Underwater Supermacro photography

Shooting the really small photo subjects

By Scott Gietler

 
 
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Many underwater photographers get frustrated attempting underwater supermacro photography. However, for those who persevere and practice, the rewards are great. With the right equipment (diopter or teleconverter), the right conditions (no surge), lots of bottom time, and the right subject (think small!) - supermacro underwater photography can produce extraordinary photographs.

 

Supermacro with Point and Shoots

 

Macro photography in compact cameras is accomplished two ways - by purchasing a camera that allows very close focus (2cm or less), or by purchasing macro "wet lenses", which are diopters that allow for closer focusing. Two of these wet lenses are often stacked on top of each other for extreme magnification.

 

Wet macro lens

 

The Subsee +5, Dyron +7, and Inon 165AD macro lens, are all popular macro lenses (wet diopter) for compact cameras. Two of these are stacked together, and can be added or removed underwater. These are strong, high quality diopters, and they can also be used with a dSLR. Dyron makes adapter for most compact cameras and some dSLRs, and Reefnet makes the Subsee adapter for most dSLR ports and a couple compact camera ports. You can read more about wet lenses.

 

dSLR Supermacro Underwater Photography

 

Macro photography with a dSLR is usually accomplished with a macro lens, which can achieve 1:1 magnification. Canon 60mm, Canon 100mm, oly 50mm, nikon 60mm, and nikon 105mm lenses are examples of these lenses. Cropped sensor dSLR's allow their users to full-frame objects that are 24mm across or less. Full frame dSLR users must use additional teleconverters or diopters to achieve this effect.

 

If you are a Olympus user, your main choice will be a Oly 50mm F2.0 macro lens with a 1.4x or 2.0x teleconverter.

 

Super Macro photography - introduction

           

            Using diopters or teleconverters to achieve greater than 1:1 magnification is called super-macro photography. At this range, DOF is very small, and auto-focus may be hard to achieve. Most photographers will focus in 1 of 3 ways: 1) switch to continuous focus mode, 2) focus at the maximum magnification, switch to manual focus mode, and then "rock" until the subject is in focus, or 3) purchase a focus ring and manually focus using the focus ring. Having the ability to switch between C, M, and S (continuous, manual, single-servo) focus modes via your UW housing is a very nice feature when performing super-macro photography.

 

diopter teleconverter

Tamron 1.4 teleconverter & Canon 58mm 250D +4 dual-element diopter

 

Diopters, or Close-up lens

 

            A diopter, also called a close-up lens, acts like a filter, and screws onto the front of the lens. A diopter allows for greater magnification by shortening the effective focal length of the lens, and reducing the working distance of the lens. The effective focal length of the lens is reduced. Where teleconverters maginify the image the same amount on all lenses, diopters will give different magnification on different focal lengths. So the magnification a diopter gives on a 150mm lens will be greater than that on a 60mm macro lens.

 

Advantage of using a diopter

  • No loss of light, which means bright viewfinder, no loss of auto-focus

Disadvantage

  • You lose the ability to get infinity focus, resulting in a reduced focal range. The stronger the diopter, the more the focal range is reduced.

 

Wet Diopters - Woody's, Macromate, Subsee, Dyron

 

            "Woody's diopter", the "macromate", the Dyron Double Macro M77, and the "subsee"  are wet diopters that can be placed over a port, that will allow for increased magnification by reducing the minimum working distance. The macromate and the Subsee are stronger diopters, but much more expensive. Woody's diopter can increase magnification up to 25%, where the macromate (+8) & subsee (+10) can increase magnification up to 100% & 125% respectively on a 105mm lens. These figures will be different on other focal lengths, as I discussed above.

 

Please note that when using a wet diopter, it's important that the camera lens is as close as possible to the port, to reduce the amount of air between the camera lens and the wet diopter. These diopters are best used with a 90mm focal length or longer, otherwise you will be focusing too close to your port. Still, some people do use a Woody's diopter with a 60mm lens.

 

A big advantage of a wet diopter is that is can be removed during the dive, so you don't have to shoot only supermacro on that dive.

 

SubSee:                      http://www.bluewaterphotostore.com/products/search/results/taxonomy%3A157

Dyron +7 Lens:             https://www.bluewaterphotostore.com/dyron_77mm_macro_lens

 

You can read my review of the SubSee adapter and diopter.

