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A macro lens + a camera for detailed animal close-ups




I'm working at a veterinary clinic and there's a need for a good camera for shooting different small details on animals (wounds, details in eyes, skin diseases etc). I'm currently looking at the Canon EOS 70D and the Canon EF-S 60mm f2.8 Macro USM lens. The combined price for these is around 1500 euros (~2000 dollars), which is about the limit. The current camera in use is Canon 400D Ti + Canon Zoom lens EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 and this combination just doesn't reach the needed level. I'm not a very good photographer but I'm fairly sure I'm close to what the current camera system can achieve under these conditions (moderate to good ambient light, shooting from hand).


So, what would be good options here. Is the aforementioned new camera+lens combination any good or I should just stick to upgrading the lens on the 400D? Any advice is greatly appreciated! The total budget should be below 2000 dollars.






My recommendation is to get the lens first, and see if it fits your needs, before upgrading the camera.  That said, you mentioned that this is for work, and sometimes things don’t work that way in that environment.  I know in my field if you don’t use the money it gets allocated somewhere else.  IF that’s the case my recommendation would be a macro lens and a 700D.  You don’t need the 70D, the money could be better spent elsewhere.


The 400D is capable of taking fine macro shots, it’s the lens that is really holding you back.  Here’s an image I took with my 450D and macro lens (Canon 100mm macro):






Plenty of detail (the reduced size of the bee makes it look fuzzy, it's plenty sharp full size).  The lens is what makes the difference…  and the lighting.


I prefer the Canon 100mm macro lens over the 60mm.  It allows me a little more distance from my subject, which is good for subjects that sting, and for getting light to my subject.  Both lenses will produce similar quality.  Note that there are two Canon 100mm macros, one is an “L” lens and costs significantly more.  I’m referring to this one:


My second recommendation would be to consider getting an external flash unit.  I’m guessing that you’re shooting photos mostly in-doors, possibly under fluorescent light.  Assuming you’re shooting in full auto your camera is going to make compromises – slow shutter speed and high ISO – that will compromise the quality of the pics.  Additionally, with macro, larger apertures will create a noticeably smaller area that is in focus.  Lighting will help you use smaller aperture so the entire subject – say a laceration – will be in focus.  A simply flash like the Canon 430ex could help significantly:

You're right about the indoor shots under fluorescent light. Most of the other workers are indeed shooting in full auto but I'm trying to educate myself and them about using more manual controls. For example, I've been using the Tv mode so I could reach the fastest shutter speed possible to reduce camera shake effect. That in turn has been leading me to the situation where the aperture is big (3.5 in my case) and that leads to the focus problem (which I've just now learned about from you).


Looking at your example shots I'm convinced that we should try a better lens. Currently Canon and Tamron lenses are in consideration. Some of the 1k+ priced lenses have image stabilization but I'm unsure if it's worth the money. The 500 dollar ones look already pretty good (like the one you suggested).


I feel unsure about the external flash as I've never used one before. Also, we usually try to use an extra light to hightlight the details (lacerations, eyes etc). But the current lens struggles nonetheless. Could the localized ambient ligth be enough or we should definitely try the new flash?


Thank you for your good advice and I hope to hear more from you 🙂

There are few pieces of equipment that I'm more adamant about than Canon macro lenses.  They're the best out there, and yet, they're reasonably priced.  In other categories I look to Sigma and Tamron to provide lower cost alternatives, but I just wouldn't recommend them for a macro lens.


Image stabilization can help a lot in low light situations.  I'm assuming you're not using a tripod and don't intend to use one.  Yes, IS would help, but I don't know if it's worth spending twice as much for the 100mm L.  Don't underestimate the quality of the 100mm lens I listed above, it can produce professional quality photos in the right hands.  Personally I'd get that one and a flash, and I guarantee you can get results that you'd be happy with.


The problem is that you really need to stop down the aperture to get sharp macro photos that will show the whole subject.  That cuts out light.  You (presumably) want to hand hold the camera since you're dealing with animals, so that sets a minimum shutter speed.  That cuts out light.  And, as always, we want to minimize our ISO to minimize noise.  So you're left with not enough light and no variables you want to skimp out on.  Flash gives you that fourth variable.


