Favorite Nikon Macro Lens?
July 23, 2007 9:29 AM   Subscribe

What's your favorite Nikon-compatible macro lens? I'm completely new to macro photography (and still pretty new to photography in general, having purchased my first DSLR a little over a year ago), and I'm leaning towards the Nikon 60mm f/2.8D AF, largely because of the price differential between this and some of the other Nikkor macros. Anyone have any great experience with some of the makeshift macro lenses (using extension tubes, reversing rings, etc)?
posted by jacksides to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've had great results with a 50mm and a set of closeup lenses (filter thread attachments). My sensor has a 1.6 crop, so I estimate I can get to 1:2 or so at my minimum focus distance. I haven't noticed any edge distortion, and what shapening falloff there is is covered up by the naturally thin DoF. Mine cost 1/10th of the price for the 100mm macro lens I had my eye on ($40 vs. $400). I'm satisfied for now. (follow my profile to see examples).

Extension tubes and reversing mounts are pretty clunky to use, I gather. Tubes limit the light going in (limiting your shutter/ISO speed). Tubes are also very expensive. Reversal mounts will make you focus and stop down the aperture manually, which is a pain. Closeup lenses let you shoot handheld with autofocus. Servo mode is especially helpful for insects, since they're fast and you don't want to have a hand up front manually focusing and scaring the bug away.

My camera is Canon, but I've done a good bit of research on what makes a good macro lens, if you have the money to spend. The 'working distance' (how far away from the lens the subject has to be) is very very small shooting macro, so any interest in insect photography would urge you towards a longer focal length. 60mm will be around 3-4 inches, 100mm will get a few more inches working distance. Other than that, read reviews on amazon, etc for cases of exceptional build quality/sharpness/etc among the lenses. The 100mm Canon I covet is universally acclaimed for portrait quality, for instance.

Photo.net has a great lens guide for Nikon (and Canon!). The section on Macro is near the bottom.

But ya, I think you'd be happy with the 60mm if that's all you can afford. It's a very small lens market and budget will tend to limit you more than anything else.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:56 AM on July 23, 2007


Reversing the lens gives VERY large magnification (the shorter the focal length, the more magnification) but you never get sharp edges, only a sharp center. But, it's FREEEEE.

Extension tubes are expensive, but since they don't add any glass they are as sharp as the lens (or sharper since you are only using the sweet spot in the center, though that may be wishful thinking). They aren't particularly clunky to use in my experience, given that macro work, by it's very nature, is kinda clunky. The most extreme macro is with a bellows. But tubes have the problem of loss of light, and loss of distance. You end up very close to your subject, which makes it hard to light.

If you can afford the longer macro, you will appreciate it since it will give you a lot more room to work in. But, they are damned expensive. Try reversing first (most new nikons work fine in program mode), but take care not to scratch the front lens element on the body (filters help, and they also have the advantage of working like a small extension tube). Don't try to focus, move the zoom to the widest setting, move your lens in VERY close to get it in focus.

I've never used screw on macro lenses.
posted by johngumbo at 10:33 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Nikon 60mm Micro is a fantastic lens, but it has a really short working distance. The first thing you need to do is seriously think about what it is that you want to take pictures of.

If it's plants or small inanimate objects, then the 60mm Micro is great. It also works perfectly as a portrait lens.

If you want to take pictures of bugs, then you're going to need to back up a bit, because once you're inside their circle of fear, they're going to jump / fly away. In that case I'd recommend either the 105mm VR Micro or the 200mm f4 Micro. They'll give you enough working distance to be useful, although you'll probably only use them for macro photography.
posted by bshort at 11:00 AM on July 23, 2007


bshort: "The Nikon 60mm Micro is a fantastic lens, but it has a really short working distance. The first thing you need to do is seriously think about what it is that you want to take pictures of.
"

Ditto on this. I have the Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 micro and it is hands-down my favorite lens. I rarely take it off my camera, unless I have a specific need for an ultra-wide or tele shot. I'd say the 60mm micro is on the body about 90% of the time. I use it mainly for portraits and everyday use, but it does fantastic macros as well. I use a Nikon PK-13 extension tube with it to get ridiculously close macros, with fantastic results.

That being said, as bshort said, the focusing distance is really short - you have to get up close and personal for macro-work, which is a bad thing when you're trying to snap a skittish little critter. It's not impossible, but it certainly doesn't make it any easier.

But if you can live with that caveat, I wholeheartedly recommend the 60mm f/2.8 as your prime (sorry, bad pun) candidate.
posted by sprocket87 at 12:56 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I forgot - the 60mm f/2.8 can be had for a bargain if you look hard enough. I got mine used in mint condition (lived its entire life on an X-ray copy stand for macros & duplications) with the PK-13 extension tube for $200!
posted by sprocket87 at 1:00 PM on July 23, 2007


This is great advice. I'm curious to try extension tubes; does anyone have any pics taken with these? I'm still leaning towards the 60mm, but a tiny part of me thinks vthat I should be patient and get the 105... I'm not that in to bugs, but if I was ever inspired to take some pics of them (I have a son who I'm sure will be fascinated!), I'd like to be as far away as possible.

