coinsbygary's Blog

27 Apr 2020

Coin Photography-The Equipment

Coins | coinsbygary

I have finally laid out how this series on photography will be structured. This post will go into the equipment and some of the settings I use. That will be followed by comparative pictures of shutter speeds and lighting sources using the 1937 Spanish peseta from my previous post.

Later posts will feature ten comparative pictures over the next three posts of both uncirculated and proof coins using LED and CFL lighting. Additionally, I will use silver, gold, copper, and nickel coins to compare the effects of the aforementioned lighting sources on them.

Finally, I will give an editorial summary for each coin to discuss why I like a particular lighting source. Moreover, I’ll note some of the tradeoffs between LED and CFL lighting. To make this into a real learning experience, I will ask you to answer in your comments which of the two lighting sources you prefer and why. There are no right or wrong answers here but personal tastes and my own curiosity.

The Equipment

Camera: I use a Nikon D3100 SLR 14.2-megapixel digital camera. I use this camera in manual mode which means that I set the shutter speed and the ISO film speed manually. It also means that I set the f-stop aperture on the lens. Autofocusing is disabled and I manually focus the lens. My pictures are saved in a large JPEG format of 4,608 x 3,072 pixels. I have a timed (24-sec) mirror lock feature that allows me to focus the lens using the camera’s rear monitor. I have a shutter delay of two seconds to minimize the effects of camera movement on the picture. All my pictures are saved to a 16-gigabyte SD memory card.

Overall, I have been very pleased with this camera. However, I wish I would have gotten the black camera body instead of the red. On highly reflective coins you can see a reflection of the red camera on the coin.

Lens: I use a Laowa V-DX 60mm F2.8 2-Times Super Macro Lens. Before I bought this lens close to a year ago, I used an enlarger lens attached to a bellows. For years this lens worked very well for coins up to the size of a Silver American Eagle. I never even considered an upgrade until I read a review for my current lens on NGC’s website https://www.ngccoin.com/news/article/7171/ Based on this review I decided to take a chance and upgrade my lens. Let me just say that this lens has been phenomenal! First off, this lens makes my set-up much more versatile, especially if I take my services on the road to local coin shows. It also allows for focusing on objects as close as 5cm in front of the lens to infinity! With several coins and medals in my collection larger than SAE’s, I no longer need to worry about size limitations. The lens is pricey though, costing as much as my camera and the two lenses it came with but worth every cent I paid!

Lighting: I already talked about the 5000k CFL daylight lamps in my previous posts. The other lighting source I use is two Ikea model number 201.696.58 3W 2700k warm white light LED desk lamps. What I like about these lamps is that you can twist and turn them into any position you need to take good pictures. The CFL bulbs are mounted on arms that clamp onto my camera stand.

Photo editing software: The last piece of my setup is Adobe Photoshop Elements 2019. The features I primarily use is rotating and cropping, white balance, exposure and lighting, fill layers and the eraser tool for borders, and auto haze removal, contrast, and brightness.

With photography there are a number of settings to consider when taking pictures. Among them are lighting adjustments, lens aperture, film speed, and shutter speed. With so many variables it is easy to get confused. Whenever that has happened, I found the best thing to do is to start over. Over time I have standardized my settings within certain ranges so as to reduce confusion. The first thing I did was take one of the variables out of the equation when I set the lens aperture to f4. On rare occasions, I will use f5.6. Next, I start with a film speed of ISO 100 and shutter speeds of 1/125, 1/160, and 1/200. If the picture is still underexposed, I increase the ISO film speed to 200 and go through the same shutter speeds as ISO 100.

Lighting is always tricky and I have two choices. I either use the diffused and cooler lighting of the CFL lamp or the direct and warmer lighting of the LED lamp. I’ll talk more about the lighting tradeoffs as I editorialize the comparisons I have prepared. Too much lighting can cause unnatural color hue and saturation. Too little lighting, of course, tends towards underexposure. The nice thing about lighting is that you can move it closer or farther from your subject as needed.

The following pictures of my 1937 Spanish peseta show the effect of shutter speed and lighting on exposure. These pictures are UNEDITED with the exception of white balance. The lighting was never moved between shutter speeds. My previous post highlighted my new coin taken with CFL lighting. In this post, I’ll post a picture of the same coin taken with LED lighting. Personally, I like the one taken with LED lighting better but you will have to wait on my upcoming posts to see why! Gary


Doug S.

Level 4

Very informative. Thanks for posting this info!!!

Long Beard

Level 5

Another informative piece. My choice of the three shutter tests would be the F4 1/160 with the lighting used. The warmth seems to bring out the detail best.


Level 6

Oh man. I have a lot of this stuff from my film days. I need more practice and an adjustable digital camera. Just using a Nikon Cool-pics now. Thanks Gary.


Level 6

Thanks Gary, I will never have a setup or camera as sophisticated as yours, but I do take lessons from what you've written and I do plan on upgrading to a proper stand for my phone as well as some kind of white photo box to better distribute my lighting and minimize things like camera reflection, etc. in my pictures. I still have incredible difficulty with proof or bright uncirculated coins, I can't wait until you address that issue.


Level 5

Patience my young padawan apprentice. In due time you will become a Jedi master to know the secrets of photographing proof coins! lol :)


Level 7

Gary you have the right camera and a macro lens. The way you set it up sounds like a good idea given you the best shot shot at what f stop. Inhave a nikon automic i can use it manually or automatic. When i look in to take a picture it gives you all the info. When i bring the picture up on the back it has the info when i print the picture no indo is on the picture.when my wife wakes up i will get the name what i dont have is a macro lens. My 50 mm lens is 1.2 i have an 80 to 200 1.2 lens . I just recharged the two batteries. The flash does not have to be on the camera i can put it in a stand and accross the room for liting it hasbthe differnt. I plan on getting the macro then im done. You have it down pat. I can load from camera to the devise. My card is 12 that stires the pic. Thanks my friend i had to tell you. Your the best greatvset and now great pics.

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