(Scroll down for samples)
I have been playing with this camera and macro photographs for a few days. I bought it for the purpose for my wife who is an entomologist and will use it after I figure it out. When I read about macros on the web everyone wrote: experiment, try different lenses, setups, flashes and diffusers. Everyone agrees that enough light, diffuse-enough light, and enough depth-of-field are the key issues. So I tried a few things and found a setup that seems to work pretty well. I am sure its far from optimal. To avoid the vagueness I found when I looked around for advice here is my EXACT setup.
Konica Minolta A2 settings:
Zoom=200mm, macro=on (the other 28mm zoom macro seems useless to me),
Fstop=11 (the main problem with macro photos is lack of depth of field, this gives the most you can get with this camera),
Shutter=1/500 (the flash lasts about 1/1000 of a second, this setting keeps other light and motion blurr out),
Flash=fill (this works, I don't know if its best),
ISO=200 (given the Fstop, flash and diffuser this is the only exposure control, 200 happens to work),
Sharpen=on, Vivid = on (settings I have seen advised on the web to minimize post-processing).
Number of pixels= highest=3624x2448, Quality=worst="standard"
(I tried all combinations, but for RAW, and this seems to give nearly maximal resulution with 1/4 the maximal memory use.
Pictures come out about 1.8meg each before cropping or reducing quality for email/web.)
Setup-Menu 5, "Lens acc": set to 'none' even though I use an extra lens, choosing a lens disables macro mode (not documented).
ALL-IMPORTANT HINT: Use Camera Menu 3 to set "Mag. button" to 'FlexMagnifier' rather than 'Digital Zoom'. When you take a picture, first find the bug then press the + button (a plus with a circle around it on the top of the camera). This magnifies the LCD image, but not the picture, by a factor of 3. Then you can focus very accurately by moving the camera around. Without this magnification you cannot judge the focus accurately enough for reliably-sharp pictures.
a) Without the add-on extra lens the closest macros use manual focus down to 0.25 m (you have to spin the focus ring a lot and read the focus distance on the back-of-camera LCD display). The width of the subject is about 5 cm (in a photo of a ruler you can see 50 milimeter markings).
b) With the add-on 2.5X lens the focus is almost irrelevant. At macro-mode .25m the subject width is about 2.2 cm. At full telephoto focussed to infinity the subject width is a hair smaller, strangely, about 2 cm. In both cases the F11 depth of field is about 2-3 mm. In telephoto mode the subject is about twice as far from the lens, which is nice, about 20 cm. So skip macro mode when using an external macro lens.
Macro lens: Raynox M-250 (2.5x). About $89. This is a too-small-a-diameter lens that I bought at random. It leaves a little darkness in the corners (vignetting) which doesn't happen to bother me. The manufacturer warns about this. If I had it do do over I'd get a bigger diameter lens.
Conversion ring: 49mm-52mm (the Raynox macro lens comes with a clip-on device which needs a bigger hole than the 49mm one that is on the camera lens).
Ultraviolet filter: 52mm. Doesn't do anything but protect the lens glass. Provides 52mm for Raynox clip on.
Diffuser: I sewed this from insulation bedded between wedding vail material. I made it with a hole so that it stays with the macro lens, wedged between the lens and the clip-on gadget it is screwed to. This diffuser wraps around the macro lens for compact storage and quick use (not using lens caps).
Flash: The camera manual says the flash doesn't work with macro mode. But actually, with the settings above and the homemade diffuser the built-in flash seems to work fine. Good light at a good brightness and decent depth of field. The flash dominates so the same settings work inside and outside. I mostly use the extra lens and diffuser. But the same flash and settings are about right with the out-of-the-box camera focussed on .25m (despite what the manual says).
Success rate: With these settings a high fraction of the pictures (of slow subjects) come out when hand-holding the camera. Almost every mosquito and tic (the tic is about 1.5mm across) picture I took was sharp. I was one-for-one with the fruitfly (about 4 mm long), the needle (its an unusually thin needle), and the moth head. But in15 minutes of trying I couldn't catch a busy ant or butterfly in decent unblocked-by-leaves poses. Most bumblebee pictures did not come out (the bumblebee would be out of focus or out of frame by the time I clicked the shutter) but in a good flower patch you get lots of chances. The pictures below are cropped random amounts and saved with random qualities (but I don't think there is a lot of information in the original originals that I didn't keep).
There are much more beautiful and sharp insect pictures on the web taken by amatuers more practiced than I using both simpler and fancier macro setups than this. My mesage here is that you can do pretty well, with pretty-high reliability, pretty soon after getting your hands on this Konica-Minolta A2 camera. Previously I also got some decent macro photos using a cheap point&click camera with a $5 magnifying glass lens basically taped on. But the control of focus and exposure is much worse and slower.
camera features for these photos are:
Full manual mode (to lock up the depth of field using F11, the shutter speed and thus the exposure),
Small time between shutter press and exposure (an annoying delay on some cameras causes missed shots),
Setable ISO (needed to get the right exposure),
A bright tiltable back LCD panel (essential for getting insects in view in odd positions in sunlight),
Magnification for focus ("FlexMagnifier", essential for getting Macro pictures reliably in focus).
All those 8 million pixels and the hundreds of other settings may or may not be that important. For example, Anti-Shake (AS), while nice for telephoto pictures is not useful here. And depth-of-field-preview might be good for art shots, but for macro you're stuck with what you get at F11 anyway.
However much better the image quality might be with an SLR, getting decent pictures like these easily would be MUCH harder without the tilt-screen LCD.
Samples: click to get full size.
diffuser in action.JPG