Coin Photography by Budget and Skill

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Nathan B., Oct 15, 2021.

  1. cplradar

    cplradar Talmud Chuchum

    if that is what you want, that is good enough. I find that without my macro lens, I don't get the quality pictures I want. A quality lens, like a Carl Zeis, make a difference.
    benhur767 likes this.
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  3. RichardT

    RichardT Well-Known Member

    You can save on ring lights, directional lights and all by using natural daylight instead. I find the photo quality is better too.

    Indirect/diffused daylight won't cause shadows unless your camera/phone is very close to the coin. Which shouldn't be the case I feel.
    Nathan B. likes this.
  4. akeady

    akeady Well-Known Member

    You can probably get good results with that kit - I use an Olympus MFT camera with Olympus 60mm macro lens and an Aputure Amaran AL-M9 LED light. You could start with a light and copystand and try with the kit lens and later get a macro lens - I'm not familiar with Panasonic's range, but Olympus MFT stuff will obviously work too and the 60mm lens is worth getting.

    A danger with taking photos of coins is that acquiring camera bits and pieces is nearly as addictive as coin collecting. A couple of years ago, I went to a local camera shop looking for a macro lens, owning only the small silvery E-M10 below - several visits later I was up to what's below (plus 2 lenses and a flash). The E-M1 on the left with the 60mm lens is the one I've used for most coin photos in the last couple of years.

    Apart from cropping, these are straight from the camera.

  5. Orange Julius

    Orange Julius Well-Known Member

    That’s an amazing… medal/coin/whatsamadoodle you have there. It’s amazing how much depth can be conveyed in just a small amount of metal.
    akeady, Nathan B. and TIF like this.
  6. Nathan B.

    Nathan B. Well-Known Member

    Aidan, that has to be one of the most beautiful numismatic pieces I've ever seen. The medal and your photograph of it are both wonderful and superb! I'm very envious--but happy for you!
    akeady likes this.
  7. Nathan B.

    Nathan B. Well-Known Member



    Just messin' around, still with my cellphone camera. I used the timer for all these shots, which I think really helped with the clarity--which doesn't, of course, come even remotely close to a "real" camera. As for my setup, I've only got one lamp. I'll probably buy one tomorrow.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2021
  8. akeady

    akeady Well-Known Member

    Thanks - it's a large and thick medal - about 44mm in diameter and weighs 34g.
    The engraver (I. Bianchi - Giuseppe - Iosephus - Bianchi) made a great job of creating a 3D effect - you really look into the medal and the nave of the church stretches off.

    Struck under Pius IX from 1873, so too modern for this group. Still - issued in Rome by a Pontifex Maximus :D

    The second photo' on the page below more or less the view on the medal - if you zoom in a bit and imagine it without the pews:

    I presume the damage to the columns is a result of the 1943 air raid mentioned in the Wikipedia article (

    There are similar medals by the same engraver - including this one of St. Paul's basilica - - from the ANS.

    Anyway, good luck with the photos - the Julia Domna shots look good. The last one and the first one on the middle line look the best to me. When you mention timer, are you setting the 'phone camera to take a photo' after a short delay so you don't have to press the shutter release and so shake it? That's certainly a good idea - if you can control it remotely or with such a delay it's much better than hand-holding it.

    This is the copystand I use - I got it secondhand with the attached lights, but usually just use the small Aputure light attached to the camera. The camera itself was secondhand, the lens new, on sale because the box was a bit squashed or something:

    20190206_231520 (1).jpg

    I raise the coin above the background and focus on it, which blurs the background.

    Apologies for the messy photo' background - that was in early 2019, I've since moved the setup upstairs (not that it's necessarily less messy there!).

  9. Orielensis

    Orielensis Well-Known Member

    My pleasure. If I were you, I would not buy a new lens but some macro converter tubes like these. This will allow you to do macro photography with your kit lens for some $10 to $15. Also, I would not get an expensive ring light but mount your camera on a tripod to shoot in natural daylight next to a window. A workable tripod like this one that allows you to point the camera downwards can be had for about $20. That solution should allow you to take pictures similar to those that I regularly post on this board.

    Whether this is enough for your purposes remains an open question. It is obvious that I am not the most achieved coin photographer who answered to this thread. The images posted by @akeady and @kirispupis are way better than what I can achieve with my skills and setup. Yet, the gear necessary for such images also costs much more than macro converter tubes and a tripod.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2021
    Nathan B. and DonnaML like this.
  10. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    I get the feeling that this ^ is where the skillsets of the auction houses really shine. My tendency is to bid on the coin in the picture and then be somewhat disappointed when I get it in hand.
  11. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    Complete opposite fir me. The auction photos tend to be washed out, overexposed, or just poor. In Hand is almost always superior for me
  12. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    Time is money in the business. Auction houses tend to have fancy camera rigs that produce generic lighting and really can't afford to customize each photo individually. Amateurs like us can play and reshoot until we get what we want but most of my coin photos are limited by the fact that my coins have details that I would prefer not show quite so clearly. Few of us are really fond of the photo on our drivers license mostly because it looks like us.

    The seller of this coin noted that it really looks better if viewed from a distance where the patchy silvering becomes less troubling. The coin does look better at arms length than magnified in a photo. Does anyone know how to remove silver either from the coin or from the photo? How many failed photo attempts will be required befor this coin looks decent?
  13. Nathan B.

    Nathan B. Well-Known Member

    Thank you, Aidan! That was very instructive! To answer your question, yes, I set my phone to take a picture after a three second delay. It's a very handy feature that increased the sharpness a bit.

    As for the "messy background" it just looks like a sort of workshop to me. I don't think I've ever seen a neat one yet. :)
  14. Nathan B.

