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Thread: Question on macro lenses

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    Administrator Manfred M's Avatar
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    Question on macro lenses

    A question for all of the macro experts out there. My wife expressed an interest in getting a macro lens on the weekend, but this is one part of photography I have very little experience in. I’ve played around with borrowed macro lenses on a couple of occasions, so I’ve at least used them and have a few thoughts about them. I suspect that small plants, rather than insects, are likely to be of interest to her, especially the tiny wild flowers, lichens and fungi that tend to grow close to the ground.

    We both have a Nikon D90 and a D800 should be joining our collection very shortly, so a lens that works well on both an FX and DX sensor would be ideal, but I expect that the DX will likely get more use. We’re pretty well equipped with tripods, cable releases, and lighting equipment (including a ring flash).

    My limited experience with macro was that a short focal length lens was a bit of a pain to use because of the shadows that the photographer casts, and of course having the gear crowding the subject matter. Depth of field was quite tight, so while a longer lens would certainly let the photographer work at a more comfortable range, the depth of field would be even more of an issue. Am I correct here or are these issues that are easy to work around?

    So, I would like to ask for lens recommendations (and the rationale as to why the lens is being recommended), and that does not necessarily mean sticking with Nikon if there is a “better” product out there. I won't say that "budget is not an issue", but also recognize that quality does not come cheap and would prefer not have to replace the lens down the road because of quality and build issues.
    Last edited by Manfred M; 30th April 2012 at 03:05 PM.

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    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Nikon's "micro" (macro) lenses are excellent. However, you might consider the 90mm Tamron f/2.8 AF.SP,Di macro lenses. I shoot with an older version of this lens on my Canon gear and I love it. I bought mine used on eBay for right around $100 USD which I consider quite a bargain. I don't shoot a lot of macros but, it is nice to have this lens when I need it...

    It is quite light weight and produces excellent IQ.

    I am not sure which Nikon cameras this lens will fit but, my Canon version will work on either full-frame or crop DSLR cameras.

    http://photomacrography.net/photomac...0/tamron90.htm
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 30th April 2012 at 03:36 PM.

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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    My limited experience with macro was that a short focal length lens was a bit of a pain to use because of the shadows that the photographer casts, and of course having the gear crowding the subject matter. Depth of field was quite tight, so while a longer lens would certainly let the photographer work at a more comfortable range, the depth of field would be even more of an issue. Am I correct here or are these issues that are easy to work around?
    Manfred, I'm a Canon shooter, so I'll leave it to others to make specific lens recommendations for your Nikons. You're right that a short focal length macro lens can present difficulties due to close working distances, though there are situations where it can be useful. Note, however, that at the same magnification ratio (for example, 1x), the depth of field is independent of the focal length of the lens. For example, if you want to shoot a life-size image of a fungus with a 100mm lens instead of a 50mm, you have to "back up", increasing the distance to subject by a factor of 2; exactly offsetting the "inherent" shallower DOF of the longer focal length lens when used at the same distance. See the CiC tutorial Depth of Field for a more detailed explanation.

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    Glenn NK's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    I suspect that small plants, rather than insects, are likely to be of interest to her, especially the tiny wild flowers, lichens and fungi that tend to grow close to the ground.
    I was looking at some of these on the weekend - some of the flowers were perhaps a few millimetres across.

    My present equipment consists of FF and APS-C bodies and a 100 mm macro lens. In order to capture these tiny subjects, I would have to use extension tubes with the lens, and I would still be very close to the subject.

    The best solution would be for me to acquire a 150 mm or 180 mm macro lens.

    My guess is that in Ottawa you should have access to a camera dealer that stocks a few lenses you could try out. Take a tripod, camera, and something about the size of the biota you're looking at capturing and try different focal lengths. I suspect you'll find that the longer lengths are better.

    As for DOF, getting farther away from the subject (which a longer lens will permit), will offset loss of DOF caused by the increase in focal length.

    I find that the best solution to the shallow DOF is to use focus stacking (I'm using Zerene Stacker as it was recommended to me by several people on this forum). The longer focal lengths work better for stacking because there is less perspective distortion with the lens farther from the subject.

    My personal preference is to avoid the macro lenses that extend during focusing. This is easy to check:

    http://www.photozone.de/nikon--nikkor-aps-c-lens-tests

    One of the first thing discussed by fotozone is the lens operation. For example, the Sigma 150 macro does not change length; the 105 mm does.

