Extension tubes and zoom lens

Hoverfly, Nikon 105mm macro lens

In my previous post I discussed my first experiments with extension tubes. I noticed that my Nikon 50mm f/1.4 prime lens is doing quite well as far as magnification is concerned, while my 135mm prime lens is not. However, the distance from the front side of the lens to the subject is more comfortable with the Nikon 135mm lens, especially for moving objects like bees and butterflies. I also noticed that by using too many extension tubes you lose a lot of light, decreasing the quality of the picture.

Butterfly, Nikon 28-300mm & 300mm

So, my next step is to experiment with my Nikon 28-300mm zoom lens. For all kinds of photography and if I am taking only one lens it is this one. For this experiment I choose the 20mm extension tube to make sure there is some magnification and enough light.

One thing that I noticed right away is that by zooming you actually focus (in a similar way by getting closer or further away). This is very handy for finding the focus area. For actual fine tuning it is much better to use Live View (and zoom in) and to focus with the focus ring. This is the best way to get really sharp picture. This means that you also have to use a tripod. I use my Peak Design Travel Tripod.

Bee and Chinese rose, Nikon 28-300mm @ 68mm

I also noticed that for the combination of the zoom lens and the 20mm extension you really need a lot of light, or you have to increase the ISO. An other observation is that below 35mm there is hardly or no focus area at all. Also, for the 150mm and above the magnification is minimal.

What I really like about using the zoom lens is that if a bee is hopping from one flower to the other it is easy to adjust the zoom and still get a sharp picture (just like with normal photography). Of course, the quality of the picture does not match the ones of the Nikon 105mm macro lens. The flexibility allows me to take pictures that are not really macro pictures, which means that I have to crop a lot afterwards (losing a lot of detail).

So, to conclude, the zoom lens in combination with an extension tube works fine for regular pictures (if you know the limitations). However, my personal experience is that I get better pictures with my Nikon 105mm macro lens. As soon as my macro lens is back from repair I will try it in combination with a small extension tube.

Succulent, Nikon 105mm macro lens

Experimenting with extension tubes

Nikon 105mm macrolens

Recently I noticed that the autofocus of my Nikon 105mm macrolens did not perform properly and that the lens gave a high-pitched squeak. When I brought it in for repair I bought Caruba extension tubes so I could continue my macrophotography.

Nikon 50mm with extension tubes

I had been reading a bit about extension tubes being a cheap way of doing macrophotography. The promise is that for 100 euros you can get a better a magnification than a 1000 euro macrolens. The basic idea is that the hollow tubes put the lens further away from the sensor, thereby reducing the minimal focus distance. So, you can take a picture from closer by. As a result of getting closer to the subject the magnification increases. Just as you would expect, if you put something right in front of your eyes it looks bigger than if you hold it at arm’s length. For example, 68mm of tubes gives 1.5 magnification for a 50mm lens. Notice, a macrolens only gives 1.0 magnification! It looks like paradise.

So, after unpacking I put my 50mm lens on all the tubes together (68mm) right away. I was shocked: the camera could not focus! After reading some more (in Dutch), I realised that the range in which the camera could focus was reduced from 45cm-infinity (without tubes) to a few millimeters at a distance of a few centimeters (with all tubes) in front of the lens. Understandable that the autofocus could not handle this. The subject was out of the focus range.

Nikon 28-300mm @ 115mm with extension tubes

Getting sharp pictures in macrophotography is quite a challenge. The size of depth-of-field (DoF)—a portion of the range in which the camera can focus—depends of course on the aperture. So, we are talking about a millimeter or even less. In practice this means that when holding the camera in my hand, and by breathing and by keeping balance, the subject is getting in and out of focus continuously. So, you really have to try to press the button at the right time! Of course, you could use a tripod, however, that does not work very well with bees and butterflies flying everywhere. However, for flowers it works perfectly. I use my Peak Design Travel Tripod.

Furthermore, when using extension tubes you lose some light. Trying to get more DoF, to make focussing a bit easier, you choose a smaller aperture, which again means less light. The combination results in higher ISO. As a consequence, the dynamic range decreases and it introduces some noise in the picture, which becomes visible if you decide to crop to further increase magnification.

