Camera for photoing gemstones

I’m contemplating buying a new camera (digital obviously) for
photoing my stones. I’m happy to buy 2nd hand.

The need I have is for photoing stones. I currently have no problem
with opal and translucent stones, but clear transparent have given me
fits. That demands several things out of the camera.

  1. Something with an excellent macro lens capability

  2. Something that has very accurate depth of field settings.

  3. Something that can photograph in low light so that the stones
    don’t get washed out from excessive light.

  4. I guess aside from the transparent stones I also photo a lot of
    opal which, as far as I’m concern, must be done in daylight, and I
    also photo a lot of star stones and cat’s eyes.

  5. Actually a good video component would be useful too. I will
    definitely want to video some stone in motion.

The basic problem I’m having with my current camera is that with
some of my more complicated faceted and carved cuts that are
transparent, my camera flattens the stone or gets confused. That
means you can see everything of the stone top to bottom. That means
you can’t get a sense of how it looks from just the top surface. A
stone that you see in person, on the other hand, obviously you see
just the crown when looked at from the top. As to chatoyancy and
asterism, there often in not enough definition to make it stand out.

A couple of other things. I have left over from my journalism
photoing days, (I had to take pictures to go with the articles I
wrote) a Nikon film camera that has some very nice lenses and filters
etc. So if the camera I find has the capacity to accept those lenses,
that would be a real plus.

And I’d like to buy second hand for obvious reasons of cost. If you
could include an idea of a reasonable price for such a camera, that
would help too.

Also, if there are other questions I need to ask, I’m all ears.

Derek Levin

Hi Derek,

I use a Nikon D3200 for my jewellery photography and most of the
rest of my photography as well. Although it comes vibration reduction
and auto focus built into the lenses, both of these functions can be
switched off. I usually use a light box for my photography and the
standard 18-55mm lens.

This gives me sufficient close up capacity for my purposes but would
be insufficient for close-ups of gems where you would be best with a
lens with macro capacity and a focal length of around 85 mm to be
able to stand back, focus in close and give some room to tweak your
lighting. I shoot with manual focusing in aperture priority mode
usually at F11 or smaller so exposures are fairly long. I mount the
camera on a tripod, use vibration reduction and often use the self
timer to take the shot. I used to work as a photojournalist many
years ago and used Nikon equipment so like you I have a collection of
lenses. However they won’t work in my current camera. I can mount
them on the camera and focus through them but they don’t have the
electronic coupling of the current lenses to link into the
electronics of the camera. I could have paid around $A3500 for a
model that can use some of the older lenses but since I paid around
$A650 for this camera, I figured I would be much better off keeping
my money for new lenses.

All the best
Jenifer Gow

Hi Derek,

Once upon a time, the Nikon Digital SLR’s could use F series (old)
Nikon lenses. I don’t know if the new ones can or not, but it’s at
least possible that they may. So it looks like you’ve answered your
own question: Nikon digital SLR. Their lower ‘prosumer’ bodies tend
to be about $1K (ish) new.

You may be able to find one that’s one step from new for much less.
(NB: back when I paid attention to such things, the received wisdom
was that Nikon had gone with a less-than-optimal lens mount for the
new AF lenses simply so that people could continue to use their old
lenses, which had small mounts. If the new lenses are still stuck on
that antique lens mounting system, you might really want to think
about whether or not it was time to ditch the old glass, rather than
buying into a compromised system.)

Personally, I shoot Canon. I’ve used both, and I never saw the need
to pay the Nikon tax, just for the name. I always felt I got more
for my money with Canon. (Minolta, originally, but then they died,
and I had to switch over to either Nikon or Canon. I picked Canon.)

One thing to be aware of when shooting gems is that you physically
can’t get all of the fire and flash you see in most

Simple reason: you have two eyes, your camera only has one. Your
brain is cheating, and taking the ‘flash’ seen by both eyes, and
compositing it together into one ‘seen’ image. If you want to test
this, set up your stone, look at it, and then close one eye. Then
switch. Notice that the sparkles move around? Even when your head
doesn’t? Yeah. Your brain is playing games with you.

There are photoshop tricks to simulate the effect, but they are
serious retouching, not just color tweaking.


PS. > In regards to all of your other criteria, the only camera
that’s going to let you fiddle like you want (easily) is a D-SLR. So
Nikon for you.)

PPS. > The stones getting ‘washed out’ isn’t a function of the
quantity of light (lux) it’s a function of exposure. You want a
camera that lets you dial in exposure compensation, to dial the
exposure back down where you want it. Thus D-SLR.)