I know it can be a bit daunting, but a single automatic flash really isn't that bad.  The nice thing is you can use the camera in manual based on the settings decided above, and let the flash take care of the rest.  A 100mm lens should have a shutter speed of at least 1/160.  An aperture of f/8 should give you good quality and a decent sized depth of field to get everything in focus.  If you need larger, bump it up a notch or two.  Then set a reasonable ISO to try to pull in some light without getting too noisy - 400 or 800.  If you take a photo indoors you'll notice it's very dark.  But now just put the flash on, turn it to eTTL, and it'll do the rest.  Check it out, shooting in full manual is just that easy.  You can go impress your co-workers.  😉


One more small thing.  Lighting is all about modifying the light.  The light that comes out of the flash is harsh.  Remember all those shots your friends took when you were out at night and you look like deer in headlights?  The larger and more diffuse the light is, the softer everything looks.  This isn't anything I'd shoot a portrait with, but it's small and cheap and does a **bleep** good job at softening the light a bit.  Especially indoors, because it'll bounce it all over the room so the light comes from many angles.



I agree with everything skirball has said. If it's within your budget, you might also want to consider a Canon ring flash, such as the MR-14EX TTL flash. I've had some good macro exposures with this setup.


I also normally would recommend lens before body. But in this case a newer camera would make a big difference. The Xti has a ISO range of up to 1600 which means 800 is about all you can really use. Because of the noise introduced.

A T5i has ISO up to 12,800 available and depending on how much noise you are good with is a dramatic improvement.


With high ISO and probably pretty decent light from an examining or operation room, you should be good to go. But the 'kit' lens is not a stellar performer so in this case a new lens is a good idea too.


A prime focal length lens (macro) means you are going to have to frame (zoom) with your feet! Is that possible? You may have to get very close!

A high quality normal zoom could be the answer. Example is the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM APO. It has a close focus of 2 ½ feet (80cm)

It is very sharp and has a fast constant aperture of f2.8.


If you go the route of flash, you just add another layer of complexity that may not be needed if the ISO and lens are fast enough. I would tend to nix the flash idea.  

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!

Currently we've so far that three products are in consideration.



Diffuser: - not form an original Canon product I presume.

And all this would be attached to the 400D Ti. Total price of 908 euros or about 1232 US dollars.


In terms of ISO, the 400D Ti capabilities aren't great at all. I've also used the same camera at indoor parties (low light, fast-changing composition and so on) and the noise has always been a big problem. Until I accepted the flash, only then some actually acceptable results emerged. And that was with the camera's own stock flash.


The ability to frame with the lens zoom would definitely be a great thing to have, but I think I could manage without, too. If we're going to shoot, for example, a dog's eye, there has to be at least one or two persons holding the animal. That leaves some room for "framing with feet". Such a situation is actually the most common one - the animal has an eye condition and we'd like to get that small pathology in the eye on the photo. The clinic works in conjunction with an university and thus the photos are needed mostly for education.


I kind of agree with the thought that the camera needs to be on par too. Sadly I think we probably can't afford buying the whole set. Also, previous posters have convinced me that the lens and flash upgrade should do the job.


One thing that speaks strongly for the good normal zoom is that the "normal" lens could be more effectively used in other shots too. After all, the camera itself has been more of an utility camera (goes to parties too :). But in the end the macro factor is definitely the first priority.


All my shooting and general photography experience has came from personal trial and error. Thus, there's a lot to improve on that side too...

Actually I should add some photos that with the quality we're currently achieving. The'se are without flash and uncropped. Now we'd like the image to be just as big as the eye. But if I crop it like that the pixels are starting to show.



From your last post I believe the T5i and the 100mm f2.8 would be my choice.  The lens is $599 and the T5i is also $599.

Is $1200 bucks doable?  You won't need the T5i kit as you can use your current lens for the "parties".


I would seriously discourage going with a flash.  You and the animals will not like dealing with it. Not to mention flashing right into the dog's eyes!  The day is quickly coming when a flash will be obsolete.


EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!

Alright. We will first get the lens if the budget allows. Then I'll update the thread with new shots and we'll consider the next move.


Until then, thanks for the help and lets wait for the outcome. 😉