Handheld Macro Fun

I recently had some handheld macro fun photographing blossoms at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton Ontario. Being able to create handheld macro images, especially when 10 photographs are combined with in-camera focus stacking, continues to amazes me.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/100, ISO-400, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 640 mm

My recent visit to one of the interior display areas of the Royal Botanical Gardens was my first in quite a long time due to COVID-19. I wore an N95 mask and kept myself appropriately distanced from other visitors. Fortunately there weren’t many other people in the building.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/100, ISO-125, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 360 mm

I’ve always been intrigued with macro photography as it unlocks my imagination into a whole new world. I must admit that when I was shooting with full frame gear I never got that immersed in this genre of photography.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/100, ISO-160, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 300 mm

I found that I was pretty ineffective trying to shoot macro images handheld, especially at shutter speeds under 1/500. The thought of hauling out tripod gear always seemed to be more trouble than it was worth.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-1000, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 345 mm

So, even though I had invested in a 105 mm f/2.8 full frame macro lens… it collected dust most of the time.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/100, ISO-160, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 495 mm

After I sold all of my full frame gear and started using Nikon 1 equipment exclusively I did have a lot of enjoyment doing some close up photography using extension tubes.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-1000, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 310 mm

This was typically done with a 1 Nikkor 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 zoom, a Nikon 1 J5 body, and one or two extension tubes. It wasn’t technically macro photography… but a lot of fun nonetheless.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/100, ISO-64, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 290 mm

When I moved over to Olympus I bought an M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro as part of my initial camera gear purchase. The potential to shoot macro handheld and also utilize technology like Handheld Hi Res (HHHR) and in-camera focus stacking was intriguing.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO-100, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 300 mm

The first time I put my M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro on my E-M1X body I remember how strange the combination looked. Then I tried a few test handheld macro images and I was gobsmacked.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 30 mm, efov 81 mm, f/3.8, 1/25, ISO-3200

The IBIS in my E-M1X was superb. I found that I could easily shoot macro images handheld at shutter speeds of 1/100 when needed. This was a game changer for me.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO-64, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 285 mm

My early handheld macro photography experimentation was mainly with using Handheld Hi Res. Since the output with in-camera focus stacking is a jpeg, I didn’t initially spend much time with this technology.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO-320, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 325 mm

I suppose I had become so focused on using RAW files from an image quality standpoint, that I didn’t see the potential value with the jpegs produced by in-camera focus stacking technology.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO-640, handheld in-camera focus stacking, cropped to 4248 pixels on the width, subject distance 270 mm

I had to adjust my previous full frame thinking when shooting macro using in-camera focus stacking with my E-M1X. In the past I would have typically stopped my 105 mm f/2.8 full frame macro lens down to f/11 (or even further) to get decent depth-of-field. And, even then I wasn’t always happy with my handheld results.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO-125, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 475 mm

Being able to shoot handheld macro photography wide open at f/2.8 and get the depth-of-field I need with in-camera focus stacking provides a huge amount of latitude. It allows me to use lower ISO-values than I was able to utilize with my full frame gear when attempting to shoot macros handheld.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-1000, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 250 mm

Some OM System Ambassadors have suggested using an aperture of f/5.6 when using the 60 mm f/2./8 macro lens. I did spend some time using this setting during my recent visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens to test it out.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-800, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 265 mm

I liked the results the lens and technology produced at this aperture. When using the in-camera focus stacking feature I don’t see any need to stop down further than f/5.6.  My inclination is to shoot wide open at f/2.8 to take advantage of lower ISO values.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-500, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 285 mm

But, that’s just me. Other photographers may have a different approach that works better for them. The in-camera focus stacking technology provides quite a bit of adjustment latitude with the Focus Differential setting. I’m still far down on the learning curve.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/100, ISO-100, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 280 mm

I’ve also discovered that the quality of the jpegs from my E-M1X is very good, and they don’t require much of anything in post. This has made me more open to use in-camera focus stacking.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO-160, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 270 mm

I think it will take some time and a lot of experimentation for me to become proficient with this technology. It is another powerful tool that a photographer has at their disposal. The key is to learn when it is the best shooting option, and how to use it effectively.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-640, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 345 mm

There’s an old saying that if the only tool you own is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. As photographers having more tools available to us expands our ability to adjust to creative opportunities as they arise.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 465 mm

In the past most of us relied mainly on our choice of lenses to give us the flexibility and adaptability we needed. Computational photography provides us with even more capability to find the best way to express our creativity.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 285 mm

The handheld macro fun I experienced during my recent visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens was created in large part to a couple of wonderful technologies. The IBIS performance of my E-M1X, and its in-camera focus stacking capability.

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from out-of-camera jpegs. Photographs were resized for web use. This is the 1,167 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/100, ISO-80, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 2985 mm

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6 thoughts on “Handheld Macro Fun”

  1. Hello there Tom.
    With regard to the Olympus 60mm 2.8 macro lens – have you used it for non-macro photography?
    I am interested in the 60mm (120mm @35mm equiv) not just for macro but also for people and the built environment we inhabit.

    Thanks, Rob.

    1. Hi Rob,

      I haven’t used it for anything else other than macro work. That’s not to say that you couldn’t use it for other applications. The focusing distance on the lens can be adjusted and there is a 0.4 metre to infinity setting so you could use it for portraits etc.

      On a personal basis I’m heavily skewed to using zoom lenses and I only own 2 M.Zuiko prime lenses… the 60 mm f/2.8 macro and the 45 mm PRO 1.2 (which I use for portraits and low light conditions for video).

      Tom

  2. Hi Tom,

    I don’t have a dedicated macro lens, so I use the 12-40mm with a the Nikon 5T +1.5 diopter lens/filter. It works very well and I don’t have to carry an extra lens!

    I hope to learn focus stacking soon. Thanks for the article.

    Tony

    1. Hi Tony,

      Using Focus Stacking is mainly trial and error. Your camera will indicate the number of focus stacking frames that are allowed. I usually use 10 for macro. The focus differential is something that you’ll need to play around with based on subject matter. I haven’t done a lot of experimentation yet, but I’ve been using 3 to 5 for macro thus far. With Focus Stacking the position of your AF point is important. Since the first few frames focus in front of where you put your AF point many people choose an AF point about 1/3 of the way into their composition.

      Tom

  3. I love the in camera focus stacking on my Em1, II.
    I normally shoot just RAW, but found the in camera jpeg was small size 1280x. Do you shoot RAW and jpeg or just the largest jpeg whilst doing these focus stacks?

    thanks

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