Saturday, 11 April 2009

Repair Canon 18-55mm Zoom Lens

Welcome to Macro Photography for Beginners. I recently used precision tools to take apart my canon kit lens.

The Canon 18-55mm EF-S 1:3.5-5.6 zoom lens has become known as the standard kit lens sold with most new Canon Digital SLR cameras (with a APS-C sized sensor). The lens was originally designed specifically for the Canon 300D but has since become available as a stand alone lens. It has been equally criticized and praised by photographers during its short and illustrious lifetime. In my opinion it is an almost adequate lens with a fairly average/variable performance.

There are three reasons why I decided to dissect my Canon 18-55mm EF-S 1:3.5-5.6 zoom lens. The first reason is that the auto-focusing was "hunting" or to put it another way going backwards and forwards continuously. The second reason was to resolve a common problem with the Canon 18-55mm EF-S 1:3.5-5.6 zoom lens. I have read several accounts that suggest that this lens allows moisture to accumulate inside the casing. The moisture condenses on the inside of the glass resulting in a water mark on the glass. Images from my lens became cloudy for a large proportion of the frame. When inspecting the lens for damage it was evident that my lens had succumbed to the problem mentioned above. When looking through the lens with the naked eye it was possible to see a large water mark on the inside of the glass. The lens in all honesty was rarely used and would not be sadly missed if my attempted repair went wrong. I decided to operate on the lens and find out exactly what goes on inside a Canon 18-55mm EF-S 1:3.5-5.6 zoom lens. This post is a supplementary addition to back-up recent reports that I am probably crazier than a soup sandwich (the third reason = my own curiosity).

The first point to make about this operation is that I am fairly competent person with a good knowledge of electronics. The second point to make is that the lens was useless in its present state. I would not recommend that you dismantle a Canon 18-55mm EF-S 1:3.5-5.6 zoom lens or any other piece of electrical or photographic equipment, unless you know what you are doing or are fully prepared to lose the lens/equipment as part of the learning experience. So what is inside a standard Canon 18-55mm EF-S 1:3.5-5.6 zoom lens?

How to get Inside the Lens
First of all I wanted to investigate the problems with the auto-focus on this lens. This means delving into the electronics and most importantly find the motor inside. I’ve read a few photography forum threads about how difficult it is to get inside the lens. Let me assure you that it is not actually very difficult to get inside but once inside it is rather complex and delicate. I recommend placing the lens cap onto the lens for added protection. Then turn the lens upside down on a suitable work surface. Take off the rubber seal which is present around the centre of the reverse part of the lens. To gain entry into the lens (using precision tools) remove the two screws holding the contacts in place. It will not come apart fully with these screws in place and the soldering could be damaged if the lens casing is forced open. Then remove the four holding screws that are clearly visible around the edge of the lens casing. Carefully lift the casing away from the lens to reveal the circular circuit board underneath.

Canon 18-55mm EF-S 1:3.5-5.6 zoom lensImage 1: The circular circuit board inside the Canon 18-55mm EF-S 1:3.5-5.6 zoom lens

To get further into the lens requires disconnecting the flat cables from their interfaces. These can be pulled out quit easily using the correct precision tools. They are however, not as easy to re-connect and also very delicate. If these cables are not correctly assembled (or damaged) the camera will not detect the lens and an error message will be displayed on the camera. If at this point you are still determined to go further into the lens remove the two silver-coloured holding screws.

Canon Kit LesImage 2: This is the view below the circuit board. The electronic motor can be found below the metal housing in this image.

The motor housing can also be removed and the motor examined. This requires the removal of several components that are very difficult to put back into their exact positions. In the overall image shown the electronic motor that operates the auto-focus is housed below the metal plate.

How to Remove the Water Mark
When I did manage to rebuild the lens the auto-focus was still not working. I think that there is a moral in this story somewhere. I made a tool to remove the front glass from the lens. The tool was basically a length of wood with two modified panel pins fixed through it. The pins where aligned with the two small holes on the front of the lens where it says 58mm Canon Zoom Lens EF-S 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 Canon Inc. The tool that I made fitted perfectly and also was designed in a way that kept it away from the glass even if it slipped (which it did several times). To remove the outer glass from the Canon 18-55mm EF-S 1:3.5-5.6 zoom lens it has to be turned anti-clockwise and it is initially very tight. It takes a lot of force to unlock the glass which gives a satisfying “crack” when it does eventually turn. When the tool I was using did slip out of position it etched unsightly marks into the plastic casing. The front glass has to be unscrewed completely from the lens casing which takes many turns. Once removed it can be easily cleaned and returned to the lens casing. I used Eclipse cleaning fluid which is designed specifically for cleaning camera equipment and dries without leaving any residue. I also used what is known to as a “magic cloth”. This is also specifically designed for cleaning camera/optical equipment and leaves no marks or dust particles on the glass surface. I used a rocket blower to ensure that no dust was left in the chamber of the lens before screwing the front glass back into the lens. This was really a very simple task.

