Thinking of new camera for coin pictures

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by alde, Jan 21, 2019.

  1. alde

    alde Always Learning

    I've been struggling to get good pictures with my point and shoot camera and have had decent results. While the camera does a decent job it's getting old and I've been wanting a DSLR anyway. The Nikon D5100 looks like a good starter DSLR and would suite me pretty well I think. Nice used ones are priced pretty well. I of course need a macro lens. Would I be well served by a macro zoom lens? Maybe a 35mm to 85mm or would I be better off with a fixed focal length lens and if so what would work best on a copy stand? I will probably get more lenses later for outdoor photography but right now coin pictures are my priority. You guys have seen my pictures and they are not bad but I need an excuse to buy a camera anyway.
    Aethelred II S 1151.jpg Edward I Irish Penny S 6254.jpg Mark Antony CRI-303.jpg Domitian AR Denarius Pegasus RSC 47.jpg
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  3. Orange Julius

    Orange Julius Well-Known Member

    I think your photos are very good but if you're looking for someone to tell you to go for it... Do it. You deserve it. Your photos will look better, it will be worth the expense.

    Ha... I hope that's what you needed to hear to pull the trigger.

    As for the macro questions... I'm curious to hear recommendations too.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2019
  4. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I know nothing about Nikon since I made the decision to go Canon years ago and now own and understand their system. When I made the choice over a dozen years ago, Nikon was not able to meter through lenses that were not their current auto design while Canons worked well with microscopes and old enlarger lenses as well as their own lenses. Nikon also charged quite a bit of money for their RAW file processing software while Canon included their Digital Photo Professional software with the camera. I really like DPP and use the latest version for free by download. his makes a lot more difference for my non-coin photos.

    Digital SLR cameras come in many levels with the latest ones giving truely ridiculously high image quality. I believe the number of pixels in an image are much less significant than the size of the sensor but this is another matter a lot more important for naure phtos than coins where the coin is more likely to be the limit on quality than the camera resolution.

    For the money, I see nothing wrong with used, amateur consumer grade dSLR's including those from a decade ago available used for not a lot of money. I do recommend Canon or Nikon or one of a very few other major brands. I currently own three: My Canon 5D mk II is ten years old and has a full frame sensor. My 30D (2007) and 300D (2004) are older and have reduced size sensors but still work well for coins.

    I own a Canon 100mm macro lens but am not convinced that it has improved my coin photos over the 70-200 f/4L zoom that I used before I bought the macro. To do coins with a non-macro lens, you can get extension tube sets for a low price on eBay. Just be usre to get the ones with electronic contacts that retain the auto functions of your lenses. These are the bright spots in the inside of these rings. If they are not there, you will lose auto functions. This photo shows a set for Nikon but the Canon ones are similar so be sure to get what fits your camera.

    Tubes come in sets. Many people will never use any but the smallest one but all three together allow really small sections or really small coins. You need more extension for longer lenses and that allows shooting from further back from the coin allowing more freedom in arranging lights. I took many good photos with the rig shown below. I am embarrassed at the spindly attachment between the stand and the heavy camera but I had little problem with motion. It was cobbled together with what I happened to have at the time. Many people buy dSLR kits with two lenses - normal and telephoto zoom. The longer zoom lens may not be the highest quality but may be OK for coins when used with tubes. The 70-200mm zoom lens in the photo below is a higher quality Canon product and does well for coins if you don't want to spend extra for a macro lens only for coins. I have never owned or tried the zoom lenses that come with the kits.
    The above is reduced for web use. Below is a crop from the full size image using the Canon dSLR and lens shown. It is not necessary to buy a macro lens until you try what you have and decide it is what is limiting your photos.

    I invite private conversations from those who want to talk about photos.
    Bojan, galba68, Theodosius and 7 others like this.
  5. alde

    alde Always Learning

    @dougsmit, Thank you for the information and your thoughts. I'm not attached to Nikon. My point and shoot is a Nikon and it has given me good service even with it's limitations. A DSLR will be new to me so getting use to controls is no issue. I think both Cannon and Nikon have plenty of lenses and accessories available and the entry level cameras have all the features I will ever need. I have been looking at used equipment to keep cost down. As much as I would like to go out and by new stuff I see no need.

