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NiSi Close Up Lens: Close Encounters of the Macro kind

In this post, I’ll be describing my experiences with the new NiSi Close Up Lens (which is really a filter with a 77mm thread). There are a few things you should know about my macro experience which will allow you to decide if you want to read on:

  1. I have no macro experience whatsoever and I have never owned or taken photographs with a dedicated macro lens.
  2. I have never use a ‘diopter’ or magnifier attached to my lenses
  3. I have no specific macro gear for lighting
  4. The sum total of my experience is based on shooting with this filter screwed on to my 70-200F4 L lens and the Canon 5dmk4.
  5. I was keen to see if this filter allowed me to delve into macro photography without owning a macro lens.

Lens Mechanics:

The lens has a 77mm filter thread and comes with adapter rings for 72mm and 67mm threads. It has a solid pouch that is easy to carry. Overall, the filter is very sturdy and just feels solid and durable. The description states that it has an ‘double corrective apochromatic’ design which had me scratching my head but the following diagram may help you if you are keen on physics:

In theory, this design should improve image quality. Though I have no other similar filter to compare to, I am happy with the quality of the images I have managed to achieve thus far. The other aspect of this filter that I had no concept of previously, is that it has a very narrow working distance from approximately 20-30cm from the subject. Unlike what I had naively thought, this means you can’t use this filter like an extender to increase your focal length range beyond the intended purpose of working at close range.

The filter, pouch and 2 adapter rings

Cost considerations:

This filter is available from NiSi Australia for $210 which is not cheap. However, Canon macro lenses range from approximately $1300 for the 100mm F2.8 lens, or $1500 for the 65mm F2.8. Personally, the space savings in the backpack and the fact that I am at best a ‘casual’ macro shooter makes the filter option more appealing as I can use the lens in the field if I so happen to want to shoot macro during a landscape shoot or multi day hike.

Functional Considerations:

  • Focal length. I’ve been using this filter on my 70-200 F4 Canon lens and shooting small insects. This means I’m shooting at 200mm nearly all of the time. At this focal length, insects the size of bees and spiders fill the frame quite well while smaller insects like flies still require some cropping.
Bee at 200mm with minor cropping
Fly at 200mm focal length with more cropping required
  • Autofocus: I generally trust the 5dmk4’s autofocus however, insect eyes are very tiny and I found it difficult to use the autofocus to reliably hit the correct focal point. As a result I tended to set the focus on manual and sway to and fro from the object while firing off many many shots! Perhaps it’s my inexperience but the rate of card filling far exceeded what i would do for a landscape shoot.
Autofocus was difficult when these ladybugs started to crawl!
Earwing protecting her eggs. Many shots on AF were taken to focus on the eye
  • Focal plane: In a word ‘tiny’! I found myself shooting at F11-16 which is the recommended aperture for this filter. Even so, the focal plane is a matter of millimeters which makes front on shooting of subjects quite tricky. I have yet to attempt a focus stack using this filter.
Shooting this slater-eating spider front on was a challenge to get the eyes in focus
Once this pillbug moved, the eyes and legs would move rapidly out of the focal plane
  • Image quality: When I was able to capture the desired insect parts in focus, I was very satisfied with the sharpness of the images. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of vignetting and the colour reproduction on my canon setup was what I would expect.
Image quality is good when in focus but the other limiting factor is that I do not have a good lighting setup meaning most of my shots are upwards of iso1600. When there is no direct light, the high iso can degrade the images.
  • What about using an extender ? I did attempt to shoot at 400m with a 2x extender but this failed due to the natural softness of the canon extender and even more restrictive focal plane .

Summary:

  • This filter has been able to open the world of macro photography for me while using a non macro setup.
  • It is portable and an more attractive option than a dedicated macro lens for a weight-conscious hiking trip where opportunities to shoot more interesting creatures present themselves.
  • It is a cheaper option than using a dedicated macro lens and though I haven’t used one, the image quality of this close up filter is very good.
  • Be aware of its limitations , particularly the narrow focal plane and limited working distance. Use F11-F16 and a fast shutter speed to achieve the best quality that you can.

