Ask An Expert: Vincent Versace & Macro Lens Decisions

Last week I received several interesting questions for the experts.  Today we’re answering three of them, because the first two are short and don’t warrant their own topic.  The answers come from Guy Tal, who is in my humble opinion the very best nature photographer in all of Utah.  Please do yourself a favor and visit his website, then prepare to be amazed.  His intimate landscape work is especially stunning.  Todd Caudle, Colorado’s premier landscape photographer and co-leader of workshops with me, also submitted an answer.  Much appreciated, Todd!

The Questions

1) I know the basics of Vincent Versace digital conversion, but who was Vincent Versace and why is this method named after him?

2) As a fairly new recruit to the world of DSLRs, I have been wondering which affordable lenses are best for macro photography. Right now I have the Canon 50mm/1.8 lens for my Canon EOS RebelXS 1000D. While it’s a  pretty handly lens because it sees things just as the naked eye does, it doesn’t get nearly as close as I would like to get. I have a lens budget of about $600. What do you recommend? I have also heard that tubes can come in handy for macro, but I’m not entirely sure what the use of them is. Is it something I should look into, or am I better off just buying a
better lens?

3) I’d really like to know which of the following will get more depth of field at the same magnification: Extension Tubes, Diopters or a lens that can accomplish ‘X’ magnification without any additional equipment. I would assume they would all have the same depth of field, but I’m getting mixed replies from various macro photographers. I’m not worried about image quality, loss of light, etc, only depth of field.

Guy’s Responses:

1) Vincent Versace is alive and well and the method is named after him because he developed it.

2) The decision should be based on what you plan to photograph. You can achieve close focus with just about any lens (e.g. by adding extension tubes or a bellows) but the working distance may not be acceptable for some subjects. For example, you wouldn’t want a setup that forces you to be 1″ away from a skittish insect to get sufficient magnification. Since you already have a normal lens, my suggestion would be to get a mid-range macro lens in the 90-105mm range that is capable of 1:1 magnification without additional items. Most manufacturers have such lenses in their lineup. This will give you sufficient working distance for most subjects without the loss of AF, and allow you to focus all the way from 1:! magnification to infinity without the hassle of adding or removing tubes and diopters. These lenses are very versatile and can also double as portrait lenses and general-use short-telephotos.

3) At a given magnification (which is determined by the focal length and subject distance), and with all other factors being equal (i.e. same size circle-of confusion, same f-stop, and same format,) depth of field will be the same.

Todd’s Response to Question 2:

First, decide not only what you will photograph, but also how often you’ll use a macro lens. What I see first and foremost in the question is a) ownership of a Canon 50mm f1.8 lens, which is mediocre at best, and b) $600 to spend. I would recommend getting rid of the 50mm (remarkably, they sell for nearly new price on eBay, or about $80-$90), and using the $600 plus whatever you get for the 50mm to replace it with a higher quality zoom lens that has a decent macro capability. You will instantly increase your photographic choices by having any focal length within the range of the lens, and a good macro capability. I owned a Tamron  24-135mm aspherical lens and was very happy with it for years. Its macro capability was 1:3.3, which was plenty for my purposes. Sure, there might be times when 1:2 or 1:1 might be preferable, but in my opinion, that’s not often enough to justify buying (and CARRYING!) a lens just for that, when a good zoom lens can provide so many more options. Not sure if that Tamron lens is still available, but there are lenses in your price range by Canon, Sigma, Tamron and Tokina — all good companies — that would work well.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Guy!  If you’re looking for amazing fine art prints to decorate your home or business, check out the galleries on Guy’s website.  He also leads photo workshops with Michael Gordon that are great for photographers working at any level.  Learn more about their workshops at the Gordon-Tal Workshop website.

Todd is a Colorado based landscape photographer with a HUGE collection of images from all across the state.  You name the mountain and he’s photographed it, probably two or three times.  He has published numerous books and calendars, and his work has appeared in several popular magazines.  Check out the galleries on Todd’s website for some real alpine inspiration!

5 thoughts on “Ask An Expert: Vincent Versace & Macro Lens Decisions”

  1. I find the working distance with the 50 mm to be unacceptable for most living subjects

    Since you are shooting Canon, I highly recommend looking into their used 100 mm macro. Since the new Canon 100 mm with image stabilization was released, you can find some great deals in the ~$500 range for these older, but superb lenses.

    I have found the 70-200mm f/4 IS zoom with the 500mm dipoter or extension tubes to be an excellent alternative, especially if I don’t want to carry an extra, dedicated macro lens.

  2. for the 1.6x crop Canon’s, like the Rebel series, another option for an extremely sharp macro lens is the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8, which will fit into your budget. It’s a little short for skiddish insects, but excellent for flowers, etc.

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