How to take macro photos in Nikon D3200 with 18-105mmVR Lens

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by thomas_eng|1, Oct 4, 2012.

  1. Hi
    Am new in photography...
    Have just purchased a Nikon D3200 with a 18-105mm VR lens. While I have managed to learn from valuable information obtained from this Forum on how to take portrait photos with blur background, I am keen to take some macro photos as well.
    Kindly advise how can I go about doing this with the current DSLR and the lens which I have. Any advice on ISO, Aperture or Shutter speed will be much appreciated....
  2. Pretty much by definition, a "macro" image requires a lens meant for that purpose. Are you talking about flowers, plates of food, that sort of thing ... or are you talking about extreme close-ups of insects? You can help be describing what you want to photograph, and we'll what can be done to help you use your included kit lens to achieve something like those results.
  3. The 18-105 gets as close as 0.2x magnification (images on the sensor are five times smaller than real life if you focus as close as you can). A true macro lens can produce images on the sensor that are the same size - or bigger - than real life. It would help to know the size of what you're trying to shoot - bear in mind that you can crop the image digitally and still get quite a lot of pixels out of the D3200.

    To get closer with your current lens, you could add extension tubes or close-up diopters (which work like filters). I've never tried the former on Nikon, but I'm not sure that it's all that cheap for a G lens. The quality of the latter is variable and they won't get you that close, but they're cheap. A real macro lens (such as the Nikon 60mm or Tamron/Tokina/Sigma macros in the 90-105mm range) would give you better quality and be less awkward, but costs money.

    As Matt said, tell us the subject and we can help advise what you really need.
  4. Thanks for the advice...
    Likely to be flowers & watches.
    Is there a difference between flowers and close-up of insects when one refers to taking a "macro" image?
  5. specs say minimum focus distance is 0.45m for that lens, so even at 105mm on a DX camera you're not going to be able to get really small things like insects, but I think anything flower size and upwards would be OK.
    For comparison the Sigma 105 macro lens I use will focus down to about 0.3m and does insects really well (also a really good, sharp lens)
  6. Is there a difference between flowers and close-up of insects when one refers to taking a "macro" image?​
    Insects move (except dead ones, which are popular for macro photography for this reason). Manual focus is often necessary in the macro range, and a moving subject is tricky. Some insects are also very small - Canon make a good lens for shooting ant-sized subjects...

    We might have to narrow it down a little further. If you're trying to get a whole watch into the frame, your current lens should do fine with no extras. If you want details of a gear mechanism, you may be into fine macro work. Likewise, filling the frame with a sunflower is a bit different from doing the same with a sprig of moss. How close do you think you want to get? (Can you get as close as you want just by experimenting with your current lens? If so, we can advise on technique; otherwise we may have to start with equipment.)
  7. Thanks Andrew...
    For the moment, will like to get as close as possible with my current lens. Probably try to learn the techniques required for close-up of flowers & watches before venturing into more challenging stuff like moving insects.
  8. Thanks Andrew...
    For the moment, will like to get as close as possible with my current lens. Probably try to learn the techniques required for close-up of flowers & watches before venturing into more challenging stuff like moving insects.
  9. Hi Thomas,

    Okay, we can work with that. :) Here's some advice from someone who's done a little macro photography (excuse the pun) - I'm sure experts can elaborate. Note that there are some guides on this site to doing macro; if we conflict, they're probably right.

    Firstly, let's lock everything down so we can talk settings. You can take hand-held macro shots, but bear in mind that being off by 1mm can make a big difference in macro, so it's kind of a last resort. Stick your camera on a nice, stable tripod. If you haven't got one, sit it on a book so that it's at least not wobbling around. Turn off VR on your lens - the camera will be stationary, so any VR effect will be imagined movement that makes the image worse.

    On a good day, autofocus will work in macro. However, the focal plane is so narrow that, except for a moving subject, it's probably rarely worth trying it. So flick the lens to manual focus mode (doing the same with the camera should be unnecessary). If you've got a remote shutter release, it'll probably be useful to use it so that the camera is steadier.

