View Full Version : The difference between normal large format lenses and macro lenses.

24-May-2012, 09:36
Hello. I'm planning to purchase a lens (210mm or 180mm) to photograph still objects. So far, I've used Schneider lenses (Super Angulon 65mm/f5.6, Super Angulon 90mm/f8, APO Symmar 150mm/f5.6, and APO Symmar 210mm/f5.6) and had very good results. Especially, the 150mm and 210mm lenses were excellent for landscape and still objects. However, I wonder if I could get even better results with macro lenses.

Basically, most large format lenses can be used as macro lenses if you extend the bellows of a camera. Therefore, I wonder if it's really necessary to get macro lenses. However, if I could get better images with Nikkor 210mm AM ED or Schneider 180mm Makro Symmar, I might purchase one of them. Does anyone have experiences with these lenses? What are the drawbacks to them?

I appreciate all inputs from you.

24-May-2012, 10:11
Hello. I'm planning to purchase a lens (210mm or 180mm) to photograph still objects. So far, I've used Schneider lenses (Super Angulon 65mm/f5.6, Super Angulon 90mm/f8, APO Symmar 150mm/f5.6, and APO Symmar 210mm/f5.6) and had very good results. Especially, the 150mm and 210mm lenses were excellent for landscape and still objects. However, I wonder if I could get even better results with macro lenses.

If your objects are flat and you want them distortion-free and sharp corner to corner, you may see an improvement.

Mark J
24-May-2012, 10:22
All of the Symmar/Sironar & similar lenses are very good down to 5:1 and in real-life, pretty good at 4:1 or 3:1 .
I think you need to assess if you're going to be doing a lot of work at 3:1 down to 1:1 or magnifying beyond 1:1 really, to justify a special macro lens ( but I wouldn't stop anyone buying another lens - my moto is "you can never have too many lenses" ) .
One option if you don't need the bigger apertures is to use G-Clarons which are supposed to be optimum anywhere from 5:1 to 1:5 , but also pretty good at infinity . Only f/9, but that might be OK .

Ken Lee
24-May-2012, 11:52
"I appreciate all inputs from you."

You might find this brief article informative: Shooting Up Close: Macro and Process Lenses (http://www.kenleegallery.com/html/lenses/index.php#Macro)

For close shooting, Process and Macro lenses are better than ordinary lenses. They will give better color and sharper images. That's what we would expect, considering that they are engineered by some very smart people, to do exactly that. It doesn't take much enlargement to tell the difference :)

24-May-2012, 14:22
It depends very much on your goals.
Photography encompasses many disciplines with requirements quite different from "artistic" images.

If you're involved in technical work, where the result must be an exact and accurate image of the subject, such that
you can take accurate measurements from the negative, then you certainly need an excellent macro/process lens.

Creative photography seldom requires that level of precision.

Most standard lenses are optimized for images of roughly 1:10 to infinity.
That does not mean that they won't work with closer subjects, it's just that there may be a measurable degradation
in the image at macro distances. Whether or not that is visible in the print depends on many factors.

My suggestion would be to shoot some representative subjects with your existing lenses, then rent/borrow one or
two macro lenses of the same focal lengths and shoot the same setups with those. Compare the results.

If you see a difference in your work with your setup, then buying the macros would likely be desirable.
If not, then definitely not.

The Schneiders you mentioned, particularly the Apos, are excellent lenses.

- Leigh

25-May-2012, 15:25
Hello. I'd like to thank all of you for inputs. I've decided to purchase a Nikkor 210mm AM ED lens.

However, I still have a question. This lens is only good for close-up photos. It cannot be used for normal portraiture and landscape. I wonder how bad it is for normal photography. Does anyone have experiences with it? Is there another lens that is very good for both close-up photos and normal photography?

25-May-2012, 16:48

There was a grammatical error in my first message. Sorry. 

So far, I've used Schneider lenses

→So far, I used Schneider lenses

25-May-2012, 20:37

I used the NIKKOR-AM 210mm f5.6 macro lens for a couple of 8x10 portraits and really liked the results. I stopped the lens down to f22, although f11 or f16 might have worked better. I find that I prefer it to my NIKKOR-M 450mm and FUJINON-C 600mm lenses for portraits because I can move the camera closer to the subject (for framing the composition) and still easily focus. No vignetting, and I was shooting at around 1:4 or thereabouts.

I also used this lens to photograph a large Juniper tree about 25 feet away (just playing with some PROVIA film) with my 5x7 camera and liked the results with that as well.

So yes, this lens can be used for portraits and (at least some) landscape photography. Probably does not work well shooting at infinity, but I prefer not to waste film finding out...

I did not see where you said what format you are shooting (4x5/5x7/8x10/larger). That info would help as well. For 4x5 and 5x7 my opinion is: go for it. For 8x10, you probably want to stick with close up portraits and closer than infinity (like <100 feet) landscapes.

Hope this helps.


26-May-2012, 06:42
Hello Dolphin. Thank you for the precious information. I'll purchase the Nikkor AM ED 210mm lens. I hope it will produce quality photos.

Ken Lee
26-May-2012, 09:14
Nikkor Macro Lenses are not designed for infinity or distant subjects.

According to Nikkor Lenses for Large-Format Cameras (http://www.kenleegallery.com/pdf/Nikkor_LargeFormatLenses.pdf) the coverage at f/22 is 400mm (16 inches) at 1:1 ratio. At infinity, the image circle will be 1/2 that, namely 200mm, which is barely enough to cover 5x7 film. Am I missing something ?


Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is not a lens for portraits unless you want full face shots - but with a 210mm lens on 8x10 at 1:1 distance, we will see foreshortening, won't we ?


