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Thread: Macro lenses in the field...

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Aug 2004

    Macro lenses in the field...

    I am wanting to expand into Macro with my 4x5 - pictures of rocks, flowers, moss, lichen, etc. I am intrigued by the Schneider 120 HM Macro lens, but am not sure what this lens will get me that a normal lens won't.

    Are they worth it ?

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Dec 2001

    Macro lenses in the field...

    John, in theory macro lenses will get you better image quality at magnifications from 1:10 up. How high up depends on the lens.

    Working at magnifications above 1:1 in the field is somewhat painful. Possible, just not easy and not always as rewarding as hoped. To get an idea of the limits of what can be accomplished above 1:1, see, e.g., Lester Lefkowitz' book The Manual of Closeup Photography or Kodak Publication N-12B Photomacrography. N-12B was written by H. Lou Gibson, one of the gurus of infrared photography and an englishman who came to EKCo with Kingslake.

    Given that, I suggest you set up a few shots at, say, 1:1 with your normal lens to get a feel for what working at that magnification is like. You might take a shot or two too to see whether your normal lens gives results that are good enough. At 1:1, don't use an aperture smaller than f/22. If you want to go farther, rent a macro lens and use it before buying.

    My move up in format from 35 mm (all the way to 2x3) was motivated by the desire to take better flower pictures. I wasn't satisfied with the compromise between getting good detail in the flower and capturing it in its context that 35 mm forced. In my experience, the main benefit of using 2x3 has not been capturing more detail in the subject, it has been in keeping reasonable detail in the subject and including its surroundings. Your goals may differ.

    Good luck, have fun,


  3. #3
    Ted Harris's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2000
    New Hampshire

    Macro lenses in the field...

    Following on with what has already been posted .... the first thing you need to do is be very precise in your definition of ‘macro’ as that will greatly influence your lens choice. If by macro you mean magnifications that are almost lifesize (1:1) but not quite there then you may see little or no difference between the performance of a macro lens and that of a highly corrected standard lens (e.g. an Apo Macro Sironar or Apo Macro Symmar HM v. an Apo Sironar N or S or an Apo Symmar of the same focal length). Where the macro lens will shine is at magnifications of 1:1 and larger. I have done side-bys-de tests of the current generation Rodenstock and Schneider 180 macros v. an Apo Sironar N 180. Differences between the lenses were difficult to impossible to see, even on fine grain negatives, with a 4x loupe until you got to 1:1. At 1:1 the differences were both immediately obvious and significant. The performance of the macro lenses at true macro range was definite and clearly showed the value of the lenses. You see differences across the negative but most significantly improved performance as you move front he center out to the corners of the image.

    Having said all that Dan is right, using a macro in the field can be difficult. Looking jsut at your 120 lens you need a minimum of 240 mm of bellows draw for 1:1 and more if you are going larger. While 240 is not a stretch for any field camera that I can think of the 360 I need for my 180 macro surpasses the capabilities of a number of 4x5 fields. Not the mention problems of rigidity and vibration at such extensions. Finally, the angle of view of a macro lens is usually much narrower than that of a standard lens so, while its performance in terms of resolution and sharpness will equal that of a standard lens at infinity, it may not replace that standard lens for all your applications.
    I use a 180 macro but never take it into the field unless I know in advance that I want to do real macro work. Macro images are wonderful just make sure you are using the tool that most suits your needs. If you want to see comparison images between the 180 standard and macro (thanks to Bob Salomon’s guidance in doing the test right) contact me offlist.

  4. #4
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Rio Rancho, NM

    Macro lenses in the field...

    Additional options for macro or quasi-macro include older lenses that were designed for macro or process work. They probably won't compare to the the modern designs insofar as image quality at high magnification, but they may provide a cheap way to dip your toe in the macro mud. For example, I picked up a 75mm Wollensak Oscillo-Raptar for around $30 or so, in shutter. I've also used an older 240mm G-Claron at macro distances, but on an 8x10 field (a double extension Tachihara). While it covers 8x10 nicely, it could easily be used with a 4x5 back on the 8x10, too.

    One of the key points, I think, is to determine where your personal balance point is between DOF, scale, and convenience. You might also need to augment the camera kit with physical accessories, like wind deflector screens and light reflectors - stuff that is pretty common to outdoor flower photographers.

  5. #5

    Macro lenses in the field...

    John, I do a lot of close ups with my 8x10, actually about 60% of all my photographs lately are from very up close. I don't know the definition of macro. I guess macro is everything photographed at larger than life size. All my prints are contacts.
    Now, you having a 4x5 may be content with contac printing but I would bet you enlarge your work. Right?
    So, in my opinion there is two ways to go about this, one is by framing full screen at final magnification ratio and make a contact print. The other is to use a smaller camera and make enlargements. I think your 4x5 is perfectly suited for the latter. One important reason is that you can use much shorter lenses which have more depth of field and therefore will let you shoot at faster speeds which is always good in the field. One wants to get up close to see lots of tiny detail that most times escape our eyes and if it that detail is blurred it ain't no good.
    I don't know much about lenses. I use process lenses like the G-Clarons which perform beautifully at 1-5 to 5-1 magnification ratios.
    My guess is that you don't want a macro because it is to specific and you will get stuck with a lens that can only do one thing right.
    I used to have a Schneider super symmar 110 xl when I was shooting 4x5 and felt it gave me the best of both worlds. I think you should find something equivalent.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Nov 2000

    Macro lenses in the field...

    I struggled with making good macro pics for years in both 35mm and MF and digicams. I have bought several "Macro" lenses. All to no avail. Then I discovered achromatic "proxars" or close up lenses. Specifically the 2 element Nikon 6T.

    My first try using the 6T was with a MF 120mm Ukranian lens which is not very sharp but the 6T's 62mm size fit. I ended up using a short extension tube (20mm I think) and the results blew me away! Somehow it "cures" that lens softness. The pics sparkle! I can read every tic mark on the dial of my exotic Citizen multifunction chronograph. I should mention that although I am dumping digital film, I do have a digital darkroom.

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