How about other lenses? It turns out that wide-angle lenses do very well as far as magnification is concerned, however, if you use too many tubes the focus area will end up inside the lens. Making wide-angle lenses almost useless for macrophotography. Telelenses, on the other hand, do not do so well as far as magnification is concerned.

My provisional conclusion is: Focussing in macrophotography is already a challenge, using extension tubes it is even more a challenge if you push it to the limits by using too many tubes.

My advice is to use mainly one of the smaller tubes (12 or 20mm). It already gives you a substantial magnification for mid-range lenses and you don’t have to put your lens right in front of the subject. Furthermore, you do not lose a lot of light.

In my next post I will share my experience with extension tubes and a zoom lens.

Nikon 28-300mm @ 300mm with extension tubes

Challenges of macrophotography

Budding of pink rhododendron flowers

In this post I will discuss two challenges of macrophotography:

  • small depth-of-field (technical)
  • right background (creative)

Due to the corona crisis I spend a lot of time in the garden. I never realised the variety of flowers in our garden, including our tub plants. Almost every day I scout my garden to find new flowers or new compositions. I rediscovered macrophotography. Also a webinar of Janneke van de Pol about macrophotography inspired me to look at taking macro pictures differently.

Only first row of stamens of Delosperma is sharp

The first thing you notice when you enter the macro world is that the depth-of-field is very small. For example, with my 105mm macrolens at a distance of 30cm with an aperture of f/8 the depth-of-field is only 2mm. By just moving a little bit the subject is already out of focus. I find it difficult to judge the quality of a picture on the screen of my D800. So, in practice this means that I have to go to my computer to see whether the subject is in focus or not.

To deal with this small depth-of-field I have two approaches depending on whether the picture is for Instagram (have a look on the right) or for Dreamstime. For Dreamstime I try to keep the ISO as close as possible to 100 to avoid noise in the picture. For Instagram this is less important. The settings of my camera are normally:

  • ISO is automatically increased if the shutter speed becomes below 1/60sec. If the ISO exceeds 6400 then the shutter speed is lowered.
  • AF-ON is used to focus. Normally I use that for focussing on moving subjects. Now I use it also to compensate for my own stabilising motions.

For Instagram this is perfect. I take a couple of pictures with different apertures and on my computer I decide which picture I want to share on Instagram. For Dreamstime, I want to keep the ISO close to 100. So, I switch off the automatic increase of the ISO. If there is sufficient light this is no problem (fast shutter speed). Otherwise, due to the slower shutter speed, I use my Peak Design Travel Tripod. To avoid any further vibrations I use Arsenal for wireless control to focus and to hit the shutter. The resulting pictures are of very high quality.

Cornflower with waving corn as background

The second thing you notice with macrophotography is that the right background is very important. I observed that in the beginning I was too concentrated on getting the subject in focus that I often forgot about the background. Sitting behind my computer I saw the disturbing background which is of course hard to fix in Lightroom.

So now I spend more time on the composition (which includes the vague background) before getting my camera. Although this is not an easy task -we deal with the imperfections of nature – it is important to look at lines and light and dark spots. Also colours are more important than I thought. Try to look at the subject from different angles and decide on the one you like. Creativity plays a central role in this decision. Composition rules are helpful, however, do not be too rigid. By experimenting you get a feeling of what wow pictures look like. Feedback on Instagram also helps me.

What I like about macrophotography is the combination of the technical and creative challenge. My appreciation of nature has increased substantially. After the corona crisis I will continue taking macro pictures.

Enjoy the beauty of nature; taken during sunset

Rediscovering macrophotography


A couple of years ago I bought a secondhand macro lens (Nikon 105mm Micro) and did some focus stacking with withered roses to get a sharp image all the way down into the roses. Now, during the corona crisis, that I am confined to my house and garden, I start to value the little things in life, like a budding flower, or a bumblebee. So now, I am using my macrolens continuously to capture all these beauties. I never thought I would be taking pictures of flowers and insects. Honestly, it is much harder than I expected. Almost always I am facing challenges, and I love it.

