The Lens-Artists Challenge #171 is all about the weird stuff we can find around us. I consulted the Weird NJ website and found some weird things about New Jersey. But given the expected weather for the weekend, a trip out of town seemed ill-advised. So I decided to do something much, much closer to home.

It's almost a year since I have dabbled with macro photography. Until I purchased the Fujinon MCEX-16 extension tube, I last did any macro photography in the spring of 2020 when I rented an XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro lens. It was almost two years since I switched to Fuji, and when I rented the XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR, I had forgotten the technique of focus stacking. I failed to maximise the potential of that lens when I was out in the field photographing spring wildflowers. Before that rental, I last did any significant macro photography work during a water droplet macro photography workshop with Don Komarechka in 2017. Don's course taught me some handy tips and techniques. My first attempt at focus stacking for macro photography was because of Don's 2015 blog post. Back then, I did not have a dedicated macro lens, and my technique involved using macro extension tubes and a macro rail or shooing handheld with a Lensbaby Composer. Most of my knowledge returned during the week after I started using the Fujinon MCEX-16.

At first, I tried shooting handheld and on a tripod, but I didn't like the results. I opened the aperture too wide, and the first image's depth of field (DOF) was too narrow. When I stopped the aperture down to f/8, I got a better depth of field, but the images were so dark that I had to increase the ISO to 6400. There is a lot of noise in the images. What I wanted was a way to increase the depth of field while shooting at low ISO.

Monday 25 October, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T3 | XF27mmF2.8 | 1125 sec at f/2.8 | ISO 5000
Monday 25 October, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T3 | XF27mmF2.8 | 160 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 10000

This week I experimented with the focus bracketing feature of the Fujifilm X-T3 and focus-stacking the images in software. At first, I fell back on the Adobe Photoshop techniques I learned in Don's workshop. I focus bracketed about 40-50 images and attempted to export and align them in the most recent version of Adobe Photoshop CC. However, I soon realised that my 2013 iMac was not up to the task. Photoshop struggled to auto-align the images even after several hours. In 2017, the 2013 iMac quickly processed the 16-megapixel photos from my Nikon D5100. But it seems my iMac's 3.5 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 CPU, 32 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM, and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M 4 GB GPU are no match for much larger 26-megapixel images from my Fujifilm X-T3. I tried all weekend to process these images. Late last night, I remembered trying other software to process and focus stack my picture. After a quick Google search, I rediscovered Zerene Stacker, which I had first used with the macro rail technique.

The Zerene Stacker Adobe Lightroom plugin imported, auto-aligned, and stacked the image in several minutes, typically six minutes or less. Zerene Stacker has two stacking methods, PMax and DMap, which produce slightly different results. I ran both methods on my images and compared the results, but I didn't see much difference. I won't try to explain them here. The Zerene Stacker website has the details.

The images were a bit dark. I needed more light, but larger apertures would have reduced the DOF of each focus slice. I had set the Fuji X-T3 to capture 50 images adjusting the focal point from near to far in steps of 10, but I think I should have used an off-camera flash for additional lighting and captured one hundred images in steps 10 with a 3-second pause between each capture.

I don't know if this entry meets the criteria for weird, but given that I don't normally see objects at this level, it may be.

Wednesday 27 October, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T3 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 55 mm | 0.5 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 160
Wednesday 27 October, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T3 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 55 mm | 0.3 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 160

Sunday Reading

Cycling event photographer Steve Thomas writes about going beyond imitation to unleash "The Essence & Value of Originality".

During the past 20 months of the pandemic, I’ve been extremely restricted in terms of photographic opportunities. Not being able to shoot my regular action material and being confined to a small area has forced me (or rather I should say encouraged me) to go out and to shoot the same few scenes over and over again, and to try and do something different with it each time.

This is something that I would recommend any photographer do (but maybe not for this long), no matter your chosen genre or experience level. Wrapping yourself up in something that you’d perhaps never even considered and then re-imagining it is a great creative learning exercise.

Professional photographer David du Chemin asks, Are You Using the “Right” Camera?, to which I respond, yes.

The best camera is not necessarily the one you have with you, though that helps, too. It’s the one that does the job you need it to do: no more, no less.

I did my due diligence, thought long and hard about what I wanted versus what I needed, and I understood the choices I was making when I decided to purchase my first Fuji X camera. I knew why I wanted the Fuji X-T2. I knew the advantages and disadvantages and I accepted them. Unless it breaks, my current Fuji camera will be my camera of choice for a very long time.

In Things I wish I hadn't bought, photographer Hugo Pinho looks back at his photographic purchase history and writes about purchases he regrets and what he has learned along the way,

Many of these bad decisions and things that I regret buying are mistakes that we can only learn with time and experience. And some purchases I can't correctly define as a mistake because our needs change, evolve, and certain items stop making sense.

I have not bought a new digital camera since 2006. All subsequent digital cameras (replaced due to too many drops) were purchased pre-owned from KEH or MPB (never eBay). Unless I break the current one (X-T3), I expect to own it until it no longer functions.

I, too, have made many amateurish errors when purchasing accessories such as memory cards, batteries, backpacks, etc.

Putting cheap memory cards or batteries into a digital camera is like putting cheap tyres on your car. Something is sure to go wrong. When a cheaply made tyre wears out quickly and explodes, it can wreck your car as easily as a cheap exploding battery wreck a camera.

The first camera backpack I bought (2010) was also the last. Getting gear in and out of the pack was a hassle, especially while photo-walking in a city where the only place to put it is on a dirty sidewalk. Ugh! I switched to a sling camera strap, and honestly, I can't imagine returning to another option.

