Butterflies (And Too Much 50mm is Too Much 50mm!)

Butterflies and how too much of a good thing leads to disappointing photos. I would like to thank someone (Gruber/DF???) for posting a link to this incredible article, which ultimately led me to picking up the 50mm f/1.8 lens. Since posting my semi-review, much discussion has been spawned. John Gruber/DF, Duncan (post 1 and post 2), and Fraser all have written some thought provoking words on the subject and I hope to drop some more semi-clueless observations in the coming days.

Thank you to all that have commented. I know that my photography skills have improved in the past week as a result.

Monarch Butterfly

Coincidental with our visit to Missouri, it appears to be Monarch Migration Season in the midwest.

At least, there have been many (4 in this picture alone) monarchs feeding on the milkweed planted in the garden border.

Absolutely gorgeous butterflies.

In this particular closeup (which I find more interesting than the traditional closeup from behind/above), it looks like the monarch’s body is covered in little paint splotches.

Zooming in on the full sized image, even the eyes have little faint white spots.

This image was taken with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens; 1/200th of a second, f/4, ISO100.

Click on through for more flittery photos.

Pyrgus Communis (Common Checkered Skipper)

This little guy — I do mean little, less than 2″ wide — is one of the species Pyrgus Communis or Pyrgus Albescens (checkered skipper or white-checkered skipper).

Gorgeous little butterfly found in the fields below my parent’s house. This one was kind enough to stop for a moment on a nice big green leaf and pose for me.

Again, a shot taken with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens; 1/160th of a second, ISO100, f/3.5.

Again, diving into the full sized image reveals one very hairy little flittery bug! The detail is pretty amazing.

Even the leaf edge is hairy!

Mystery Butterfly

This little guy is a mystery butterfly (or moth?) that Roger captured earlier today. This is a Silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus c. clarus). (Identification by Philip Koenig, Missouri regional coordinator for Butterflies and Moths of North America. See www.butterfliesandmoths.org/ for more information. (Phil: Thank you!))

By “captured”, I mean that he walked up to it and picked it up. Because he could. And you and I could not. Seriously. Later in the day, he walked in with a dragonfly. Have you ever tried to catch a dragon fly? I did. Once. Found it impossible.

Anyway, zooming into the full size, the little guy is quite striking. Veiny wings and fuzzy body. Looks like a big paint splotch. Cool refractive, multi-faceted, eyes.

But, wait, compare the background of this photo with the background of either of the previous two (the background of the monarch in particular).

Big difference. In the monarch photo, the background is big blobs of color goop with no real discernable form. But in this photo, the background has weird scallops or scales of green and white.

The monarch photo was shot at f/2.8, this one at f/2.0 — that is, the monarch photo had a larger range of depth in focus than this photo, yet it also features a considerably less distracting background (even though the background has more colors and details to start with!).

The difference?

This was shot with Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens; 1/4000th of a second, f/2, ISO100.

This image served the purpose of capturing Mystery Flutterby, but the actual image would have been vastly improved by shooting with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens. Investing just that extra 2000th of a second that would have been required by the 100mm lens would definitely have been good ROI!

Of course, the 50mm is not a macro lens and the 100mm is a damned good macro lens. Stupid photographer, no donut!

Mystery Butterfly

Here is another random butterfly that we encountered upon our walk in the woods.

This little guy was amazing. Wings closed, it looked just like a rough spot on the bark of the tree; the outside part of its wings were grey and textured identically to the tree.

When the wings opened, this gorgeous golden red surface was put on display.

This is another photo snapped with the 50mm lens at 1/320th of a second, f/5, ISO200.

I also think that this shot would have been vastly improved by the 100mm lens.

Hidden Moth

Oh, and here is a bonus photo for the 2 people that made it this far. Can you spot the moth in this picture?

It is a relative closeup, so it is pretty easy. When I was walking in the woods, the little guy popped out of the leaves and landed on the tree right in front of me. It took me a good 2 minutes to figure out that the bump on that one branch — out of many other branches — was not actually a knot in the branch at all!

This was taken with the 50mm lens — all I had on the walk — using the flash to fill in the image; 1/60th, f/4, ISO200. Not bad, really. And, given that I wanted to capture the hidden moth in the context of the larger tree (though this iamge is slightly cropped), the 50mm did just fine.

Anyway, this means that I’m either going to have to decide which lens to live with for any given walk in the woods or I’m going to have to carry along my camera bag with the 50mm and the 100mm lenses at hand.

Given the subject matter that I’m typically want to use the 100mm lens with is either about to move or already moving, I guess I will leave that lens on most of the time and pop it off when I want to use the 50mm to capture something low light / wider angle / more portrait like.

