I've entered this into the Digital Days contest and I'm a finalist. The voting part of the contest is now over, but I'd still love it if you'd rate my instructable.
This instructable will show you how to get quality macro shots at a high magnification. The best part is you don't even have to have a macro lens to do this. In a lot of cases you can do this with the gear you already have, or gear you can get very inexpensively.
I'll show you how to use 2 lenses, one inline with the other to get really up close and personal.
Below is a shot I took with this setup of 1 jewel in a pocket watch. Then another shot at full magnification. More sample shots on the last page.
Step 1: What you'll need...
1) An SLR or DSLR.
2) A zoom lens, around 200mm works really well.
3) A fast prime lens, with an aperture ring.
4) A macro coupler.
5) A tripod in most cases.
6) A remote shutter release.
7) An off camera flash, or bounce flash if on camera.
In this instructable I'll be using:
52mm macro coupler
50mm f1.8 prime lens
Most people will have some sort of zoom, but maybe not a fast prime lens. The 50mm 1.8 D that I have is only about $100 new, and I'm pretty sure most of the other big camera names have a similar priced lens. Even better than that check craigslist or ebay for the cheapest prime you can find. You can buy just about any prime lens because it's going to be reversed and attached to your zoom using the filter threads, so this prime lens doesn't even have to fit your camera.
I was fortunate that the 2 lenses that I'm using both take the same filter size of 52mm, so I bought a 52mm to 52mm macro coupler. If you have lenses with different filter sizes there are a number of step-down/up couplers available from your favorite camera site/store. The coupler I bought was about $10, probably even cheaper through ebay.
Step 2: Attaching the lenses.
Remove the front lens cap from your prime lens. Now screw the macro coupler ring onto the front of the prime lens, the same way you would attach a screw type filter.
Now remove the front lens cap from your zoom lens. Take the prime lens with the macro coupler attached and turn it upside down, face to face, with the zoom lens. Screw the other side of the macro couple onto your zoom lens. The 2 lenses are now 1 as you see in the image below.
Step 3: Setup the camera.
Now attach the combined lenses to your camera body. You want to mount the zoom lens to the body as you normally would.
Once attached you'll want to change the following settings.
1) On your prime lens set the aperture ring to your smallest f-stop number.
My lens goes to f1.8. You'll want this as big as you can get it to allow more light onto your camera sensor.
2) Set the focus on your prime lens to infinity.
3) Make sure your zoom lens is zoomed to the maximum.
The farther you zoom the more magnification you'll get. For example if I set my zoom on 150mm I'll get a 3:1 ratio, if I zoom out to 200mm I'll have a 4:1 ratio. Anything below about 130mm or so causes a black circle around my pictures because the zoom is getting too wide and is actually seeing the prime lens in the photograph.
4) Switch your zoom lens to manual focus.
Auto-focus might work for you, but being this close to the subject it's likely going to give you more trouble than help.
5) If you have VR or IS you'll want to switch it off as it can be quirky when using a tripod.
6) Set the aperture on your camera body to the biggest f-stop number.
My zoom will go up to f32, so that's what I used. This allows more of the picture to be in focus, but also requires a slower shutter speed so that tripod will be needed.
Step 4: Take pictures
Now it's time to start shooting.
You'll see in the picture below that you have to be very close to your subject. Focusing can be a bit tricky till you get the hang of it. It's easiest if your camera/lens is pointing nearly straight down. Turn your focusing ring to about the center. Now you can slowly move your whole camera using adjustments on your tripod while looking through the viewfinder to see when it's in focus. When you're close stop, then fine tune your focus using the focusing ring. There's a very fine line between being in focus and not, you may have to try a couple times to get the hang of it.
Once you have the focus lined up you'll need to fire your shutter without creating any extra vibration on your camera. I use a wireless IR remote control which allows me to just point at the camera and press the button. If you don't have a remote use your self-timer. Set the timer to 10 seconds, press the shutter to start the timer and release the camera until the shutter closes.
Step 5: Examples
Here are a few shots I've taken with this setup. I have more pictures I've taken on my Flickr page.
The pictures of the penny were taken without a flash. I had to take a 30 second exposure for there to be enough light in the photo.
The USA 100 image is from the $100 bill in the previous step. The USA 100 is micro printed inside the 100 on the lower left corner of the bill to help prevent counterfeiting. For this shot I used bounce flash from my SB-600 aimed at a white table top studio.
The next image is a balance wheel from a pocket watch. That is actually 1 of 17 jewels in the movement. Notice the black corners, that's because I zoomed back too wide and got the prime lens in the picture instead of shooting through it. In this case I like what it added to the photo.
The final image is lady bug eggs that a found on the side of a tree in my yard.