View Full Version : Large Format Macro Lenses

John Cook
28-Dec-2003, 06:10
Now retired from commercial (mostly product) photography, I have been searching for an amusing subject to photograph just for fun in my golden amateur years.

It seems to me that air travel with large format is becoming more problematic than it is worth (for pleasure). The weather here in the Northeast is impossible this time of year, especially for my rear-wheel-drive Grand Marquis. And my old knees no longer lend themselves to hiking, especially with a LF kit.

So I’ve been thinking about setting up a small tabletop studio in my home and returning to what I know best.

My question involves the wisdom of using a macro lens, such as a Nikkor Apo-Macro 210mm f5.6, for these small subjects.

In all the years I shot small products and food, I never used nor knew anyone who used a macro lens on his view camera. And I note that these babies run about twice the cost of their equivalent “normal” lenses.

Anyone ever use one of these? And is the difference remarkable or only marginal? Worth the cost?

Many thanks.

Brian Ellis
28-Dec-2003, 07:41
Hopefully you'll get some responses from people who have actually used one (though the lack of any such responses might tell you something equally valuable : - )). But FWIW, I've read that the improvement is marginal. I know that I get excellent results with close-up work using my 210 APO Symmar. As a compromise between a general purpose lens (i.e. one optimized for magnification ratios in the 1-10 and greater range) and a true macro lens you might consider a lens that is optimized for close-ups such as a G Claron.

John D Gerndt
28-Dec-2003, 08:07
John Cook,

If you look through the responses by Bob Solomon about optics along the lines of your question you will find him adamant about using the right lens for the job. Others, like Barry Thornton would suggest that individual lens variation and other variables might account for more easily noticed gains in sharpness.

I have been a sharpness monk, now reformed. Nobody seems to see differences I see so what is the point? You seem so very practical. I will venture that if you have been satisfied before you will be satisfied again with “ordinary” lenses.

On the other hand, if you can get a graphic lens for cheap (especially in those hard-to-use shorter focal lengths they are still amazingly cheap) why not do your own experiment? You have helped me out on this forum before so I offer you (and all the others) my little discovery: I can highly recommend the Konica GRII line for great/cheap combo. A 150mm, f9 will set you back less than $50 if you are patient. Have fun!

Julio Fernandez
28-Dec-2003, 08:49
John: Your main concern, IMHO is not the macro but your rear wheel drive vehicle. In snow and ice those things can be deadly. I am in Canada and we do have to live with the white stuff.

As for the macro lenses, there are those intent in selling you one that will swear by them as if they were the only thing around. However, studying the MTF data for symmetrical lenses like the Apo Ronar and the quasi symmetrical Symmar, and G-Claron you find that these lenses should give you abosulutely perfect results with macro work. The Apo Ronar was for years the favored process lens and in close up shows zero distortion at 1:1. If you have a 4X5, a 150mm should be fine, remembering that its coverage at infinity will not be adequate, although OK for close up work. I would however opt for macro work in 35mm rather than LF because of the metering. With 35mm metering is automatically taken care of but on LF you willl have to do the calculations every time and hope they are right. For macro work do get yourself one of the fiber optic light sets that usually come on goose necks with three lights and lenses. They will make a tremendous difference to your macro work. In 35mm you can explore the world of small to your heart's content and never tire of new discoveries.

Paul Schilliger
28-Dec-2003, 08:54
John, a Componon-S or a G-Claron or Apo-Ronar on shutter are all excellent for close-ups and can be found at relatively low prices. The apo macro lenses are probably a tad better, but unless you are shooting jewellery for a top quality printer, you will not notice.

Cesar Barreto
28-Dec-2003, 11:18
John, I've been shooting some old coins, with 4x5 at magnifications up to 6X, using enlarging lenses (80/105mm) inverted and mounted on nº 1 shutter. I can't compare against real macro lens but it was a major upgrade over 105 and 150mm Nikkor-W lenses. As a side benefit, at f/4 or f/5,6, they are a bit more confortable to work with than repro lenses. But at smaller magnifications the above Nikkors work fine for most purposes, what makes me believe that other high quality lenses should also save you some extra dollars.

Paul Schilliger
28-Dec-2003, 11:57
The Componon-S is a f5,6 lens. They are found in shutter. I have the 150 and close-up images (1:1-1:2) are *MUCH* sharper than with the Apo-Symmar. To my surprise, the lens is sharp for distant subjects too!

Another alternative to mounting enlarger lenses on shutter with a special adapter ring could be to mount an Apo-Symmar or Apo-Sironar in reverse position. Swapping the lens elements is not possible for they have different fittings, but I can imagine that it might not be too difficult to mount the lens by it's filter tread to a lensboard with the help of some step-up step-down rings.

You probably know better than me, when it comes to macro photography and large format, there are a number of issues. Metering is one, as Julio pointed. Camera extension is another and the biggest of all problems is DOF. The larger the format, the shallower the depth of field gets. It is O.K. for flat subjects or if blurred parts are sought after, but otherwise the use of medium format with TTL metering can be a reasonable choice.

Walter Glover
28-Dec-2003, 14:50

You are not alone in this journey. Many of us are trading a position as galley slave on the good ship Commerce for a more self-indulgent role. And with perfectly good reason.

Large format art photographer Paul Caponigro has, I believe, been somewhat confined to quarters for some time now and he is doing the most splendid meditative still-life shots (on 5x7, I guess). You can see some in his latest book — "New England Days" (Publisher: Imago Mundi ISBN: 1-56792-216-3). For those who say you can find a lifetime of subject matter in your own backyard I would say, have a look at what you can do on your table. You can see some of these Caponigro still-life studies amongst other works at:


Another large format still-life afficianado who might prove of interest is Francois Gillet. He shoots on 8x10 and uses the 300mm Makro-Sironar which may be difficult to access these days but was most notable for having front and rear elements that reversed for 1:4 and 4:1 repro.

Check his work at:


I have a 120mm amd 180mm Makro-Symmar HM and I am enraptured by the crispness of these optics when used appropriately. I have used both at infinity when caught in a spot and they performed admirably, but I use them for small engine details on customised Harley Davidson motorcycles. I wouldn't be without them. The 180mm is supposedly for 8x10 and, although I haven't tried it yet, I shall be doing so over the holidays.

While I acknowledge that many viewers would not appraciate the difference these lenses make I cannot overlook the very important fact that I CAN! And what else matters. If I do not make personal work that fully satisfies all my own desires then my whole involvement is pointless. This is MY time and I'll be damned if I am not going to please ME!