View Full Version : HELP! Macro lens problem?

30th August 2010, 07:03 PM
Hi guys!

For the past day or two I've been trying out my 35mm macro lens...and I'm really having some problems with it!

I've used it to good effect for portraits, but I'm really struggling with the macro side of it. Nothing seems to be sharp, and the lens seems to struggle to focus sometimes. It doesn't happen all the time, but it's very frustrating when it does - it hunts about and then seems to focus on nothing, just a blur, although if I move the camera backwards and forwards I can usually find where it's focussed. However, it won't let me then take a picture!

I try pointing it at something else to alter the focus, but it seems to be locked up and I have to turn the camera off and on, then start again.

Admittedly conditions today weren't the best, as I was in the woods in blazing sunshine, so the lighting was very difficult at times as I went from bright light into intense shade, but I never seem to have any problems with focussing with my kit lenses. Should I be using manual focus for macro maybe?

Here's a sample of what I managed today - I'm not convinced that they're as sharp as they could be, so I'd be interested in your comments. To be honest, I get better close-up photo's with my Samsung compact!

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4120/4940843643_24ef1fc298.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/janetstansfield/4940843643/)

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4120/4941950333_365b74b552.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/janetstansfield/4941950333/)

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4138/4941429482_35d95f7c99.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/janetstansfield/4941429482/)

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4136/4941425608_b29f35b336.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/janetstansfield/4941425608/)

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4139/4940837645_450dc45d51.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/janetstansfield/4940837645/)

I'm hoping it's just me, and that someone out there can help me get the best out of this lens.

Thanks for reading!


PS. I forgot to say, I'm using an e520!

30th August 2010, 07:24 PM
Hi Janet, nothing wrong with those pics, and heres the but, you have to realise that at f4 (like in the honeysuckle shot) there is very little depth of field so only a small part of the image is sharp.

As to the Samsung, yes its easier to get the shot, the reason for this is because the compacts sensor is 6 times smaller than the E-520 sensor and also uses step focusing to take advantage of the increased dof.

So at a given aperture it has 5-6 times the depth of field, so f4 on the Samsung is equal to F22 on the E-520. On the downside images from the Samsung will not be as detail rich especially at over ISO 100.

But if you put the boot on the other foot the samsung because of all that dof would not be capable of throwing the background out of focus as in this close up of a harebell taken with the 35mm Macro.;)

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4076/4861176678_af469ce7f7.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oly_paul/4861176678/)
Harebell (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oly_paul/4861176678/) by Oly Paul (http://www.flickr.com/people/oly_paul/), on Flickr

30th August 2010, 07:40 PM
I find the Samsung does a good job of throwing the background out of focus...

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2770/4538633982_5cdd5515e7.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/janetstansfield/4538633982/)
A WALL OF PINK... (http://www.flickr.com/photos/janetstansfield/4538633982/) by Janet Stansfield (http://www.flickr.com/people/janetstansfield/), on Flickr

Thanks for your comments by the way. I think perhaps I was expecting too much from my first attempts? You lot on here set a very high standard!


30th August 2010, 09:18 PM
Just to say that I agree with everything Paul has said!

You will need to stop down a lot if you are very close to the subject to get much depth of field. In my experience autofocus is not always helpful - it's often better to focus manually and then move the camera to and fro, checking the focus in the viewfinder.

Also remember that the biggest enemy of close up work outdoors is wind!

30th August 2010, 09:35 PM
Thanks Steve and Paul, I appreciate your comments, and thanks for taking the time on a Bank Holiday weekend.

I understand the stopping down and depth of field info but I'm still baffled as to why the lens just seems to focus on nothing and I have to reset the camera to use it again?

It really was most frustrating!

I have absolutely no problems with my two kit lenses (14-42 & 40-150) ... they have produced some stunning results which I'm very pleased with.

This is the only extra lens I bought, which was serious money for me at the time, but either I don't know how to use it or there is a fault. I suspect the fault may be with me?


30th August 2010, 10:49 PM
Hi Janet, I don't disagree with what has been said already about the DOF issues with DSLR compared with a compact, but I don't think this is the issue you are struggling with here.

I have a 35mm macro like yours, and can easily replicate the issue you have found in certain situations, by holding out my hand with fingers spread in front of my computer screen. It's fairly dark in the room now, so my hands appear dark in front of the bright screen. The problem arises as I see it because the lens wants to focus on something but doesn't know which object-my hand in the foreground or the screen that it detects between my fingers. The camera struggles with this particularly in low light, but also anywhere where there are several objects in the centre of the frame that are different distances from the lens.

I think this problem is a particular problem with macro lenses that don't have focus limiters, so the lens will rack back and forth through the full focus range in an attempt to lock onto something (and no, it won't let you take the picture until it finds focus) but I also find it with my other lenses in some situations. I do a lot of bird photography and with a long lens trying to focus on a bird hidden deep inside a bush for example, the AF doesn't know whether it is the bird or the branches that you want in focus, so in this case it's best to switch to manual focus. I also, by the way, find this problem with my compact camera (Fuji F31fd), especially with close-up work.

Looking at your sample pictures, you potentially have exactly the same situation occurring in your first four pictures as I mentioned above i.e. there are objects in the image centre at dramatically varying distances from the lens. As you said, you don't experience such problems with your other lenses, and to a certain extent the 'problem' is probably more of an issue (or quirk)with the macro lens, but I think it's worth persevering with it, as IMO it's probably got the best image quality to price ratio of any Olympus lens.

As you yourself said before, manual focus would be the way to go in dark situations, but also for close-up work (and especially 1:1 macro). It's generally accepted that using MF and a tripod for close-ups will yield the best results, largely because DOF at close range is very minimal, especially with cameras that have larger sensors (i.e. DSLRs) and especially when used at wide apertures. This of course, can also be used to advantage, as in the case of Paul's beautiful picture of a Harebell.



edit: I'm not sure which camera body you have but it's worth trying this, just to see how little depth of field you have with macro photography: Mount the camera on a tripod and focus on something like your honeysuckle flower. Next, activate live view, then press the 'OK' button (I have an E-510, so hope this makes sense) which magnifies the live view image to 7x. You can even increase this magnification to 10x, but watch how even the slightest breeze causes the part of the flower you want in focus (it's unlikely you will get the whole of something like a honeysuckle flower all in focus) to move in and out of focus with the slightest movement, resulting in blurred pictures if you press the shutter at the wrong moment. Now you will see why steverh says that the biggest enemy of close up work outdoors is wind!

The closer you get the worse it becomes!!

30th August 2010, 10:57 PM
Hi Janet, sorry to hear you are having problems.

I think that Paul and Steve have covered the perceived differences in performance with the Samsung. You are right when you say the Samsung is capable of producing an out of focus background but, as in your example, although the background is mildly out of focus it is still recognizable and potentially distracting - unlike the smooth, totally defocused background in Paul's harebell shot.

As for your focus problems, I'm not familiar with the 35mm macro but I wonder if it might be worth carefully cleaning the contacts on the lens, I can understand difficulty focusing but locking up completely doesn't seem right. If that doesn't work it might be worth having a chat about the problem with the Olympus service department to see what they have to say.

I've recently taken a Sigma 105mm macro on long term loan from a friend and compared to my other E-System lenses focusing is slow and cumbersome. Also, I've noticed that at high magnification I am more likely to encounter areas of continuous tone that don't seem to have enough contrast for the autofocus to work. it does help that the Sigma has a focus limiter to prevent the lens hunting over the entire focus range when this happens, something which I think is not present on the Olympus macros. Even so, I'm often finding that it is easier to focus manually.

As Paul said, at high magnification the depth of field is extremely small and even at f11 handheld I find I often drift out of focus by the time I release the shutter. Mind you, I do have a disability that makes it harder for me to handhold steady, particularly for close up work. Switching to a tripod I get vastly improved results, so long as there isn't a breeze. Even the slightest movement, hardly perceptible to the naked eye, is amplified at high magnification and the subject may only have to move a millimeter to render part of it out of focus.

