Macro on Film


Bud is about 3mm across, perhaps a touch more. 6 sec (Elan 7N metered it at 15 sec, DSLR metered at 8 sec), f16, ISO320


I mentioned in my first posts about the Canon Elan 7N (here and here) that I had chosen it so as to be able to shoot film with some of the lenses and accessories that I use on my Canon 5Dii DSLR. Since I have a rotten cold and don’t feel like getting out with any camera, I decided to use the 7N to shoot some high-magnification macro tests onto film set up at the table which I moved right next to the wood stove. Coddled myself, in other words.

A summary of this post is published simultaneously at the 52 Rolls Project – this link will take you there.


f3.5, program exposure mode – time not noted (accidental shot, but useful for depth of field testing)



I used a Canon FL bellows unit and associated Canon FD lens, extension tubes and reversal ring that I adapted for use on an EOS mount (see here for more information on this set up). First I mounted my DSLR on the bellows and used it to determine exposure and set the focus in a magnified live-view mode. Then I swapped the 5Dii for the 7N body and took some shots at the same exposure without adjusting the focus – I bracketed those shots +/- 0.5 EV. I also adjusted the 7N ISO rating down from 400 to 320 to add the recommended 1/3 stop to compensate for the film’s reciprocity failure. I then metered the scene with the 7N (in evaluative metering mode) and took some brackets using that setting. The 7N was 1 stop different from what I had arrived at with the DSLR – it might have been useful to have tried centre weighted metering; sadly the 7N does not have spot metering.

I changed subjects from the cherry bud to the young bulb shoot and did all the focusing through the 7N eyepiece, and set the shutter at 10 seconds, a compromise between the earlier DSLR reading of 8 seconds and the 7N reading of 15 seconds. I did not re-meter the scene, though should have as the bulb is a brighter subject. I increased the bracket to +/- 1.0 EV because by this time I had shot most of the film (I had wasted a few shots by forgetting to stop down after confirming focusing/framing) and did not have enough left to shoot at both the DSLR and 7N exposure readings.

It is pleasing that these images on film show clearly the surface cellular structure of these plants and while there is a bit of a colour shift compared to the digital version (at bottom of this post), there is not a lot of difference in clarity, despite film grain.


This part of bulb shoot is about 11mm across in total, but showing 7 or 8mm of it. 5 sec , f16, ISO320

I think that this combination of gear, with 1 or 1.5 stop bracketing (the Elan 7N brackets in .5 stop increments), will work pretty well on its own without need for the backup of a DSLR to check settings, framing and focus. The view finder is not as bright as in the 5Dii, and of course there is no live view which is a terrific tool for high magnification macro. An eyepiece magnifier would be a handy but not necessary accessory; probably a small and very bright flashlight could cast enough light to assist with the focusing. But with as much depth of field as possible I found I could focus accurately enough. The self timer is 10 seconds which gives plenty of time for the camera to settle down after the mirror locks up. Once again, using expired film adds a variable that is not well controlled, but it does not affect the focus, even if time might make it more grainy – it could affect the colours, but so could the long exposures and the lens too. This roll seems pretty good, so I don’t think it added much extra noise to the tests.

Other digital shots with this set-up can be found here.



  • Elan 7N with FD-EOS adapter,
  • Canon FD 50mm f3.5 Macro Lens (reversed),
  • Canon FL Bellows (maximum extension),
  • Canon Life Size Adapter
  • Canon Macrophoto Coupler
  • EF 50/1.4 lens for shots of the set up
  • Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 (expired) shot at 320 (reciprocity failure of +1/3 for 4 second, +2/3 for 32 seconds)
  • Canon 5Dii mounted on same bellows/lens combination for setup and comparison purposes
  • Lens setting for all shots: f16, manual. Based on research I did a year or two ago, this combination of lens, extension tubes with bellows fully extended has an effective f-stop of f96. Out of interest I just checked this with a recently acquired  Sekonic L508 spot meter which reads 8 seconds atf90 and 15 seconds atf128 from the bulb tip but without the lens blocking any light. The best exposure I got on film was 5 seconds.
    • For a 50mm lens, the formula is Effective F-Stop = F-Stop x (1 + Magnification) (from this source). You would need a marker of some kind for estimating the magnification at different bellows extensions (one came with this bellows model, but is missing from my copy, and probably would not account for the reversed lens and extension tube). So, at maximum bellows extension this set up shoots around 5X magnification. I like to shoot at f-16 since f-22 is pushing the lens optics a bit far. f-16 at 5X macro is an effective f-stop of f96. Therefore, I could meter the shot with my spot meter which has an f-90 setting, a very small spot (1 degree) and focuses quite close too.
  • Tripod – SLIK Pro 700 DX/Leg and SLIK Ball Head 800.
  • Lighting – daylight balanced fluorescent 15 watt tubes (x 2) in light-box ca 1 foot away, foil coated reflector ca 6 inches away, natural light from large window behind camera, low-energy fluorescent ceiling lights


