Gear – a quick note on my macro kit.

Stephen Hipperson asked which lens I used for my last set of images.

My weapon of choice is the Canon 180mm F3.5 prime lens, the long macro. I used to use the 100mm macro and I still have the non-IS version but the 180mm gives better working distance. My personal view is that the longer lens ideally requires a tripod for really sharp images (or a bean bag or similar as support).

For butterflies I like the 300mm F2.8 lens but this is heavy and the 180mm with a 1.4x convertor is already 252mm although you are then at F5 maximum aperture rather than F2.8. For silky bokeh the 300mm is excellent. Mine is the old mark 1 model and I don’t see any great reason to spend vast amounts of money upgrading to the mark 2.

I mount my lenses on a Canon 5D3 for macro work, or the 1D4 or 7D for bird photography.

I use the 180mm with the 1.4x TC as mentioned above but I don’t use the 2x TC very often. The quality difference becomes noticeable. I also use extension tubes with the 180mm to get in very close. I rarely use auto focus these days and for truly critical focus accuracy I use Live View and magnify to 5x or 10x. The plant hopper in the last set was taken at F16.

I also use fill flash if pushed although I prefer natural images. I have a diffuser that sits between the flash head and the oblect being photographed.


And that is about it. My tripod is an old Gitzo that extends enough for me to use it at eye level – just about. I am 6′ 3′ so at full extension some stability is lost but it is versatile. It has no central column and the legs can be taken down almost to ground level. The tripod head is a Really Right Stuff BH55, which I bought a few months ago to replace my Arca Swiss ballhead. Arca Swiss make nice heads but their customer service, in my experience, sucks. RRS were a pleasure to deal with.

When not in use my main lenses are kept in a dry cabinet because of the extreme humidity we get in Hong Kong.

I have also just purchased the Canon 70-200mm F4 as a lightweight general purpose penguin lens for our Antarctic trip. My 70-200mm F2.8 is very old, very heavy and lacks IS. Image quality is great but as I get older I am willing to sacrifice 1 stop for less weight 🙂

I also do bird photography and I use the 800mm F5.6 when I am out on the mudflats in the hides. For flight photography there is nothing to beat the 400mm F5.6, a small, light, non-IS lens that most bird photographers swear by. I have a 400mm F4 DO lens but this sees little use.

Why Canon? Well I have so much invested in the lenses, even If I wanted to switch it would be financially ruinous. I never get into the Canon versus Nikon debate – it is personal preference. And I don’t use Canon for street or candid photography – I use a Leica M3 or M9 or, on occasions, the Fuji X100.

That is a very long answer to a very short question but some people might be interested and if you are not, then happily WordPress does not have a “dislike” button!


2 thoughts on “Gear – a quick note on my macro kit.

    • Thanks John. Macro is just as frustrating as birds. Tiny amounts of breeze can be ruinous with macro shots. And it’s hard work in the heat.

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