 

Learn about shooting super macro with stacked diopters.

 

supermacro underwater photography by keri wilk

Blenny, uncropped, with SubSee wet diopter. Photo by Keri Wilk. The depth of field in this shot is very small, so it took several shots to get the eyes in focus. The blenny was in a tube, so to prevent the background from being illuminted, the strobes were at the side pointed slightly towards the camera housing. D300, 105mm lens with SubSee, dual Ike-125s without diffusers.

 

spanish shawl nudibranch, super-macro underwater photography

Nudibranch Rhinophores, Nikon D300, 105mm lens+subsee diopter. F25, 1/250th, ISO 200, Channel islands, USA

 

"Dry" diopters

 

            A high-quality diopter such as the Nikon 5T/6T, which are no longer made, or a Canon 500D/250D is a small lens that is screwed onto the end of a macro lens. This will allow increased magnification by reducing the minimum working distance. There is very little image degradation with these high-quality diopters. These diopters are called "dual element" or achromatic diopters. B&W, hoya and tiffen also make cheaper diopters, but you may see some loss of IQ with these diopters.

 

            The disadvantage of "dry" diopters is that the diopter must be used for the entire dive, and the lens will no longer focus at longer distances. Only small subjects will be able to be shot during the dive. A port extension may be needed to prevent the diopter from hitting the glass of the port.

 

            Try to get a diopter called “two element” or “achromatic” like the Nikon or Canon versions, they are better quality than the one element diopters. Remember, when searching on-line, they are sometimes under “close-up lens”.

 

Diopter strength, and possible magnification over 1:1 on a 100mm lens

 

  • Canon 500d       +2       20-30%
  • Nikon 4t, 6t       +3        30-40% (discontinued and not easy to find)
  • Canon 250d       +4       40-50%

 

Cheaper, single-element diopters can introduce chromatic aberrations, which can be corrected in photoshop or some RAW editors.

 

garibaldi eggs, southern california

Garibaldi eggs, 105mm lens with Canon 250D diopter, F18

 

supermacro underwater photo, conch eyes

Conch eyes, Anilao, Phillipines, photo by jeff de guzman. f22, 1/160th, ISO 100, Canon 400D, +2 dry diopter, woody's wet diopter

 

Teleconverters

 

            A teleconverter acts like a magnifier, and is placed in between a lens and the camera body. It magnified whatever lens is placed on it. More precisely, a teleconverter enlarges the center portion of the image until it fills the frame.

 

            A 1.4x teleconverter magnifies all images by 40%, a 1.7x teleconverter by 70%, and a 2.0 teleconverter by 100%. The disadvantage is loss of light and loss of image quality. With a 1.4x teleconverter, you loose 1 stop of light. With a 2x, you lose 2 stops. To avoid image degradation, only use a teleconverter on a prime lens. There will be no noticeable loss of sharpness with a 1.4x teleconverter and a F2.8 lens. A larger port or port extension will be needed to accommodate the teleconverter. Not all teleconverters will allow you to autofocus, so do your research.

 

 

Example: Nikon 60mm lens + Kenko/Tamron 1.4x teleconverter

 

colmani shrimp underwater supermacro

Colemani shrimp, shot with a 60mm lens + 1.4x teleconverter. F20, 1/320th

 

nudibranch gills supermacro

Nudibranch gills, nikon 105mm + 1.4x teleconverter. This is a good combo when you want to shoot very skittish subjects, and also do some supermacro. F14, 1/320th, ISO 250

 

I often use a tamron 1.4x tele with my Nikon 60mm lens, housed in a 105mm macro port. Maximum magnification is 40% greater than 1:1. The lens acts like an 85mm lens, which is perfect for smaller fish, and at maximum magnification has the same working distance as my 60mm. Autofocus works perfectly fine with this setup, although it auto-focus gets a little difficult at maximum magnification if you don't have a bright focus light.

 

Note: using a “dry” diopter or a teleconverter will make you need an extension ring if you don’t have enough room in your port.

 

Which brand teleconverter?

 

You can get either the Tamron SP AF (make sure it's the SP AF, not the standard) or the Kenko Teleplus 300 Pro. Both are exactly the same, made by the same manufacturer, simply rebranded and colored differently.