Lens Glass Removal ToolImage 3: This is the home made tool that I used to remove the outer glass from the lens. It is crude, simple and effective (very much like myself).

In conclusion there was no real reason to take the electronic parts of the lens apart other than my own curiosity. I could not get the auto-focus to work but it was already not working properly when I started. I might re-investigate the auto-focussing problem and test the motor. In the meantime the lens can still be manually focused and after being cleaned the fog from the water mark on the glass is gone.

Macro Photography Hot DrinkImage 4: The lens is now safely reassembled and it was time for one of these! No, not a hot drink (although I did obviously drink that afterwards) but a test shot to show that the lens is still in working order (minus the auto-focus). Incidentally I used my ring-flash to take this image as well! Just a quick note: The ring-flash does not fit on this lens but it can be held in place manually.

It is a very rare occasion indeed when I remove my macro lens. It is even rarer when I replace it with the Canon 18-55mm EF-S 1:3.5-5.6 zoom lens . I can still use my lens (manually) until I get around to replacing it. Well, that concludes this post which is not strictly about macro photography but more the curious nature of the macro photographer.

Marvin Africa

Monday, 6 April 2009

Flower Photography

Welcome to Macro Photography for Beginners. In my last post I took a swift look at how to shoot insect macro & close up. Quite a lot of what I wrote about in that post is relevant to this subject as well. This is because flower photography is generally split into the same categories of scientific and artistic photography. Taking pictures of wild flowers was the reason that I became involved with Macro Photography in the first place. Initially I began with a standard 35mm film camera (yes I am that old – going to be 38 on April 20th). My adventures with film did not last long because the camera stopped working one day whilst clambering around on the North Yorkshire Moors (United Kingdom). Sadly for my 35mm film camera, it would have cost more than it was worth to have it repaired. Digital SLR cameras were just appearing on the market at the time (circa 2004). So I entered into the world of digital photography.

Flower photography is often more complicated than you may first imagine. There are lots of types of flowers and therefore lots of different types of flower photography. Some of the most popular flower photographs fall into the fine art category. Fine art photography usually takes place within a studio environment but not exclusively. Macro photographers are generally drawn towards wild flowers, garden flowers and fine art imagery. The settings and varieties of flowers often allow for high levels of contrast in flower photographs. This makes flowers an ideal subject for black and white photography. You can see examples of this for yourself in any photography gallery worth its salt. Initially before acquiring a dedicated macro lens I would use a standard Canon 18-55mm kit lens for flower photography. This was adequate (but not great) for getting portrait shots which are generally taken from the side (or above) and show the plant in its entirety. This is usually not an easy shot to achieve with a dedicated true macro lens. You would have to be a long distance from the plant or flower that it would become an unworkable situation. To get the best plant and flower portraits you will need a decent wide angle lens. It is always difficult deciding which lens is the best macro lens for a particular task. It seems logical that the shorter range of lenses i.e. 50mm-100mm would be better suited to plant and flower photography. If you want to shoot insects and small animals as well as flowers then you need to consider buying a macro lens with a longer working distance. This is the distance between the lens and the subject. There is no reason why you can not use a longer range lenses such as 100mm-180mm for flower photography.

Benbo Tripods (manufactured by Paterson Photographic)
Believe it or not I’m not a salesman for Paterson Photographic the company that makes Benbo tripods. I know that this brand of tripods has been around for 35 years (so they must be doing something right!)The Benbo trekker range of tripods are loved and loathed in equal measure by the hard to please macro photographers of this word. I firmly believe that for wild flower photography there is nothing of better value on the market. Most beginners to macro have already spent their budget on a camera and lens. These tripods are inexpensive in comparison to other leading brands, practical (although traditionally a little bit heavy) and they are extremely versatile. Benbo tripods are good value for money and I’ve written about them before in the past. In one of my previous post (probably about tripods) I recommended using a Benbo Trekker tripod with a Manfrotto head (this requires the use of an inexpensive thread adapter – as discussed). This will provide you with a versatile set-up that is ideally suited to wild flower photography. If you want a more expensive tripod (and some people do) I would suggest having a look at the range of tripod products by Gitzo. Remember to buy a remote switch for your camera and you are almost ready for some wild flower action.