Elan 7N settings for macro shots:

  • C-Fn 5-1 (mirror lockup)

Plum Blossom Bud

  • Bracketing +/- 0.5 E.V.
  • Focus set with DSLR live-view magnified.
  • Exposure from 5Dii – 8 seconds – made by taking some shots and looking for blow outs and adjusting exposure and confirming with another test shot.
  • Elan 7N exposure – 15 seconds, evaluative metering mode

Bulb Shoot

  • Bracketing +/- 1.0 E.V.
  • Exposure set at 10 seconds – compromise DSLR and 7N values for flower bud.
  • Focus done through eyepiece of Elan.

Shots of Camera Set Up

  • Elan 7N with Canon EF 50/1.4, f2.8 with aperture priority

For comparison – the same shots taken with the Canon 5Dii, using the same ISO, and exposure settings. Shot in live view mode with a 2 second self timer.

Canon 5Dii DSLR, IS0400, f16, 8 seconds

Canon 5Dii DSLR, IS0400, f16, 8 seconds


Canon 5Dii DSLR, IS0400, f16, 5 seconds

Canon 5Dii DSLR, IS0400, f16, 5 seconds





5 thoughts on “Macro on Film

  1. Pingback: Macro on Film II | burnt embers

    • Hi there, thanks for the comment. The magnification makes the equivalent of a much longer lens and this in turn reduces the amount of light – f16 on the lens is actually equivalent to f96 at 5X magnification. f96 requires a long exposure under any circumstances, but especially indoors with not very bright lighting.

      I could choose a lower fstop, but then the depth of field is just a few microns deep and usually too little is in focus for that to work. But even f3.5 at this magnification has an effective stop of f21 – which would be fine in bright light if more were in focus.

      And then there is film speed – too much grain would defeat the purpose of the macro, so slower film speeds are needed, which of course lengthens exposure times too. If I had been using ISO100 film, that would have increased the 8 sec exposure to 32 seconds, ISO50 film which is very fine grained would have seen 64 seconds. And that is without considering reciprocity failure of the film which is a concern above 4 or 5 seconds for many film types; with some films this could necessitate an exposure of an hour or more. And then long exposures with a long bellows unit in a moving airspace on a table holding the subject all will reduce sharpness from minor vibrations of the subject and the bellows.

      So, taking good high magnification macros with a decent depth of field requires a series of compromises in terms of film speed, film grain, softening of the image through higher fstops and long exposures introducing shake to both the camera and subject and so on in order to get something that works.

      One partial solution is much better light, but macro flash units are pricey and I don’t have one. I can’t even fire my Canon flash remotely as I don’t have the right cords to take it off the hot shoe. The lens/bellows unit blocks the light and puts the subject in shadow when the flash is mounted on the camera.


  2. These macro shots are outstanding. I had a similar setup with the bellows and reversing ring and it worked fine. I later added a focusing rail to aid in focus. Lots of light is nice to have, too, but I never used an artificial source. Also, I think negative film has quite a bit more latitude than slide film when shooting and even in the scanning process. You’ve managed to keep great detail here so you’re doing everything right.


    • Thanks so much Ken. I find that I can get the focus close enough by moving camera or subject, and then adjusting the bellows unit a bit (some loss of magnification, but not much) and then finishing off with the focusing ring on the both or either the lens and the “macro coupler” which has a lot of extension that can be used for focusing. I do have a focus rail, but have not used it with this setup – I got it used thinking I would use it outdoors with same gear minus bellows on the DSLR for about 2X macro. I also have an idea of doing some focus stacking at sometime, perhaps with the 5X set up, and a focus rail is handy for that too.


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