Update: As Vivek pointed out, my primary complaint with the 50mm is that the bokeh sucks when taking Macro like shots. That is, when shooting a closeup with a wide open aperture, the background will be out of focus. With the cheap f/1.8 (and its five blades that control aperture), the background blur is a bit pentagonal. Compare it to the monarch shot at the top — the bokeh is gorgeous.

Vivek points out that the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens — which can be had for about $300 — has much better bokeh.

Looking through all of the images I have taken with the Canon 50mm f/1.8, most that have poor bokeh would have been better served by using the 100mm lens.

So, really, the question — for me — is do I go ahead and spend the extra $225 on the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens?

Yes — it very likely is worth it, given the number of portrait like pictures I take where a very nice fuzzy background is critcally important (the ubiquitous fuzzy christmas lights for holiday season, for example).

Anyone need a slightly used 50mm f/1.8? I can’t really see keeping both.

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8 Responses to “Butterflies (And Too Much 50mm is Too Much 50mm!)”

  1. Vivek G says:

    Check out this wikipedia article about Bokeh: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bokeh

    In your earlier posting about getting the 50mm 1.8 lense vs. the cost of 50mm 1.4 lense this is one aspect that is not included. I have the 50mm 1.4 and the decision in getting it was the light gathering ability and the Bokeh. I had to try out both lenses to see for myself if this was real (I had never heard about Bokeh until I started trying to buy lenses for my 20D). The soft out of focus background produced by the 50mm 1.4 makes for great portraits (of butterflies or people).


  2. Borgendorf says:

    The decision to spend the extra money is also dependent on your current situation. I’ve just recently (thanks in part to your postings about the f/1.8 50mm) decided to get the XT body ($239 on-line) and the f/1.8 50mm as my “inexpensive” way to get back into my photography passion I once had in high school and college with my trusty Pentax K1000. I can’t justify sinking hundreds of dollars into lenses right now, but I do want to take better pictures. The moth photo looks fantastic to me, because I can’t make any bokeh right now with my point and shoot. 🙂

    So, yeah, I need your used lens 🙂

  3. Tony says:

    Nice shots, especially the first monarch one. I’m loving all this chat about the 50mm, I was on the edge of getting one when suddenly everyone’s talking about them! Still tempted by the “standard on APS-C” sigma 30mm 1.4 though.

    Anyway, the other reason the background looks nicer on the 100mm shots is a direct result of the focal length. In the 50mm there is “more” background in the shot (because of perspective) and so it looks less diffusely blurred.

    There’s a nice illustration of this effect over at The Digital Pitcure’s 60mm Macro review, see Background Blur Comparison about half way down

  4. 35mm slr lens says:

    I’ve been trying to promote the use of the 50mm (either 1.8 or 1.4) for some time now. As far as value for money goes I don’t think there is a better lens on either Canon or Nikon.

    I lent my 50mm 1.8 to a friend who recently bought an entry level SLR “why do I need a fixed 50mm when I’ve a zoom that covers 18-200mm?” was his question – after he used my 50mm f1.8 over the weekend he came back on monday with a huge grin and asked if he could keep the 50mm as it’d made his photography look a 1000 times better. The sharpness and the way he could intriduce depth of field had blown him away, and because he’d had to ‘zoom with his legs’ he’d thought about each shot a little more and that’s something that alot of new DSLR users aren’t doing.

  5. bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Early Spring Critters in Missouri says:

    […] any time we spend a while visiting my parents in Columbia, Missouri, Roger looks for any and all wild […]

  6. Macro lens makers says:

    Hey, thanks for stopping by! What I really like is, yes, how pretty are the colors of butterflies. good lens for macro photography used, but it is not without its shortcomings, and if your camera can use Canon EF-S lenses, you may want to consider the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 MACRO USM lens. First, the 60 mm is considerably cheaper. Second, the 60mm lens has a circular aperture – the 100mm lens does not. Next, as the Canon website shows, the 60 mm lens has better MTF than the 100mm lens. Also, the 60 mm lens weighs about half that of the 100 mm lens. Finally, for portraits and other non-macro photography, the 60 mm length may be more convenient, and with its 2.8 aperture, the 60 mm lens can be used as a fast “normal” lens.
    An Ecological Mystery’ I have been on a mission to learn more about what can be done, in our own gardens and on a larger scale by supporting natural areas and various uses of macro lens photography.
    picture two is really quite good
    point and shoot is fine really is
    your spingtime and your butterflies
    are new to me .thank you.

  7. bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » SLR Lenses: Seeing Ghosts says:

    […] was taken with the 50mm f/1.4 lens, at f/1.8. This is a completely fantastic lens that I have raved about […]

  8. Domke Camera Bags says:

    That blue butterfly is one of the prettiest things I have ever seen. The full size picture looks amazing. I think that you are a great photographer.

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