ALZO 100 Cool Lite Macro Tabletop Studio – ALZO Digital

ALZO 100 Macro Tabletop Studio with Cool Lites

1. Macro Tabletop Overview

  1. Macro Tabletop Overview

  2. Macro Tabletop Lighting

  3. Macro Tabletop Lighting for Photo Prints and Flat Art

  4. Camera and Lens Considerations

The ALZO Macro Tabletop is a baseboard and adjustable column stand that will hold a camera pointing straight down for primarily photographing flat 2- dimensional subjects and 3-dimensional subjects that are best viewed lying down. Column height adjustability puts the lens of the camera (depending on type of camera/lens combination) at about 8 inches at the lowest, and about 27 inches at the highest position. The column leans toward the center of the baseboard at about a 10 degree angle to move the camera in as it rises to help keep it centered over larger subjects. In some cases, whether using a light tent on the tabletop or just to get the camera further out over the tabletop, we advise the use of the ALZO Ball Head firmly attached to the existing quick release plate of the head of the column. That will allow about another 4 inches extension of the camera over the baseboard. This comes in very handy when utilizing a 14 inch light tent to center the camera directly over the center of the light tent and/or when using a longer focal length lens or longer zoom setting. The bundled 10 inch light tent does not need the extension in most cases. Without the extra ALZO Ball Head, the camera would need to be elevated to the very top of the column to center over the 14 inch light tent and that may put the camera too far away from your subject to have the image fill the entire camera frame. The less you fill the camera frame, the more you need to enlarge the image on the computer, which degrades image quality. More extension also allows more versatility of subject placement and also the ability to work with larger subjects. The ALZO Ball Head gives you more adjustability with camera tilt and rotation for subjects that may require certain positioning or angles. The standard head attached to the column only allows for up and down repositioning. For larger highly reflective subjects, the 14" light tent works well on the baseboard and does not extend over the edges of the baseboard so it stays more stable.

2. Macro Tabletop Lighting

The ALZO Macro Tabletop makes for a very convenient setup to shoot small subjects that are best viewed laying down flat (coins, stamps, jewelry, mementos, photos, etc.). Depending on the reflectivity and dimensionality of the subject, direct lighting with both ALZO 100 Cool Lites may be perfectly suitable, especially with 2-dimensional objects with little or no reflectivity. For more dimensional subjects with low reflectance, the lights may need to be positioned at different distances to avoid a "double" shadow, where the shadowing is even on both sides of the subject and is usually not very attractive. Use one light a bit closer as the "main" light and one further away used as the fill light to add detail to the shadow side of the subject. That lighting setup helps to minimize the double shadow and define the dimensionality of the subject with one part of the subject slightly darker than the other. If the subject is too reflective for direct lighting, then diffusers can be placed between the subject and the lights to soften the lights more. If the reflectivity of the subject is still too strong, then a light tent may be employed for a very soft even light. Even though the light tent diffuses and spreads the light fairly evenly, there are some minor adjustments that are possible in the way the subject reflects the lights by adjusting the ALZO 100 Cool Lite's positions. To soften the lighting even more or to add an additional reflection on a highly reflective subject, employing a third or fourth light through the tent is possible.

3. Macro Tabletop Lighting for Photo Prints and Flat Art

Instead of having an online lab or local store/lab make digital files from your existing photo prints, you can easily copy your own photo prints using your camera, the Alzo 100 Cool Lites and Macro Tabletop. The large baseboard will hold up to a 14x14 size photo print or flat art without hanging over the side of the baseboard. The size of the prints or artwork will determine the height of the camera on the column, whether you need an ALZO Ball Head as an extension to get better centering over larger prints or artwork, the focal length of the lens or zoom setting and the close up capability of the camera and lens you are using. The higher the camera position and the longer the lens or zoom setting you can use, the better. That helps in eliminating lens distortion and potential reflections from your lights in the photo or artwork. Direct double side lighting evenly spaced works quite well for photo prints or flat artwork as long as the lights are spread far enough to the sides as not to cause a reflection in the prints or artwork. Start with your lights tilted down about 45 degrees aimed at the print or artwork and if you notice any reflections, either move the lights away equally from the print or artwork or lower them equally to get a shallower lighting angle until the reflections are gone. For prints or flat artwork that have any curl, consider lightly taping the edges down to the baseboard to keep them as flat as possible. Prints and artwork that are matted and/or framed, especially with glass, present their own unique lighting issues. Matted and/or framed prints or artwork requires that the lights are high enough to clear the bevel of the mat or the inner edge of the frame so as not to create a shadow on the edges of the prints or artwork. Beyond the mat/frame shadow issue, is glass. Anything that is not matte black and is getting exposed to the lighting setup will show up as some sort of reflection in the glass. The best way to minimize these reflections is to place matte black paper, board or material between the camera and glass with a small opening created for the lens to look through. The matte black material used should be larger than the glass area. The closer the lens is to the glass, the larger the material needs to be to block the whole reflection. This is where more height and a longer lens or zoom setting is advantageous, by reducing the size of the material necessary to control the reflections.

