By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE LONGER ONE IS INVOLVED IN PHOTOGRAPHY, the greater the temptation is to streamline one’s “quantitative” approach to equipment….specifically, how much of it we need with us at any one time. We’ve all seen ( have often been) the folks who decide to lug along multiple camera bodies, lots of lenses, and assorted support devices and toys, and, for many of these people, that is a workable approach to doing good work. Others decide, over time, that they want less gear that does more. I have lived in Camp One, and I prefer life in Camp Two. I try to decide, before heading out, which camera/lens combo will give me most of what I want in most situations. That means leaving some stuff back at the house and maximizing the flexibility of what you have at hand, or, as the modified stock car racers term it, “run what you brung”.
In recent years, the increased number of wildlife shoots in which I tag along has more or less dictated the use of a telephoto of some kind. However, when the birds and beasts decide to sleep in, I love to default to close work with flowers or other nature subjects. That means trying to make the zoom do the work of a macro lens, since I don’t have a true macro with me at the moment. And, happily, it turns out that I can do about 90% of what I want from a macro with a telephoto anyway.
The minimum focal distance of a zoom dictates that you stand fairly far away from your target (say a flower), or else your autofocus will just whirr and dither, and so the first thing you have to do is back away. It’s not uncommon to stand fifteen or more feet from your subject before zooming in. Of course, at maximum zoom, your choice of apertures may be more limited, meaning you can’t open up wider than about f/4. This, in turn, means that you may not be as able to isolate a sharp foreground object from its softer background clutter as neatly as a macro would allow you to at, say, f/2 or wider. What I do in a case like this is actually underexpose a bit by shooting at a fast shutter speed, trying to position the subject in direct light and letting everything behind it roll off into darkness. It’s crude but easy.
A caveat: true macros are extremely precise instruments, and, in making a zoom do macro-like work, you shouldn’t expect to nail the same superfine detail as a lens dedicated solely to the task. That means you’ll see the delicate patterns on a butterfly’s wings, but you won’t be able to count the dots in his eyes. Still, in comparing the two images here, one a true macro and the other a “zoomacro”, many might concede that they both generally bring home the bacon (spoiler alert: the top photo is the genuine macro). Bottom line: it is easy to force a telephoto to perform this kind of double duty, making your shooting less complicated and cumbrous and producing fairly consistent results.