I put much effort into choosing lenses when I switched to Fuji several years ago. I analysed my Lightroom catalogue to guide my purchase decision. When I had my Nikon, I had three lenses; an AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 G, an AF-S DX 85mm f/1.8 G, and a Tokina 11-16mm zoom. I used the 35mm and the Tokina much more often than the 85mm but rarely used the 11mm end of the Tokina.

For my Fuji, I have two lenses. The XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR weighs less and needs less space than the combination of the XF16mm, XF35mm and XF50mm primes and covers the "standard range" of those primes. The XF27mmF2.8 is a lightweight lens for street photography and photo walks. Those two lenses cover most of what I need to do. I occasionally rent the XF100-400mm for a bird photography workshop.

Greg Morris wrote in his blog post, My Blog Is An Extension Of Me.

I go backwards and forwards about what I want to be. Over the years it has been a portfolio of sorts, an attempt at being a news website, a podcast host and lots of things in between. Nowadays it’s decidedly more amateur and more of an extension of me that evolves over time depending on what I am up to and an extension of me.

I don’t even have a ‘thing’ I want to write about. Most people seem to have an issue or a cause, or even an interest they want to cover all the ins and outs of. I loosely revolve around technology but expand into all sorts of areas that interest me, but I guess that's the point a personal blog should be an extension of the person hitting the publish button.

My blog, this blog is over 18 years old. It started as a tech blog where I wrote about security testing, Linux system administration, open-source, and web development. It became a blog about my early experience living with type 1 diabetes. It then morphed once more into its current state as a photography-related blog. I don’t know what’s next for me or this blog, but I do know it will continue to reflect my interests and thoughts.

Fujinon MCEX-16

"It's for you", Bhavna yelled nonchalantly from the kitchen. She had opened the package that had arrived earlier in the day.

When I looked inside the box and saw the Fujinon MCEX-16 macro extension tube, I had mixed emotions. I was upset. Had I checked the package before the previous day's hike, I could have used it to photograph the fall berries and wildflowers I saw during the hike. But I was excited too. At last, I could scratch my macro photography itch with my Fuji X-T3.

A macro lens is the best option for photographing tiny creatures' intricate details. It's designed to focus from infinity to a 1:1 magnification ratio. What does that mean? It means that the image you see through the lens will be reproduced on your camera sensor at the same size as in real life. Pretty cool, right?

Macro lenses offer another great feature—they allow me to get close to your subject. I can capture the tiniest details and bring them to life in my photographs. Just imagine getting up close and personal with a flower petal or insect.

Macro extension tubes are fantastic tools for photographers exploring the world of close-up and macro photography without breaking the bank. These nifty gadgets are perfect for photographers who want to experiment with macro photography but have yet to be ready to invest in a dedicated macro lens. Extension tubes are affordable alternatives that can help you achieve that close-up magic.

How do they work? Well, it's simple. You attach an extension tube between your camera body and your regular lens. This extra bit of distance allows you to focus much closer than you would with your lens alone.

With extension tubes, I can explore the world of macro photography using my Fujinon XF27mmF2.8 lens or Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR lens. The table below lays out the details of the Fujinon MCEX-16.

Specification Value
Model Fujinon MCEX-16
Type Macro Extension Tube
Length 16mm
Diameter 10.7mm
Weight 59g
Mount Fujifilm X-mount
Compatibility X-Series interchangeable lenses
Autofocus Support Yes
Electronic Contacts Yes
Construction Metal
Communication Supports Electronic Communication
Weather Resistance No

Without the Fujinon MCEX-16 macro extension tube, the XF27mmF.8 lens has a Working Distance of 299mm (distance from the top of the lens barrel to the subject) and a Shortest Shooting Distance of 340mm (distance from the image sensor to the subject). However, when the Fujinon MCEX-16 is attached to the XF27mmF.8, these distances are reduced to 60mm and 118mm, respectively. This extension tube allows for a maximum magnification of 0.66. Although it falls short of 1:1 magnification, it is still practical for various applications.

Sunday 17 October, 2021 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 + Fujinon MCEX-16 · 1340 sec at f/8.0 · ISO 320

The Fujinon MCEX-16 has electronic connections that seamlessly transmit data between Fujinon X Mount lenses and Fujifilm X Series camera bodies. Even with the tubes attached, I retain the convenience of autofocus and aperture control. Given the typically narrow depth of field (DOF) of macro lenses, it is necessary to use smaller apertures to enhance the depth of field. It’s also essential to ensure adequate lighting for the subject to avoid capturing images at excessively high ISO levels.

With a lens like the Fujinon XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro lens, I have close-up capabilities while retaining the ability to focus at a distance. However, the Fujinon XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro lens is expensive. Using these extension tubes benefits someone like me, who isn't heavily into macro photography but still desires the flexibility to engage in it when the opportunity presents itself.

Sunday 17 October, 2021 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 + Fujinon MCEX-16 · 1640 sec at f/8.0 · ISO 320

It rained last night, and the air was thick with moisture. The backyard sassafras tree had turned yellow, red, and orange earlier in the week. The rain and wind from last night had defoliated most of the tree, scattering wet leaves on the lawn and the small deck. Moisture glistened off some leaves and collected in small pools on others.

October's fall-coloured leaves were ordinary and commonplace but full of potential. With a spark of creativity, I wondered if I could capture them in a way that would transform their beauty into something truly extraordinary. I attached the Fujinon MCEX-16 to my Fujinon XF27mmF2.8 lens and my FujiFilm X-T3 and went outside.

The morning sun rose above the trees and warmly lit the backyard. The bright sunlight helped provide sufficient light to illuminate the leaves, even at f/8. I am happy with these results.

Sunday 17 October, 2021 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 + Fujinon MCEX-16 · 1750 sec at f/8.0 · ISO 320