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Favourite macro lens?

clvrmnky   January 20, 2007, 03:06 PM

Those of you with cameras with lens adaptors or removable lenses, what it your favourite macro lens?

I'm looking at investing in a macro lens for my Nikon, and I'm interested in how folks use this equipment for their shots.

I'll be poking around this photogroup looking at EXIF data, but if you especially like one of your shots can you put shot details (lens, lighting, distance from subject, &etc.) into the comments?

clvrmnky   January 20, 2007, 03:14 PM

My dream lens:

Lens I can probably afford:

I want a lens that can be stopped down quite a bit so I can minimize depth-of-field when I want to.

Ulrik Kold   July 11, 2007, 08:45 AM

I just recently bought a Nikon D40 - and I am also looking to find 'the perfect' macro lens.

What are the details/parameters/variables/features I should be looking for in a good macro lens?

And to repeat the question from the thread: What is your favourite macro lens?

Bret Pulkka-Stone   July 15, 2007, 06:38 PM

i use a DA Macro. it's suitable for normal cameras (not just APS-C) and it should be around $400. What the hell, i got it cheaper and the results are great. It's 50mm so i can (and do) just leave it on.
I can't complain. Focus down to 5cm from the end of the lens, which is fine by me, but means that to get max magnification, i'm a bit too close to the average fly - for this i'd prefer 100+mm.


Bret Pulkka-Stone   July 15, 2007, 06:42 PM

to answer your question:
- animals or inanimate objects? 50 is a bit short for animals.
- features? i love the focus lock on mine. focus as short as poss, lock, move. When it's ok, take the shot. no posing with funny leg positions for 2 minutes while the camera tries to work out where focus should be...
- a hood is good, but a good flash is not just useful, it's virtually essential. F2.8 is just nice to have, because if your focus distance is 20cm, your depth of field at f2.8 can be measured in millimetres. Which should also explain the need for flash or really good light....


tridymite   July 24, 2007, 05:22 PM

hmmmmmm, I don't have a macro lens. Using just the macro feature on my 3200 Coolpix. It works well for my rock samples as well.
But one day, if I am not studying anymore... thannnnn I will buy a real camera. ;-)

Karthik Seetharaman   February 09, 2008, 06:59 AM

I'm using a Lester Dine 105 mm for my macro work. Fully manual and a lovely lens. I have used the Nikon 105 too but prefer this one.

Rebecca   January 18, 2009, 01:29 AM

Hi! New here and just thought I'd revive this conversation. :)
The only macro lens that I have is my Nikon 55mm f3.5 AIS lens.
It's a great little lens. I mean, I won't be catching any bug shots with it (but that's okay, really, because I don't really need to see anything with an exoskeleton up-close anyway), but I can get up-close shots of other things.

claus kunckel   January 18, 2009, 08:18 AM

I don't think there's a 'super macro/micro lens for every situation' out there. It depend on the type of motive. All the lenses from Nikon and Canon are great in their specific field.
I'm very happy with my Canon 100mm 2.8 Macro. Super sharp and also well suited for portraits.

Skor   January 18, 2009, 07:14 PM

I have the "AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED". Its a very good objectiv! ... very high in price. But i love this objectiv *g*

Rolf Steinort   January 18, 2009, 07:21 PM

Yes, I have that one too. Really good!

littletank   January 18, 2009, 08:18 PM

I am old enough to believe that really good photographs are more dependant on the photographer than the equipment being used. I accept that if the intention is to produce images to be used to illustrate some learned work then accuracy at the macro level is important but to produce a work of art are these very expensive lenses really necessary? Now prove me wrong and show me an image which is not just a copy of some small item but something with impact and which you would like to hang on your living room wall.

Rebecca   January 18, 2009, 08:35 PM

Honestly, I think a good photographer can use just about anything and get a good picture because the talent and "eye" lies within the photographer, not the equipment.
BUT a good piece of glass (which unfortunately is usually pretty expensive) can really help a shot out.
Having said that, some of my best lenses are old AI and AIS manual focus lenses that were either gifts or cost me under $100.

Rolf Steinort   January 18, 2009, 08:42 PM

No, they are not necessary. But it is a good feeling to use such a piece. ;-)

Accuracy in making the image can be helpful for artistic expression, but if you know the quirks of your gear you can do a lot with a "bad" lens. I'll post some stuff made with our new "Subjektiv".