PPPS. > For stars and chatoyancy, you probably want to play with
polarizing filters, both on the lens, and on the lights. Dial it in,
and you can make them stand out really clearly. Also lets you play
’pick your facet’ for the reflections and speculars. The only way
you can see what the filters are doing is directly through the lens,
optically. Electronic viewfinders don’t pick it up properly. (or
display it right) So you’re really stuck on a D-SLR of some type or

The present camera you have may be perfectly good. What you need to
do is play with it to get use to using it in manual mode. When you
are in control and know the settings on your camera for the various
functions in manual, you would be surprised what YOU can do. Cameras
with the computer mode in control do what is called center weighting.
It will average out the scene using the center point of your picture

As for depth of field, use the rule of thirds. The distance that
your lense setting allows for capture will be broken into thirds. The
first third of the distance will be blurry, changing as you go
further out to in focus. The next third will be sharp as a tack. The
last third fades to blur as it receeds. When shooting long distances,
it really is not a problem. When you shoot close ups with just
inches, that becomes a big problem. Read your manual and see what
your camera and your lenses can do for you in manual settings again.
F-stop and speed can do a lot for adjusting.

Lighting of the faceted stones can be tricky. You will want good
light being diffused into it, but not the glare oc a flash. This can
be done with a good light box to surround the stone with a glow of
light. I would forgo a flash in favor of a surround lighting scheme.
You want it soft light as opposed to a sharp bright light. This you
do with bouncing the lights, and using diffusers over any light
source. Tricks for this is to get good old lamsp, clamp on what I use
to call heat lamps (farm girl days) the ones with the half round
shied surrounding the light. To soften their direct light, use fabric
draped over them. You can also put the fabric clipped onto a hanger
infront of the light. You have to make sure it is thin enough to
allow good light penetration, but thick enough to take the edge off
the glare. Go to a fabric store and take a good flashlight with you
to see what the light is like through it. It is also cheaper to buy
fabric from a fabric store than it is to pay the over inflated
prices for a cloth diffuser from a camera outlet. Bounce lights can
be made by taking a piece of cardboard and covering it with aluminium
foil. To use it have a bare bulb situated so it shines on the surface
of the foil, but turn the foil just enough so it bounces it’s direct
shine upward or to the side.

This is all done either behind the object or to the side. The
background if it is white, or light colored with reflect a glow back
at your object/stone. Again play with it and get use to what angles
you can achieve with this set up.

I could go on rambling, but my background is luddite. I can walk you
through a film camera, but digital makes me crazy. I even took a
digital class, and spent the whole class (16 weeks college level)
doing nothing more than learning photo shop. The teacher looked at me
like I was from another planet that I would care about the
functioning of the camera and how to take a good picture with the
camera, and not just fix it in photoshop. I’ve tried many times
since, but I can do photoshop, I want to learn my camera.

Also a last note about lenses. A good macro lens will be better than
close up rings. For what you want to do, go with the best equipment
to get what you want. That said, be careful of second hand digital
equipment (camera body). There is a good camera store that I really
respect. It is KEH in Georgia. They stand behind their cameras and
have a great selection of second hand equipment. Sad thing today is
lenses are no longer just adaptable from one Nikon body to the next.
Often when a new series of cameras come out they will make lenses
just for that series so you end up spending more. Sort of what
happens in all industries. They want to maximize their profits.

Aggie, and my cat, asleep in my lap while I type


As you probably already know from your opal photography, lighting is
crucial. Hope you get some more professional tips but, I can tell you
my experiences. I tried with a point-n-shoot (Nikon) and even though
it had “macro” setting, I could never get usable photo of faceted
stones (good for jewelry though). I finally got an SLR and a true
macro lens. Now, I have control to get the depth of field I need. I
like placing stone up on a clear glass and have indirect lighting
from below. Sometimes it is necessary to manual focus. Tripod is a
must for me. I have a Canon and I know the old film lenses do not
migrate to the newer digital cameras. If you get a true macro, get
the longest focal length that your budget will allow. That way,
you’ll have more flexibility in lighting for various applications. If
it is too short of a focal length it will be impossible to use
anything except back lighting (usually ok for faceted stones).

Good luck,

A micro 4/3 digital camera will allow you to use your old manual
lenses with it, although you will not have autofocus or automatic
exposure. This is OK with me, as I want manual focus if I’m taking
pictures of gemstones so that I can focus about one third of the way
into the gem and have all the facet edges sharp in front and in back.
You will possibly not be able to get an aperture smaller than f22,
but that should not be an issue, as you should have enought depth of
field at f22 and minimal diffraction. Your old lenses will showhalf
the angle of view that they did on 35mm, so your 50mm becomes a
100mm, etc. There’s an excellent article on the system on Wikipedia.
There are some downsides, but if you want to use your old lenses,
even from several different makes, this may be the ticket. The
adapters are available on ebay and cost about $20 or less. Panasonic
and Olympus make cameras in this mount system. You can also use this
camera with a wide zoom range lens that comes with it, for general

Unless you are making big enlargements, an older generation camera
may give you all the resolution you need for photos on line and small
prints, and these are pretty reasonable.