Budding of pink rhododendron flowers

To share the love for these beauties of nature I hunt everyday in my garden to find new buds, flowers, or insects. I know my garden now much better than before. The pictures I like, I share them on Instagram (have a look at the right column of this blog). The pictures that are of the highest quality are submitted to Dreamstime. Currently the review process takes less than one hour.

In the ideal world a flower (or a detail) should be the main subject of the picture, well-lit, tack sharp, with a non-disturbing blurry background. And, of course, no noise in the picture. The combination turns out to be a challenge.

As you probably know, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO depend on each other. Changing one has an effect on the others. This is called the Photographic Triangle.

For example, the depth-of-field at 30cm from the flower for a 105mm lens at f/11 is only 0.4cm. Can you imagine! If you move just a little bit the flower is out of focus. Increasing the depth-of-field to 0.7cm by going to f/22 means either a slower shutter speed or an increase of ISO (introducing some noise in the picture).

A consequence of an increase of ISO means that objects in the background become more visible, distracting attention from the flower. A slower shutter speed, on the other hand, seems fine if we use a tripod; however, if it is too windy or if the insect is moving, it is not going to work. All in all, it is not as easy as I thought.

In the upcoming posts I will have a closer look at some of these challenges.

Tiny white-purple flowers

Be Creative in Bad Times

Shadows on fig leave

The Corona virus has slowed down life enormously. Most activities have been cancelled or are replaced by digital meetings. The current situation in the Netherlands is close to a lock down: schools are closed, everybody who can work from home is asked to do so, the 1.5 meter rule, social distancing, a healthcare system under pressure, logistic challenges for supermarkets. Nation-wide speeches of the Prime Minister and the King make us aware it is serious business. Daily updates of contamination and death figures have their impact. It makes you realize that you cannot take life for granted.

This Corona crisis gives mixed feelings. On the one hand, the almost complete stand still of the economy will cause a deep recession. On the other hand, people in essential jobs do their utmost best to keep the healthcare system running and robust, to supply the supermarkets, to educate our children etc. A big applause for all of them. Society is being turned upside down. There are no rules (expect of course the measures of the cabinet), so people start to think out of the box. Suddenly, there is creativity everywhere to handle the crisis.

As a retired person my main contribution to the crisis is to stay indoors as much as possible and adhere to the measures of the cabinet. For physical health I do some exercises, yoga, and walking in the woods. For mental health, I do a lot of reading (just finished Grand Hotel Europa door Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, in Dutch). By watching Jeroen Krabbé zoekt Chagall (in Dutch), and Jeroen Krabbé zoekt Gaugain (also in Dutch). I also picked up Creative Photography again by continuing to read Grip op Creativiteit door Bart Siebelink (in Dutch). In bad times art may provide comfort.

One of the things Bart Siebelink says: surprise your viewer, make them puzzle a bit. That inspired me by making two pictures. Our garage is our “orangery” during the winter. Late in the afternoon, the sun shines on these plants. This year the fig started to grow its big leaves quite early. I made a close up of these fresh leaves on which shadows of other plants were projected by the sun (see picture at the top).

The other one, at the bottom, is a crop of withered roses I made some time ago with a macro lens. Here I just focussed on a few petals of one rose. The pink color stands for passion and the petals next to each other give a nice repetition.

With these two pictures I like to contribute with art to provide a bit of comfort. Hope you enjoy and stay healthy.

Petals of withered rose

Malta: Cultural Melting Pot

Roman Catholic Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta

The history of Malta dates back a long time (5900 BC). It has been occupied by many different cultures: Sicilians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans. Followed by the Arab period. And not to forget the French and the British. The reason for all this is the strategic position of the island Malta in the Mediterranean Sea, being surrounded by many ports of various countries. You can imagine that all these cultures had a substantial influence on the island.

View from hotel

Birzebbuga We stayed in a hotel in Birzebbuga, right next to the sea. There was a small, half circle sand beach in the middle of the city. It was nice weather, so immediately after arrival we took a dive in the sea. Many locals enjoyed the refreshment of the water. Some were serious swimmers, others had a “tea party” in the water.

Waterfront Valletta, from 3 Cties

Valletta is the capital of Malta. We visited it several times. It is nice to wander through the streets and enjoy its long waterfront. The picture on top of this post is one of the many churches in Valletta. On the right a view of downtown Valletta from Cabo Isla, part of the 3 Cities. At the bottom of this post a view from Sliema. On one of our visit we went to The Knights Hospitallers where an excellent guide told us about the role of the Knights of Malta in the hospital during the many religious wars.