    I see lenses all over the place in price. Really good lenses cost a small fortune but are the lower priced lenses like Vivitar, Tamron or Sigma good enough for coins or should I stick with Nikon or Cannon lenses depending on which direction I go?
    galba68 likes this.
  6. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    All the brands including Canon and Nikon make more than one quality of lenses. For the most part you can tell the better ones by price. Tamron and Sigma both make excellent lenses which are probably overkill for coins. I would start using the lens that came with the camera and see if the lens is what limits your photos. You can always buy an upgrade later. I would like to see results from the Canon 55-250 cheap (about $160 new but sold for less and often cheaper used) zoom that is sometimes sold as a kit with a body and a 18-55 normal zoom. The 18-55 is not a bad lens but coins would be better with a longer focal length. Some kits have the old 75-300 which is not as good from what I hear.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2019
    dadams and alde like this.
  7. alde

    alde Always Learning

    Thank you @dougsmit. I appreciate your help.
  8. -jeffB

    -jeffB Greshams LEO Supporter

    You asked about fixed-focal-length ("prime") lenses vs. zoom lenses.

    In my opinion, there's NO reason to buy a zoom instead of a prime for coin photography. To "zoom in and out", you simply move toward or away from the coin. And at a given price point, a prime lens is likely to have better image quality than a zoom lens.

    Now, if you want to use the camera for other things as well, a zoom lens may be more useful. But for dedicated macro photography, I'd go with a prime lens, ideally one that's designed for macro use.

    Having said that, if you happen to have a high-grade zoom lens lens sitting around (like the 70-200 f/4L @dougsmit mentioned), it's certainly worth getting a set of tubes and trying it out. (I should probably set up a test subject and try out my 70-200 with tubes against the 100mm. I've been assuming the 100 would work better, but I haven't tested it.)
    dadams and alde like this.
  9. Suarez

    Suarez Well-Known Member

    I just answered off-the-cuff style about your quest to get a new camera for coins. Really, take it from someone who does this professionally - you can get great results from crappy hardware(*). Since you say you're also interested in outdoor photography then go ahead and get the DSLR but know that that's only a small (and not even necessary) step towards getting pro-level shots.

    Since I own Nikon equipment I would recommend getting a used Nikkor 60mm Macro lens. And since you're going to shoot with high f-stops you'll be wasting money by paying more for "fast glass". I think I paid $100 for a used f2/8 which has been my workhorse for the last ten years.

    What you should get though is a good lightbox that can effectively diffuse light and also invest in a decent tripod with a ballhead-type mount w/ quick-release. Your Aethelred II penny looks good but your bottom two shots show that you're using a light that IMO is too harsh and your shots are not color corrected. It's hard to tell if that is the camera or that the light itself is colored. Look on Amazon for 5000k lamps if you need good lighting. Your Nikon will have color balancing that is preset for 5000k lights making this part a no brainer.

    And one last thing I always recommend is that you do your test shots against modern coins. By comparing your results with pocket change you will know whether you're getting good shots or not.... otherwise it's too easy to fall in love with mediocre work when you're shooting your favorite coins ;-)

    * to prove the point I just took a pic of the closest coin I currently have to your Cnut with my cell phone. It isn't the best obviously but on quick glance, I think, it would not be out of place on your average auctioneer's website.

    TIF, galba68, Bing and 3 others like this.
  10. green18

    green18 Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    Go Nikon.....big fan. :)
    alde likes this.
  11. Aethelred

    Aethelred The Old Dead King Supporter

    My advice, and bear in mind I'm not a very good photographer at all, is to choose wisely and only after you have looked very carefully at your lense options. You will not be married to the camera body, but you Will be married to the lense system. I chose Canon because of my perception that there were more lense options, I've updated bodies a couple of times but have always kept the lense collection.
    alde likes this.
  12. RichardT

    RichardT Active Member


    When shooting coin photos with my old camera I found it was quite difficult to photograph coins with high relief, as many ancient coins tend to have. It may not be visible when taking the photo, but after cropping the excess it tends to become obvious. What happens is that one area of the coin is slightly out of focus. I find it a distraction.