4. Camera and Lens Considerations with the ALZO Macro Tabletop

A camera setup with the ALZO Macro Tabletop involves a number of variables including: type of camera, focal length of lens or zoom settings, close-up capabilities and exposure/white balance setting capabilities. If you are using a camera with interchangeable lenses, then a true macro lens is ideal. If not, a fixed focal length lens or zoom lens with a close-up setting built-in might be adequate. Beyond that, close-up lenses (similar to threaded screw-in filters) can be used on lenses to gain focusing closer than the closest focus setting on the lens. These close-up lenses are primarily made for the front of interchangeable lenses with a set of front threads ranging from 49mm to 67mm. Any thread size outside of that range can sometimes utilize thread adapters to either go up or down in thread sizes to match. The other option is extension tubes, which allows the lens to focus closer than the closest setting on the lens. The tubes go between the lens and the camera body. Most tubes do not allow for autofocus, but for our purposes, the lens should be manually focused in most cases. Not only do we recommend using manual focus, but also manual white balance and manual exposure settings as well. Most cameras have those settings, even smaller fixed-lens point and shoot types of cameras. Some point and shoot cameras may be limited in capabilities, but can still be utilized for this type of photography. If you lack manual exposure settings, auto or program can be used along with the exposure adjustment setting (+/-) to adjust for too light or too dark an auto exposure. Autofocus can focus adequately as well given that subject matter we are probably dealing with is somewhat flat and does not require a tremendous depth of field (focus area from closest sharp focus to furthest sharp focus.) Please turn off any built-in flash and let the camera use the ALZO 100 Cool Lites to give the proper lighting. Auto white balance can be fooled. The best option is to set the color balance to the correct type of light you are using and in the case of the ALZO 100 Cool Lites, that would be the "Daylight" setting. When using your lens setup, whether it's with a macro lens, macro settings, close-up lenses or extension tubes, try to use the longest focal length or zoom setting you have that will still show the entire subject. That will help to minimize lens distortion and give you most working distance you can get. Most wide angle lenses or wider zoom settings tend to have more distortion than the longer settings, so use the longest ones you can, even if that requires raising the camera to the highest point on the column. The other issue using a longer setting or focal length lens helps eliminate is shadowing on the subject from the lens itself. If the lens is too close to the subject, depending on how the lights are positioned, shadows created from the lights striking the lens itself may cause a shadow to fall on your subject. By getting the lens further away from the subject, that becomes less of an issue. If the camera and lens cannot be raised to avoid shadowing, then possibly the lights can be lowered to allow the shadow from the lens to fall outside of the subject area. Once the camera and lens is close to an ideal height, a zoom lens or zoom setting can fine tune the image area covered so the subject can fill the frame as fully as possible. A fixed focal length lens would need a bit more column adjustment fine tuning to achieve the same result. Make sure to fill the camera frame as much as possible with the image of the subject without cropping your subject. That will give you better image quality than having a lot of space around your subject that needs to be cropped out later, meaning that the image will have to be enlarged to match what could have been accomplished filling the image frame from the start. When you need to enlarge the image, you can lose quality. If using the ALZO 14 inch Light Tent, note that the lowest the column may be is about 2/3rds the full height before striking the top of the tent. At that point, the ALZO Ball Head would most likely be needed to position the camera directly over the center of the baseboard. If using the column near full height, the extension should not be required. Another consideration is how to trigger the camera. With the camera suspended on the column and focused as close as it is, any camera shake at all will certainly be visible in the image. If you can remotely trigger the camera, that is ideal. The best solution is triggering without any wires that might transmit vibration to the camera as you are holding the triggering device. If it has a cable, the best bet is to let the camera settle for a few seconds and then fire the camera without moving the cable at all. If you have no remote device at all, then use the self-timer setting, set to at least 5, if not ten seconds. That will give the camera vibrations (resulting after you push the button to start the self-timer) time to settle down before firing. We also need to address the actual use of the camera on the ALZO Macro Tabletop as far as viewing position. Since most cameras have a standard viewfinder or screen that is fixed to the back of the camera, it may be awkward to see either one if the baseboard is placed on a high table or countertop. If the camera has an articulated screen that can be repositioned at an angle to see better, that makes it easier. Otherwise, the baseboard can be placed on a lower surface or even on the floor if necessary for easier viewing.