    Glenn

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    DanK's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    I agree with Glenn that lenses that don't extend are preferable.

    Re focal length: you won't have the same ideal length for FX and DX. I shoot a Canon 50D, which is a 1.6 crop. With that body, I find 60mm preferable for indoor flower shots because with a longer lens, you need a bigger work surface. Outside or in a greenhouse, that is not an issue. In a recent shoot in a greenhouse, I think I used 100mm most of the time. For bugs, I prefer a 100mm so that I don't have to get (quite) as close. If you can, I would recommend taking the body you think you will use the most and borrowing or trying lenses of a few focal lengths yourself before taking the plunge. If that is not possible, I usually recommend 100mm as the most commonly chosen compromise for a crop sensor. For FX, it would have to be longer.

    You are not going to avoid the DOF problem by choice of FL. This is one of the hardest things about macro. You have to deal with it by position of the subject, aperture, and focus stacking.

    Here's one I took a few days ago, with a 60mm lens. I shot at f/10 and stacked several images (I think three) with Zerene (DMap algorithm):

    Question on macro lenses

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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    I'm also a Canon user.I've had the 60,100,100L,180 and a Sigma 150.
    The Tamron 90 get's a lot of praise and for the money,it's hard to beat.
    I shoot mostly handheld so the 180 was sold.Just too heavy for me to work with.

    If most of the work is going to be flowers the 90 would be my pick.If she has any interest in shooting insects,the longer lenses are the way to go.The Sigma 150 is a wonderful lens.
    Built like a tank and light enough to handhold.

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    Black Pearl's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    My advice would be to stick with Nikon and go for the Micro-Nikkor AF-S 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR - http://www.photozone.de/Reviews/224-...w--test-report - for several reasons.

    1. It's optical performance is fantastic, sharp right from the off with no distortion and low fall off.
    2. The build is excellent so as a long term investment you know it will last.
    3. While the VR isn't very effective at close distances it might still rescue a difficult situation.
    4. The focus is lightening fast for day-to-day shooting.

    For insects then a longer length might be better but as has been said above they are a nightmare to use. The sheer weight can be off putting (I have always wanted a 200mm f4 Micro Nikkor but when I got to use one it was an unwieldy monster that put me off for life) plus the job of getting the subject lined up is multiplied dramatically. A rewarding lens when you get it right but frustrating in the extreme. Shorter Micro lenses are great value but the close focussing is an issue with anything that can see then fly/crawl/bugger off so the 100mm (ish) range is a good all round compromise.
    Add to that the cost of the Nikon which isn't that horrendous and you have a cracking good bit of long term kit that will make an awesome portrait lens on your shiny new D800 when you get to join them together.

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    Administrator Manfred M's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Thanks for all of the comments. It's certainly given me a lot of food for thought. The macro I did use was the Nikon 105 and it is a hefty, well built piece of hardware. The one issue I did have with it was that it seems to breath while focusing and I've never run into that on a fixed focal length lens before. The only other thought is that I already own another 105; the Nikon f/2 105 DC.

    I'll have a look at the Tamron as well, the reviews are quite good, but frankly I've never bought a Tamron because the build quality of the ones I looked at was not great.

    Again, thanks everyone. Great suggestions and advice!

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    Glenn NK's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Manfred:

    This was likely the lens you tried:

    http://www.photozone.de/nikon--nikko...ab-test-report

    It changes length with focus distance - so it has to "breathe".

    Any lens that increases/decreases in length (volume) has to take air in/out respectively with the change in volume.

    So the question always follows - if it expands and takes air in, does dust come in? So it seems that the seal (which obviously must allow air to pass) must be able to screen dust out of the air - at least enough so that the dust is not a problem.

    A corollary: If a lens like this is used in a very cold climate, and is brought indoors, and is subsequently allowed to become longer (zooming out or focusing closer), then the warm, moist air should condense on the cold interior of the lens.

    Glenn

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    Administrator Manfred M's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by Glenn NK View Post
    Manfred:

    This was likely the lens you tried:

    http://www.photozone.de/nikon--nikko...ab-test-report

    It changes length with focus distance - so it has to "breathe".

    Any lens that increases/decreases in length (volume) has to take air in/out respectively with the change in volume.

    So the question always follows - if it expands and takes air in, does dust come in? So it seems that the seal (which obviously must allow air to pass) must be able to screen dust out of the air - at least enough so that the dust is not a problem.