    Nathan B. Well-Known Member

    Thank you again, Orielensis. This seems like a very good approach for me, actually. I've never heard of extension tubes before this thread, so I'm definitely learning much here. One question I have for you: the ones in the link you so kindly provided say they have no electrical contacts. When you have a bit of time, could you explain a bit what would be involved for me to use them for photography?
  15. Orielensis

    Orielensis Well-Known Member

    Sure! I don't have a micro four thirds camera, but using extension tubes with your camera should work very similar to using them with my Canon EOS system shown below.

    I didn't see that the tubes I linked don't have electronic contacs. Personally, I would buy tubes with electronic contacts like these. They might cost $5 more, but you will be able to use autofocus. If you decide to buy tubes without contacts, you'll have to focus manually.

    Below are step-by-step instructions on shooting coins with macro extension tubes and a tripod.

    1. Tubes usually come in sets. The smallest one in the set (normally 13mm) should suffice for shooting coins. Take the tube and your camera. Screw off the lens:

    2. Carefully screw the tube on your lens. The tube will have the same mount as your camera body:

    3. Attach the extension tube with the attached lens to your camera body. Voila - you now have a macro lens!

    4. Mount the camera on a tripod and place it next to a table next to a window. Angle the camera downwards. Place a coin underneath the lens, and play around with zoom, settings, and focus until you get a good picture in your viewfinder or on your display. Shoot.
    IMG_4497 2.jpg

    Here are two coin pictures I've taken with this setup ten minutes ago. Settings: AV-mode, ISO 200, f16, exposure time automatic. No post-processing yet. Aidan, Doug or @kirispupis would have achieved better results, but in my eyes, these images are fair enough:
    Bildschirmfoto 2021-10-18 um 13.17.54.png

    Bildschirmfoto 2021-10-18 um 13.32.19.png
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2021
  16. Nathan B.

    Nathan B. Well-Known Member

    (Detail of the Julia Domna denarius I've posted a few times in this thread.)

    There are many great suggestions on this thread for how to photograph coins at various budget and skill levels. I've decided to... do them all! There is no near future in which I acquire a macro lens for my camera, but Orielensis's suggestion regarding extension tubes is something I am seriously considering. For this, I will need a tripod as well as extension tubes. To start with, it'll be the tripod for my existing mirrorless camera.

    In the meantime, I have followed in the footsteps of hotwheelsearl in buying a cellphone clip-on macro lens. This is the cheapest of all the possibilities, which is where I'm at right now. I can see that this is not going to really meet my needs, but taking pictures with it is so amusing and interesting that I'm going to try this method out for a bit.

    With time, patience, and planning, I will try to gradually work my way up the scale in terms of both a photography budget, and photography skills. In the meantime, I can have a little fun!

  17. Nathan B.

    Nathan B. Well-Known Member

    Thank you, Orielensis! That was a very helpful explanation, and I appreciate the photos of your setup, too. Very instructive!
    Orielensis likes this.
  18. Kaleun96

    Kaleun96 Well-Known Member

    I started with a phone camera and a desk lamp about 4 years ago and that's led me to this, after many, many, iterations. Most of this is just paying for convenience though; a fancy stand and automated focusing rail doesn't necessarily mean you'll take better photos than the next guy, it'll just be faster, easier, and more consistent.

    Lighting is the one thing that never stops changing, I'm always experimenting with different methods, light sources, and arrangements. Currently, I've gone back to using flash only (LED only for fill light if necessary) as it lets you control the light much more precisely. I use one flash as a ring light, perpendicular to the coin's surface and bringing out the toning and surface details, and then a second flash at a high angle (similar to below) to reduce the contrast a bit and help fill in some darker areas.

    All the gear and only some idea... :D

    20210314_135905.jpg DSC04444.jpg
  19. Heliodromus

    Heliodromus Well-Known Member

    Yes - I think it's more of a production line environment, at least as far as taking photos is concerned. Not sure how much, if any, post-production work they do, but I can't imagine they spend much time on that either.

    I've read that typically they use high output flash lighting in a normally lit room - the flash light swamps out anything else so no need to worry about mixed light sources or turning out the lights.
    Roman Collector likes this.
  20. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    Good summary of the method. More important than autofocus is the fact that tubes with contacts allow focusing with the lens wide open where depth of field is least but shooting at smaller aperture where it is more. Tubes without contacts can be used but it requires stopping the lens down manually and on some brands like Canon, that entails a process more complicated than turning a ring. This old photo shows contactless tubes and a bellows (also contactless) used with an old enlarging lens for small parts of a coin. There are hundreds of ways to do this but the point is that the farther it is between lens and 'film', the closer it will focus up to the point where the lens focuses on its own front and is totally useless. 0macrocam01.jpg

    Marco is fun but it can be a problem getting the whole subject in focus with just one shot.
  21. Nathan B.

    Nathan B. Well-Known Member


    Just playing around again. The image above is a reduced size of a snip of two files together that were taken with my Micro Four Thirds camera (with a self-timer) on a dirt-cheap tripod. The actual files look quite excellent (at least to me) in terms of sharpness--considerably better than the reduced snip above. But I think I need to work on the rest of the image--starting with understanding aperture and shutter speed(!), and how varying these will affect my photo. In addition, white balance is obviously off (the coin was sitting on a white piece of paper).

    In general, I found that when I used a flash, the resulting image was much sharper than images taken without the flash. As per Orielensis's suggestion, I ordered a pair of extension tubes. As per TIF's suggestion and others, I'm going to get a piece of velvet, a slim dowel, and some silicon or putty or something, and see what that can do for me.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2021
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