    The current generation of cameras has a huge advantage for macro: live view. Switch to live view mode and zoom in; stick your subject in front of the camera, and use this to focus. You may find it easier to move your subject (or the camera) to get focus in the right place than it is to focus the lens. Note that you might get closer at the wide angle end than at the telephoto end of your lens's range - I'm not sure how that particular lens behaves.

    As for settings, if you're trying to do macro in one shot, bear in mind that the depth of field in macro ranges is extraordinarily thin. It's quite common to use f/16 or smaller so that enough of the subject is in focus. The problem with that, from your perspective, is that you won't be getting all the resolution from your sensor, because diffraction at small apertures will affect the image.

    If you're prepared to do a bit more work and your subject is static, you can take multiple image "slices" at different distances, with wider apertures (e.g. f/5.6-f/8, depending on where your lens is sharpest). Software exists (Photoshop can do this, there are several third-party solutions, some of which are free) which can combine the sharp regions from multiple images to give you one overall sharp image - look for "focus stacking" for details. Some of this software can drive the focus motor on the lens and take multiple images for you, or drive a powered macro rail that has the same effect by moving the camera back and forth. That'll be the way to get the full 24MP out of your sensor - but you can get an acceptable image much more easily without going to those lengths if you are prepared to lose a bit of softness.

    You're setting the aperture and your subject and camera are static, so you may as well set the camera to its minimum ISO and shoot in aperture priority mode - this may give a very long exposure. A lot of macro uses very bright lights to increase the shutter speed - fortunately, because the subject is so small, "very bright light" is quite easy to achieve just by getting the flash nearby. A lot of getting a nice macro shot is down to manipulating the lighting - don't discount the benefits of a cheap LED flashlight for this, or the ability of a sheet of white paper for providing diffuse light (but the on-camera flash is probably not your friend).

    The best rule is to experiment. The good news is that messing around with macro images is much easier than persuading a model to hang around while you move the lights... It won't take long to learn, and certainly to learn more than I know about the subject. Good luck.
  10. For the DSLR user there are two basic ways to take big close-ups. The reason your lens does not focus close is becuase it doesn't have enough 'extension' . This can be overcome by inserting an 'extension tube' between camera and lens. However this can be expensive if you wish to retain the controls on the lens from the camera body. Cheap extension tubes are simply that and to use them you need to have a lens with manual control over aperture. Focus is less important because in taking BCUs a good approach is to set a focus point and move the camera in and out to find focus in the viewfinder.
    The second approach is to use a Close-up Lens attached to the front of the camera lens. I do not know your lens but I would expect it is limited in how close it will focus when at full zoom.
    The newbie's first thought is that they must get close for BCUs. This is not completely correct as the alternative is to use the narrow angle of view of in your case the 105mm end of the zoom from somewhat further back. For flower CUs I suggest a two dioptre [500mm]will meet your needs. It will mean that you must be closer than half a metre and the focusing ability of the lens will get you a bit closer ... you have to work within those limitations. A CU lens is largely ineffective on short lenses but works well with longer lens.
    For starters I suggest you play with a magnifying glass held in front of your lens ... there is an interesting thread in the 'Casual Forum' here at PN with examples of what a guy achieved with his Mag glass ... one comment was better results than many achieve with expensive proper photo lenses :)
    The 'macro' lens is a modern convienience tool and BCU and macro's were being taken long before they were invented.
  11. Thanks very much...
    Assuming that I play with a magnifying lens mounted on my current 18-105mm VR lens, what specs should I be looking for in this CU lens?
  12. An alternative for taking macro shots is to use an inexpensive M42 screw thread lens (eBay), an M42 to F-mount adaptor (cheap - eBay) and a set of entirely manual extension tubes (also cheap - eBay). You have to focus manually but then you should be doing this for macro anyway. My D80 and D7000 will both meter (at the taking aperture) with such a set up. I use a 40 year old Carl Zeiss (Jena) 135mm for macros quite often with excellent results. I've also used 50mm and 85mm Nikon D lenses (the G lenses aren't suitable because they have no aperture ring) with good results too. Most of the time with macro shots is takenup with setting things up. Having to manually set up focus and exposure is a minor inconvenience. Worth trying in my opinion.
  13. Peter - I'd be inclined to stick to Nikon extension tubes and Nikon lenses, even if I went with an AI (or pre-AI) lens rather than a more recent one. At least then the lens could also be used normally on the camera. You'll have no metering with any of these options on a D3200, but that's not a problem if you check the histogram. How many of these options can make good use of a D3200 sensor is another matter.