    A corollary: If a lens like this is used in a very cold climate, and is brought indoors, and is subsequently allowed to become longer (zooming out or focusing closer), then the warm, moist air should condense on the cold interior of the lens.

    Glenn
    By your definition every lens that isn't fixed will breathe as elements do move back and forth and pump air even when focusing.

    The definition of breathing I am using is used more in the video and film side of things than in still photography and referrs to the image changing size when the focal distance is changed, It is a far bigger concern when you shoot video and change focus from say and object in the foreground to an object in the background. You want the focus to change, not the size of the objects.

    It's far less of a concern in stills as we can always recompose, but in a macro shot it changes your framing, and that is something I noticed the 105 Micro Nikkor doing when I focused it. I'm not sure if this is just a "feature" of this particular lens or if it is common in macro lenses.

  11. #11
    Black Pearl's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Its actually common on a lot of lenses (your 70-200mm f2.8 is very prone to it - http://mansurovs.com/nikon-70-200mm-vr-ii-review - scroll to the bottom to see what I mean) and macro lenses whether internal or external focus show this to a greater degree because of the extra increase in focal length due to the extra movement of the focusing mechanism.

    A good way of showing it is to put a macro lens on and as you focus through the range watch the way in which the aperture becomes 'smaller'....well not really smaller but the f stop decreases as the focal length is increasing so the 'effective' f stop is smaller. Canon users don't normally notice this due to an odd quirk with their systems where the camera will show (say) f2.8 regardless of where the macro lens is focused but it is happening - Nikon cameras show the effect by displaying the actual amount of light reaching the focal plane.

    All that said any decent bit of stacking software will be programmed to sort this out so if you are taking multiple slices of a subject then each will look different in size when viewed individually but not when processed.
    Last edited by Black Pearl; 1st May 2012 at 10:05 AM.

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    Administrator Manfred M's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by black pearl View Post
    Its actually common on a lot of lenses (your 70-200mm f2.8 is very prone to it - http://mansurovs.com/nikon-70-200mm-vr-ii-review - scroll to the bottom to see what I mean) and macro lenses whether internal or external focus show this to a greater degree because of the extra increase in focal length due to the extra movement of the focusing mechanism.

    A good way of showing it is to put a macro lens on and as you focus through the range watch the way in which the aperture becomes 'smaller'....well not really smaller but the f stop decreases as the focal length is increasing so the 'effective' f stop is smaller. Canon users don't normally notice this due to an odd quirk with their systems where the camera will show (say) f2.8 regardless of where the macro lens is focused but it is happening - Nikon cameras show the effect by displaying the actual amount of light reaching the focal plane.

    All that said any decent bit of stacking software will be programmed to sort this out so if you are taking multiple slices of a subject then each will look different in size when viewed individually but not when processed.
    Robin - the focus breathing is certainly something I've noticed on zooms, but this is the first time I've noticed it on a fixed focal length lens. You're probably right and it is something that will be more noticable when you are down shooting at 1:1.

    Yes, I noticed that the 70-200 does this too. As well, it only acts as a 200 when focused at infinity, focal length shortens as you focus closer and it's not parfocal either. The things you notice when you are shooting video...

    Stacking software? I assume this means you shoot in slices across the object and then blend the images together? Do you have some recommendations on software here?

    Thanks.

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    DanK's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Yes, stacking software is used to combine images that have slightly different points of focus, so that you can increase depth of field. The software usually has alignment functions, but nonetheless, you have to keep the shots quite well aligned to have good results. E.g., for flower shots, I generally set up on a tripod, focus on the nearest surface that I want in focus, and then take a series of shots, each time focusing very slightly farther back. It's not always an entirely straightforward process. E.g., if there is a large distance front to back between two adjacent surfaces, stacking will often produce halos that have to be cleaned up.

    There are lots of options. CS5 will do it, although slowly. CombineZ is free. Two commercial products are Helicon and Zerene. I use Zerene, as do most macro photographers I know. It has very good retouching capabilities. It has two different stacking algorithms that behave quite differently, and you can even use the results of one to touch up the other. I generally use the DMap algorithm, which does a bit less well with detail but better--in my experience--in terms of color fidelity, saturation, and preservation of textures. OOH, it is a bit more prone to haloing. You can get a free demo for a month, I believe, and there are good tutorials on their website.

