A Treatise on High Speed Water Drops with the Fuji X Pro 1 & Voigtlander 75mm f/1.8


How To: Extreme Macro High Speed Photography and the Fuji X Pro 1

The Perfect Bell

Macro photography is hard work.  There are so many technical issues to overcome that you have to be a very patient person with the correct camera equipment.  Now, add in the complexity of HIGH SPEED WATER DROP COLLISIONS to the mix and you are faced with one of the more complex camera and photographic setups and skills necessary to capture great images.  Most people think that water drop photography is purely luck or done with high speed computer controls.  While this statement is partially true, you still have to overcome the normal issues associated with macro photography in the 1:1 image ration realm.  By this I mean that a penny photographed  is the same size as if laid on the camera sensor, hence 1:1!

Bombs Away, Red upper water source, Blue lower!

Macro issues are tough:

  • VERY NARROW Depth Of Field (DOF), with the drop collisions being wider than what the camera can keep sharp.
  • Getting enough light on the subject to artistically present it with depth.
  • Getting the camera lens to focus at 1:1 with enough distance from the drops to keep water from splashing onto the front of the lens.

Now, add in the issues with water drops:

  • The inability of the shutter to stop the motion of the water movement.
  • Setting up several flash units in manual mode for stop action work around 1/120000 second.
  • Controlling the water drops for number and size, interval.
  • Keeping the water drops round and on target.
  • Controlling the flash firing delay to .001 second starting at about .150 second out to .500 second.
  • Setting up the camera shutter speed to allow all of this high speed stuff to happen (which actually requires a long exposure!)
  • Getting all of this without breaking the bank!

There are dozens of articles on the WEB about doing this in your sink with a baggy full of water and a pin hole in the bottom.  This can indeed be a fun experiment, but one that is doomed to failure.  Anyone who actually thinks they might enjoy this ALWAYS move up to some sort of computer controlled water drop machine. A unit that will:

  • Number of Drops
  • Size of Drops
  • Interval between Drops
  • Camera Trigger
  • Flash Trigger
  • Upper Water Tank
  • Computer controlled valve

Now the Camera equipment list:

  • ANY camera with interchangeable lenses.
  • Macro Lens at 1:1 (or the ability to modify an existing lens with extension tubes and/or close up diopter filters)
  • Remote shutter release.
  • 1 to 3 external flash units capable of being set in Manual at 1/64 power with stands.
  • PC flash wiring cables and a 1 to 3 wiring adapter (this is the inexpensive stuff)
  • Colored gels.
  • Difusers, Reflectors, and Colored Glass Sheets.
  • Small STABLE table tripod.
  • Food Coloring
  • Glycerin
  • Dish Soap

The Time Machine

I LOVE water drop photography so I choose a timing controller and a water drop controller from The Time Machine.  It is a small system of 2 small electronic boxes that run on 9v batteries (still on the original battery after a year). There are about 3 companies out there that sell these control systems, but to me, this one was the easiest and lowest in cost. The learning curve is short, but still, you will be required to do your homework and READ THE MANUAL (RTFM).  They even pack a bag of M&M candy in with it and tell you to go sit down, snack and read!

The Complete Setup, Uncluttered

The Drip Kit from the same company provides you with the 2nd box and upper water tank/valve/holder that talks to the Time machine through 1 simple cable.  It is easy to setup and understand! This is what it looks like from the dealer (right). Believe me when I tell you that this is the device that makes high speed water drop photography possible!  The entire kit cost me about $350 and was worth every penny.

My VERY cluttered setup!

OK, now then, here is an image of MY actual setup.  Notice that there is nothing uncluttered about it!  The thing is messy, disorganized and tons of fun!  You could even call it addictive!

TIP: I have also shown in the above image a large BOLT that I place in the lower tray of water, allow the drops to fall on it and use the threads as my focus points!

