The never-ending quest for more magnification

The arrival of some new adaptors gave me an idea. Just how much further could I push the limits of macrophotography before I need to buy a microscope?

Quite far, it seems.

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What you’re looking at in the image above is a mishmash of gear which could mostly be replaced by a single long tube with a mount at either end. From right to left: Zeiss ZM 2/50 Planar (I tried the Leica 35 FLE, but there wasn’t enough working distance) mounted on Leica Bellows II, mounted on Visoflex III, mounted on Leica M to Nikon F adaptor, mounted on 72mm of Nikon-fit extension tubes, mounted on Nikon F to M4/3 adaptor, with an Olympus Pen Mini hanging off the end.

The results? See for yourself below. The full frame is slightly less than 2x3mm in most of the photos with the 50mm, and 1.5x2mm with the 35mm. That’s 6:1 or 9:1 on Micro Four Thirds, but more like 12:1 or 18:1 equivalent on FX. I’ve marked on a larger photo of the watch exactly what you’re looking at, for readers intimately familiar with horological architecture. Note that the angle is slightly different in some of the images.

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Does it make sense? No, because we’re clearly a) hitting diffraction limits; b) seeing resolution limits on the lenses used; c) seeing CA, distortions and other artifacts introduced by the sapphire crystal we have to shoot through on the watch and d) very low contrast. And for most watches, there won’t be this level of detail to capture in the first place. Curiously, lighting is actually pretty easy with the 50mm because it has a decent amount of working distance. For all practical purposes, I think 5:1 is pretty much the limit for watch photography. MT

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Balance rim rate/ inertia adjustment screw

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Escape wheel and bearing

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Barrel bearing

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Hairspring and carrier

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Third wheel jewel bearing and bridge end

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Balance stud attachment screw

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Barrel pivot and jewel bearing

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Minute hand tip


  1. You’ve inspired me! After seeing your macro watch pics, my patek and my montblanc pen nib are screaming for their turn in the spotlight. I managed to snag a visoflex on ebay today . . . so I look forward to the delivery, and a rainy day! Thank you for posting.

  2. I’m wondering how they make these watches. When your screw is so small that it’s hard to take a picture of it, I can’t imagine what kind of screwdriver you use.

    • A really small one, and tweezers that end in a needle point. I’ve got a toolkit. Oh, and you’ve got to use a 10x loupe or microscope.

    • – What do you think of the Zeiss 35 Biogon? I’m looking to buy into a Leica M9 ytessm and love Zeiss glass on my canons but am wondering how they compare to the Leica alternatives.

      • Sorry, I must have missed this comment. I haven’t used the 35 biogon enough to comment – for the most part the Zeisses are excellent midrange alternatives; however if you must have fast glass, the Summiluxes are unbeatable.

  3. The quest never ends. Very impressive.

  4. I’m speechless!

  5. Anthony Miller says:

    Impressive – I’m interested as one of my students wants to photograph flowers close-up and I was wondering about bellows etc.
    Probably doesn’t need something this extreme but opens up possibilities.
    Thanks for the ‘food for thought’.

  6. Oh man, wow.


  1. […] of the higher magnification ones, please have a look at these two articles on my photography site (The never-ending quest for more magnification; Macrophotography and the Leica M) which both go into more of the technical details. […]

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