This article was contributed by avid wildlife photographer, Lenz Lim.
Exciting times are ahead of us with Canon entering the mirrorless market with a bang. After the successful launch of the EOS R, Canon had followed up with the release of an ‘entry-level’ full-frame mirrorless camera, the EOS RP.
In Canon’s current full-frame lineup, the EOS RP is comparable to the EOS 6D Mark II (announced 2017) using a very similar sensor and packed with new technology and upgrades. After having reviewed the EOS R for wildlife photography, I decided to change things up and use the EOS RP for macro photography, highlighting some new features and discussions on using this mirrorless system for macro work.
I had the opportunity to test out Canon’s older mirrorless systems (EOS M5, M50, etc) specifically for macro work, but it steered me away from the mirrorless systems for the many reasons I mentioned in an older article I wrote regarding equipment for macro photography. This review serves as a follow up to that article.
Many macro photographers have been using mirrorless systems for years but I was never convinced and stuck to DSLRs. That being said, the new R mirrorless system is truly a game changer in my opinion, here are some of my insights regarding:
Exterior & Ergonomics
User experience (Image quality & performance)
New possibilities with focus stacking (extreme macro & focus-bracketing feature)
Making the switch to mirrorless
Do note that this review is based on field work/shooting and not studio shooting. Most images were created using the Canon EOS RP, Canon Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM unless otherwise stated.
Disclaimer: Locations would not be disclosed to protect the arthropods from poaching.
Exterior and Ergonomics
The first thing to strike you when you see this camera would be the sheer size and built. This body is made of magnesium alloy, has weather sealing and weighs ~485g. It comes in the standard mirrorless body size everyone is so used to (unlike the EOS R). However, Canon decided not to retain the touch bar and mode screen you see on the EOS R but rather kept to the traditional design of their camera bodies.
Compared to DSLRs, it definitely has an advantage in terms of size and weight. Often, macro photographers are required to shoot with one hand and mirrorless systems are less taxing on the wrists. This affects stamina in the field and you’ll see lesser motion blur even when you gradually tire out. If you have larger hands and need more surface grip, you may purchase the Canon EG-E1 extension grip for EOS RP. The grip only serves as an extension to the body and it’s not your typical battery grip.
The body uses the LP-E17 battery (same as the M5, M50) and located next to the battery is the single SD card slot. Buttons are in their standard positions and you should have no problems adapting to the body especially if you are a Canon user.
The articulating screen makes it easy to photograph subjects in unusual positions without disturbing them, particularly useful if you need to get down real low. In the full frame lineup, only the EOS R, EOS RP and EOS 6D Mark II bodies have this articulating screen.
Being equipped with a similar sensor as the 6D mark ii, image quality from the CR3 files are exceptional. Having the 26.2MP Dual Pixel CMOS sensor would grant you enough pixel density for extended cropping power.
Stick Insect @1/125th, f/10, ISO 100 (single shot)
As you can see, every detail is retained even at tight crops, definitely a delight for macro photographers.
Spiny harvestman (Podoctidae) @1/125th, f/10, ISO 100 (single shot)
Additional cropping power is fantastic to have for any kind of macro/wildlife photography. Firstly, it gives you loads of compositional freedom if you did not nail the image to start with. Secondly, there are many occasions when the subject is so tiny that even 1:1 magnification does not suffice, the additional cropping power can still render your image usable. Other mirrorless/micro four-thirds systems that I have come across have terrible cropping ability.
Yes, you should always aim to compose and get your framed shot right out of the camera to reduce the need to crop and retain that resolution, but in the field, circumstances change and only with practice can you increase your hit rate. Cropping is inevitable in a lot of scenarios, just use it to your own discretion and purpose (printing, web use etc). The Weevil below stood at no more than 5mm.
Colours were accurate once you make minor adjustments to your white balance settings. Auto white balance would not work well due to different flashes emitting different colour temperatures. Once set, the tonal quality you get is amazing, take note of the colours in all the images.
Shooting with a mirrorless system for macro work proves to have numerous benefits you won’t find in DSLRs. For one, using an EVF (electronic viewfinder) provides a live preview of how the image would be rendered before taking the shot, useful when you need to switch up camera or flash settings.
A large advantage of the EVF would be focus peaking, a function that only a handful of DSLRs have when shooting in live view. Compared to other mirrorless cameras I’ve used, the lag in the EVF when shooting in low light is present but very subtle. It did not affect my shooting at all.
Focus peaking is extremely useful in macro especially when we use manual focus most of the time. You can easily set the colour and level of peaking in the EOS RP menu and you are good to go. Nailing focus on tiny subjects and getting those compound eyes have never been easier!
However, having also used the EOS R for macro, I find that the peaking in the EOS RP is not as pronounced compared to the EOS R even at the high setting. The EOS R comes with a focus guide, another feature used along with focus peaking for even more accurate focus. I was hoping the EOS RP would come with it but it did not.
What about battery life? Mirrorless systems have a bad reputation when it comes to this. I requested for more batteries from Canon to aid in doing this review and even on 3-4 hour shoots, I did not need to change a single battery. Surprisingly, I was getting more battery life than I ever could on the M5/M50 even though they use the same battery.
Similar to the EOS R, the CR3 raw files produced by the EOS RP can be easily used with Adobe software once you convert them to DNG if the adobe raw update does not work. Alternatively, Canon’s Digital Photo Professional Express (DPP Express) software can handle the new raw format. A DPP Express app is also available on the App store for iPads.
New Possibilities with focus stacking
In my opinion, probably the largest benefit of the EVF and the mirrorless system for Canon users is the use of extreme macro lenses such as the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1–5x Macro, my review can be read here. This lens is notoriously difficult to use in the field and is much preferred for studio work and experienced macro photographers.
Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1–5x Macro at 1x magnification (left) & extended at 5x magnification (right)
Being fully manual, this extreme macro lens needs a lot of ambient light for you to even see and locate your subject, which is why a simple focus light will not be enough when shooting in the field at any magnification larger than 1. The EVF and focus peaking helps a lot with using this lens out in the field, making it easier to do handheld focus-stacking due to the shallow depth of field the lens produces. The image below is shot with the MP-E 65mm lens.
When I first heard about the new focus-bracketing feature of the EOS RP, I was extremely excited to test it out. The end result is the same as traditional focus stacking, to obtain a larger depth of field.
You will find four settings in the menu to control this feature.
Activate Focus Bracketing (Enable/Disable)
Input number of shots (2 to 999)
Focus increment (1-10)
Exposure smoothing (Enable/Disable)
Activation is pretty much self-explanatory. Next, you simply input how many shots you want the camera to take. It will only shoot an appropriate number of photographs until infinity focus is reached, you can choose 100 shots but the camera may stop at just 30. Focus increment depends on how narrow or wide you want the focus change to be, 1 being narrower (smaller) changes, or 10 being wider (broader) changes. Lastly, although exposure smoothing is disabled by default, I would suggest to keep it on for macro work. It helps to keep exposure consistent throughout the different focusing distances in case of any light change.
Do note that focus-bracketing would only work on lenses capable of autofocus, Canon has compiled a list of compatible lenses for this feature and the MP-E65 is not one of them.
What I noticed when using this feature is that you definitely need a tripod to keep perfectly still, as you can see above, the hairs are not aligned perfectly. The camera is adjusting the autofocus of your lens between each shot and any small vibration you make can affect the final image when you stack. Your flash will not go off as well as it can’t keep up with the fast shutter and number of shots. Thus bumping up your ISO or using a larger aperture is inevitable.
In summary here are my thoughts on it:
As with all stacking, your subject has to be static, a few seconds is all you need for traditional stacking. For this focus bracketing you will need to set up your tripod and get the right framing before hitting that shutter.
The feature will not work well out in the field at night, unless you have elaborate light set ups to keep ISO levels down. It will work much better in the day, although finding static subject may be challenging.
Without a flash, aperture has to be large. the shallow depth of field would require even more shots if that is what you desire. Harsh light coming from your focus light may introduce highlights in your final image.
Making the switch to mirrorless
A major concern for most DSLR users are the compatibility of the current native DSLR lenses with the mirrorless system in terms of performance and reinvesting in getting those mirrorless lenses. The ability to seamlessly blend Canon’s new R mirrorless system with the current EF lenses in the market without a drop in performance is simply mind-blowing. In addition to the already massive lineup of EF lenses, Canon is releasing a lot more native RF lenses to go alongside the R system.
The only native RF macro lens currently available is the RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM which only goes to 1:2 magnification (1/2 life size). It can be used as wide-angle prime lens delivering fantastic sharp images and close ups. However, for macro work, I do not see myself using it due to the lack of at least 1:1 magnification.
In the present macro landscape, I strongly believe getting the EOS RP is really bang for the buck. At that low price point, it is the simplest way a beginner or anyone in fact, can jump into full frame easily. I focused this review on a very niche genre of photography. There is so much new technology packed in this little body that I did not cover, but just imagine the results you can get with all the other lenses you can use with the EOS RP!
Benefits compared to other mirrorless systems:
The ONLY full frame mirrorless body in the market that costs ~$2k SGD
Ability to use ALL EF, EF-S lenses seamlessly
Huge support of professional RF lenses
Packed with new technology and features
Lesser EVF lag in low light
Fantastic battery life
The EOS RP however, is not for the serious videographer and I would not use it for wildlife/sports photography. Any other genre would be a sure win for me.
My experience with the EOS RP has been remarkable and exciting. I used it in several of my shoots over the past month and I’m glad to have used it to photograph and discover rare and exotic arthropods I’ve not encountered before! Here are shots of an extremely rare Crab Spider you can find locally.
Bird Dung Crab Spider (Phrynarachne ceylonica) @ 1/160th, f/14, ISO100 (4 shots handheld stack)
So what do you think? Would you invest in the EOS RP?
For more of Lenz’s wildlife photography journey, check out his Instagram here!