Even using a tripod presents it's own problems and I find I'm constantly moving it backwards or forwards by minute amounts to get the desired framing and focus. When funds allow I hope to get a focusing rail to make this easier.

Macro is a specialist subject, very demanding and difficult to master. However, once you've got it right the results can be spectacular. The trouble is, people like Paul, Nick Temple-Fry, Greytop and Andy (to name but a few) make it look deceptively easy. So don't give up, keep practicing and trying new things. And remember, the difference between a great shot and a disappointing one may literally be just a couple of millimeters. I'm pretty much in the same boat as you and it's a steep and daunting learning curve but I plan to enjoy it, even if I do fall off it ocassionally! :)

Nick Temple-Fry
30th August 2010, 11:55 PM
I think the comments here have been very good, but I'll just add a couple or so that haven't been covered.

I can't see the exif for these shots so I may not be totally relevant.

1) I always shoot macro in 'A' priority, you really do need to control the dof. From memory I'd guess you need to be around F8-F11 for something like the flower head.

2) Single focus point.

3) C-AF and C-AF lock set to on (if the 520 supports the lock)

4) As the 35mm does not support full time manual focus (I think) it may well be worth setting the camera to C-AF+MF so you can use the focus ring on the lens to help find the subject.

5) Remember dof is 1/3 in front of the focus point 2/3 behind (you have a bigger area in focus behind the focus point than in front). So where your subject is filling the screen ('ish) you may want to shift the focus point to one side of the subject if that's closer than the centre.

6) Keep the shutter speed up, both you and the subject are unlikely to be totally still so you will want the shutter speed above 1/100. If you increase the iso that will drive the speed up, as will use of flash.

Macro is an acquired skill, so it does take time (and frustration) to acquire it.

Have fun


31st August 2010, 01:32 PM
Also - if using a tripod, do remember to turn off the Image Stabilising, as you won't get pin-sharp macro images with it on.

31st August 2010, 06:48 PM
Sorry I'm late in replying...had to go back to the dreaded work today!

Thank you all for your replies...I don't think there's another site where I could get such good and detailed responses to such a basic question! It really is very much appreciated, and it's helped me to see where I'm going wrong.

There's nothing wrong with the lens (as I've just proved to myself after a little experimentation this evening, using my tripod and a static subject...not worth posting though, but at least I've reassured myself that it's me, and not the lens that's at fault!)

I think my main problem is that I've been trying to run before I can walk...I've been expecting much better images than I should, given my level of expertise and experience. Time for me to get real, and stop thinking that I can get to the standard some of you are at without putting in a lot more effort and time!

The shots were all hand held, which was my first mistake. That will account for the poor focus, no?...I have a tripod...I must learn not to be self-conscious and actually use the damn thing!

I understand the focussing thing a lot more now, so I'm reading through my camera manual and working out the correct settings to use next time. Just a pity that there wasn't a manual with the lens to explain some of this stuff!

For a newcomer, there's far too much information as to how good/sharp a lens is, without actually mentioning that you really need to know your craft to get the best results from it!

Anyway, thanks again everyone. It's much appreciated!


Ross the fiddler
1st September 2010, 12:13 PM
With the ZD 35, I would use MF in macro shots because of a fairly shallow DoF the likelyhood of autofocusing on the intended part is pretty slim. I'm still trying to get good results with my ZD35 macro lens in macro use. I've used reversed lenses, bellows etc in most static situations, but flowers on a shrub (while looking for bee flies to pose for me) with a little breeze makes it a little hard to get focus. I held the plant with the camera for some of them. This one is of an Australian shrub, Erisremon using MFat 1:1.5 (75% life size) live view magnified with the focus point presetup to try for the best focus.

I intend to try & get some good results with this lens (obtained at a good price) but would love the Sigma 150.