Overall, I’m happy with this product and it gets me shooting when I don’t have the opportunity to travel locally for a dedicated landscape shoot!

Next up: Attempted focus stacking for images like this!

Autumn in Tasmania : trip notes as they occurred!

April 20:

It was a little unusual for us to be departing for a destination at the end of the day. Somehow in the past, it has always worked out that we’ve been on morning flights so the girls have had something to look forward to on waking up instead of the anticipation building throughout the day. We managed to get a few things packed during the morning as well as drop off aging Giz (our Jack Russell) to my parents place. After a quick lunch, we introduced Charlotte to her first superhero movie Wonder Woman . From a 7 year old’s perspective, she was just interested in the fighting and glory scenes rather than any character building or plot advancement moments!

We took our first ever UberXL ride to the airport which I have to say, worked out at least as well as any cab we’ve taken. Then the girls went through their usual airport routine of checking in while stopping off for a play at the playground before boarding the plane. Everything went smoothly. Oh except for the swearing bogans behind us …..clearly situational awareness and foul language around children are aspects that some don’t care about?

The flight itself went very well and our landing , baggage collection and car pickup all went seamlessly. By the time we landed, it was well after 7pm so we opted to go for the quick MacDonalds option for dinner before meeting up with Marianne’s parents, Pat & Quyen at the supermarket since things had gone so well.

Arrival at Hobart Airport

The accommodation was in the suburb of Dynnyrne. It was a beautiful and massive home which was really meant to be two separate 2 bathroom apartments which we had hired out for the whole family. It was one of the best places we had stayed in save for the rather tricky parking. There were two parks nearby and Mount Wellington was basically straight up a road two blocks away from us. South Wellington was the plan for the following morning.

April 21:

This was one of many early dawn walks for the trip. Pat and Quyen decided to come along for the hike to South Wellington. We left at 5am and arrived on the mountain a bit more than an hour before dawn. The colours had already started to shine and unfortunately I took a wrong turn down the zig zag path which chewed up 5 minutes of valuable time. Having never been to the area, I decided to explore off track before the Rocking Horse and photographed some of the leaning dolerite columns before attempting some commercial shots for icebreaker. The wind up there was pretty intense and it was good to have shot on the leeward side of the mountain.

South Wellington Dawn

When we returned home, everyone was up and about ready for a day’s activities. We decided to visit Mount field National Park, which on an Easter Sunday  , we anticipated would be very busy. Along the way, the fall colours of Westerway and New Norflolk were particularly striking , especially the poplars lining Tyndall Park. By the time we arrived, it was late morning and we spent a good 90 minutes exploring Russell and Horseshoe Falls. The kids enjoyed a ‘secret’ path to the 2nd tier of Russell Falls. Unfortunately at Horseshoe Falls ,  I slid and dented the V6 ring- it was able to be undone and a testament to its strength!

Second tier of Russell Falls
Horseshoe Falls at low flow

On the way back, we dropped by the Possum Shed for a yummy BLT lunch, stopped by the raspberry farm before heading back to our apartments for some rest. I thought about going out to Mortimer bay for sunset but decided against it based on the cloud; rookie mistake photographically but it turned out great nonetheless because we had a great time with everyone at a local park (Parliament street park) with its massive blue slippery dip. Dinner was a struggle to organise on Easter Sunday, but we finally ordered some OK pizza anywhere we could find! Cargo pizzeria was the only one open on the public holiday and was kind of acceptable for hungry people!

Autumn colours at Westerway

April 22

I arranged to meet Luke at Fossil Bay for dawn while Pat and Quyen decided to sleep in after considering coming out earlier. I forgot to bring my 12mm and regretted it! The 16mm really had limitations down there and ever since, I’ve made sure the 12mm and the filter kit was with me. So far , on all of the shoots save for the waterfalls, there hadn’t been anyone else photographing.

Fossil Bay at dawn

After a very efficient clean up and goodbye to an awesome rental, we were on our way to Freycinet in great weather. Our first stop was more grocery shopping before stopping by at Richmond for an un-anctipated long stop on account of its charm. On Easter Sunday, the place was buzzing with tourists. After stopping by the sweet shop and hanging around the historic bridge, we headed to Swansea for lunch , one of several bakery lunches for the trip at the Bark Mill Tavern and Bakery. As a side note, bakery lunches while on the road were something we sorely missed while we were travelling in North America – it’s not everyday that I feel like having a full cooked lunch!