Did you notice that I am using 2 different colors of water?  Red on top and blue in the bottom tray?  This allows the colors to mix in the resulting collisions and give some very interesting color mixes as shown in the next photograph. For this image I used 2 flashes off to the left and right low on the water.  One was normal white and the one one the right had a red gel attached to further bring out the red colors.  Then I placed a blue & white mottled glass plate beyond the lower pan with the 3rd light positioned behind it with a white piece of paper between the flash and the glass plate! Look at the colors in the water foreground, the collision and the backdrop.  It all comes together!

TIP:  Add a squirt of Glycerin and a SINGLE DROP if liquid JOY soap to the upper water container.  This will give good mushroom caps with attatched drops moving away.  You will also want to add Glycerin to the lower water container along with your food coloring.

Red & Blue water mixing in a collision!

TIP: For the bottom tray, use a NON SHINY BLACK pan.  This will keep the flashes from reflecting back into the lens and not cause the pans colors, writing, or texture to influence the image.

Some people use MILK in the upper water container for some very good and interesting results!  The KEYWORD here is experimentation!

Some Thoughts on Camera Equipment!

Traditionally, I have always used Canon equipment for my water drop photography, but have totally switched now to my Fuji X Pro 1 camera system.  It is smaller, lighter and gives much better images.  I wanted to use my Fuji 60mm F/2 macro lens for this but it had several issues:

  • It was too close to the water drops and was getting covered in water/food color/glycerin.
  • It was subject to a central hot spot (bad one) when using flashes on water!  Nothing I did seemed to fix this issue!

CV 75mm f/1.8

So I got out my Voigtlander 75mm f/1.8 M mount lens, 2 Leica 10mm extension tubes and a Canon 500D +2 Diopter filter and have been using is successfully for quite a while now! I am using the Fuji M to X mount adapter as well.  This is a sharp lens with an easy, smooth focusing.

Leica 10 mm M to M extension tube

Finding extension tubes was a little difficult for the Leica M mount lenses.  Finally, I did find 3 OUFRO / 16469Y extension Rings at Igor’s Camera Exchange as well as on Ebay.  But the Ebay versions were easily 2 to 3 times the cost!  These tubes are very well made and even though they are bright silver on the outside, they are mat black  on the inside where it counts.  They are tight and have ZERO camera/lens play!

Now, why use the X Pro 1 with its mechanical shutter release when I could use a Olympus OMD with its electronic one?  Asking this question is really asking:  Why not allow the TIme Machine to trigger the camera’s shutter?  Well, for water drop photography, having the controller trigger the shutter release is not necessary.  The normal shutter speed is typically around .5s and since we are shooting in the dark, it is no big deal to set a 1 second exposure and have no impact o the image.  What you do:

  • Fire the camera shutter.
  • Fire the Time Machine.

Really Right Stuff Table Top

The rest is simply history!  But the plain truth of it all is that it simply works!  I LOVE the X Pro 1 and lens combination.  The camera gives STUNNING images and it is small and light!  What more do you need?  Being light, it enables me to use a small table tripod from Really Right Stuff that is a joy to use.  Complete with a great ball head, the camera is steady and does not move at all.

Ok it is time to talk about the Time Machine!

This controller allows you to control all aspects of the Drip Module through simple push buttons.  It is easy to use and requires minimal button pushes to achieve your desired effect!

  1. Mode.  The controller has about 15 modes for different types of photography.  For this post, we are interested in Drops.
  2. Number of Drops.  A count of how many drops to make when you press its fire button.
  3. Drop Size.  A timer (in .001 seconds) that controls how long the valve is open thus how large the drop is.  You have to be careful with this one because larger drops will move around as they fall and strike off center or out of round!
  4. Drop Interval.  A timer (in .001 seconds) that delays the time between the drops.
  5. Flash Delay. A timer (in .001 seconds) that delays the flash firing from the first drop.  Normally set to between .115 and .300.  By changing this timer you can directly control the state of the collision!
  6. Advance.  An incremental  timer counter that will adjust the Flash Delay (in .0001 seconds) from the previous shot.  This control will allow you to take a sequence of shots with an incremental Flash Delay and give the ability to see a stop motion display of the collision sequence! (see the end gallery of this post for a 20 shot sequence)

Here is an image of an imminent drop collision.  I got this by adjusting the Flash Delay timer down to the point that the first drop had hit the bottom water and bounced back up and the 2nd drop was falling to the point of almost reaching the rising column of water when the flashes fired!  The red was obtained by using a red glass background and firing a flash through it towards the drops from behind!

About to happen…

Again please note the mixture of blue and red in the water as provided by food coloring as well as gels on the flash units!

Yes, I realize that this has been a long post.  I am going to end it here with a gallery of 20 stop motion images where I set up the Time machine as follows.  I hope that you both enjoyed and learned something about water drop photography here!  When I setup to do this it is always in my gallery and I always post about it on Facebook as to invite other photographers to bring their cameras over and give it a try!  Follow me on Face book at https://www.facebook.com/mark.hilliard.33 to get notified of these photographic opportunities!

Now, On to the sequence shots!

This is a sequence shoot.  The Time Machine was setup as follows:

  • 19″ Drop from valve to lower water surface.
  • 2 Drops
  • Drop Interval at .057
  • Drop Size at .040
  • Flash Delay at .260 for first shot
  • Advance at .0010 second.  This amount of time is added to the Flash Delay after each shot.

So, here then are a sequence of 20 images taken with the exact same setup of water drops showing the difference made by shifting the Flash Delay timer UP by .001 second between shots!

Please, let me know what you thought of this post!

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Fuji X Pro 1 for High Speed Water drops Anyone?


Or how to succeed without really trying with a world class camera system!

Ohh, a pretty lead in tease image!

Today was gallery day for me.  I really wanted to go out and shoot but decided that I needed to sit and be open.  So… I dug out my high speed water drop kit and setup on my work table and decided that today I would test out my Fuji X Pro 1 and my Olympus OMD for water drops.  This then is the X Pro 1 post!

First, I can hear you asking, “How can you possibly use the X Pro 1 for water drops?”, well the answer is both frightening and simple at the same time!  I do several types of photography where the camera in use must have an electronic shutter release so that I can hook the camera up to a remote controller, like a Lightning Trigger or a Time Machine for water drops.  But water drops really do not need to be triggered by the Time Machine since the exposure is about a second long to enable the machine to trigger the timed water drops generated for the collision, the size of the drops, the distance between them, the shutter release and lastly the strobes!  This is all done in the following order:

  1. User pushes fire button.
  2. Camera opens the shutter for around 1 second.
  3. Time machine drops the first drop at XXX size.
  4. Time machine Drops the second drop at XXX size.
  5. Time Machine waits a programmed delay.
  6. Time Machine fires two external Canon 580 EX2 strobes set at 1/64 power.

Thats it!  So, while sitting there taking about 600 OMD images of water drops and cursing the fact that the only macro lens I currently have is the 12mm to 50mm macro, I asked myself: “Hey Mark! Why dont you get out the X Pro 1 and put on the 60mm macro and set it up for water drops and simply push your mechanical shutter release at the same time you push the Time Machines fire button?”.  WOW, I was amazed by the simplicity of this thought and immediately got out the X and setup!  The rest is history!

Fuji X Pro 1 with the 35mm w/Canon 500D. Egg cup with green water and the time machine dripper with red water. Black backdrop.

Boat Drinks! Fuji X Pro 1 with the 35mm w/Canon 500D. Egg cup with green water and the time machine dripper with red water. Black backdrop.

Fuji X Pro 1 with the with 35mm w/Canon 500D. Egg cup with green water and the time machine dripper with red water. Black backdrop.

“Lizardo” Fuji X Pro 1 with the Fuji 60mm macro lens attached.

Now, I do have to tell you that I encountered a MAJOR issue with the Fuji 60mm Macro.  Since this technique uses multiple flashes to light and freeze the water drops, I discovered that the lens is VERY PRONE to LENS FLAIR!  ANY light that makes it into the objective from ANY angle reguardless of the placement of the flashes, even room lights will cause a flair in the direct center of the image EACH AND EVERY TIME!  This was VERY FRUSTRATING and took about an hour to overcome with CAREFUL flash placement, darkening of the room and shading the back of the camera to keep stray light from even coming into the gallery windows in the front!  I have to tell you that this was a major pain in the butt!  I can see another lens in my future to shoot macro with.  I even tried my CV 75mm f/1.8 but couldnt get close enough to the water drop to get a full frame image with a Canon 500d attached. So as you can see, the first 3 images were taken with the Fuji 35mm with a Canon 500D +2 diopter filter attached.  Even so this is as close as I could get.  The last image is with the 60mm macro.

Any suggestions for other macro lenses out there??

PLEASE??

Please let me know what you think!  The lens aside, you can see that the camera worked great for the images and I will be using it for this again provided that I find a more macro/flash friendly lens!

OK, so many emails!  Here is info on the time machine!

http://www.bmumford.com/photo/waterdrops/index.html

True Macro With The X Pro 1


Being Small in a Large World..

Zebra Longwing Butterfly Caterpillar, 1/4 inch long, Fuji X Pro 1 and the 60mm f/2.4

In another creative fervor with the Fuji X Pro 1, I decided to attend a formal CNPA (Carolinas Nature Photography Assn.) outing yesterday at Cyprus Gardens in Moncks Corner, SC.  The park is full of flowers, swamp and a nice butterfly house.  I had decided to leave all of my other camera equipment at home (it seems that this is becoming the rule now with the X Pro 1!) and concentrate on macro/closeup work with the Fuji system.  In truth, I spent all day with the 60mm f/2.4 macro lens.  The lens can shoot in the macro mode at .5x which is 1:2.  The closest focus range on this lens is a little over 10 inches.  With these limitations in mind I setup on a sturdy tripod and got about the business of creating images!

This post is NOT intended as a macro or flash tutorial. I will post images that I consider are the best at macro and closeup that this camera system is capable of creating.  Anyone can create this type of macro images with just a little forethought and a full understanding of the physics of exposure and how to use your camera as a tool! I intend to show you what this camera system is capable of creating with thought out setups, exposure and lighting!  I am going to share with you my experiences in using the camera system with the following accessories, modes and shooting supports:

  • Fuji X Pro 1, aperture priority, spot metering
  • Fuji 60mm f/2.4 lens
  • Fuji EF-20 flash
  • EF-X20 flash
  • Fuji EF-42 flash
  • Surefire 6PX Pro LED flashlight
  • Tripod and hand held
  • 40″ remote shutter release

Fuji EF-20 Flash

The Zebra Longwing caterpillar  above was about 1/4 inch in length and was taken with the Fuji X Pro 1 with the 60mm f/2.4 lens on a tripod.  Lighting was the Fuji EF-20 flash unit on camera but tilted down and set at -1ev.  As you can see, the overall setup gave a very nice image with reasonable lighting given only 1 flash!  The overall image ratio is about 1:3 which puts this squarely in the macro range.  I kept the aperture set to f/9 in order to get the entire insect in sharp focus and have a little bit of detail in the background.  Now, the real surprise:  the focus was auto with the selected focus point being the middle of the curve on the insect!  Normally, we expect to manually focus when working in macro, but I intended to test the focus capabilities of the system as well.

  • TIP: I added a slight lens vingyette in post processing   to darken the top and sides of the image to further accent the main subject.

Given that the flash uses two AA batteries, the re-charge time should be considered quite slow, but it was actually quite fast.  I enjoyed using this flash because the tilting head enabled me to shoot past the end of the the longer 60mm lens and keep the subject in nice light with no lens shading even with the lens hood installed at the 10 inch focus distance!  I did find that using the button on the back of the flash to set the EV value to be a bit tedious but since I usually set it to some negative value and leave it there it was not a very large negative!

Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar, Fuji X Pro 1, 60mm f/2.4, 10 inch focus, 1:2 ratio, Fuji EF-42 at -.5ev

Fuji EF-42 Flash

This next image of the Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar was taken using the Fuji EF-42 flash set at -.5ev and an aperture of f/8 on the tripod.  Here I intended to have more of a blurred background (remember in the macro range the DOF is very narrow and even a a mid aperture you will get a very blurry background) yet again keep the insect in sharp focus across its entire focus plain.

The EF-42 flash is a much higher power unit compared to the EF-20 and it uses four AA batteries for a faster recharge time.  The controls are easier to use BUT the flash head will NOT angle down beyond the level plain.  This can be overcome by pulling out the wide angle lens on the top and using it as s bounce surface to angle some light down.  As you can see in the image I created the exact image I envisioned.  The main subject (insect) is in perfect focus and the exposure is dead on with no blow out of the whites.  The background is nicely indistinct and blurry with only slight detail thus taking nothing away from the subject!  Focus was again in auto with the spot set on the top hump of the insect as it was getting ready to move forward up the branch.   Again, I added a slight lens vingyette in post processing to darken the top and sides of the image to further accent the main subject.  As stated, this was all pre-planned before I ever looked at the camera!

The Red Flower, Fuji X Pro 1, 60mm f/2.4 lens, 1:4 ratio, Ef-42 at -1ev.

OK this image of the small red flower (sorry, I have not yet identified it yet…) was again done with the X Pro 1 with the 60mm lens and the EF-42 flash at -1 ev.  The big difference here was that this was hand held.  I just could not get the camera into a position on the tripod in order to capture it.  Plus I was setting up to switch over to shooting butterflies on the move which you just cannot do on the tripod.  The flower was about1 inch in length so the image ratio here is about 1:4 which puts this image in the closeup range.  Depth of field is much better in this range so in order to have a un-defined background I set the aperture down to f/4 which gave me a sharp focus on the entire flower in its plain of focus yet blurred the background nicely.

  • TIP: The flash was setup using the wide angle adapter pulled partly out in order to reflect some of the light down towards the flower.

All in all  I think that this is a nicely done image considering it was hand held!

Zebra Longwing Butterfly. Fuji X Pro 1, 60mm f/2.4 lens, EF-20 flash at -1ev 1:8 range

Ok, moving up further into the closeup range, I created this image of a Zebra Longwing butterfly.  This was again handheld but using the EF-20 flash set level at -1ev.  Focus was auto with the focus point set silghtly off center to the top in the portrait mode.

  • TIP: When shooting macro/closeup, I always set the focus point for each and every shot.  This gives me far greater control during the setup and composition phase of my process.

Purple Orchid, X Pro 1, 60mm f/2.4, EF-20 at -1ev, 6PX Pro LED Tactical light.

Fuji EF-X20

OK, almost done!  This last image of a purple orchid was shot on the tripod  in shadow was one of the more difficult images of the day.  I had to use a 40 inch remote shutter release and hunch below the flower and tripod with a 5000 degree kelvin LED flashlight angled up into the flower.  I also used the EF-X20 flash set at -1ev to give the purple of the flower even lighting and a sparkle.  The EF-X20 is the easiest of all the Fuji flash units to control due to its top mounted mode dial.

Surefire 6PX Pro

The LED flashlight is a 6PX Pro Tactical light with variable output and is perfect for macro work.  Its light is bright white and since you can control the power level it makes for very easy control!  This light and many others can be found at  www.Surefire.com but be advised, they are expensive!  I keep several versions of these tactical lights on hand.  They are all useful and a positive addition to a macro kit!

OK, that is it for today.  But consider this last point, Macro work can be done with any lens, you do not need to have a dedicated macro lens.  With the simple addition of a closeup adapter (I recommend the Canon 500D series of adapters) you can convert ANY lens to macro/closeup!

What did you think of this post?  Please feel free to leave feedback and comments!  I value your input.