on-going, worldwide, search for the best macro lenses (for 35mm use)
in the world has forced me to create documentation since I can no
longer keep track of it all in my head. The title should
actually be "What are the Best Lenses for Macro", since many of the
lenses I plan on testing are not meant for macro. Never know
though... we might find some sleepers or you may already own a great
Although I have been involved
with macro/micro/close-up photography for many years I have never
studied the many factors in such detail as I am doing now. I just
grabbed an appropriate lens for the job from the choices I had,
never doing much comparison of available products since it was all
U.S. Navy property and I used what they had. A Bio-Medical (medical
& legal) photographer entering an operating room with a large camera
is impractical, 35mm was, and still is, the choice. Two macro lenses
we're all I knew, the Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 and the Medical-Nikkor 200mm
f/5.6. These 2 lenses are what put Nikon cameras into almost
all Government/Military Hospitals and they hold this
advantage even after 40+ years. I have both of these lenses and can't wait to see
how they stack up against the competition.
As this section grows it will
valuable information for choosing the right lens from what I
have. If you
have the same lens, or are considering what to buy, it might
help you too.
Specific magnification, lens
performance, lens to subject distance,
price, available light,
weather & terrain conditions, along with several other factors, all
prove themselves useful information in determining lens
choice... if you have choices.
WHAT? WEATHER CONDITIONS?
TERRAIN? Yes, with this information you could decide between
taking out your most awesome lens for the job or one that if destroyed
wouldn't make you cry like a baby. Some lenses are
irreplaceable and most great lenses usually cost
considerably A LOT MORE than good lenses.
I highly recommend running your own
tests to find your lenses Prime Apertures or Sweet Spot,
especially for macro work and other conditions where
sharpness is crucial.
The test is easy, just put your camera on a tripod, focus on
a test chart, fine print or something along those lines,
then make an exposure for all the lenses f-stops. I find
full stops are enough but you can refine the test by doing
1/2, 1/3 or even smaller increments if you wanted. Then just view the
results on your monitor at 100% or higher and you'll see where the
lenses perform best. If you need more depth of field, (as we
all do in macro work) then you can see how far you want to push the limits
since most lenses continue to diminish in quality the
farther you move away from the Sweet Spot. Most lenses
I have used are best stopped-down about 2 f-stops, and hold
on to higher qualities for about 2 more f-stops, but not
always... I'm currently testing a Tominon 35mm f/4.5 and it
seems to perform best wide open or at it's maximum aperture of f/4.5.
When evaluating results I find it
best to view the fastest f-stop image first and zoom in on
everything that's in focus as tightly as possible. This
prevents me from seeing the increased depth-of-field (DOF)
in the rest of the images which can give the impression of
being sharper. Run the tests and you'll see what I mean.
Using your lenses Sweet Spot will increase your image
quality and often to a LARGE degree!
How I do the testing...
this in mind)
Scaling per Criteria
Rating is subjective and
comparative. Your findings or opinions, especially from sample
to sample of the same product, may very.
what I would pay.
A buy rating of 8 (Buy
at Market) does not mean I'd pay retail. Be patient, do your
research, shop around, and you'll find better prices...
in that order. :)
No Value/Toy = 0-2
Little Value/Beginner = 3-4 (below average)
Decent/Student = 5 (average)
Good/Semi-Pro = 6-7 (above average)
Very Good/Pro = 8
Great/Pro = 9
Fantastic/Collector = 10
DON'T BUY = 0
Buy VERY CHEAP = 1
Buy CHEAP = 3
Buy BELOW Market = 5
Buy AT Market = 8
Buy ABOVE Market = 9
Buy as INVESTMENT = 10 **RESEARCH IT**
Items may have high ratings in
one area and low ratings in another.. Buried Treasures!!!
if the only concern is with the sharpness of a lens, the sharpness may be found for a much lower price in
another lens with overall weak ratings.
EXAMPLE 2: a product may
receive very low overall ratings but be selling for lots of
money. Is the market overpriced or is it a rare
collectors items? Do your research!!!