Richmond bridge (Marianne’s phone pano)

Our second rental at Coles Bay was situated off the main road toward the national park and had amazing grandstand views of the Hazards from the upstairs deck. The living area upstairs was very well setup however, compared to the previous 2 nights in Hobart, the place was not as well set up for 2 families. Downstairs was crammed with 3 bedrooms and a tiny bathroom and the bifolds on our bedroom just didn’t close! Nonetheless, I’m not one to complain about such things given the amazing setting.

That afternoon , in dry weather, we set out for Mount Amos and arrived after 1 hour of sweaty climbing on the granite rock faces. Marianne was able to get out for the first time in ages since her parents looked after the kids and kindly looked after food preparation for the evening. At the top, we were alone for the evening as everyone else was headed down. Overall , the walk was not as long or as difficult as I remembered from 2008 given I was in a big rush on that occasion.

Halfway up!
Sunset Panorama
Post sunset hues over Wineglass Bay

April 23

The morning looked slightly cloudy and  I was keen to get some colour and clouds in images of Mount Amos so I set off in very calm initial conditions . Inexplicably, after 1.5km of the 2.2km, it started raining! Rain on that side of the mountain was basically an extreme hazard , so I donned my emergency spikes and carefully made my way down the mountain without incident save for one short slide which was almost unavoidable due to the lack of footholds. I still managed to get to Sleepy Bay in time, however, dawn cleared completely and I later found out that the Hazards looked great from the Coles Bay side of town.

Sleepy Bay at dawn

After returning, we made plans to go to Friendly Beaches and Bicheno for lunch. Friendly beaches were pure pristine white with blue waters and comfortable temperatures. With holidays in full swing, there were quite a few people around. We ended up spending much longer at the beach than anticipated as the girsl made a beach nest and castle. During that time, I think we managed to get a couple more shots for Icebreaker.

Friendly Beaches

We moved on to Bicheno where we spent much more time looking for critters rather than the blowhole itself . After another bakery lunch, we scoffed some icecream courtesy of the local IGA before heading back to relax at the rental. Marianne’s parents went to buy some Oysters and Mussels from Coles Bay.

By mid afternoon, we were again ready for an outing. This time, the whole family went to the Wineglass bay lookout which was extremely crowded. Charlotte showed her very good fitness by following Quyen up and down for parts of the way while not even working up a sweat . As nice as the views are, once you’ve been up to Mount Amos, the lookout here is almost no comparison. Our evening was spent at the esplanade photographing a beautiful sunset. This was literally the only occasion from the whole trip where we met other photographers – on this occasion Serena Ho and Kaspars Dzenis who were on honeymoon appreciating the warm weather after settling down in Iceland.

Wineglass Bay lookout
The Hazards from Coles Bay Esplanade

Dinner was a feast of pasta and seafood purchased earlier in the day.

April 24:

My morning shoot was not an ambitious one. I went to Sleepy Bay having scouted out positions to shoot from previous day’s mistakes. The shoot and light itself went very well but i became convinced that I had lost my gopro there when in fact I had let it slip out in the boot of the car.

Sleepy Bay with pink!

After we had speedily packed up and readied ourselves for a long drive, the whole family went to Sleepy Bay to help with the search for the gopro. It was only as we were leaving that i found it stray in the boot ….. egg on face for wasting everyone’s time!

First stop afterward (after gas) was Campbelltown for a pee break, then onward to Liffey Falls. Our timing was a bit off because google maps directions took us to the campground and not the upper carpark! We arrived there just before normal lunch time and by the time we had finished up shooting (Charlotte again showing her hiking strengths) , it was after 1pm.

