I am going to throw my two cents in here unbidden. First, I am
a strong advocate of doing things on the cheap and I wouldn’t go
buying a lot of stuff until I tried what I had and found it
wanting. I do have a macro lens which is one of the sharpest
ever made, the Vivitar Series I 90mm/f2.5. However, do you need
this kind of sharpness? If you’re not going over 8x10 or 11x14,
there are lots of other options. One option would be an
enlarging lens and a bellows or extension tubes. A reversed 50mm
lens from your 35mm kit might also be fine at f/8 to f/16. You
would need a reversing ring adapter for your camera. A reversed
cine (motion picture camera) lens of 12 to 25mm will be very
sharp and might leave you enough working distance to add your
lights. Not real sharp, but useable might be a closeup lens or
You can use one of the cheap lens options and then get a small
"cigarette pack" flash and a cord so you can use if off camera.
Using your flash guide number you can figure the distance to hold
the flash from the subject. I have used a ring pad in gray as a
background, and taken a few pieces of paper off a computer
printer and rolled them into a tube about three times as big as a
Pringles tube and set it around the ring pad. Hold the flash
off to one side and “above” (that is, at 10 o’clock relative to
the ring in the viewfinder). Figure you will need to add a stop
for the diffusing material and open up one stop from what you
computed with your guide number or move the flash to 75% of the
distance you computed. Then bracket on your first roll and take
them to the one hour lab or Walmart. Color neg is so good these
days you will for sure get something close to ideally exposed.
I used this system for appraisal photos for a while. If you
wanted some highlights, you could experiment with cutting a small
window in your paper tube for the flash to shine directly into.
I would try a closeup lens or a reversed slow (f/1.8 or f/2, they
are better than the fast lenses)50mm lens first. Some of the
reversed lenses do quite well. If you are wiling to tinker a
little, get a body cap for your camera and cut out the middle.
You can then epoxy an adapter ring that will fit your lens
reversed to the body cap or epoxy a PVC or cardboard tube to the
body cap and attach your lens to homemade extension tubes, etc.
Remember that your picture will be limited in sharpness by
diffraction if you need to use f/22 or f/32 for enough depth of
field. I think the formula for the limit is 1600/f-number. So
at f/32 you aren’t getting over 50 lpm any way you slice it.
Since you need about 12 lpm on the print for sharp, that limits
you to about 5x7 or less. If my memory serves me you can get
the depth of field you need at f/11 or so for thefront half of a
I haven’t seen Lewton-Brain’s book, but I would expect it to be
good. There is another recent book on photographing minerals,
fossils and gems, but I can’t remember the title. You will find
a lot of great stuff on closeup gadgets in the Manual of Closeup
Photography by Lester Lefkowitz, which is probably now out of
print. I’ll be looking forward to hearing about what the other
guys have to say. I would be particularly interested in how
they light it and the film they use.