Thanks folks for your advice. I should have mentioned that I have
used all of the settings on my old Canon camera. I never shoot a
stone in automatic.

As far as opals, as Regis has suggested, they are a bear. I find
subdued sunlight is best. I tend to photo them in a window using
frosted glass to damp down the light if it is too bright.

I think Regis has had some of the same experiences I have with
faceted stones. I have tried back lighting and all kinds of different
levels and colors of light but the focal distance has always been a
problem. Sounds like an SLR with a macro lens that has a relatively
long focal length is what I need. I wonder if anyone has such a
camera or could tell me what model would do that

and maybe the model of lens too.

I would very much appreciate that kind of info.


I’d like to mention a few points about photographing jewelry:

-You can’t have too much light, but the quality of the light is
what’s important. The brighter the light, the more you can close the
aperture of the lens, or the automatic camera does it for you, and
the more depth of field and ashorter exposure that you will have.
This is desirable for photographing jewelry. Everything is in focus,
and you can forgo the tripod if the light is great enough. Usually a
shutter speed of about one 1/125 of the second or shorter is fine
for handheld shots.

-Depth of field, also called depth of focus, increases inversely as
the focal length of the lens increases. Thus, a 50 mm lens will give
you more depth of field than a 100 mm lens at the same distance from
the object and at the same aperture.

-Long focal length macro lenses are more difficult to use then the
shorter focal length macro lenses, although they give you a greater
working distance. This is not important with jewelry because it is
not moving, nor are they’re usually other obstructions in the way. I
recommend a shorter focal length macro lens, 50-60mm or equiv.

-Try photographing on tile, wood, or natural found rock. Jewelry
shots photographed in white tents seem pretty boring to me. You can
use white cardboardor paper to reflect light at jewelry to create
highlights or fill-in dark sides of the object.

Good luck!

Hi Derek,

As I said, I shoot Canon, so I’ve got a D60, along with a Canon 55mm
macro, and a Tamron 90mm macro.

The Tamron is razor sharp, but with the sensor multiplier, it ends
up being something like a 150mm equiv. Which is great, so long as
you don’t mind being half way across the room to take the shot. Not
such a problem for horizontal setups. It’ll put you into the ceiling
for vertical rigs.

So I bought the Canon 55 Macro. Not quite as sharp as the Tamron,
believe it or not. It’s much better than my tourist lenses for real
work, and I doubt I’d notice it if I hadn’t gotten so used to the
Tamron. I picked it up used on TheWebSiteThatDareNotAuctionItsName,
but they’re tough lenses, so I doubt that had anything to do with
it. It was/is in great shape.

One thing I always do is use a MacBeth card. (Greytag macbeth) Look
for their “mini color checker”. Throw that into your first shot, and
it’ll help you adjust the colors on all the rest, with more control
than just “that looks good!”. Expensive, but well worth the money.


I am not sure how to post a picture to orchid, but I took a picture
of my wife’s 1/2 Carat diamond in a now very worn bezel at high
macro with my Fuji X10. No flash and handheld. It is not bad in terms
of focus. I bought the Fuji to replace an old and very reliable Fuji
S7000 that had very good macro capability. This appears to be true
of most higher end Fuji none DSL style cameras with a single fixed
lens. More if you need it. I will attach the picture, but will also
put it on my website on the Rob’s Shop page ( My 2
cents. Rob


Thanks for the very instructive photos of the setup to photograph
the bracelet and cab, as well as the photo of the bracelet itself.
You’ve certainly done more than I have! I’m a biit confused as your
message text refers to photos of a diamond, but the links are to the
bracelet photos, but these are instructive, nonetheless.

If I can make a couple of comments. the icing on the cake is in the
reflections from shiny objects like the cab. I don’t like the
specular highlights in it as well as the ones in the red cab on the
right in the picture of the bar full or bracelets on your homepage.
As a final quibble, there is a barely discernible black shadow in
both those cabs caused by the open top of your tent. To better the
specular highlights caused by the CFL bulbs, I’d move them further
away from the tent and further in towards the axis of the photo. Then
I’d cover the top of the tent except for where the camera lens peaks
through a hole in it. This would remove the large black shadow and
move the specular highlights more toward the center of the stone and
make them a little bigger and more diffuse.

In a setup like yours, with continuous lights rather than flash,
what you see is what you get, so a preview through the lens, if you
have it, shows you what you will have, as in the old days before
digital. Or you can take some shots and then move the lights and tent

I really like the highlights in the red cab on your homepage. Were
they done with a square light box. Please pardon these comments from
a lazy photographer who is sitting on his bum not photographing
anything these days.

I need a new camera for photoing my work, any suggestions?

I need a new camera for photoing my work, any suggestions? 

digital microscope… :slight_smile: