Up Close is an ongoing series relating my attempts at macro photography. I have always been fascinated by the larger-than-life appearance of macro photos. I doubt there will be any insects, but obviously, flowers will have a good representation in what I shoot. From a technical standpoint, macro work is interesting because of its lighting requirements and the many ways one can do it. Macro lenses are the most obvious approach, but that still leaves extension tubes, bellows, reversing rings, and close-up filters. Fortunately, the return to film has not been accompanied by an equal interest in macro photography, so many of the things required are cheap—even vintage macro lenses.
I have been using Minolta AF macro lenses for a while, especially the 50mm 2.8 and 100mm 2.8. However, most of the time, I used them as regular lenses because they are sharp with little to no distortion. I have made a few attempts at macro shots, but I have never planned a series or conceived a motif to work toward. My efforts for the near future will be focused on learning the tools and techniques of the trade.
When it comes to macro photography, the Minolta Autocord is not the first camera that comes to mind. It certainly wasn’t for me. I chose the Autocord for my first macro series for two reasons: 1) my Autocord just arrived a few weeks ago and hadn’t been tested, and 2) I have a set of inexpensive Bay-1 close-up filters that have been sitting around for two years unused.
My Autocord has no meter, so I used the Minolta Autometer IIIF. For film, I went with Lomo 400 color. I’ve used Lomo 400 in 35mm and loved the colors. I chose flowers as my subject, because the phlox this year, despite little rain and the heat, has bloomed more than any past year. Also, the three agapanthuses, which can easily be no-shows, decided to bloom for the second year in a row. Sadly, I missed the daylilies completely.
I have close-up + 1 and +2 filters. The +1 filters focus from 20 to 13 inches, and the +2 filters focus from 38 to 20 inches. Since the Autocord taking lens functions at about the equivalent of a 40mm lens on a 35mm camera, I went with the +1 filters. The filters come in matched pairs consisting of a viewing lens filter with parallax correction and a taking lens filter. Having seen only a few online images made with TLRs using close-up filters, I expected to get soft, dreamy images with very shallow depths of field. I have Spiratone close-up filters, not the expensive ones. I assumed using close-up filters would mirror my poor experience with teleconverters (which I now consider a waste of effort—at least with the cheap teleconverters I own). The Autocord’s native optics were never a concern as both the viewing and taking lenses were clear.
For each subject, I tried to shoot two frames, double-checking my settings for aperture and shutter speed. Since I was using 400 ISO film, I waited until late afternoon to attempt the shots (max shutter speed is 1/400).
Shooting-wise, things went well, except for having to spend more time than expected focusing. The only shooting mishaps occurred when I kept accidentally setting the self-timer. The self-timer lever is close to the aperture control, and when reaching for the aperture lever, it’s easy to trigger the self-timer. Fortunately, I did not jam the shutter.
As usual, I used CineStill’s color kit for development (the chemicals were mixed in February and are still going strong). Scanning was done with Epson 600 scanner and Epson Scan 2 software. All images are 3200 DPI.
(All scans were 3200 DPI and too big to upload. These are compressed files, so they don’t convey the “wow” factor of the originals.)
On seeing the final scans, I was blown away. I could not believe how sharp the images turned out with the close-up filters. Once again, Lomo 400 came through beautifully and has become one of my standard color emulsions for the 120 format. It resembles Ultramax in that it seems neutral and renders crisp, rich colors without being oversaturated. Having seen these scans, I will definitely use the Autocord with close-up filters for floral portraits.
The images are not macro in the purest sense, but they capture what I had in mind for floral portraits. Knowing that I can capture the basic image in a pleasing way, I can turn my attention to mastering backgrounds and lighting. Considering how these images turned out, I am eager to see how the Autocord/close-up filter combo works for studio still-life images. This entire experience has been a most pleasant surprise!