Photography by Jim Doty

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Marmalade Hoverfly
Episyrphus balteatus

Marmalade Fly. Canon 10D digital SLR, Canon 1X-5X macro lens, Canon 550EX flash.

A larger version of this image

A bunch of hoverflies were hovering above or landing in a bed of flowers in our yard. They were tiny, less than 1/4 inch long. I looked at a lot of hoverfly photos on the Internet before finding photos that matched the species pictured above. I think it is a marmalade fly, but I am not an expert.

I had recently acquired the new Canon MP-E 65mm 1X-5X macro lens, a wonderful tool for high magnification closeup photography. You can't use this lens for normal photography. I put the lens on a Canon 10D digital camera body and added a shoe mounted flash unit (I did not yet have a ring flash compatible with my digital camera).

The hoverflies did not stay in any one place very long so a tripod was out of the question and focusing was a challenge. I was laying on my belly at the edge of the flower bed with my elbows on the ground for stability. I would wait for a fly to land on a flower near my position and try to take its picture before it moved on. Even at small apertures of f/11 or f/16, at high magnifications moving the camera only a fraction of an inch would throw the fly in or out of focus.

At high magnifications with a fast moving subject, using flash is a virtual necessity. The point of focus on the subject was near the bottom edge of the beam of light put out by the flash unit. With the flash mounted in the hot shoe, most of the light was going over the subject, not at it, so I had to set the digital "film" speed around ISO 400 to get enough light at magnifications ranging from 3X-5X on the digital sensor. A ring flash would have allowed an ISO of 100 and would have lit the subject more evenly, but you work with the tools you have at the time.

Magnification on the above photo was around 3X.

The Canon MP-E 65mm !X-5X lens is for macro use only, and takes photos with a magnification from life-size to 5 times life-size on film or a digital imaging sensor. At 1X magnification a subject 1/2 inch across will be 1/2 inch in size on film or on a digital sensor.  At 5X magnification, an object will be 5 times larger on film or digital sensor than it is in real life.

Technically, there is no increase of the magnification when using a digital sensor, however since there is no film image to compare, when the image is viewed full screen on a computer monitor, it FEELS like you have more magnification than when viewing the image on film. If you shot the same image at the same magnification on film body and with a digital Canon 10D, and then enlarged both images to the same print size, the digital version of the subject would be larger, but only because the image on the sensor is enlarged more to make the same size print.

May 31, 2004

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