I have been filming and taking
photos of butterflies since 2000. Before 2000 I had only memories which
was OK to a point but clearly I was becoming frustrated that I couldn't
re-live the moment of discovery of a rare species or the familiar
butterflies of the garden on a summer's day.
The obvious solution was right in
front of me. My father has always taken photographs with 35mm SLR and very
effectively too. So I decided to step into the world of video and digital
photography. A fringe benefit of this move was the material to start this
website and share some of my experiences with a wider audience.
All the photos on the website fall
into one of three categories:
1) Frames captured from video tape
(photos taken between 2000 and 2003)
2) Digital photographs (from 2004)
3) Scanned 35mm slides taken by my
father (1980s onwards)
Basic requirements for video/ digital cameras
In order to get good photos of sensitive insects such as butterflies is
extremely helpful if the distance between the photographer and the insect
is maximised. This is achieved with a good zoom on the camera combined
with a close up lens.
The optical zoom should be maximised. Many videos/ cameras boast
immense digital zooms (e.g. x40 to x400) but the quality of digital zoom
is very poor as the camera takes just a small part of the optical image
and uses this to fill the frame - it does not contain any more information
than the optical zoom, rather creating the illusion of bigger zoom.
A close up lens is usually readily available from camera shops. It is a
single lens that needs to be put in front of the camera's lens. This can
create a problem as almost all videos and digital cameras, particularly at
the low/ mid price range cameras, do not have the facility to fix the lens
in place. See below for more info on close up lenses.
Finally, the camera mustn't be too large or heavy or you won't take it
with you into the field!
If the above requirements can't be met, most videos and digital cameras
do have a Macro function. Good results can be achieved with this but it
does require greater patience to get close enough for the butterfly to
fill the frame. Often this is just a matter of 1 cm or so which is far too
close on a hot day - the butterfly will have flown long before the photos
Video. I use a Sony PCE-2. This is well out of production now but it
has been regularly and frequently upgraded by Sony. It has a x10 optical
zoom and has a thread on the body that allows the close up lens to be
screwed in place (with use of an adaptor). I use a +2 "close up" lens on
this camera and this is entirely adequate for all sizes of butterflies (Papilio
to Cupido) when combined with the zoom with a distance from camera
and butterfly of roughly 30 cm.
1) Olympus C-750. This has a x10 optical zoom
and a thread onto which an adaptor and close up lens can be screwed. I use
a +3 lens (that is the measure on the "close up" scale) for this camera to get full coverage of butterfly sizes. This is
a mid-price camera. It has a 4M pixel chip which is a measure of maximum
resolution. Again this is mid-range but results are very good and combined
with its other features makes this camera perfect for what I need.
2) Konica Minolta A200. The x7 optical zoom is good and there is a
screw facility for fixing an adaptor. However the large pixel count means
the subject doesn't need to fill the frame as software can crop the
unwanted parts of the image. This makes the adaptor optional and I do
wonder if this is better left off to increase depth of field.
My cameras compared
The video camera captures the motion and atmosphere of the butterfly in
its natural habitat. This makes for good watching (very high quality) on a
TV. However, a freeze frame has only limited quality as frame resolution
is all that is necessary for TV viewing. It can of course catch moments
that are rare, e.g. the flicked open wings of butterflies that don't
usually open their wings.
The digital camera has a very much higher resolution than the video and
the quality and detail is sometimes astonishing. Depth of field is more
critical and the camera behaves much like an SLR with attention to
aperture, shutter speed and depth of field required - the video camera
seemed to handle all this extremely well on its own. The A200 has a
quicker shutter response than the C750 although the delay is too long. And
the swivel feature of the monitor is excellent.