 

Teleconverter pros & cons

 

  • Pros - entire focal range of a lens is useable
  • Con - loss of light, therefore slightly dimmer viewfinder, auto-focus doesn't work as well. with a 1.4x tele, you lose 1 stop of light. 1.7x, 1 1/2 stops. 2x teleconverter, you loose 2 stops of light.
  • Cons - teleconverters magnify all defects of a lens (noise, artifacts, lack of sharpness, etc.), so they must be used on a high-quality lens that has better resolution than your sensor; you will lose some resolution and contrast with a 1.4x teleconverter. You'll also lose some auto-focus speed, especially on a 100-105mm lens, it can get quite noticeable in water that is not bright.
  • note - in general you should use teleconverters on prime lenses, not on zoom lenses. 
  • On a prime lens, you shouldn't notice any loss of IQ with a 1.4x teleconverter. You might notice a small loss of IQ with a 2x teleconverter.

 

supermacro underwater photography with 2x teleconverter

Goby on a coral, D2x, 105mm lens + 2x teleconverter at F29. Photo by Rand McMeins.

 

Extension tubes

 

            I don't recommend using these, I think it is better to use a diopter or teleconverter. The extension tubes will make your port needs much longer, and you have to deal with loss of light. However, to use a teleconverter on the Canon EF-S 60mm lens, you need to use the Canon 12mm extension tube.

 

Supermacro Photography recommendations and tips:

 

Supermacro photography is when you take a photograph at greater than 1:1 magnification. One definition is if you are taking a photo that is less than 24mm across, you are shooting supermacro.

 

Best choices for supermacro with a dSLR:

 

- Use a cropped sensor dSLR

- Use one of the following combinations:

  • Olympus 50mm or Nikon/Canon 60mm macro lens
  • I recommend a teleconverter. I suggest starting off with a 1.4x teleconverter, although some people try the 2.0x. The Canon EF-S 60mm lens will not autofocus with a teleconverter. It will work if you place a 12mm extension tube in between the 60mm lens and the teleconverter, but use a good focus light to help with the auto-focus, you loose a little more light because of the extension tube making auto-focus even more difficult.

 

 

100 or 105mm macro lens (or longer focal length)

I recommend a wet or dry diopter (or combination of the two). A 100/105mm lens with a +2 dry diopter and a Woody's wet diopter is a combination that works well. You can also go for a stronger wet diopter (mentioned above) if your budget allows, which will give additional magnification.

Here's some basic information on comparing shooting a 60mm with a 105mm lens.

 

See the diopters section above for wet & dry diopter choices.

 

I do not recommend using a 50mm or 60mm lens with a diopter, unless it's only a +2. The working distance is very small, the subject will be very close to your lens port. This will make lighting difficult, it will scare the subject and make it difficult to get a correct composition.

 

Some people also have combined teleconverters and diopters for increased magnification. Make sure your port is long enough.

 

Supermacro with a micro-four thirds camera

There are 2 macro lenses available - the Panasonic 45mm macro, and the Olympus 60mm macro lens. I would use a wet +5 or +7 diopter with the Olympus 60mm macro lens, for great photos of really tiny subjects! The 60mm macro will give you a little more working distance than the 45mm macro.

 

SuperMacro Underwater Photography Advice

 

Before you go out and start buying all these diopters and teleconverters, make sure you have lots of practice taking photos at 1:1 magnification. Supermacro can be very difficult, and first you should take some photos at the maximum magnification of your lens, to see if that is magnification enough.

 

For your first time, you can try focuses the lens to its closest focusing distance, that turning off the autofocus on the lens. For the entire dive, you can rock back and forth to get in focus. This will ensure all of your shots are at the maximum magnification of your macro lens.

 

When shooting supermacro, you are often shooting at very small apertures, such as F22-F32. You may need to bring your strobes closer to your subject to get sufficient strobe power to light the subject at these small apertures.

 

Depth of Field

 

Some of us learn in landscape photography that the depth of field lies one third in front of the focus point, and 2/3 behind. That is only true in certain cases. In macro photography, the depth of field lies equally in front and behind the focus point. In supermacro, the depth of field will be very small, so choose your focal point carefully, and use at least F16, even for a flat object. Some people shoot at F36, F40, or F57. If you are worried about diffraction, see my diffraction test results.