    You can mitigate this problem with focus stacking, which you can do manually. Alternatively since if you're buying a new camera, some new models come with focus stacking built in. You might want to consider such a camera.
  13. Suarez

    Suarez Well-Known Member

    Actually, focus stacking is overkill in this case. The depth of field problem you're experiencing has a more low tech solution: increase the distance between lens and coin and shoot at f/16 or higher. Depending on your camera/lens combination you may get away with as high as f/29 before diffraction becomes a problem but the easiest tool remains just shooting the coin from farther away as long as the resolution remains decent.
    Carausius likes this.
  14. alde

    alde Always Learning

    I just came home with a new to me camera. I met a friend for breakfast this morning and there is a pawn shop next door to the place we went. They had a like new Canon Rebel T6 with 18-55 and 75-300mm lenses and bag for $200 with 2 week warranty. This thing looks like it was rarely used and doesn't have a mark on it. I have not had much time to play with it but it seems to function well.
    Aethelred, Cucumbor, -jeffB and 2 others like this.
  15. -jeffB

    -jeffB Greshams LEO Supporter

    Congratulations! You've saved a ton of money... to put toward your next lens. ;)
  16. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I don't expect anyone to listen but when you add extension tubes to a zoom, the zoom ring provides better focus control than the focus ring. It is a technical thing involving the fact that most modern lenses have internal focusing rather than just moving the lens further from the film plane.

    Dedicated macro lenses often outperform zooms a lot in the corners of the image but less so in the middle. Round coins do not use the corners so some of the improvement is lost. That is why I suggest people try what they have before they buy expensive lenses that may help little.

    Diffraction starts about f/9 with crop dSLR's and f/11 with full frames. When it becomes objectionable depends on standards which also explains why so many people like the results from phones. Making nothing larger than 2x3" photos will allow a lot of diffraction; 20x30" prints are more a problem. It really does depend on what you find objectionable. Things like camera motion and failure to focus on the coin rather than the background ruin ten times as many photos as diffraction or lens quality. A $2000 lens on a spindly tripod is easy to outshoot with a phone on a drinking glass.

    I really recommend a wireless remote release if your camera model accepts one. They are ridiculously cheap from China on eBay. There are many brands/sellers and I have experience with only one that no longer sells on eBay so I can not help. My original Digital Rebel (300D) and 5DmkII use the same one but my 30D does not so you have to do a little research depending on what you have. I do not study all camera models (that is another hobby). You can pay 20x the price and get one from your local camera store that works no better.

    I would REALLY like to see coin photos taken with the 75-300 on a solid stand and using tubes. The lens does not have a great reputation but used at f/11 and with everything else right, I suspect it may be better than some other choices and the long focal length will allow a lot of room for lights to be arranged as you like.
    alde and -jeffB like this.
  17. alde

    alde Always Learning

    @dougsmit , this new camera allows control through a cell phone. I have not had a chance to figure it out yet though. It can also be controlled from the PC via mouse controls with the software. I shot one photo this way and it works great. It also allows for adjusting the settings.

    I'm looking at a Tamron 272 90mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro lens. It looks like it might be about perfect for coins. I will try some extension tube's though. Unfortunately there are no camera stores locally so it will have to be an online purchase. What happened to all the darn camera shops?
  18. alde

    alde Always Learning

    Here is my first try taking a picture of a coin with the new Canon. It was shot with the kit 18-55mm zoom lens with at F/8 using 2 low watt LED lights from the bottom of the coin. Right now as I'm learning I let the camera do most of the thinking for me.
    1710 Louis XIV Half Ecu.jpg 1710 Louis XIV Half Ecu eye.jpg
  19. Suarez

    Suarez Well-Known Member

    It's a competent shot and it works for this type of coin. However, it is not color corrected (unless the coin is actually brown). This is a tough one to do unless you know the color temperature of the LED lights. Of course, seeing that it's silver you could just desaturate the image but that's the lazy approach - and it would only work with silver obviously.

    I also see a little softness which (I'm really only guessing) could be camera shake. If your camera has the option enable the shutter delay to give it a second or two to to stabilize after pushing the shutter button.

    As a test, can you try taking a photo of a quarter and see how that goes?
    alde likes this.
  20. ro1974

    ro1974 Well-Known Member

    camera is good , i use a day light lamp/ more brighter / i have a sony a58 same year / play with the lamp lights _DrrSC2178.jpg
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2019
    Theodosius and alde like this.
  21. alde

    alde Always Learning

    @Suarez this is an untouched image. I plan to get better lights. As far as the softness goes it may just be focus. I turned off auto-focus and I just may not have focused really well. I'm using a copy stand and the timer. As I said it's my first try.
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