View Full Version : Macro Photography and Lens Choice

7-Nov-2003, 07:01
I've searched the archives and materials from lens manufacturers and have not found a clear answer to this question. If I want to shoot in the range of 1:1 to 1:4, should I invest in a dedicated macro lens for optimum sharpness, or can I get away with a modern "flexible" magnification lens like Schneider's Super Symmar XL 80 or 110 and therefore get a dual purpose lens in the bargain? Will it make a difference at 1:2? Also, in order to limit bellows extension or contraction, does it make sense to get an 80mm lens for close ups? or are there more advantages to getting something in the 110-120mm range?

David A. Goldfarb
7-Nov-2003, 07:14
In that range, I think you'll be quite pleased with a conventional lens. Also consider using enlarging lenses, which you probably already have if you do your own darkroom work, and which are very inexpensive these days. For LF macro work at small apertures, you might consider a shutter optional, since you will likely be using small apertures with long exposures with continuous or natural light or multiple pops in a dimmed room with strobes.

Bob Salomon
7-Nov-2003, 07:34
Assuming you are critical and want maximum performance and details of intricate objects then yes you will see a big difference between a macro lens for large format and a general purpose lens for large format. The Apo Symmar L is a general purpose lens similar to the Apo Sironar S. Neither would match the performance of an Apo Macro Sironar at the ratios you are asking about. And the Apo Macro Sironar will not match the performance of a lens like the S or the L from 1:5 to infinity.

There is no such thing as "a modern "flexible" magnification lens".

Dan Fromm
7-Nov-2003, 07:49
Mr. Salomon is right, unfortunately so is Mr. Goldfarb.

If you have the 'modern "flexible" magnification lens', try it out to see whether it will produce results that are good enough for you. If you don't own one yet, rent one for test. Also rent a proper macro lens and try it out. Then you'll be able to decide which better fits your standards and budget.



Ted Harris
7-Nov-2003, 08:02
One mor epoint to consider. If you are working with small objects you might want to think abou longer focal lengths. Even as long as 180 mm. The longer focal lengths will give you a bit of breathing space between the front standard of your camera and the object you are photographing. With a small object and an 80 to 120 lens you could be in very very tight with small objects at 1:1 and larger. Using a longer lens of course assumes you have the necessary bellows draw and that is not gonna be possible without a long bellows and rail and possibly an exctension rail and second bellows.

I do a lot of macro work with the Horseman Extending Rail opened all the way up to 700mm, using the Extra Long Bellows and a 180 lens. For more extreme magnification I sometimes use an even longer rail and a second bellows.

jerry brodkey
7-Nov-2003, 08:41
The g-Clarons are optimized for for 1:1 but alot of people use them for general photography stopped down. They often appear on eBay at bargain prices.Look at the Schneider web site....

David A. Goldfarb
7-Nov-2003, 09:25
A little more qualification I suppose would be in order. A dedicated macro lens optimized for the near field will produce really crisp results that are hard to get any other way, and a top level enlarging lens (reversed usually) like an Apo-Rodagon or Apo-Componon will also be stunning in its optimal range.

That said, with large format it's often the case that we're in the macro range shooting between 1:10 and 1:1 with ordinary lenses, say for portraits or tabletop still lifes, and we don't really think about them as "macro" because we're not photographing insects or postage stamps and the results are perfectly acceptible. Beyond 1:1--if you really are photographing postage stamps and insects--a dedicated macro lens becomes more attractive.

Bob Salomon
7-Nov-2003, 10:29
"if you really are photographing postage stamps and insects--a dedicated macro lens becomes more attractive."

Not really. If you are shooting stamps, maps, manuscripts, papers, etc. a process lens would be superior.

If you are shooting antiques, insects, jewelry, or other 3 dimensional objects at 1:5 to beyond life size the dedicated macro lens is far superior.

However neither will be a match for a general purpose lens like the S from 1:5 to infinity.

7-Nov-2003, 20:03
Thank you for all your thoughtful replies to my question. By "flexible" lens I was refering to Schneider's literature about its Super-Symmar series that says they "have a high tolerance for different magnification ratios". Of course, who knows what "tolerance" means in optical terms?

Ted Harris
8-Nov-2003, 08:22
Schneider's literature about its Super-Symmar series that says they "have a high tolerance for different magnification ratios"

Partly true and partly advertising mumbo jumbo. Everything that David Goldfarb has said is correct. So is everything that Bob Salamon has said. It's like the combination machines now on the market that copy, fax, print and scan. They do an acceptable job for all of the functions but (with the possible exceptionof faxing) do not do any single task as well as those quality machines made for a single purpose.

You should really get your subject set up in the studio and then shoot with both a macro lenses and a 'standard' lens. I can tell you from experience that when you are eworking with magnifications greater than 1:1 the differences are startling. A few years ago I did a series for a small client where the results with the macro lens were great and the regular lens just couldn't handle it. These were a series of images of small pins all sho ttwo to five times life size and then printed at 16x20 and 20x30. A regular lens could not have delivered. OTOH, if you are thinking about tabletop stilllifes of fruit or flowers, etc. then you might be satisfied wtih the results from a normal lens (until you saw the difference in performance of a macro lens maybe).

Like most other users I am a true believer in the Super Symmars. I have owned the 110 since shortly after it was available and it has become one of my most used lenses in the field for landscape work, perhaps my most used. OTOH, I don't believe I have ever used it in the studio. My 180mm Apo Sironar-N, 300mm Fujinon A and 360 mm Apo Germinar seem to be the lenses that get the most use in the studio (no, I don;t own a macro lens but I do rent them when I need them.).