Liffey Falls
The spout at Liffey Falls

Lunch at Deloraine was at 2pm at the Amble Inn . It was a pretty hearty lunch since most of the family decided that enough bakery food had been consumed (I could have kept going!). We then stocked up for our anticipated bad weather run at Cradle Mountain before finally setting off for Highlander cottages at 330pm. Fortunately, the drive there was pretty uneventful and we arrived at 5pm to a no frills checkin . We were staying in Pandani cabin , the smaller of the two with two levels. One queen and 4 bunks in a separate room upstairs. The others had the bigger Stringybark cottage which had one queen and a queen and bunks in the other room. It was definitely the more spacious of the two and had a genuine log fire.

Dinner on the first night was a home favourite of salmon and couscous (replaced by risoni) with quinoa. The weather started to set in that night and that made Pat and Quyen decide against a Cradle summit attempt – a wise decision that I was trying to push them toward gently since they didn’t have full on wet weather gear.

April 25

I woke to showers , wind and no visibility. Nonetheless, I decided to take the gear up pfaast Marion’s lookout and to Plateau creek overlooking Dove Lake as that was really the only direct sunrise facing option. On a morning like that, that was the best and possibly only chance of getting any light. After a cold slosh along plateau creek battling the cold and mists pouring over into Dove Lake, I managed to catch the 1 minute of glorious light before it all faded away.

Plateau Creek, Cradle Mountain

When I returned, the latest time of any trip this holiday so far, everyone was ready for an outing so off we went to Dove Lake along the shuttle bus system. While Pat and Quyen went up to Marions’ lookout (which was misted out), Charlotte and I hiked to the Wombat pool while the others turned back at Lake Lila. Jaime needs to build endurance and patience in the wild to be more like her big sister!

Dove Lake Boatshed
Wombat pool
Fagus in variable bloom

The weather became wilder that afternoon, but after a crowded lunch back at the visitor centre, we went wombat hunting at Waldheim. This area has never disappointed and true enough, we encountered a total of 13 wombats that afternoon. By the time we headed back at 330pm, the day had been a great one and the girls rested up with some screen time before we popped over to the other Cabin for another home made dinner.

Near Waldheim , crazy weather!
Wombats everywhere!
Weindforfer forest walk

April 26

Snow set in overnight! Unfortunately it wasn’t a pleasant kind of snow fall but a wild and temperamental mix of rain, snow, hale and other precipitation through the day. The girls were great sports in the morning , enduring the wild conditions through short hikes based at the Ranger Station before we returned for a warm up and lunch at the bigger cabin. Afterward, with the snow build up, we managed to have a brief snowball fight and snowman creation session before the afternoon was yet again indoors. I had  a brief outing to Upper Quaille falls which was every bit as pretty as I had seen.

Snowing at Pandani cottage
Upper Quaille Falls

The last dinner with a happy crew was at the Cradle Tavern – great food, great atmosphere and here we are packing up about to drive back to the airport and back to Adelaide where its 20 degrees warmer than the 0 degrees here today!

Avengers Endgame on Sunday to round off a great week!

Updated NiSi V6 filter holder impressions

This post is somewhat delayed but I’ve finally had some time to try out different aspects of the V6 holder including some unintentional ones.

My initial impressions make up the normal text, while further updates from my week in Tasmania have been added in italics.

1. The holder is more compact and lighter than the V5. Time will tell if it’s more durable but thus far, not a single NiSi filter holder I’ve tested dating back to 2015 has broken. Update: While shooting Horseshoe Falls in Tasmania, I slipped over and banged the filter holder on solid rock. despite the edge suffering a slight dent, the holder continues to work well including the CPL gear. Naturally, I haven’t gone smashing other filter holders around, but I was relieved and impressed that I could still use the holder after this accident.

The V6 ring remained functional after a bang on the rocks while shooting this scene. V6 filter holder and CPL.

 

V6 filter holder + 3 stop medium GND. The holder as come through a couple of seascape sessions with CPL gear still running smoothly after washing.

2. The filter slots glide much easier and with guide tracts, you are far less likely to encounter the problem (as I have) of having the filter get stuck halfway while inserting due to the alignment of the lower tract (see video). There does not appear to be any vignetting up to 16mm at any angle (as advertised). Update: The filter slotting continues to be smooth and vignetting is non existent on 16mm shots. Incidentally, I forgot to bring my 2 slot Laowa filter holder and despite using the 3-slotted V6 holder, the vignetting was manageable.