A lot of the most interesting and diverse flora (flowers and plants) tends to grow in places where photography is difficult. Coastal locations, mountains, moor land, open plateaux, bogs, streams, beaches, salt marshes and riverbanks to name a few. Not only do you have to do battle with the terrain the weather is always going to be an additional difficulty to overcome. In particular the nemesis for the wild flower macro photographer is the natural phenomena of wind. Even a gentle summer breeze is enough to spoil a macro shot by adding motion blur. A fast shutter speed can be used to freeze the action but this will be at the expense of aperture. This has all be discussed and explained in earlier posts. Instead of trading aperture for faster shutter speeds I would recommend using a windbreak. A windbreak is not one of those dreadful striped contraptions people used on the beach in the 1970’s. It is a much smaller unrelated device used to keep your outdoor macro shots sharp in wild and windy conditions. A simple windbreak is easy and inexpensive to make from household objects. I’ve used a large padded white envelope with a few wooden kebab skewers as the supports and ground pegs. As long as your wind protector is flexible it will be easy to adjust its position quickly as you work. It is absolutely incredible how much difference this simple homemade device makes to outdoor flower photographs. A windbreak which is almost free to build will make your outdoor macro shots consistently sharper.

The windbreak can also act as a reflector to make more use of ambient light (a.k.a. natural light). To do this, use a material that reflects more ambient light onto your subject. It is also possible to use the makeshift windbreak as way of bouncing flash for a more flattering lighting effect. This could be starting to sound a little bit too technical for the avid beginner to macro photography. I will cease this here for now but will probably return to these topics at a later date if required.

If you didn’t read my previous post about using field guides I recommend going back one post and browsing through it. Field guides are a very useful tool for the wild flower photographer. This may seem like a strange correlation but field guides contain a lot of information about each plant. Like insects you will need to know which habitats certain plants are likely to be found in. There is no point driving hundreds of miles to a salt-marsh to photograph alpine flowers! The more information you know about certain plants the more you will understand about photographing them. An example would be the species with the common name Yellow Rattle. This semi parasitic plant gained its name because after flowering it develops seed pods that rattle in the wind. Knowing that it is semi-parasitic can help you to find it because the areas where it grows are surrounded by brown unhealthy grass/foliage. Yellow Rattle is not difficult to find although it is quite rare generally in the UK. Also knowing when plants are in flower or when they produce fruit will make photographing them much easier. It is always better to photograph a flower by planning rather than by a chance encounter. I’m not suggesting that you need to be a professional botanist to photograph flowers. I am making a point that to become a proficient wild flower photographer it would be beneficial to have a good general knowledge and understanding of your subject. This obviously applies to wild flowers but is also relevant to flowers generally. Photography is a very competitive business and if there is a way to get the upper hand you should definitely not think twice about taking it. A wild flower photograph always looks more professional with the correct scientific name written below it – along with your name and copyright.

Getting in Close to Flowers
It is not always an easy task attempting to get close-up or true macro of flowers. Plant foliage will always appear to be in the way and not always conducive to a good composition. If a plant has a lot of flowers it can be difficult finding the best one for your composition. A cluster of flowers will often make a composition look messy or confused. Flower photography is an art even when taking scientific shots. Different skills are required for different species of flowering plants. It can be extremely challenging for example to take sharp images of grasses. The identification of grasses can be important in terms of agriculture or conservation. Some students of wild flowers and grasses use photography to assist in the identification process. If you fall into this category of photographer I recommend that you also keep separate notes on each species photographed for later reference. In these records write down the in-camera file number assigned to that image.

Experience is the only real lesson
The fact is quite simple. I could write about flower photography all day and you could read about it for the same length of time. The only way to learn how to take macro photographs of flowers is by doing it. This way you soon learn what works and what doesn’t. I’ve found that using coloured card you can simply make a new clean background. In some cases this will stop the ambient light passing through the petals. This can be beneficial in some cases and detrimental to other compositions.

Macro Photography for Beginners
Well, it is almost a year since I began writing this website. It has been an interesting year. I think that I have done quite well for my first year writing a blog. I have had some experience of writing website and blogs in the past but nothing as comprehensive or serious as this project. My ambition was to catch those macro photographers who had bought equipment found macro photography much harder than they had expected and considered giving up. I’ve been there, and I know how it feels, you want to put your camera equipment on Ebay and spend your time doing something easier…like training to be an astronaut. It is now English summer time in the UK (not that you would notice by the weather conditions) and I’m looking forward to new season of Macro Photography. If the summer is anything like 2007 there is a chance that photo opportunities may be confined to indoor space. Also, there is very little on television worth watching these days. So once the light goes down I spend most of my time taking photographs indoors. I am now concentrating on building an indoor still life macro studio. This means that I have to face the continuous or flash light debate. My next post is about studio lighting kits and whether we should be investing in them or not. I hope that you have found at least some elements of this article insightful.

Marvin Africa