In the Bag

In the Bag

As a wildlife macro photographer I have a range of lenses which allow me to capture different compositions of the same subject. My favourite lens is the Canon MP-E 65mm f2.8. It’s superb for high magnification images and for capturing the smallest of insects. I then have the flexibility with different lenses, and this is where the Sigma 150mm macro, Tokina 35mm macro and Laowa 15mm macro are indispensable; it means that I can be adaptable and take a variety of habitat images of insects and fungi. I also pack the Canon G12 too, it’s small, light and great for environmental captures. It’s an enjoyable camera to use and the smaller sensor provides greater depth of field. I carry two DSLRs; the Canon 7D and Canon 40D. Whilst it doesn’t fit in the bag, I will often carry my tripod with fixed manfrotto 410 geared head and micro-rail. The extra stability of this set-up is particularly suitable for focus-stacking and for capturing docile early morning or late evening insects.

When traveling I always like to take two camera bodies with me. This gives me the reassurance of having a second camera should my primary camera fail for whatever reason, but also having a second body means that I can leave a different lens attached to each body and be ready to shoot at any time without having to change lenses. This provides a lot more freedom when shooting and also helps reduce tiresome dust spots that tend to be attracted to the sensor when changing lenses. It may look a lot but most of my camera gear will fit into my large back-pack. However, this weight does put rather a lot of stress on my back.  Since having a hernia operation I’ve been working on reducing the size and weight of my kit so that I can take with me only the gear that I think I will need. 

My family of macro lenses from the daddy Sigma 150mm to the baby Laowa 15mm

Canon 7D Mk1: While it may not be as technologically advanced as the 7D Mk2 it nevertheless continues to be an excellent camera that sits perfectly in my hand feeling reassuringly solid. It is ideal for using on the move when attached to the Sigma 150mm and with the 1.6x crop factor of the APS-C sensor, gives an effective focal length of 210mm (which is great for larger insects such as butterflies or dragonflies). This provides me with a working combination that I can use handheld and have set-up ready to respond very quickly.

While the 7D has 19 cross-type autofocus points that perform very well and acquire focus quickly, for macro I nevertheless prefer to focus manually. The 100% viewfinder is great for this and the Live View button is very conveniently placed just to the right of the viewfinder with a positive start/stop function.

The large 18Mp file also means that I can crop quite aggressively and still generated an image large enough for my needs. Whilst I tend to use the 7D at ISO 400 for a lot of my wildlife macro work, for more docile insects I’ll drop to ISO 200 for improved image quality. Overall, the 7D has all the bells and whistles I need for shooting wildlife macro and still ranks as one of the best semi-pro models on the market. It is solidly made, handles well and delivers on image quality.

Canon 40D: My first digital DLSR,  which I tend to use solely with Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens. Like the 7D it’s made of magnesium alloy and feels very solid. The 10Mp sensor produces excellent images with good dynamic range and pleasing colour.

Canon Powershot G12: .Great at widest 28mm focal range for wide angle environmental captures. Also used with Raynox DCR- 250 Macro attachment.

Sigma 150mm f2.8 EX DG macro: My favourite macro lens for larger insects such as butterflies and dragonflies. A solid lens with a more precise and firmer manual focusing ring than the Canon 100mm macro.

Canon 100mm f2.8 macro: Good all round macro lens. Considerably lighter than the Sigma 150mm macro and has a much quieter and faster automatic focus.

Canon MP-E 65mm f2.8 1-5x macro: For magnifications ranging from 1x to 5x. A truly superb lens for capturing the smallest of insects i.e springtails. Solid metal construction with very precise and firm focusing ring. Mind you, the depth of field is so small after 1x that focusing is better achieved through the use of a macro-rail.

Tokina AF 35mm f2.8 AT-X Pro macro: This lens is great for showing an insect in its environment and still capable of 1:1 magnification. My favourite lens for fungi captures.

Laowa 15mm f4.0 Wide Angle macro: At 15mm this lens gives the widest angle of view of any macro lens. It’s an all manual lens with even the aperture having to be stopped down prior to shooting. It is capable of 1.1 magnification although this is only possible at 5mm from the lens! Nevertheless, it’s a great lens for capturing larger insects in their environment. I also use it for landscape shots that give a good indication of the insect’s habitat.

Canon Speedlight 430EXII: My main flash.


Yonguno YN560III: Second flash and used to soften shadows cast by main flash.

Soft Box: Home made flash diffusion.

Canon Flash-bracket S8-E2: Well engineered and solid flash bracket.

Manfrotto ball-head 492: Screwed onto the flash bracket in order to lift flash and provide further extension.

Reflectors: Very useful for lifting shadows.. Gold and Silver card from salmon packaging.

Canon RS8-N3 remote release: Useful when using mirror-lock, slow shutter speed and tripod.

Wimberley Plamp: For holding back foliage, limiting movement of perches in the breeze or holding reflector.

Raynox DCR-250 Macro Attachment: Obtains the maximum macro magnification power when set at the telephoto position of zoom lens. The lens is made of high optical glass elements which produce rich and sharp images. The lens includes a snap-on universal mount suitable for 52mm to 67mm filter sizes.

Hawk Endurance ED 8×32 Binoculars: Not just for birdwatching but also great for observing butterflies and dragonflies. Manufacturer states that it can focus down to 6 feet, however, I find that mine can focus down to 4 feet. A bonus for larger insects!

Shower Caps: I’m not kidding! I pick these up for free whenever I stay in a hotel. They make excellent waterproof covers and with their elasticated ends they easily fit over a camera and lens to protect from showers.

In Zippered Compartment: Miscellaneous small items, including spare lens and body caps, memory cards, polarising filter etc.

Outside the bag:

Giotto MTZ 9351B tripod: Aluminium tripod with versatile vertical or horizontally operating central column. I found the horizontal position too unstable so I hacksawed the central column so that all three legs can be splayed-out to almost ground level – a much more stable solution for macro!

Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head: Extremely compact, this unique head offers precise gear movement in three directions: Pan, tilt, and side to side tilt. Also incorporated a unique feature that allows you to instantly disengage the gears and quickly position the camera by hand.

Velbon Super Mag Slider: A lightweight macro stage for very precise 4-way camera alignment. It can be moved forward, back, left and right and is perfect for precise close-up macro-photography and focus stacking.

Manfrotto 244N Magic Arm: A versitile aluminium support arm with central locking knob. Great for holding flash or reflector (can secure loads up to 3kg).

Manfrotto 143BKT Camera/Umbrella Bracket for Magic Arm: Can also be used to attach flash.