Sprocket87 - where did you find that fantastic deal on the 60mm? I've been trolling Craigslist (here in DC) foer a couple of weeks and haven't seen any macros up for sale. Ebay doesn't turn up any great deals (at least in my searches) either. The best I've found has been (new) on Amazon for around $370.

Either way, I'm not really looking for a lens to double as both a macro and my "everyday" lens. I rely heavily on the ability to zoom but have the 50mm f/1.8 for those days when I'm feeling energetic enough to "be my own zoom." My everyday lens is the 18-200mm VR - I wouldn't give that up for the world!!
posted by jacksides at 2:20 PM on July 23, 2007


I bought a Tamron 90mm 2.8 macro lens. Love it. I bought it before I got a DSLR.

With my D70, the focal range is more like 135mm and I still get me 1:1 repro. In my flickr profile I have a set of Heirloom Tomatoes I shot with that lens.

Reviews for that lens should be largely positive.
posted by EastCoastBias at 2:42 PM on July 23, 2007


I like my Tamron-branded 100mm f/3.5 lens on a Canon with 1.6x crop factor. some recent photos with it (full size images direct from camera).

I rarely use the "life size" attachment (which gives 1:1 macro), those photos are at most 1:2 macro (that's at about 40cm distance from the subject). Without the "life size" diopter, focus does go all the way out to infinity.

Similar lenses are still around, but the reviews I found here and here seem to say that the lens is now seen under different names like "Cosina" and "Voigtlander".

The general review seems to be that the lens is cheap plastic construction but good optical quality. This is my only macro lens and my only prime, so I can't really compare.

The AF doesn't work too well (I leave it off unless working in full direct sunlight), so going with a manual focus version might be just fine. I didn't immediately find an AF version for nikon on the sites where I look. you might try ebay.

Unlike the 60mm lens others have mentioned, it is a stretch to imagine the 100mm as an everyday lens, unless (like me) you take 100 times more photos of insects and flowers than of people, landscapes, or buildings.
posted by jepler at 4:57 PM on July 23, 2007


jacksides: "Sprocket87 - where did you find that fantastic deal on the 60mm? I've been trolling Craigslist (here in DC) foer a couple of weeks and haven't seen any macros up for sale. Ebay doesn't turn up any great deals (at least in my searches) either. The best I've found has been (new) on Amazon for around $370.

Either way, I'm not really looking for a lens to double as both a macro and my "everyday" lens. I rely heavily on the ability to zoom but have the 50mm f/1.8 for those days when I'm feeling energetic enough to "be my own zoom." My everyday lens is the 18-200mm VR - I wouldn't give that up for the world!!"


Well I got mine through a friend-of-a-friend who was selling off a stock of Nikon lenses. He was a wealthy man (Radiologist, hence the X-ray copy stand use of the lens) and I don't think he was looking to make a lot of money off the lens. He had a few others as well, but they were focal lengths I couldn't really use (I think he had a 105 macro, the older style, as well).

And I'd much rather have this 60mm as my everday prime over a 50mm. Sure, the 1.8 is faster, but the 60mm is sharper, is a better portrait focal length, and has astounding resolution. And I also have a Nikon 18-200mm VR II, which I love, but it doesn't get much time on the body anymore unless I need the quick range - the 60mm is many times sharper and the pics are just so fantastic I hate to take it off.

Quick example - I took this image with the 60mm on the day I brought it home. This was at ISO 1600, f/6.3 on my D70 (Yes, I did say ISO 1600!):



Link if the pic doesn't show up.
Full size here

I'm sorry, I don't have any examples with the PK-13 extension tube attached to show you right now. I'll try to get some online if I can. Beware that with most extension tubes (like the PK-13) the automatic exposure features of the lens will NOT be transmitted to the camera body. Meaning, you have to shoot in full manual. Full manual is better anyway, especially for macro, but just a warning.

I have a friend at work who shoots Nikon and he has a Tamron 90 and a 105 macro, and they're both great, great lenses. If you have the money to spend, the 105 is famously excellent - you won't get any better [without spending ridiculously more]. But it's also not nearly as versatile. Now, if you really won't be using this lens for anything but macro and you have the money to spend, then the 105 is the way to go. But I'm telling you, I keep the 60mm on over my 18-200 almost ALL the time - the fixed focal length is a VERY small price to pay for astounding image quality (and great macros to boot!).
posted by sprocket87 at 5:24 AM on July 24, 2007


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