminded of this shooting the weekend trying to get shots of a pygmy pipehorse at very close to 1:1 and it was swaying in the surge - but in sync with it - needless to say the keeper rate dropped off.  In this case I tend to shoot more frames. 

Sure, the DOF is pretty small, and I always shoot multiple pictures because of that :) But even the shots I believe are in focus, tend to be slightly off.

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Yes I tend not to go over f/11 (occasionally f/16, but very rare). I'd say my problem is not a lack of sharpness, but rather focus being slightly off.
Is it still true if you add a smc or cmc (example) ?

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5 minutes ago, lbedogni said:

Sure, the DOF is pretty small, and I always shoot multiple pictures because of that :) But even the shots I believe are in focus, tend to be slightly off.

How are they off?  just a little soft  in general or are they not sharp where you want them - sounds like the first one?? 

A couple of thoughts - test your lens on land at this magnification doing everything to ensure the shot is sharp and see how it compares .

Maybe post some UW samples - full image and a close crop on details for us to have a look at?  

Also is it possible you have some ambient light  blur from shutter speed ?  could happen if light was very bright in shallow water. 

Assume you have IBIS engaged? ....... Just some random thoughts.

 

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15 minutes ago, hellhole said:

Is it still true if you add a smc or cmc (example) ?

Sent from my SM-N986B using Tapatalk
 

Yes, I tend not to go over those values.

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8 minutes ago, ChrisRoss said:

How are they off?  just a little soft  in general or are they not sharp where you want them - sounds like the first one?? 

A couple of thoughts - test your lens on land at this magnification doing everything to ensure the shot is sharp and see how it compares .

Maybe post some UW samples - full image and a close crop on details for us to have a look at?  

Also is it possible you have some ambient light  blur from shutter speed ?  could happen if light was very bright in shallow water. 

Assume you have IBIS engaged? ....... Just some random thoughts.

 

1. Yes, just a little soft in general

2. Yes on land it appears to be sharp

3. I'll post them ASAP

4. Never heard of this, but it seems I get it soft regardless of the ambient light.

5. I had it engaged, but now I have turned it off since at fast shutter speeds it should be irrelevant.

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35 minutes ago, lbedogni said:

1. Yes, just a little soft in general

2. Yes on land it appears to be sharp

3. I'll post them ASAP

4. Never heard of this, but it seems I get it soft regardless of the ambient light.

5. I had it engaged, but now I have turned it off since at fast shutter speeds it should be irrelevant.

How is your focus mode adjusted?

An average of a larger field or just a very small area (I suspect the reason for your focus problem may be that you use some general focus mode instead of a well defined small area)?

 

I use an area, just as small as is possible, in the center. Then I aim the camera at the region I want to be in focus (usually something like the eye of an animal) and using C-AF I change position until I have achieved the framing I want. The small area (=eye) remains in focus (when I am lucky) or not, but seldom it is slightly out of focus (presumably when I happen to focus the small area not at the correct position at the beginning (e.g. slightly away from the eye)...

 

Wolfgang

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17 hours ago, mark kirkland said:

I notice you use the Olympus 60mm Macro. I shoot with this on an OMD EM5 MKii. I struggled with the sharpness so did some experiments on land earlier this year to see how the image quality degrades as you close down the aperture.

I find it easy to get pin sharp when shooting a really shallow depth of field, however I've concluded that images will never be that sharp past f10 - the quality loss is just too much. I'd recommend doing some experimentation and seeing if that's the problem you are encountering. 

 I use Zuiko 60mm and EM5II/EM1II. I know about the diffraction issue, but for my taste the larger DOF is much better in most cases than the (almost) unnoticable loss of sharpness at apertures higher than f/8. So for macro I often use f/10 to f/12, just because of the better DOF...

Wolfgang

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30 minutes ago, Architeuthis said:

How is your focus mode adjusted?

An average of a larger field or just a very small area (I suspect the reason for your focus problem may be that you use some general focus mode instead of a well defined small area)?

 

I use an area, just as small as is possible, in the center. Then I aim the camera at the region I want to be in focus (usually something like the eye of an animal) and using C-AF I change position until I have achieved the framing I want. The small area (=eye) remains in focus (when I am lucky) or not, but seldom it is slightly out of focus (presumably when I happen to focus the small area not at the correct position at the beginning (e.g. slightly away from the eye)...

 

Wolfgang

It happens both with AF-C and AF-S (slight less with this tbh). I always use one point and place it exactly where I want it.

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9 hours ago, lbedogni said:

It happens both with AF-C and AF-S (slight less with this tbh). I always use one point and place it exactly where I want it.

So you use small focus points option?  One thing to note with AF systems is they will grab the highest contrast thing under the AF sensor point and if what you are shooting is 3 dimensional it may go for the edge rather than the surface if you get my meaning.  Think of the object as a cylinder and you want the closest surface of that in focus - if the AF grabs the edge rather than the surface - the surface might be a little soft.

you could try focus bracketing - set it up in a saved custom profile you can switch to and try a 3 image bracket with a small differential- if you are using manual flash (1/64) as trigger and something like 1/4 power the strobe should keep up for a short burst.  That at least might show if a slight shift in focus point will solve the issue.  I've used it on land it it works quite well.

I would also suggest IBIS - not for camera shake, but more for keeping aim on the subject, you would probably want that for the focus bracket if you tried that.

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