Monday, March 22, 2010

8-Lens Macro Shoot-Out



- The Contenders -

Purpose


I really just wanted to see a good side-by-side of each of these lenses at 1:1 reproduction ratio. Now I realize flat field reproduction is just one aspect of performance in regards to macro lenses. In choosing a lens, the photographer must consider many things including the fact that in just about every instance outside of copy work, the subject is not a 2-D object. In my first comparison I did on this site, (which was something of a disaster) I attempted to look at sharpness as well as bokeh in the same shot. Not only that, I chose to do it outdoors, with a real subject (a plant) with changing conditions (wind, etc). All because I was tired of looking at relatively unrealistic, uninteresting subject matter in comparisons. Look how far I have come. But seriously, a flat 2-D object does provide me with some information about the performance of the lens over the range of apertures as well as a standard gauge between lenses. This test doesn't really decide the lens I will use most often, so much as it gives me more overall insight about each lens. In fact, of all of them, I shoot with the Tokina the most despite relatively strong CA because of its size, ease of use, and autofocus (which can definitely come in handy at times). The second most used lens would be the Series 1 90mm. Tack sharp wide open. I love this lens!

Procedure



To be as fair as objective as I could, I blindfolded myse....Just kidding. All lenses were shot at 1:1 with necessary extenders and extension tubes if needed. I was sure to check focus every shot. If something appeared out of focus after checking the shot on the screen (zooming in), I took another shot. I used mirror-up to minimize camera vibration, as well as a remote shutter release. Using live view, I focused each image and carefully switched over to M-up. The biggest challenge here, was keeping the plane of focus parallel with the sensor plane. At the micro level, the slightest change in angle can throw off results. Needless to say, with my relatively limited gear, don't believe this test is without errors. Even the dollar bill, though relatively new wanted to curl in the heat of the lamps (It was taped down on all sides and I was sure to keep it flat after each lens). I also used a macro focusing rail to avoid remounting the camera with each new lens, and consequently slightly different minimum focusing distance. Despite this, with some lenses, such as the 55mm, the distance was far greater than the macro rail could account for and the setup had to be completely moved.

- Test Key -


To do this test, I chose to photograph a dollar bill because it is recognizable, reproducible, and convenient to continue with, should I choose (and I am sure I will) in the future, to test a newer lens to compare results. Also, I haven't gotten around to ordering or making a lens test chart just yet! All images taken at ISO 200 on the Nikon D700.

Results


Test Results at the Center
Order of results is as follows (in retrospect, my image labels are tough to read, sorry!):
Nikon 55 | Viv S1 90 | Viv 90 | Kiron 105 | Dine (Kiron) 105 | Viv S1 105 | Nikon 105 | Tokina 100

f/2.5

f/2.8
f/4
f/5.6

f/8

f/11

f/16

f/22
f/32


Test Results at the Lower Right Corner
Order of results is as follows (in retrospect, my image labels are tough to read, sorry!):
Nikon 55 | Viv S1 90 | Viv 90 | Kiron 105 | Dine (Kiron) 105 | Viv S1 105 | Nikon 105 | Tokina 100

f/2.5

f/2.8

f/4

f/5.6

f/8

f/11

f/16

f/22

f/32

Analysis


What to make of it all? After getting all the results in and putting them all together, I find more than ever I want to do it again. With new samples of the lenses too. This was a lot of fun for sure! Also I am curious if the Tokina 100mm is truly as soft at f/2.8 as my results in this test. Also, the Nikon 105mm, I could swear it is a little sharper wide open than this. So perhaps with such shallow depths of field, my focus was slightly amiss, causing this tad miscalculation. Otherwise, all the lenses look pretty good save for the Vivitar 90mm f/2.5 MC which doesn't do so well in the early apertures. In fact, it looks aweful. I have noticed this lens tends to have a mind of its own early on. Around f/8 however, it gets back in the game. As in my other tests, the Vivitar Series 1 105mm tends to be softer (and often has a bit more CA) than it's Kiron siblings. So even though I love it's build and physical design, I now often reach for the Kiron or Dine. Not surprisingly by f/22 and f/32 these lenses are useless. Even f/16 is pretty poor.

**A user, Robin, commented below on the above statement. I made it more in hyperbole. Of course you can use these lenses at high apertures and get good images. Sometime you really do want the most DoF you can get. I was just speaking in terms of sharpness. If you want the sharpest image you can get (for what is in focus), these higher apertures will be affected by diffraction will not yield as sharp of results as the middle apertures of the lens.

Well I don't really care to go into any kind of ranking system here since as I said previously, sharpness and the kinds of things this test demonstrates about a macro lens is only a part of so many other variables in what makes a macro lens, a great lens. I personally am big into bokeh. I would love to do a little bokeh comparison. I also, on a less windy day, would love to do a comparison with a 3-D subject. I will let you make your own decisions based on these findings. I will also tell you the Vivitar Series 1 90mm (Tokina 90mm AT-X) is my favorite lens to use, and it should be yours too! The Kiron/Dines are not far behind. In terms of practicality, a newer, 1:1 capable AF macro, such as my Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X will do just about everything I need with quickness and ease.