    When stacking is not feasible, the only options are to keep the subject as close to parallel to the sensor as you can (to minimize the DOF you need) and close the aperture down. In macro work, the DOF is so thin that it is often worth closing down well past the point where diffraction kicks in, because the additional appearance of sharpness from extra DOF offsets the softening from diffraction. Even though my camera is diffraction limited at a pretty large aperture because of small pixel size, I routinely shoot f/13, and I have found that for some images, e.g., flowers, f/20 still looks very good printed at 8 x 10. I'll post two examples.

    f/13, 100mm macro, 50D:

    Question on macro lenses

    f/20, 60mm macro, XTi:

    Question on macro lenses

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    Black Pearl's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Lots of stacking software options, a few free ones, a few inexpensive ones but the absolute daddy has to be Helicon Focus.

    Download the trial and give it a go - with most cameras you can use it automatically via a USB lead. Essentially you manually set the front points and back points then HF takes over taking multiple shots, moving the focus each time and then sets about combining them. One of the most fascinating things I've ever watched a computer do. Each layer (slice) is still active afterwards so if there is a glitch or halo your can walk through the stack and clone the bit you need.

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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Manfred, A few more pointers to add to this excellent thread.

    I do flower close ups rather than true macro (e.g not 1:1) and have 50mm and 180mm lenses on a full frame camera. The 50mm is a great walk around lens with a close up capability. The 180 is a beast and for macro / close up need to be on a support. In the “field” I use a mono pod with an articulating joint – moves in one plane only – takes getting used too but works.

    Do try focus stacking – it's great fun. I strongly recommend starting off indoors – with the camera on a tripod. I use Helicon FWIW. You may like to start off shooting RAW and jpeg together. Use the jpegs to see if you have a good stack – then do the full RAW thing when you get something you like. Stacking outdoors is tricky – but rewarding. Bright overcast windless days are your new best friend!

    On lens breathing. Most zooms breath, and since most internal focus fixed focal length lenses are optically closely related to zooms, they breath too.

    You have shed loads of very high quality lenses to choose from – here is another gem that Mr Nikon made – now discontinued, and just lately fully appreciated. http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/70180.htm You will need to get a used one. I shoot Canon, but if I where a Nikon shooter I'd have one in the blink of an eye.

    Some examples:-

    #1 50mm walk around – hand held.

    Question on macro lenses

    #2 180mm indoors 20 + stack.

    Question on macro lenses

    #3 180mm outdoors about 4 in stack, near 1:1.

    <Question on macro lenses

    HTH.

  16. #16
    Black Pearl's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Ooooo - I'd forgotten about the 70-180mm

    Amazing bit of glass in that once focused you can zoom without it then loosing focus like modern designs.
    Its a bit of a Jekyll and Hide lens - built like a tank in the old school Nikon style - ain't gonna by cheap - not very fast to focus as the throw is huge so as a day-to-day shooter there are better options - the aperture (while not particularly bright) doesn't change as you focus closer - pin sharp when used close - good bokeh.
    Nearly bought one once but couldn't justify the price....wish I had now.

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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Nick,

    Very nice images, particularly #1 and #2

    Dan

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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Robin

    there's a second hand one for sale at Grays of Westminser....... .ฃ1,575. Gulp!

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    Administrator Manfred M's Avatar
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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Again, thanks to all. This is going to be my wife's call as this is something she wants to try. I'm pretty sure that she will not be terribly interested in stacking software at this point; she tends to be a bit of a Luddite when it comes to technology and I finally have her starting to play with Photoshop after years of prodding. Throwing another piece of software is going to have to wait until she gets frustrated by her capabilities to get the image she wants and she opens up to doing something on the computer, rather than in camera.

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    Re: Question on macro lenses

    Manfred: I have both the 105 f2.8 and 200mm f1.4 macros. Starting out I would definitely go with the 105mm. The 200 is impossible to handhold. And the depth of field is brutally shallow even at small apertures. I can handhold the 105 down to 1/60 of a second, not every time but I find that if I shoot several frames of an insect I can usually get one that is sharp. The 200 is best on static subjects or maybe slow insects as I need time to set up the tripod and focus.

    Another consideration, and a bit of gear I would recommend, is a focusing rail. Invaluable to get tack sharp focus and do the less than mm movements sometimes needed to adjust. I usually use manual focus on either lens as I am trying to maximize the depth of field so my focal point is usually not on the bit the autofocus seems to insist is the crucial area.

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