A BUY rating will outlast
recommending an actual suggested price since currency
but good quality lenses will always be that... good quality
lenses. Camera gear is improving in many aspects but most
being built with lower quality materials than what was used
previously. The days of the all metal cameras and lenses are
all but gone. Buy some when they're cheap and start your
DX format sensors (APS-C) have a crop factor of
about 1.5, so if you use a FX sensor (Full Frame), or 35mm
film camera, you'll see a more of a scene than will be
visible on a DX camera. If you put a regular
FX 100mm lens
on a DX camera the lens will act like a 150mm lens on the DX camera. You can expect better results in some
categories on film and full-frame cameras.
This section of the website deals
with Macro/Micro/Close-up photography and some lenses in
these test were never intended for this purpose. Lenses are
at their best when used to the designs target magnification
range. If a lens receives poor results in these tests they
might score high at their intended magnification range.
When considering your purchase
remember to look at the lenses condition, especially the
glass. A banged up exterior won't affect your images unless
it's bent or leaking light, but bad glass can. The most
common problem with "bad glass" is a loss of contrast and
lens flares. These lenses can be interesting to shoot with
but always buy the best sample you can.
Below is the information I'll try to
gathered about each lens.
mechanically measured but rather my personal rating.
Ease of use:
Can you just slap it on and go, or does it require setup, adapter or
bellows? Metering, automatic diaphragm?
How well do I personally like the lens.
Is the focus as smooth as butter or do you need pliers to use it?
Does it spread the focus range out well?
aperture range. Information only. This category not rated.
1, 0 or NA (no aperture)
important since some out of focus elements in the photograph may
take on the shape of the aperture blade construction. Rounder
aperture/diaphragm openings with odd numbered blades are generally better at
giving pleasing results to those out of focus areas (Bokeh). An odd
number of aperture blades make for even star patterns... 7 blades
creates a 14 point star. 9 creates 18 and so on. The "stars" are
most noticeable in extreme highlights and reflections. (Stop your
lens down to emphasize the effect)
Prime Aperture Range:
My recommended apertures for the best in sharpness and contrast for the lens as a whole,
with the equipment available.
Less image quality can be expected outside these
ratings. When using a bellows the effective f-stop increases as you
increase extension. I will not be considering effective f-stops in
these tests but rather the f-stop reading from the lens. However I
will relate extension used so you can calculate it if you want.
Effective f-stop calculations serve me no purpose at this time and
can be calculated with the information included in the review should
the need arise.
Closest Distance Reading on Lens Barrel:
Distance to object at 1:1 on a DX format camera & Extension Required:
The distance from the lenses furthest forward piece (usually lens barrel) to the subject at 1:1. (not the film-plane and not necessarily
the front lens element) This information is most useful for me
since some lenses have deep-recessed front elements while others
front element may extend beyond the barrel. Saving
centimeters, millimeters and beyond, becomes more important as the
magnification increases. In cramped quarters you'll usually want
shorter focal length lenses. If you have the space longer focal
lengths lenses are desired. I am using a 24mm width as a 1:1
representation, which, for these tests, is close enough.
Distance to object at Maximum Magnification, Horizontal Coverage &
Furthest forward piece. Normal and Reversed
most magnification I can get out of a lens before the front element
touches the subject, if I have enough extension to get there.
(Currently 245mm max.) Also how much extension it takes to get
the maximum magnification. Normal and Reversed. *Some
common lenses, once mounted in reverse, can become very useful macro
excited to document this section so I can understand the
relationship between all the factors. I have
reversed lenses before but have no idea of the relationship. Years
ago I was taught the mathematical formulas for calculating all thing
but can't remember a bit of it. I am going to run these tests before
reading up on the subject and see if I can come to my own
conclusions. Right now, I have no clue.
Distance to object at LEAST Magnification & Horizontal Coverage:
Furthest forward piece.
The most magnification I can get out of a lens forward or reversed.
Infinity-Focus on Nikon:
It is difficult to get adapters
that will allow the use of other lens mounts on Nikon Bayonet
cameras without the use of additional optical glass if you need
infinity focus capabilities. Unless you must have infinity focus,
even think of putting anything in the way of the original lens
design other than filtration. Anything added to the lens that the
light must pass through alters the outcome and MAY degrade quality.
How easily you can adapt the lens.
The adapter required to mount the lens to your 35mm camera.