Wrap-Up


I suppose I sensed these results. I actually had not even looked at these findings prior to deciding on selling a few lenses. Decidedly, I didn't use the Vivitar 90mm (not the Series 1 version) enough to justify keeping it. I think it was just inconvenient for me and I was never incredibly impressed with the output, especially considering all my other options. Sold. Didn't ever use the Nikon 105mm despite people like Bjorn Rorslett boasting it to be one of the best macros ever designed. Sold. And who really needs this many macro lenses? Don't ask me that question!

14 comments:

  1. Hope you don't mind, I've posted a link to this article on FredMirand's macro forums: http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/880766

    ( I am a user of the Vivitar Series 1 90mm :D
    Although, the 1:1 extender is currently duct-tapped :( )

    Cheers,
    Sam

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sam-

    Of course not, thanks for reading! Anyone who uses and loves that series 1 90 is alright by me! What kind of camera are you using it on and how do you feel about the results? Have you used any of these other lenses above? If so, please post your thoughts. I'd love to hear more opinions!

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  3. Great shoot out! Great macro collection you have there too! Looks like nothing beats the Bokina wide open or f/2.8 - center and corner! (Can't seem to wait for my just aquired, also F-mount, to arrive.) The Kiron/Dine are quite impressive stopping down - even bested the Bokina at the corner in this test. If only could you get your hand on a Zeiss 100/2 and Tamron 90/2.8, it may then be possible to determined the best of all time macro!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm presuming you've made a typing error up top. You write that the Lester A Dine Kiron is a f/2.5 lens while in fact it's a f/2.8.

    I know as I have one on my desk right next to me.

    You may wish to change that information up top.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes I did mistype that, changes made! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sharpest ever Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 is not this one but the one from 1963~1966 55/3.5 Micro-Nikkor Auto (Compensating Aperture) ;)

    http://www.photosynthesis.co.nz/nikon/f5535a.jpg
    http://www.naturfotograf.com/lens_spec.html

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you for the test. I will comment on one thing you said: "Not surprisingly by f/22 and f/32 these lenses are useless. Even f/16 is pretty poor." But that is exactly the range in which one wants to use a 1:1 macro. I do not find the results here indicative of them being useless.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Robin,

    If you click on the f/8 or f/11 sample, it should open the image in a new window or tab in your browser. Then click the f/22 sample. Use the back and forward navigation buttons (in the browser) to toggle between and view the difference. The latter apertures are clearly softer. This is actually something that happens with all lenses due to diffraction.

    I said "not surprisingly" because although based on what we know of DoF: the smaller the aperture, the larger the DoF, or the more that will be in focus, another property of light called diffraction works against us from the "other direction". The smaller your aperture gets, the more let gets scattered by that baffle, and the softer your images get. Achieving sharp results within an optical system now becomes a delicate balance between stopping down for more sharpness and deeper DoF, but not too far before diffraction begins to noticeably affect this sharpness.

    So in actuality, on most camera lenses, the sharpest apertures will be near the center.

    Luminous Landscapes has a simple, yet effective description of this phenomena here:

    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/understanding-series/u-diffraction.shtml

    Also Ken Rockwell has a nice in-depth look at diffraction here:

    http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/diffraction.htm

    Thanks for reading and I hope this doesn't come off as pompous! Never want to do that. Just sharing what I am learning, often the hard way, haha!

    ReplyDelete
  9. David, you missed my point. I know all about diffraction (degree in physics, even). It's just that in practice one has to use the lenses stopped down and they are not actually "useless", even if the sharpness suffers.

    ReplyDelete
  10. A pretty convincing performance from the Vivitar Series 1 90mm. Did you use a pre-set colour balance? It looks contrastier but also yellower than the others. But very sharp.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks for link to this blog of yours. I read it on mflenses. I'm seek kind of these lenses

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  12. Oh shi&, I just bought a Viv Ser 1 105mm.
    I should have bought the 90mm.
    Damn!

    ReplyDelete
  13. David,

    Thank ou for putting in so much time, effort, and money into further educating myself and many others. I own a mint Vivitar series 1 90mm 2.5 macro with the extender...believe it or not I picked it up new in 2008, I also have a mint like new Lester A Dine serial number 22 version, and a Panagor 90mm 2.8 (KIRON) as well as a Nikon 200MM F/4....
    My rating for sharpness goes as fallows wide open..Vivitar 90mm 2.5, Nikon 200mm, Lester Dine 105mm, and last but still very sharp to todays standars the Panagor....

    Please do a bokeh test! I think in the general public and reviews on bokeh is the least talked about and studied quality a lens has to offer!
    This is a good opportunity to through Ken rockwell right out of the water....and do some bokeh tests on the same lenses!

    Again the Vivitar series 1 90mm 2.5 will be the winner (Bokina)....

    Vincent

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  14. Thank you David for this master class, I have just won a Viv 90 2.5 on ebay , I got it chapish as there is a sleepy iris, hopefully it wont spoil the fun of using this. Great read here and understandable, regards,Des

    ReplyDelete