Macro / Micro
Getting in close to your subject
At one time in my life, my everyday lens was the 55mm Micro lens. I love discovering the world usually overlooked that has a great many interesting scenes within such a small space. Even when I made the switch to digital, one of the first lens I bought was the 60mm Micro, since my new Nikon D100 wouldn't auto focus the older 55mm Micro I used on my F3's previously.

I also happen to have a passion for Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, and for several years kept a large gallery of images of various cars on a web site 1/ which I stopped maintaining a couple years ago.

I remember back when I couldn't really afford a dedicated macro lens and bought a set of "close up filters", but those are not even considered in this study due to the very short depth of field and they are not very sharp. This study includes a 28-70 zoom with macro, 28-105 zoom with macro, 60mm micro prime lens and a set of extension tubes.

I knew pretty much already that the 28-70 wouldn't go quite as close as the other two lens's would. But that in effect, makes the overall scene have more depth of field since it isn't isolating such a small portion.

You can see from this image that the overall image except for the front nose of the convertible is fairly sharp. Although only exposed at ISO 500 for 1/125 @ f/14, If I stopped the aperture down to f/22 it would increase the DOF some more.

But this study was based on general use of the macro functions and often at times you wont even be able to shoot this close at 1/125 or at f/14. Especially when you are out and about and want to grab that sudden butterfly picture that is nearby, or possibly get in close on a fresh spring flower bloom.

The reason I bring this up is because it seems to be more difficult to hold the camera steady when shooting macro if not using a tripod, and we don't always have a tripod handy. To even out the use and results in this study, all the images were hand-held and ISO kept down to 500.

To give you an idea of just what actual size these subjects are, the blue VW bus measures approximately 2" long and 1" tall.

You can make it appear as if the camera would get closer by keeping your subject in as much of a parallel line with the lens as possible. As you can see here, now with all the cars almost the same distance from the lens, it also allows you to get in closer and not have to try and have very much DOF.

Even though we are still looking at a scene about 5 -6" wide, you can effectively capture it closer if the subjects are closer together and in a more straight line approach than spread out to show more perspective of the scene. But as you can see, for a lens you can buy for about $60.00, it is pretty sharp and you can get quite close up.

Moving on to the next lens, I put on the Nikkor 28-105 Macro and found that it would go considerably closer to the subject. But... one of the drawbacks to this lens in particular is that it has a switch on the side you have to move to the macro position when you want to shoot macro. And then you have to pre-focus the camera an set the switch back to normal before you can shoot normally with it again.

Sometimes that became a pain in the but, especially if you lift the camera up from capturing a wildflower and then want to grab a candid shot of someone or the scenery around you. But unless you moved the switch back to normal, it will not focus in certain situations.

But... then again on the plus side, you see you can get quite close to the subject and at f/18 the scene is very sharp. (At least the portion within its DOF). Also keep in mind the term macro and micro are purely suggestive. True macro is at least 1:1 ratio of magnification and the 28-70 actually didn't go 1:1 but the marketing of the lens included macro, which really was more like "close focus" instead.

Nikon sort of self adopted the "Micro" term maybe to be different or make it seem their lens would focus even closer than a Macro would..

For the price difference of the 28-105mm (about $140 used) and the 60mm Micro (about $200 used) then if may depend on versatility of the lens for other than macro.

That is... if the the smallest subjects you plan to shoot are the size of a matchbox car, then you will be well suited with the zoom. When not shooting in macro you will have so many more options with the ease of making your field of view variable with only the twist of the wrist.

No... this is not a cropped image of the one above... this is indeed how much closer the 60mm Micro/Macro lens would go. It may be hard to tell on the computer screen from these small images, but the image is extremely sharp and you begin to notice details you just didn't even see with your eyes.

Since I am usually satisfied with how close one of my zooms will go in macro mode, I find that I rarely shoot with the fixed length 60mm. I actually did go out shooting with it recently and realized how there are some shots you just can't compose with the fixed length lens. Often there are obstacles you can't move or control that prevent you from framing up the scene as you could with a zoom.

Then of course...
what about when 1:1 still isn't enough?

An item you probably don't see as popular in the photography craft any more, would be the extension tubes or the rack extension tube. Unfortunately the price of the rack mounted tube was not in budget, so I ordered extension tubes that mount on the camera just like a lens does and the lens mounts to them.

I didn't bother experimenting with just 1 or 2 of the tubes mounted, but went all out for all 3. I also didn't buy the more expensive tubes that have all the electronic connectors to allow auto-focus and metering to work. Exposures were made by bracketing, based on what the previous exposures had been and then over exposing some more due to the greater distance the optical center of the lens was from the sensor/film plane.

You may also have noticed the "flattening out" of the color , such as the vibrancy of the yellow lettering. Probably due to the dark open tunnel that the light rays are bouncing around in after they have passed through all the elements of the lens but have not hit the sensor yet. The sensor is a good 3-4 inches away from the rear element of the lens, so you have to expect some kind of foul play with light rays is bound to happen.

The deciding factors on how close you can go will depend on how much is in the budget and how versatile do you want the lens to be for your other photo adventures also.

As you can see that the extension tubes have very little DOF and the fixed focal length macro lens doesn't have a great deal more. Yes, they will get you in close, but probably limit your uses of the lens.

An option that may work best is to get the zoom with a good 1:1 macro and a set of extension tubes. Since you can get the tubes for 20 bucks or less, along with the cost of the used macro zoom... you will spend a little less than what it will take to get a prime macro lens. As you can see the only advantage of the tubes is for something flat like a stamp, coin or other small flat object that will not require much DOF to be sharp all over.

If you go with the fixed length macro lens, just make sure you use it for other things too... while at first you may feel it curtails your creativity and possibility of shots, you will soon see that it will cause you to expand your normal photo practices and learn new angles and new ways you can use you camera. You may be surprised to find out how many images you have captured at the 50-60mm setting on your all-in-one zoom anyway.

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