 

Lighting and Focusing Tips

 

  • When doing any kind of photography close to 1:1, there is loss of light due to the lens elements being moved further away from the camera sensor. Because of this, the viewfinder will be slightly dimmer, so use a good focus light if possible.
  • Many TTL systems will underexpose when doing underwater supermacro photography, so make the appropriate adjustments, or switch to manual strobe power.
  • Lighting can be difficult, for even front lighting I suggest moving your strobes close in directly against your ports, pointing straight ahead. Here are some strobe position examples. To bring out detail in the subject, use side-lighting by pointing your strobes inward toward your port.


Tiny frogfish taken in Anilao, Philippines. Sidelighting helped to bring out the detail in the frogfish. 

 

Composition Tips

 

You can find some supermacro composition tips here under underwater supermacro composition.

Here's a great article on "face-on" underwater macro composition.

 

 

Further Reading:

 

 

 

Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 

Comments

Lens choice ? Hi, I got the

Lens choice ?

Hi,
I got the Nikon D7000 with Aquatica housing and currently shooting with wide angle 10-24mm.
I want to purchase a good micro lens to start shooting underwater macro, which lens will you recommend to start with ? The 60mm , 80mm or 105mm ?

Thanks

An extreme supermacro choice

An extreme supermacro choice is a Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x Macro lens,which offers x5 magnification. Unlike other macro lenses, it does not focus to infinity and cannot be used for conventional photography.

And of course you will have troubles with port, tiny DoF, lens resolution and so on...

At the first glance, using this lens underwater seems nearly impossible, but people are doing that and getting very good results, Alexander Semenov for example(http://clione.ru/).

Dear sir I have Nikon 60mm

Dear sir

I have Nikon 60mm f/2.8G ED AF-S Micro plus nikon d 7000 plus aquatica housing, do you know if ı can use teleconvertes, cause ı have read that it dosent work with the new one. Unfourtanetely ı learned it after ı bought the machine. do you have any ideas??

Thank you for your kelp

You should sell it and buy

You should sell it and buy the old 60mm Nikon lens. They won't work with the new AF-S lens. Good luck! - Scott

Scott Gietler Owner/Editor, Underwater Photography Guide & Bluewater Photo http://www.uwphotographyguide.com http://www.bluewaterphotostore.com

Hi, I would like to thank

Hi,

I would like to thank you for providing such a wide range of useful informations here on your website.

I own nikon 60mm f2.8 AF D macro lens and I am planning to purchase a 1.4 teleconverter for super marco.

I think I understood that you have used the same lense and you could use its autofocus function with either Tamron/Kenko PRO300. Or maybe you were referring to the new 60mm 2.8 G lens? I read that the Kenko Pro 300 was designed for the prime lens with longer than 300mm focal length. Could you advise me if my 60mm 2.8 D macro and kenko pro 300 are fully compatible including auto-focus function if you have used these combinations? And I assume the Nikon tc14 would not be compatible for the autofocus unless the lens has AF-S design?

Kind regards

Yuzuru Masuda

Hi there I have a d90 with a

Hi there
I have a d90 with a 105mm vr macro lens in an ikelite housing- I've had trouble finding any suitable Nikon dioptres and my local shop suggested using canon dioptres with a conversion ring....is that feasable?
Thanks
Dave

 yes, using canon diopters

 yes, using canon diopters with a step-down or step-up ring works fine..you may need an additional extension ring with your port though

Scott Gietler Owner/Editor, Underwater Photography Guide & Bluewater Photo http://www.uwphotographyguide.com http://www.bluewaterphotostore.com

Hi have a question regarding

Hi have a question regarding the TC with canon 60 mm lens.
I have the D500 with 1.6 crop sensor. Does the TC with extension ring provide still auto focus.
Is it for the autofocus why I need the 12 mm extension ring
Do you use a full farme camera or as well a camera with cropped sensor ?
Thanks Scott

Hi, I have some sample shots

Hi, I have some sample shots of Canon 60mm + EF12 II + 1.4x Kenko TC. I can say very usable this setup & AF still working fine. 

 

- thanks alot Enje, I put one up on this page for people to see. - Scott

if I my ask what camera are u

if I my ask what camera are u using ?
Kind regards
Matthias W