House in Mdina

Mdina is a fortified city which used to be the capital until the medieval period. Its nickname is “Silent City”. Only a few hundred people still live in the city, the rest live in the neighbouring city called Rabat. Mdina is like an open-air museum. You can walk for hours through tiny streets connecting small squares with churches and restaurants. On the right just an arbitrary house. It shows that in the past many wealthy people lived in Mdina. It is well kept and definitely worthwhile to pay a visit.

Tourist swimming at Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon is famous for a small lagoon of the island Cominotto where the water turns turquoise because of the sun. It is really nice to visit, although you have to realize that you are not the only one. To get there, you take a small ferry from Cirkewwa to Cominotto. It was quite windy, which caused some people to scream. The place was really crowded and because of the wind the turquoise color was not as bright as we had hoped for. On the right you get an impression of Blue Lagoon (already sold via Dreamstime).

In Birzebbuga we were kind of disappointed about the quality of the restaurants. Therefore, we often had dinner in Valletta and Marsaxlokk. The latter is a small neighbouring village of Birzebbuga. On the way we walked along several small harbours full with fishermen’s boats (see on the right).

Arriving in Marsaxlokk we had a hard time making a choice for a restaurant. There were many good restaurants although they were not famous for vegetarian meals. The last day we went to the restaurant Tartarun, it is a high quality, family-run restaurant and it specialises in fresh ingredients, especially fresh fish. Both fish and vegetarian meals were excellent. Tartarun is located at this small square (see on the right). This restaurant is definitely worthwhile a visit to Marsaxlokk.

Waterfront Valletta, from Sliema

A Magnificent Sunset at the Beach of Texel

Sunset at the beach of Texel

September last year I visited Texel for the first time. It was for business reasons: Visiting NIOZ, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. I stayed overnight at Hotel Lindeboom in Den Burg. After visiting Vlieland, Ameland and Terschelling, I was a bit disappointed: the sea was too far away to walk from my hotel to the beach. So, I visited the Oudheidkamer Den Burg, Texel. It makes you realise that even basic healthcare is not trivial on an island.

After discussing my disappointment with friends they suggested us to go to De Koog and to rent a bike. So, in October we took the train to Den Helder (there is really no need to take a car to Texel). From the railway station there a direct bus to the boat and from there another bus to our hotel: Hotel Greenside.

We arrived late in the afternoon. The first thing we did was pick up our bikes and go to the beach. We were just in time for a magnificent sunset (see on top and below). It was a perfect gift after a day traveling.

Sunset at the beach of Texel
Lighthouse of Texel

The next day we visited several places on the island by electric bike. The red lighthouse up north on the island (see on the right), a small village called De Cocksdorp on the Waddenzee-side of the island, for an excellent lunch, and De Slufter, a natural hole in the dunes (see below).

De Slufter is a salt marsh, which is the result of an opening in the dunes. The lower parts get flooded every high tide, only with strong western wind and high tide, also the higher parts get flooded. Below you see the opening in the dunes and the higher and lower parts of the marsh.

De Slufter

After my initial disappointment, I really fell in love with Texel. It is the largest island of the Waddenzee, so please rent an e-bike.

End of WW II: 75 years ago

C.T. Stork square in Tuindorp, Hengelo – Historical Place in Hengelo

This year, 2020, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. For example, on January 27th 1945 the extermination Camp Auschwitz was liberated by the Russians; April 3rd 1945 Hengelo was liberated. All of us have family members or friends that vividly remember what happend in WW II. Everybody agrees that what happened in this war should never happen again.

Kindergarten: green doors on the right

Last year I was contacted by Johanna Lemke about some of my pictures of buildings around the C.T. Stork square. She told me that she went to kindergarten in Tuindorp (Hengelo); this kindergarten is now part of Hotel ‘t Lansink. Shortly after WW II, she, together with the rest of her family, migrated to Canada. Recently she decided to write her memories of that period: an innocent, pre-school child noticing the characteristics of a war and experiencing the behaviour of soldiers.