Romain Pouzol   June 07, 2009, 08:08 PM

I own a 100m ƒ/2.8 Canon and I love it :)
Perfect for macro and portrait (especially on full frame DSLR)

StevieB   June 07, 2009, 08:15 PM

Well, I've got the Micro-Nikkor 105mm 2.8 VR and I love it. Here's a recent shot:

Perkin-warbeck   September 24, 2009, 02:59 AM

When I purchased my Nikon D40, a major consideration was lens compatibility. I have a collection of pre-AI lenses from the 1960's as well as some AI lenses from the '70's. The beautiful thing about the D40 is that it is compatible with all my old lenses. My favorite lens is the legendary Micro Nikkor 55mm f/3.5. This lens is of course particularly useful for macro photography, but it is also a great general-purpose lens. I use for 95% of my work. The downside of the old lenses is no automatic metering , but that's what histograms are for.

littletank   September 24, 2009, 07:47 AM

I envy you with your old Nikon lenses. I too had an old Nikon until I started to find it difficult to hold the camera steady and focus so I went for something lighter with autofocus. In lots of ways I wish I hadn't. I rarely use total automatic metering and mostly fix the aperture and let the camera look after the timing. Now you have me puzzled, how is the histogram a substitute for a light meter?

StevieB   September 24, 2009, 08:54 AM

@littletank: I assume Perkin is referring to the fact that the histogram enables you to check exposure after the event, and re-take if necessary. That makes sense for static subjects, but is probably not ideal for action shots!

Perkin-warbeck   September 25, 2009, 02:50 AM

Yes, autofocus is important for action shots. For this one I used the kit lens that came with the D40 in "continuous servo" (AF-C) mode. Focusing with non-autofocus lenses is a bit of a chore with the D40. The camera doesn't have really acute focusing like the "split screen" AS prism on the Nikon F2, which let you focus confidently down to a hair's breadth, even in poor light. But you can use the D40's small green flashing focus indicator inside the viewfinder display.

SteveB explained what I meant when I said the histogram could substitute for metering. If you used a film camera in the past (especially one without a built-in light meter), you probably learned the "Sunny 16" rule and can guess the proper exposure within a couple of stops. After each test shot, check the histogram. If you shoot in RAW mode, you want the histogram to be mostly left of center (i.e., underexposure). Then in ufraw you can add up to three whole stops using the +EV slider Exposure compensation in ufraw is lossless, so you're not throwing away any information in the image. As far as I understand it, you can't add exposure losslessly in Gimp.

If you're interested, you can usually find old Micro Nikkor lenses on eBay for a fraction of what they cost new. I recently saw one there for $75.

littletank   September 25, 2009, 07:30 AM

The use of the histogram has always been a bit of a mystery to me but, bit by bit, things are becoming clearer. So, what in effect you are saying is expose for the highlights and let the shadows look after themselves, with a bit of help later from UFRaw, the reverse of my early learning. Then my follow up question is what guide do you use in UFRaw to indicate that you have found the optimum exposure setting?

Bret Pulkka-Stone   September 25, 2009, 08:30 AM

If it looks right, it is. UFRaw will also show you the histograms, so a half-full Histogram is theoretically correct. I disagree, and I don't look at it, it's not really interesting. Why? I'm looking for a shot that looks good in the style I want or one that's correct according to the histogram?
I'll agree with the "underexposure is better", but anything more than +2.5 or so adds lots of noise for me, so I try hard to get it very close. I just hit the green button if I need a hand. Or shoot once in P to test, then adjust to taste.

StevieB   September 25, 2009, 09:07 AM

With all digital capture, over-exposure is irretrievable since once the photo-sites on the sensor are at their maximum, any further light they receive makes no difference. Hence the general advice to err on the side of under-exposure, because as long as the photo-sites have received sufficient light to respond even slightly, that response can always be amplified. But, and it's a big but, that amplification will necessarily be accompanied by increased noise. I think however that Perkin is adding a bit of confusion here when he talks about "lossless" exposure compensation. It's not the exposure compensation that's lossless, whether it's applied in a RAW converter or in GIMP. It's the file format that the editing program is using as its input that may or may not be lossless. So a RAW file is lossless in the sense that it contains all the image information that the sensor originally captured. If you're using GIMP, which can't read RAW files, and you're providing it with a JPEG file, then you've already discarded a great deal of the information originally present in the image before GIMP ever gets a chance to manipulate the image. And of course, when GIMP saves the edited file as a JPEG again, yet more information will be lost. So yes, using a RAW file will give you the best chance of recovering shadow detail because the file contains all the original information, but if you "add" 3 stops' worth of exposure in your RAW converter you will be introducing a lot of noise, especially in those areas which required the most amplification, which will of course be the shadows. So RAW or not, the best exposure is that which is the maximum you can achieve without allowing any of the R, G, or B channels to clip (and it's important that none of the channels clip otherwise highlight colours will be distorted.) So if you're going to use the histograms to check exposure in-camera (and checking in software will be too late to do anything about it!) you should take care to look at the R, G and B histograms individually and decrease exposure if any one of them is clipped, or increase exposure until the brightest channel is just about to be clipped. The most practical way of doing that is to bracket, no more than 0.5 stops apart, and across at least 3 exposures.

