Wrong lens

During the past couple of years, as I’ve transitioned from strictly a net-wielding entomologist to one that also carries a camera, I’ve had to start making choices about whether to keep the camera in the backpack or hold it at the ready, and if the latter which lens to keep on it. They are situational decisions, influenced largely by what I’m focused on (heh!) at the time—keeping the camera in the bag facilitates collecting, but it also tends to reduce the number of subjects I deem worthy of the setup effort required to photograph them. Conversely, carrying the camera out of the bag greatly impedes collecting but results in much more photographs having been taken. Even when I do decide to carry the camera at the ready, which lens should I have on it—the 100mm for tiger beetle-sized and larger, or the 65mm for tiger beetle-sized and lower? (Annoyingly, most tiger beetles are right at that life-sized threshold, and neither lens alone allows me to float above and below 1:1 for the full range of photos I like for them. As a result, I sometimes end up with extension tubes stacked under the 100mm lens to give me some extra range above its normal 1:1 limit.) I wish there was some way to have the camera with either lens at the ready (and not impeding net swings would be even better), but that just isn’t possible. As a result, I sometimes find myself with the wrong lens on the camera when I see something I want to photograph. If it’s important, I’ll go through the trouble to switch out lenses—hopefully quickly enough to avoid losing the photographic opportunity; other times I might just decide I don’t really need the photo that badly.  Then there are times when I feel a little adventurous and will just go ahead and take the photo anyway without switching lenses.

The following is an example of the latter—an eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) photographed with the 65mm lens (minimum magnification 1:1). Not only is this the first time that I have succeeded in approaching one of these lizards closely enough to take a good photograph, but the short working distance of the 65mm required that I get extraordinarily close. He was on the side of a fallen log, and I approached from the other side crouching low, then slowly (slowly!!!) peered over the edge of the log until I had his head in focus. I got off just this one shot, as the flash caused the lizard to bolt for good. The angle could have been better, but I got the eye focused spot-on so it’s a keeper.

Sceloporus undulatus (eastern fence lizard) | Shaw Nature Reserve, Franklin Co., Missouri

I wonder if anybody else has ever photographed a 6-inch long lizard with a 65mm lens…

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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12 Responses to Wrong lens

  1. I been wrestling with this problem lately as well–ever since I started using the MP-E65. When I’m fully rigged out with the MT-24EX flash and diffusers, needing to quickly change to a regular macro lens or the wide-angle zoom for general shots can be a real nuisance. I am also beginning to use video…

    (…but wait! I’ll have to turn this into a blog post!)

    Two possible solutions:

    1. Liewwk Nature Photography sometimes takes macro ‘panoramas’ when stuck with the MP-E65., and then he stitches them together later. But this only works if the subject is standing still!

    2. Not practical in your case, but some carry a second camera body ( a light Rebel would do) with a general purpose lens mounted.

    • I’ll look for your blog post about this🙂

      If I want a photo of a subject bad enough to go through the effort to stitch together multiple photos from a 65mm lens, then I’m sure I won’t hesitate to just switch it out for the proper lens. As for the second camera, I actually continued to carry my Panasonic Lumix around in my pocket for the first year or so after I got the Canon – and never used it. I think I can live with passing on a few things and getting a few adventurous shots like this one. If nothing else, now I know I can sneak up on a fence lizard close enough for good shots, so next time I see one I’ll go ahead and put on the 100mm.

  2. tceisele says:

    It sounds like the MP-E has a design fault as far as taking insect pictures: it should have been 0.5-4X instead of 1-5x. Maybe you could put a wide-angle conversion lens on it to reduce the magnification a bit? It looks like most of the wide-angle converters available are 0.7X or so, and are relatively inexpensive at around $30-$60. Does the MP-E have filter threads so that you could add such a lens?

    • I hesitate to use the term “design fault” in any context with the MP-E65 – that lens rocks! It would be nice to get a little below 1X, but the real sweet spot of the lens is 2-3X anyway.

      A wide-angle converter is an interesting idea – yes, there are filter threads, so it might be worth a try.

  3. Daniel Thompson says:

    What you described earlier is about a good and bad problem — wanting to do more than one thing at once. I’m lucky I’m not so great at doing any of my things; other people won’t be disappointed that I didn’t end up with what they would have preferred, whether it’s where I identified an unusual plant, saw a rare bird or improved my little insect collection. No, I’ve never had a problem with a 65mm lens. I’m glad that a couple of years ago I wanted to photograph a little Brown Snake I had just caught. Right then I learned that my point-and-shoot had a super close-up mode. The picture wounded up the newspaper of my small town. You definitely need to maintain your problems and write well about them.

  4. Dave Rentz says:

    Ted
    As usual you hit the nail on the head.
    DR

  5. Margarethe says:

    I feel your pain. Collecting gear plus two SLR bodies, with in my case (Olympus) a 50 macro and a longer zoom…my shoulders hurt just thinking about it. Then Charlie O’Brien introduced me to beating sheet and aspirator…even worse to carry that, too. Now I bought Olympus’ little SP-800UZ, which is a lot lighter than an SLR, has a great macro and a nice zoom for occasional birds…I miss the view finder and sometimes in low contrast settings it doesn’t focus and it has a long shutter delay. So now: no aspirator any more, but one SLR plus the little point and shoot. A compromise that works for me right now (the sand wasps in my last blog are shot after sunset with the point and shoot, one with flash, the other without).

    • Call me stubborn, but I can’t let myself budge on either end – collecting gear or camera gear. For now I’ll continue to carry the usual collecting equipment plus the camera body, 3 lenses, and flash unit in a backpack. It’s hard on the shoulders the first time out after not doing it for awhile, but I adapt after a day or so. Today I was in full gear for 4 hours with temps in the mid-upper 90s – I’m rather drained right now!

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