Snowflake-a-Day #66
As this series winds down (we’ll be going to roughly 70 this year), there is still experimentation at play. This image was created with a lens that predates my own birth by eight years. Canon manufactured some extreme macro lenses in 1978, view large to see the results!

This image was taken at roughly 10x magnification and cropped in from there slightly. Using the 20mm Canon Macrophoto 20mm F/3.5 FD bellows lens, at full bellows extension, about 10:1 magnification is possible. We had some small “bullet rosette” type snowflakes falling recently so I decided to put it to the test on the tiniest scale.

The lens itself is absolutely tiny, the smallest lens I’ve ever attached to my camera – microscope objectives included. The bellows give the space for extra magnification – close the bellows and you’re dealing with maybe 2:1 magnification, open them all the way and you’re dealing with 10:1 with a VERY short working distance.

The bellows have no mount for a ring flash, so I used copious amounts of gaffer’s tape to stick the flash in the right place. If you don’t know what gaffer’s tape is, it’s like duct tape but it leaves no residue behind. The best stuff ever. Buy in bulk, you’ll find yourself using it for everything. :)

Using this lens in the field was tricky. The amount of light required is much more than my “daily driver” 65mm MP-E lens, so much so that my flash and extra battery pack can’t keep up. This means few shots and more guesswork, and I’m not fond of that when handheld focus stacking is required. Increasing my ISO and reducing the FPS of the camera help, but it’s not perfect. The reduction of light to the sensor tells me that diffraction is going to be a bigger problem, and it is – the image is slightly softer than what I would see from my usual equipment. The original documentation for the lens says that with added extension tubes you could achieve 20x magnifications, but the diffraction problem would be amplified and I don’t think you’d gain anything by trying this.

A fireworks cluster, balloon animals, bottles or tubes, you could see these snowflakes in many ways. The entire cluster of crystals measures a mere 1.63mm across, and some individual columns are around 0.1mm thick. This is extreme macro photography by any definition! While the lens existed in 1978, focus stacking techniques are a modern invention to breathe new life into them. They can be found on eBay for USD$249, but you’ll need a $60 adapter to mount it to the bellows, the bellows cost $60, and the adapter to an EOS mount (or ANY camera mount, for that matter) sets you back $15 or so. The total cost, minus any lighting you want to use, is roughly USD$385. That’s still far cheaper than the Canon MP-E 65mm lens at roughly $1000! It’s much harder to use, but it’s an option that has existed for a very long time. They also made a 35mm macro that would get half the magnification that should compete more directly with modern lenses, and I’ll be testing that out next.

Curious to know how I make these images to try it for yourself? Just curious about the science behind how snowflakes form? In either case, pick up a copy of Sky Crystals: https://skycrystals.ca/book/ - a 304pg hardcover book that lets you go on a journey of photographic and natural discovery on a tiny scale.
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