    I was hoping someone more experienced would answer the CU lens query (I have a couple, but don't use them much, mostly because I have actual macro lenses). However, there's quite a good discussion on the advantages of each approach, including a calculator for how much magnification you'll get, at Cambridge in Colour - though they don't talk brands. I believe it's generally accepted that single-element diopters produce significantly worse results (because of dispersion) than dual-element ones, and you get what you pay for - but if you're happy with that limit (and you can fix some of the colour fringing in software) then you might be happy with the kind of cheap option I own. Good luck if you try that route.
  14. I tried the extension stuff, and it did not work, honestly.
    Your choices are:
    • stick with larger objects like bigger flowers or such,
    • buy a macro lens like the Sigma 50mm F2.8 Macro,
    • or buy a good compact digital, which all can do macros.
    As Andrew Garrard explained, macros are not easy. You have very little depth of sharpness to work with and easily blur the image when the object moves.
  15. I certainly wouldn't bothet with
    single element close up lenses.
    Results are mediocre even with
    good ones. Can't comment on
    multi-element ones as I've never
    tried any.
  16. I don't think you bother about 'specs when you play with a magnifying glass but some succeed with them and others obviously fail as Peter's comment suggests. Usually in my experience the object of interest is in the centre of the frame so defects around the edges are not important. If you are copying something like a stamp or a coin then you need a better quality glass. My cheapest glass cost me 50 cents at a discount store, made in Asia somewhere I guess :)'
  17. Just to show what can be done with the most basic of magnifying lenses, check this out. The guy built his own out of a filter ring and a magnifying glass from Ace Hardware and the results turned out pretty good. I'm astonished at the image quality he's gotten.
  18. When I first started in product photography, I tried both the extension tube route, and the diopter CU filter route. If you are trying to do anything fast, and on a budget, the CU lenses are the way to go. That being said, I wouldn't spend to much on them - they really are just magnifying lenses... Hence the poster with his homebrew gear. And trust me, the multi-element ones are not worth it. If you're edging up to $100 on a CU lens - buy an old macro - or save another $100 and get a 28-105 that has a macro adjustment from 50-105 (or equivalent). Don't buy Nikon branded ones... seriously not worth the bread (and yes, I shoot and love Nikon).
    Be prepared for some edge distorsion, be prepared to focus stack, use a tripod, and a cable release for that matter. Most of all - experiment, and have fun.
  19. Many thanks to all for the sound advice, much appreciated!
    Am still exploring and learning, and most likely getting a macro lens like the Sigma 50mm F2.8 - tried it at a shop and it works well.
  20. I do a lot of close up floral work which requires closer focusing then what I get with either of my lenses. I use a set of Kenko extension tubes with my 55-200mm lens, and the results are excellent. Please look at my gallery for 100's of examples. When you use extension tubes, lens focal length is extremely important. Too short of a focal length and you'll be right on top of your subject, or even hit it. I've found that 150-200mm works best for me.
    I 1st purchased a set of Nikon tubes which stated that they work in the auto mode. They don't. They don't have any contact pins, so there is no connection from your lens to the camera body. I next tried the Kenko tubes, which do have a full set of connecting pins, and they work perfectly.
    The use of a rock solid tripod is a necessity. I also use a Nikon DR-6 right angle finder, which makes stooping down to look through the viewfinder much easier for us old guys with bad backs.

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