Stacking filters is easier with the V6 than with previous iterations of NiSi filter holders. V6 filter holder + 6 stop ND + 3 stop hard GND

 

Wineglass Bay from Mount Amos : V6 filter holder + 3 stop medium GND

3. The beveled edge and matte black design would seem to allow for less light leak and reflections (light leak has been problematic right up to the V5 pro with the V5 galaxy much less affected by this problem). On my one shoot side on to light, I did not experience light leak. Update: No issues whatsoever with light leak in any situation that I’ve encountered. The beveled edge also allows for easier removal of ND filters from the first slot which suits my shooting style well (changing filters frequently).

Intense side light from this scene without any light leak. Sleepy Bay, Tasmania. V6 holder + 6 stop ND + 3 stop hard GND upside down

Behind the scenes : The V6 holder being used in conjunction with the Laowa 12mm adapter at Sleepy Bay : I had left some filters at home hence I was using a 3 stop hard edged GND stacked with a 6 stop ND filter for this shot! During this shoot, I dispensed with the gasket entirely.

4. The ‘lock’ mechanism is a good thought but unlikely to change my workflow or increase my ‘hit rate’ in the field. I simply haven’t had issues with older holders sliding out of position since most of my shots have the filters in a vertical orientation, not angled. Update: One aspect of this lock I haven’t mentioned is that it also gives extra stability and assurance that the filter holder will stay attached to the ring, particularly when shooting in blustery conditions with the wind behind you. In these scenarios, I’ve always been scared that the wind may blow off the filter holder. Indeed, for the shot below a raincover incidentally was blown off around the filter holder itself. Another bonus I have noted is that the V6 filter holder sits nicely on the Laowa 12mm adapter ring.

The winds were gusting from behind me. The lock mechanism gave extra assurance that the filter holder wouldn’t fly off. V6 filter holder + CPL + 3 stop medium GND on Laowa 12mm adapter

5. The filter cap is a huge bonus! I’ve always had to dismount the filter holder kit and place a normal lens cap on my setup but now with the filter cap, I can leave the ring and CPL attached to the lens in between shoots. (5b , the bag for the slot is fine, I just wouldn’t put it on the tripod as I’m constantly shooting in or around water and have no need to access it while in the field). Update: Despite its theoretical benefits, I actually didn’t use it as much as I thought. I guess after years of packing the entire kit away , I’ve become accustomed to the old routine!

V6 adapter with CPL at Mount Wellington

6. My main concern (and only one) is that the first slot of the V6 appears a very tight fit for an ND filter with gasket. I cannot easily remove the filter while another GND is stacked in front of it. While this might not be an issue if you like to shoot long exposures for the whole shoot, I constantly change up between long and short exposures so this affects my specific workflow. I’ll play around with the screw tension to see if I can get a good balance between the tightness of the first slot vs 2nd and 3rd. Update: Two things have resolved this issue for me. a) I did loosen the screws slightly which have allowed easier slotting in without the thread of filters falling out. b) I removed the gasket from the 6 stop ND filter and have been shooting without any light leak occurring and the ability to take the filter in and out at will without difficulty! This tweaked setup has been tested down to about -1 degrees at Cradle Mountain.

Once I took the gasket off the 6 stop filter, I was able to alternate between short and long exposures with the same composition. V6 holder + 6 stop ND filter  + 3 stop medium GND placed at 45 degrees.

Overall, if you already have an earlier iteration of a NiSi filter holder, you’d need to decide how much importance to place on each of the 6 issues I’ve listed in terms of how the V6 would improve your shooting. On its own, it is an excellent product but it may or may not necessitate an upgrade from a previous holder as they are already of high quality! Update: My initial impressions still stand. A great piece of gear that improves on the V5 systems but isn’t necessarily a must-have for those with the V5 pro as that system is already rock solid and very capable.

V6 holder + Natural Night Filter – 5 images stacked for noise reduction

 

Quaille Falls, Laowa 12mm adapter ring + landscape PRO CPL.