The book is called: Enemy Under Our Roof written by Johanna M.W.F. Lemke. Below you find the back cover description of the novel:

The novel will be available as of April in Boekhandel Broekhuis in Hengelo, and there is a chance that Johanna Lemke will come to Hengelo to participate in the celebration of liberation of Hengelo (April 3rd, 1945). Due to the Coronavirus, the publication has been delayed and Johanna was not able to pay a visit to Hengelo.

Two of my pictures of the C.T. Stork square are included in the novel. It was quite an honour to have email conversations with Johanna Lemke about her upcoming book and to be able to contribute a little bit to the book. As of April I would like to invite you to Boekhandel Broekhuis to get a copy of the novel yourself. It can also be purchased on line at Friesen Press Online Bookstore, Amazon.com (with look inside submission), Apple iTunes/iBooks, and a number of bookstores as well as libraries in Canada.

Reading this book will be a way to remember things that should never happen again.

Computational Photography

Roughly mid 1986 digital photography was ready for the professional market. I still remember, the digital cameras had a small sensor (smaller than the analog equivalence of 35mm), they were very expensive, and their resolution was poor compared to film.

iPhone 11 Pro: three cameras on the rear side

Nowadays, everybody has at least one digital camera in their smartphone. Sometimes, even three or more. It means that they are affordable, and, furthermore, the resolution is very good. Digital photography is all around us (just look at the social media). Also, the serious-hobbyist market for full frame cameras with 35 mm sensors is growing substantially.

With the start of digital photography a lot of software tools were developed to take over the dark room activities. With tools like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop one can manipulate images as a whole or even individual pixels. It is really amazing what these software tools can do nowadays.

Most of these software tools run on a desktop computer, although more limited versions are already available on smartphones or tablets. Some of the image processing operations, however, really need substantial compute power, that is why they need desktop computers.

Small depth-of-field: vague background

With a camera where you can adjust the aperture of the lens it is possible to create a vague background (and foreground). This is especially nice when you want to focus attention on a subject like a person in portrait photography (on the right). The optical features of the lens create a small in focus zone (depth-of-field), and the rest is out of focus (vague). This effect is strongest with a light-intensive telelens. The picture of the right was taken with a Nikkor 135mm lens with aperture f/2.8

With a smartphone this vague background cannot be achieved optically. Lenses in smartphones are basically wide-angle lenses (in focus zone is large). This is where computational photography comes in. The idea is as follows. The software detects the contour of the subject that should be in focus (image processing). The rest, the background, is made vague by the software. So, the essential part is detecting the contour. And it should be done very fast and with the limited compute power of a smartphone.

Beak of the bird has been wrongly made vague

As you can see the image processing software has a hard time detecting the contour of the bird made of glass. The software cannot detect the beak and makes it vague. Also, parts of the bird on the left are sharp and other parts vague. Although the shortcomings of the current software are obvious, I expect substantial improvements in the near future. Look at the achievements with High-Dynamic-Range images and panorama images. My expectation is that in five years time smartphones are able to make as good a picture as some of the more advanced DSLR cameras.

Bern: the Old City

In the previous posts about our holiday in Grindelwald, I discussed Jungfraujoch and hiking. This blog is about our visit to Bern.

Because our chalet in Grindelwald was next to a railway station we decided to go to Bern by train. It took us via Interlaken to Bern Main Station, right next to the Old City (Alstadt). From there we walked to the Building of Parliament (Bundeshaus). On the right a picture taken from the Kirchenfeldbrücke across the river Aare (see map below), which almost completely curves around the Old City. The river is amazingly green.

While crossing the Kirchenfeldbrücke, looking into the other direction, we had a spectacular view of the cathedral of Bern (Bern Minster) and the houses along the Aare. Its construction started in 1421 and it was built in Gothic style. It is the tallest Cathedral in Switzerland (100m).

After paying a visit to the cathedral we walked on to the Nydeggbrücke, where I took some more pictures. On the way, there were many small shops and restaurants. Like the rest of Switzerland, everything is clean and orderly. Via the northern part of the Old City, alone the Aare, we returned to the railway station. It was an enjoyable day.

Below the pictures of Bern that are accepted by Dreamstime: