One of the primary advantages of today’s P&S super-zooms is that most of them have a great macro setting. Some cameras will capture an image of an object that is actually touching the surface of the lens. That is close. Better yet, most P&S super-zooms have a macro that reaches well out into the telephoto range, allowing you to capture tricky little things…like bugs…with relative ease. If your camera also has a articulated LCD…one that swivels or rotates for easy viewing, bug shots are that much easier.
The Nikon Coolpix P500, which is my current P&S, has a Close Up scene mode. Choosing it sets the zoom to 32mm equivalent field of view (the largest possible image scale, focusing at 2cm), focus to continuous with a movable focus point, and Optimization to Vivid. This is a great setting for flowers, but not much use for bugs…which are very likely to be off and away by the time you get that close. Fortunately you can override the zoom setting and use Close Up at more reasonable distances. The shot above, of a well worn Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, was at the full 810mm reach.
This Hover Fly on Queen Ann’s Lace was at 263mm equivalent field of view, still using the Close Up mode. With an aperture of f6.3, on a small a sensor camera, you would expect less focus separation between the subject and background. That is one advantage of the articulated LCD. It allows you to get down to bug level and often place the subject against a more distant background. However, I suspect that Nikon is doing a bit of digital trickery with the backgrounds in Close Up mode, as this degree of separation is still unexpected…and I know for a fact that some other P&S super-zooms create the separation effect in macros in software. This is good.
This Northern Pearly-eye Butterfly is at 403mm equivalent field of view. In addition to the fact that closer approach would likely have sent the butterfly on its way (sometimes it seems as though the very act of pointing a lens at a bug is enough to move it on), there was no way I could have gotten closer without stepping off the boardwalk (at Laudholm Farm in Wells ME), which is something I simply do not do.
The image is cropped from the full frame, but only by about 1/3…still leaving about 9 mp of solid detail. Clicking the image will open it in SmugMug’s lightbox where you can view it as large as your monitor will allow. Here, again due to the articulated LCD, I was able to easily shoot from hip height to put the bug against a darker background.
Dragonflies and their like are a whole different matter. The issue with dragonflies is focus. Well, and the fact that they don’t sit. This is one of several Twelve-spotted Skimmers that I caught at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on a recent visit. This bug is among the easier to for auto focus to lock on to, as the wings are well patterned. It helps, though, to catch the bug on a prominent feature, like this purple flower, or against a background that is so distant all features are lost, like the following image. It the first case, at 499mm equivalent, the flower gave auto focus a separated object to lock on to for basic distance, so the camera was not driven to focus on the background. In the second case, at 435mm equivalent, the subject is so well separated from the background that focus found it easily.
Smaller dragonfly types, especially ones with completely clear wings, pose a more difficult focus problem.
I have lots of out of focus shots of this bug (a Female Blue Dasher as near as I can tell)…and it moved many times before the camera could find focus, before it finally settled on this bow of reed several inches in front of the reeds behind. Suddenly, at 499mm equivalent, it was easy. I actually started taking shots at about 250mm equivalent, and zoomed in by stages to reach this close shot. That is another technique to try. Don’t start at your full reach. Shoot shorter, with smaller image scale, and work your way in, advancing the zoom between shots. Often the camera will hold focus past where you expect it to fail, as it did here. The shot is slightly for composition and scale.
Working my way up to 435mm equivalent is the only way I got images of this smaller Blue Dasher) sitting on the head of a stalk of Timothy.
I was able to work up to 620mm equivalent on this female Blue Dasher resting in the sun along the boardwalk at Laudholm Farms. This is another case where the long zoom-macro was the only option, as I could not have reached the bug any other way.
Butterflies and Dragonflies are the obvious bugs, but any bug caught close up is interesting.
These two wasp like specimens, which I have not yet identified, were shot at 340mm equivalent. The lesson hear is “do not be afraid to crop”. With 12-14-16mp these days, you can always increase the image scale by cropping to 9mp and still have lots of detail…easily enough for any web application, and for most printing.
This Honey Bee was at only 100mm equivalent, and cropped again to about 9mp.
While this bee (of some kind?) was at 372mm equivalent. Again it is cropped from the full frame.
Finally, don’t forget video. All the current P&S super-zooms do at least 720p HD video, and most of them do 1080p or 1080i (full HD). This video was shot in poor light…so poor that still shots were marginal at best…and had to be processed in Sony Vegas for brightness and contrast…but it is a record of what, for me at least, was a unique event…the massing of Wood Nymph Butterflies on a tree trunk at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.
While all these shots were taken with a super-zoom at longer focal lengths, that does not mean you should not attempt bugs. Most P&S with macro reach at least 100mm equivalent…and that can be enough to give you a decent 5-7mp crop of even the smallest bugs.
So, when next out with camera in hand, look down, look close, and do the bugs.