26-May-2012, 15:34
Hi Ken,

I know what the specs are, but here are 2 of my photos shot with the NIKKOR-AM 210mm lens which you can judge for yourself. 1st is an 8x10 self-portrait taken at f16, 1 second, Fuji NEOPAN 100 ACROS:


(Scanned on my EPSON V750; pardon the dust).

2nd photo is a 5x7 landscape taken at f22, <1 second, Fuji PROVIA 100F:


(drum scan courtesy of WEST COAST IMAGING). Hopefully, these images will upload properly.

Yesterday I exposed 2 sheets of 8x10 T-MAX 400 film using this lens for a portrait of my girlfriend and her 2 daughters. No vignetting on the ground glass. Give me a week or so to get the film developed and I will post it if you want additional proof :-) I can't explain it, I just know it worked for me. Weird, huh?


David A. Goldfarb
26-May-2012, 16:12
The magnification ratio of Daniel's portrait in the previous post is about 1:3 or 1:4 on 8x10", so I wouldn't be surprised if a 210mm macro could cover the format.

The point is valid, though, that you should pay attention to the magnification ratio at which the image circle is given in the specs. For conventional lenses, it is usually given at infinity. For macro lenses, it's typically given at 1:1, and one shouldn't expect the lens to cover the normal format for such a focal length at infinity. A 210mm lens should cover 5x7" amply, but a 210mm macro lens like this one covers 5x7" at infinity just barely.

27-May-2012, 05:47
Is the size of the image circle the only possible problem with Nikkor AM ED 210mm? Then, it's not a problem for people who only shoot 4X5. Personally, I only shoot 4X5 so I suppose I'll only get benefits by using this lens.

By the way, Dolphindan's photos are very nice. I thank him for sharing his experiences with me.

David A. Goldfarb
27-May-2012, 06:51
Lenses are optimized to have the least distortion and the sharpest image in a specified magnification range. A 210mm macro lens may have a large enough image circle for infinity on 4x5" and be sharp enough and have low enough distortion for your purposes at infinity, but it may not be as good as a lens of comparable vintage and complexity designed for shooting at infinity, rather than at macro distances.

Most people who aren't dedicated macro/micro photographers use an ordinary lens like a Symmar or a Sironar for everything, just focusing closer for close subjects, and if they find they do a lot of macro work or have very precise reproduction requirements for photography at high magnification, then they may get a dedicated macro lens.

Ken Lee
27-May-2012, 10:13
For 4x5 the 210 Macro Nikkor will be wonderful.

The only "exception" to what we see among macro lenses, is the Fujinon A series. Those lenses are optimized for somewhere between macro and distance shooting. 1:5 perhaps rather than 1:3 or 1:10.

They are plasmat designs (like normal landscape lenses) but open only to F/9 instead of f/5.6, which makes them roughly 1/2 the size of f/5.6 plasmats. Smaller lenses are also lighter, and the Fujinon A lenses are light compared to the others - but they have comparable coverage and superb fidelity.

When comparing my 210mm Macro Sinaron to my 240mm Fujinon, I could not distinguish a difference under a loupe using 4x5 film - at either infinity or close range. Perhaps there are color-related differences. The f5.6 aperture of the Macro Sinaron makes focusing and composing much easier under less-than-ideal light, because it's 150% brighter. On the other hand, it's larger, takes 67mm filters compared to the Fujinon A's 52mm filters.

28-May-2012, 23:36
Hello Ken. To tell the truth, I emailed a question to Nikon in Japan regarding this lens. I received 2 responses from Nikon yesterday and today. They say this lens is for macro photography and not recommended for general photography. As the distance between the lens and a subject increases, the quality of the image goes down, and you might lose sharpness.

I'll receive the lens today. I'll make some test shots, and compare results with a Schneider APO Symmar 150mm.

Phil Hudson
30-May-2012, 14:19
I heard that Harry Cory Wright once tried the Nikkor 210 AM-ED lens on his bespoke 8x10 Gandolfi P&S and found it soft and lacking coverage for general use. Looks like he uses a 240mm now........http://www.harrycorywright.com/index.php

6-Jun-2012, 08:18
Wouldn't an enlarger lens be a good choice for macro? Componon lenses can be had for little money. Worth a try.

Ken Lee
6-Jun-2012, 08:28
"Wouldn't an enlarger lens be a good choice for macro?"

People use them - and as long as you're shooting straight ahead they should be great. If you want a lot of coverage and view camera movements, that's another matter.

If we want a lens for shooting macro, there's nothing quite like a macro lens :)

Here's (http://www.kenleegallery.com/images/larger/9.jpg) a photo of a rose, larger than life-size, made with a 210mm Macro Sinaron, mounted on a Sinar DB board, using a Sinar Copal Shutter on a Sinar P. It's easy to carry short distances outdoors. A wonderful rig for flower photos.

One thing I really like about Large Format lenses, is that they generally have lots of coverage. We don't have to chop off the edges of the frame or run the images through a special "filter" to eliminate "color fringing", which is often necessary when shooting with "modern" equipment :rolleyes:

6-Jun-2012, 11:07
I heard that Harry Cory Wright once tried the Nikkor 210 AM-ED lens on his bespoke 8x10 Gandolfi P&S and found it soft and lacking coverage for general use.[/url]
Nikon states very strongly that this is a macro lens designed for 1:1 ratios.

Coupled with the fact that the image circle at infinity is only 200mm, "soft and lacking coverage" is to be expected.

Nobody with a working brain cell would try it on such a camera.

- Leigh

13-Jul-2012, 14:37
Hi all,

To follow up on my previous post of 26 May, I photographed my girlfriend and her 2 daughters from about 5 feet away and got vignetting. So for using the Nikkor-AM 210mm lens with 8x10, vignetting kicks in somewhere between 2 and 5 feet from the subject. Hope this helps...