I don't really agree with bretti_kivi about putting correct exposure in opposition to style: correct exposure simply means maximising your choices in post-processing, which is where your stylistic decisions can be most freely exercised.

littletank   September 25, 2009, 09:44 AM

Yes, StevieB, daylight continues to dawn. This business of underexposing and then boosting the RAW file is rather like pushing the rating of a film, reasonable results in low light conditions but enhanced grain. I presume it is fair to equate noise with grain? I follow what you are saying about post processing. I shoot in RAW and use UFRaw to develop before working in GIMP with .xcf files. I only use .jpg files if I have to. Excuse my ignorance but could you please define clipping and how it is identified. To an old film and darkroom user much of the digital terminology passes me by.

StevieB   September 25, 2009, 10:24 AM

@littletank: I think "rather like" is a good way to talk about the comparison of digital noise with pushing film. It's completely different, but has some similar consequences. In digital capture there's a lot of talk about the "quality of the noise" and trying to make it "more like film grain". When you push a film, you're degrading the structure of the emulsion such that there is more clumping together of the silver halide crystals, and that gives a coarser structure to the discrete bits that make up the image. Hence that grainy, atmospheric grittiness that can often be so effective aesthetically. On the other hand, when you amplify an electronic signal, you're introducing random "mistakes" into the output, and that basically means that the most amplified pixels, those in the shadow areas, will have random defects, including colour defects that the grain of a film doesn't have. So the algorithms used to amplify the image data try to intervene with the randomness of amplification such that colour defects in particular are minimised, leaving more of the mistakes that are most closely analogous to the clumping of grain in film. But this still leaves most digital noise looking a lot more objectionable and less aesthetically useful than film grain.

As for "clipping", this refers to a channel that has some photo-sites that that are at maximum even though some of them "should" have been even brighter: i.e. they are clipped at 100%. When you look at the right-hand side of a histogram, the column that represents 100% (the right-most column) should be as short as possible, but it should be present. If the right-hand columns are all at zero, then obviously there could have been greater exposure without clipping, and you are introducing unnecessary amplification of shadows with the attendant noise. If the right-most column is tall (i.e a lot of photo-sites are at 100%), then it's virtually certain that some of those photo-sites at 100% would have had a higher value if they could have done, and have been clipped back to 100%. In the image, this will result either in pure white with no detail if all channels are clipped, or some degree of colour distortion if only one or two of the channels are clipped. In practice, some degree of clipping is usually acceptable if it's in very small areas that represent, say, specular reflections from water or something like that. So the histogram must always be judged in the context of the image. If you took a picture of a fountain in bright sun, the histogram may show quite a lot of clipping, but it may not matter. If you took a portrait, almost any clipping of any channel would be a serious problem, at least if was in the face.

Perkin-warbeck   September 25, 2009, 01:41 PM

I'm learning a lot from you StevieB. I had misunderstood the nature of "lossless" exposure compensation, and I thank you for your clear explanation. I wish my camera's histogram showed R, G, and B channels so I could try your technique.

You say that adding exposure in dark areas adds noise, and I agree. But I think the ADDED noise is explained as (for lack of a better word) a "quantization" effect. I'm distinguishing added noise from noise that was already present in the capture, due to imperfect sensor, electronics, optics, etc.

Say our camera captures 12 bits of value for each pixel. Then we have 12 stops of exposure latitude, and we can imagine the histogram's x-axis divided into 12 bands, rather than the usual four or five that our camera shows us. These bands appear equal in size, but they are not. The leftmost band represents the value range 0-1, the next band represents values from 2-3, the next band 4-7, then 8-15, and so-on up to the rightmost band, which represents values from 1024-2047. Notice that in the shadows, very few bits are available to represent variations in value -- as few as two -- while in the bright areas, many bits are available -- as many as 1024.

When we add EV in ufraw, ufraw simply multiplies the values represented by these bits by some factor. For example, adding +1EV multiplies all values by 2. So what was a slight difference in the shadows in the original scene, possibly even imperceptible to the eye when printed or displayed on a screen, can be amplified to a relatively big difference and become noticeable. This, I believe, is the nature of the noise that you see when you add too much EV.

If you're using an inexpensive camera with a small sensor, the sensitivity of the pixels isn't that good, and you will have noise in the original capture. This is the random noise, and it will be amplified as well when you add EV in ufraw. But even if your camera was "perfect" you would still have noise (systematic noise) due to the quantization effect.

At least that's how I understand it!

littletank   September 25, 2009, 01:59 PM

And I thought that digital photography would be easier than the old way. About 10 years ago I had a professional photographer for a neighbour who had his own darkroom at the house. One day he invited me into his home to look at some plans for making some changes to his property and his darkroom had gone. In its place, he showed me how he had his film professionally processed and then he scanned the results into a computer where he manipulated his images and then passed them to his in-line printer. His business, which was not photographing functions, was thriving and the results appeared to me to be as good as ever. Except for the inconvenience of handling film, this seems to me to be an eminently desirable way to go.

StevieB   September 25, 2009, 02:57 PM

@Perkin: Thank you! I don't think your binary arithmetic is quite correct. When we talk about 12-bit or 14-bit capture, we mean that number of bits per channel. In the 12-bit case you refer to, each channel can hold 4096 (i.e. 2 to power 12) values. Each pixel has 3 channels, and so in 12-bit processing there are potentially about 69 billion different values for each pixel. Quite a lot! You are confusing the number of bits with the values they can represent. In a histogram, the x-axis is divided up into columns which represent equal steps in apparent brightness, and because our monitors display 8-bits per colour channel (i.e 256 values for each of the R, G and B channels) the histograms we are used to looking at have a column for each possible value per channel, 256 columns from value 0 to value 255. And of course each pixel can have 256x256x256 different values giving us the 16 million colours of SVGA monitors. Colour here includes luminance as well as hue, so this is not 16 million different colours in the sense of different pure hues. In fact there are only 3 pure hues! So we have a 256 column histogram with the y-axis potentially having as many values as there are pixels in the sensor, but of course in practice it just displays the relative rather than the absolute number of pixels having each x-axis value. The usual histogram is a luminance-only histogram, using a combination of each channel's value to compute the effective luminance without reference to colour.
OK, back to noise. You are right that no sensor is perfect, and that in 12-bit capture the value of each pixel will not perfectly represent exactly which of the 69 billion values it "ought" to have. Then there are of course all the errors introduced when the sensor values are written to the card, when the files are downloaded to computer hard drive, when they are read into memory, etc, etc. Finally there are the errors introduced by the processing performed by the editing program, and the file-writing process. So I don't think it's quite as simple as you suggest to divide noise into "added" noise and "original" noise. And in any case, noise is noise is noise when you look at the image!

StevieB   September 25, 2009, 03:04 PM

@littletank: No doubt about it - a high quality scan from a 35mm negative will produce a lot more digitised information than even the highest pixel count FX DSLR can currently do, and medium or large format film even more again. The only problem then left is the disc space and processing time required to manipulate a 500MB image!

littletank   September 25, 2009, 04:30 PM

I understand that but surely there must be a point where scanning say a colour positive from a 35 mm film just starts to outweigh the digital camera without excessive file sizes or is there? All this stuff about histograms has forced me to look at what facilities my little old point and press Olympus SP500 UZ provides. Sure enough, it has a luminance histogram in a small window and, at each end of the window is a thin vertical rectangle, red on the right and blue on the left. I gather that the purpose of these rectangles is to show what has been written earlier about clipping. Further, this histogram seems to show what the camera is actually pointing at as well as also being available to show when the recorded image is viewed. I must see how I can make use of this.

Bret Pulkka-Stone   September 25, 2009, 06:04 PM

yes, I didn't express myself very well. The "correct" exposure according to the histograms in UFRaw may or may not combine with that which I desire; however, getting close will increase the chances I can get what I want.

Clipping: the sky in this - - is seriously overblown. It's 1/40th for the speed sensation, but that was too much for the sky even if the road is correct. This is where HDR comes in, to try and capture the sheer range of exposure and reduce the compromises necessary.
For Macros it's generally not as necessary; and should give an idea of the clip / HDRd version capabilities.

But now we're getting seriously OT.... :-)


StevieB   September 25, 2009, 06:07 PM

@littletank. No, there isn't! The only thing that makes a scanned image superior to a digital capture is the amount of information it contains. If that greater amount of information is written to a file, that file must also necessarily be bigger in direct proportion to the increased information. No pain, no gain!

StevieB   September 25, 2009, 06:21 PM

@Bret: Lack of dynamic range and latitude remain digital's Achilles heels! However I'd be interested to know whether, in both of the examples you've given, it would have been possible to have exposed correctly for the sky, but still have recovered enough detail in the underexposed parts? Obviously in the action shot, you'd have needed a very small aperture as well to retain the slow shutter speed and yet not over-expose the sky.

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