NOTE: The "required" use of any
adapter, including bellows, downgrades the lens in some of these
ratings, even though most higher magnification lenses do require
The type of camera my lens specimen was made for and other mounts
I've seen it in.
(If a filter can
be added) Some lenses or techniques limit or eliminate the possible
use of a mounted filter.
NOTE: Filters are more glass to shoot through.
1. Only use them when you should, but ALWAYS have one on the lens when
not in use for the added protection. Trust me, you'll be glad
someday by following this advise.
2. Buy the best you can afford for shooting filters and buy cheap
ones for protection.
...now I need to create a section on filters to elaborate on this.
Lengths & Width without body cap.
Without caps, filters or hood. (naked)
Sharpness: Several lenses need reviews completed before I can
set a standard for ratings.
SCENE or Overall Apparent Sharpness:
You be the
Test shots for examination.
If you have ever gotten real close to a small flower,
focusing on the center, and wanted the center as well as the
up-lifting petals to be in focus, you'll want what we'll call
"Near Focusing" or "Concave Focusing" lenses. These lenses, when
focused will create greater DOF towards you.
If you want to photograph a
document or old photo, you want what is most commonly referred to as
a "Flat Field" or "Flat Field Focusing" lens. If you were to use a
near-focusing lens on the same document the farther out from center,
the more out of focus your results would be.
I am quite curious what these
results will show. I will try to build a visual diagram from
gathered measurements and see if it is worthy of noting... I'm not
sure at this point. The information may also prove to hard to
calculate with my primitive setup for measurement. It would make
sense that lenses are either flat-field or near-focusing but I'm
curious to see if any lenses focus farther away from flat.
how pleasant the out of focus portions of an image look. Some just
fade away gracefully and others diminish image
quality. Bokeh is a critical factor in some cases for turning good
images into great images.
How deep the colors get.
All lenses produce different renderings of color in images, even
different samples of the same lens. Some
look just like the original scene and others produce something
farther away from that original scene.
Not mechanically measured but rather my personal rating with the use
of a color chart for consistency.
Not mechanically measured but rather my personal rating.
VERY Noticeable Problems:
of severe problems. Ghosting, flaring, color fringes
or any aberration (problem) that really cause headaches will only be
listed if they are to an extreme that causes personal concern. These
reviews are non-biased but they are my personal observations and
ratings. When possible, I try to do all testing before reading
anything about the lens so as not to influence my opinion. This is
not often possible because of the investment needed for some of
these is high. I usually know quite a lot about what I'm buying
before letting go of the dough. Contributed gear, garage sales and
others sources are a good place to find equipment you are not
familiar with and sometimes at great prices. eBay used to be great
but with so many informed buyers it's hard to get super deals
anymore. Good deals are still to be had though.
Can you get
one online or do you have to know an Egyptologist?
How easy is
it to get fixed?
How easy is
it to fix?
Cost When New:
Used Cost or
Most the lenses I use are no longer made. New,
high-quality optics are especially expensive and that's how this
whole What is the Best Macro Lens? section got started. I
have bought many used lenses for using in 35mm macro work. I am
continually looking for the ultimate lenses and once into
macro/micro work you soon find out that there is no single lens
right for everything, but many great lenses for specific purposes,
so what IS the best macro lens??? It depends on your needs. As this
section grows you'll understand this more.
is subject to change!!! Rating is on a curve of the lenses tested
here. There may be superior lenses tested which could lower other
lenses ratings. These ratings will not be posted until I have
several reviews to compare.
will only take into account the following information; Sharpness,
Saturation, Contrast, Prime Aperture
VERY Noticeable Problems.
What I like
about this lens?
don't like about this lens?
Some of the Cons I list are not much of an issue when using the lens
for macro and is for overall rating purposes only.
recommendation on buying the lens.
Alternatives to the current lens you are viewing.
With the aid of adapters you can get just about any lens working on
a bellows for macro shooting.
documentation that I found useful.
cannot begin to document all the possible macro lenses since just
about any lens can be used for macro if your determined enough, but I will give you
some information on a variety of lenses that you
may find interesting.
- if you have any old camera gear (especially lenses) collecting dust,
drop me a line as I'm always looking for new equipment and
I do buy some so
Contact me if you have ANY to retire.