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Lens and lights for super macro photography: surgery on a shooting table

Do you know what surgical forcep is? According to Wikipedia: “Forceps are used when fingers are too large to grasp small objects or when many objects need to be held at one time while the hands are used to perform a task.” In case if the object is a tiny piece of human body needed for biopsy, something very internal, surgeons pin a hole in human’s body and use 1.5 mm in diameter micro jaws to bite a piece of the liver, for example…

macro photography how to
macro photography in your hand

Scary enough? Do not worry, I won’t go further:-)

I was lucky to feel these things in my hands, not inside of me. One of our good long-term customers, medical supplier EndoChoice sells such devices and my duty is to produce outstanding images of these little gremlins.

For this task I use the most unusual lens in our collection, Canon MP-E 65mm F2.8 1-5x macro.
The lens is unusual because:

  1. It has a smallest diameter front element I ever seen on lens for 35mm cameras.
  2. It does not have auto-focus… It does not have focus at all! No focusing ring, just a zoom grip.
  3. This is a longest (compared to collapsed size) zoom expansion I know: the lens extends almost 3 times in length.
  4. Has magnification ratio from life-size (1x) to 5x, which makes it microscope-like tool for photographer.

Here it she is:

Canon super macro lens MP-E 65mm 1-5x
Canon super macro lens MP-E 65mm 1-5x
Canon super macro lens MP-E 65mm 1-5x
Canon super macro lens MP-E 65mm 1-5x
Canon super macro lens MP-E 65mm F2.8 extended
Canon super macro lens MP-E 65mm F2.8 extended

Now, the forceps shoot setup.

For such small objects  I need to use relatively narrow light beams, so no softboxes here:-) Total 4 Paul C. Buff lights: two on the forcep, two on the table to highlight the background where lens is aimed. Because of a small front element and because I need DOF to be as deep as possible (aperture was set to a maximum value for the lens  F16), setup was required a good amount of light.  Total  1200WS through 20° honeycombs to a background from 2 feet away and total power of 2400WS on the forcep through 10° honeycombs were used.

Lighting setup for super macro photography
Lighting setup for super macro photography
lighting setup for super macro photography - Atlanta photographer
lighting setup for super macro photography

I use Manfrotto modified arm (see details below) to hold a wire the way I need, arm connected to a Manfrotto  shooting table frame. What was really missing in my setup is a geared focusing rails for macro photography. Because a focusing can be done only by changing the distance between the lens and the object, it was really hard to move camera precisely toward the object. The head I used, Manfrotto 405 geared head, did not help a lot (BTW, great head for product photography), as it does not allow frontal movements. I’ll need something like this on top of my Bogen.

Now few of the results, all done on 2x magnification:

atlanta photographer super macro example photo
Super Macro forcep image, by Atlanta photographer Alex Kolsokov
Macro photography forcep, by Atlanta photographer Alex Kolsokov
Macro photography forcep, by Atlanta photographer Alex Koloskov

Equipment and shooting spec:

Camera gear:

Lighting, light modifiers and accessories:

All shots were done with: shutter speed 1/250 sec, F16, ISO 100, Custom WB 5600K

As usual, your feedback highly appreciated!

5 responses on "Lens and lights for super macro photography: surgery on a shooting table"

  1. Doug – 1:1 of standard macro will get u good eyes, Canon 60 mm EFS is very good & with extension tubes gives good mag. Top flash (eg 580EX or 430 EX) bounced off their own internal bounce card gives good light.

    For the MP-E 65 mm, for faster set up go Canon MT24 EX macro flash – twin heads, fits end of lens. This lens will have magnification to burn, but starts at 1x so too close for eyes imho. U can diffuse flash heads to soften the light & pick up much better surface detail – check out Alex Wild’s blog posts at Myrmecos, & a broad array of info on this lens for insects on various sites (Flickr/Photonet or similar).

    Alex has not really done this lens justice; combined with the Canon twin head or ring flash & with a bit of experience this is a fantastic tool for close up phoptog – lab/studio or field, allowing flexibility of use impossible with any other modern system.

    Cheers, Chris

  2. I’m currently getting 6.5X magnification using a extension tubes, a 100mm prime and a reversed lens. A lot cheaper (and more challenging) that the MP-E.

    As always thanks for the great info in your posts !!!

  3. Oh my! Those forceps look very … violent (I’m sorry … that;s really the best word to describe them for me :) ). My father had some procedure involving forceps done to him a couple of years back when the doctors had to take out a sample from a mass forming in his abdomen. I never thought about it much, but seeing these device up close gave me the shivers.

    I must admit, though. It amazed me that something so tiny can really be this intricate. I just thought that forceps were more like tweezers.

  4. Great site Alex,

    Although a pro of more than 30 years I haven’t done macro in years.
    I am looking for a lens and info for doing eyes…
    If these were taken at 2x… wow, what does 5x look like?
    I think I need something with faster set-up… Any recommendations?
    I would love to pick your brain for a few minutes if you can spare the

    Thanks and as always,
    Happy Trails

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