Big test

Ex­treme close-ups are the or­der of the day, as Matthew Richards delves into the tiny world of ‘full macro’ pho­tog­ra­phy

NPhoto - - Contents -

Get up close and per­sonal with eight ded­i­cated macro lenses

The ‘macro’ badge of­ten seems to be bandied about willy-nilly. You’ll see it ap­plied to zoom lenses that give as lit­tle as a 0.33x max­i­mum mag­ni­fi­ca­tion ra­tio, or there­abouts, and to prime lenses that only give 0.5x mag­ni­fi­ca­tion. By com­par­i­son, all of the lenses we’ve se­lected for this issue’s Big Test re­ally go the dis­tance, at least when it comes to short fo­cus­ing dis­tances, en­abling full 1.0x mag­ni­fi­ca­tion at their clos­est fo­cus set­ting. But what does that ac­tu­ally mean?

A macro lens with a 1.0x or 1:1 mag­ni­fi­ca­tion ra­tio can re­pro­duce ob­jects at full life size on the cam­era’s im­age sen­sor. For ex­am­ple, if you’re shoot­ing with a DX-for­mat body like the D5500 or D7200, a postage stamp will fill the whole of the im­age

frame. When view­ing pho­tos on screen or in print, this there­fore gives the pos­si­bil­ity of mas­sive en­large­ments of the tiny things in life. Shoot a spi­der or gar­den bug, for ex­am­ple, and it can take on the ap­pear­ance of a giant alien invader, com­plete with as­ton­ish­ing fine de­tail that’s in­vis­i­ble to the naked eye.

While all of the lenses on test give the same max­i­mum mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, there’s a wide vari­a­tion of fo­cal lengths on of­fer, rang­ing from 40mm to 105mm. The main dif­fer­ence in prac­ti­cal terms is that lenses with shorter fo­cal lengths have closer min­i­mum fo­cus dis­tances, at which full 1.0x mag­ni­fi­ca­tion be­comes avail­able. A fo­cal length of be­tween 90mm to 105mm is of­ten pre­ferred, as it gives a con­ve­nient work­ing dis­tance to the sub­ject, of around 15cm. The min­i­mum fo­cus dis­tance re­mains the same whether you use a lens on an FX (full-frame) or DX (APS-C for­mat) cam­era. How­ever, the 1.5x crop fac­tor of a DX cam­era gives the ap­pear­ance of even greater mag­ni­fi­ca­tion.

The DX-for­mat Nikon 40mm and 85mm DX lenses on test are nat­u­rally de­signed specif­i­cally for use on DX-for­mat cam­eras, and pro­duce an im­age cir­cle that’s only large enough to cover the com­par­a­tively small im­age sen­sor. They can also be used on FX bod­ies in ‘crop mode’, although the megapixel count of the re­sult­ing images will be very much re­duced.

Get­ting back to shoot­ing dis­tances, the shorter fo­cal lengths of the Nikon 60mm and 40mm lenses shrink the clos­est avail­able fo­cus dis­tance to 19cm and 16cm, re­spec­tively. Bear­ing in mind that the dis­tance is mea­sured from the ‘fo­cal plane’ near the rear of the cam­era body, rather than from the front of the lens, you can find that the for­ward end of the lens comes frus­trat­ingly close to the sub­ject in macro shoot­ing. Not only do you risk scar­ing away small bugs that you’re try­ing to pho­to­graph, you can also find that you’re block­ing light from reach­ing the sub­ject. The prob­lem can be com­pounded in lenses that lack an in­ter­nal fo­cus­ing mech­a­nism, be­cause their phys­i­cal length of­ten stretches con­sid­er­ably as the fo­cus dis­tance is re­duced.

Un­like reg­u­lar lenses, the per­for­mance of macro lenses in terms of sharp­ness and con­trast at nar­row aper­tures is an im­por­tant fac­tor. This is be­cause depth of field can be as lit­tle as a mil­lime­tre or two at the short­est fo­cus dis­tance, so you of­ten need to use a nar­row aper­ture to en­able sharp­ness at more than one spe­cific point on a three­d­i­men­sional sub­ject. With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the best choices for macro shoot­ing on DX and FX Nikons.

Shoot a spi­der or gar­den bug, and it can take on the ap­pear­ance of a giant alien invader, com­plete with as­ton­ish­ing fine de­tail

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