As I’ve mentioned before, if I were asked to declare a particular field of photography to be my favourite, I’d probably say “insects”, or to be more precise “arthropods”, or to be less precise “things that you wouldn’t want in your nostril” like snails and dragonflies and slugs and spiders and oh did I mention snails.
I’ve always felt it a bit of a shame that my “good” camera is actually fairly weak in this respect, and I’ve always been able to get much better results out of my point-and-shoots. It’s not the camera’s fault, of course – it’s because I’m still using the 18-55mm kit lens that came with it.
I’ve done a little bit of research into buying a new lens – these two lenses are both currently looking like candidates. They’re worlds apart, but the former would also make for a good long lens, and the latter would satisfy my other desire for a decent prime.
Tamron AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2 Nikon+Motor
Nikon AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G Lens
I went into a camera shop yesterday and got the assistant to put the latter on a body so I could have a play around with it. As far as tests go, I’m not sure how much I learned. There wasn’t much light, I had to use a lens cap as a surrogate insect, and the camera was on a security wire so I had limited movement. Would have been a better test if I’d actually had my own camera on me, of course.
I’m the sort of guy who likes to do a bit of research before he spends a bit of money, and so far I’m unable to drum up enough confidence to put down the money. I’ve considered renting lenses as well, to give them a try. One thing that does turn me off is all this talk about tripods – I’m the kind of chap who likes to shoot dragonflies from the hip. There’s no point in me spending money if it can’t outperform my point-and-shoot.
Fortunately, I happen to know that the Uborka readership contains a disproportionately high percentage of photographers, so I’m firing up the Ubork-symbol (it’s a big cucumber projected onto the base of the clouds), making sure it’s in focus (naturally) and saying “here’s the comments box, let’s talk about macro.”
I used to have a really nice 70-300 that had an excellent macro feature but I lost it while I was in Spain (luckily after the scheduled zoo visit for that trip). The one I replaced it with is nowhere near as good but I haven’t worked out what I think I need and how much I’d need to spend to get it.
I’m no photographer but I’d say if the 70-300 is as large as it sounds, you’ll end up leaving it at home and not wanting to carry it.
That’s a good point, Lisa, one I hadn’t considered.
I have a Canon, so I’ll talk to those lenses, but I’m sure their are Nikon equivalents.
I now have 4 lenses
1) An 18-250 all purpose lens
2) An 16-35 indoor wide lens
3) A 35 f2 prime out for dinner
4) A 50 f1.4 prime god lens
→ One ←
The 18-250 lens Is basically a kit lens. But it’s a good holiday or walking around lens. [link1, link2]. This is the general, you’re on holiday, you need to take some zooms, some close up. And you just want to slap one lens on and put it in your bag. Any variation on this would work.
Note, the difference between a 250 and 300 is very marginal. I would sell the kit lens and rather go for a 18→ than a 70→ and sacrifice the marginal zoom on the other end.
→ Two ←
I bought this mainly to get a bit of a wide angle for interior house shots when doing the ‘furb. The 16mm vs 18mm on my walking lens is marginal, but the whole lens and it’s lower aperture range is much better. And this does double up as a nice indoor lens, with a bit more flexibility than the 35mm prime. But I probably should have gone for an true ultra-wide lens here as this has a lot of cross over with what I already have.
→ Three ←
I bought this one because the 50mm below is too close when out. Basically if you’re at dinner with people, and you use the 50mm you just get individual headshot. Where the 35mm, gives you more in the picture. Being a prime means you get a lot better f stop, so it’s great for shitty lighting, indoors, like at restaurants.
→ Four ←
This is my god lens. It’s incredible. You can take awesome pictures in virtual darkness (the room here is virtually pitch black). Down side is, everything is really fucking close. So you need to walk back a lot (hard to do in a restaurant). But the low f-stop opens a insane array of good photos.
If you’re only going to buy one lens, my suggestion would be go for the Nikon 50mm equivalent (Nikon AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4D Lens). If thats out of your budget, the 1.8 is £100 cheaper Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens.
You’ll lose a bit of the wider angle of the 40mm, but the lower F-stop will give you some amazing pictures. But since you want to do close up photography this seems like a good choice. I caveat this with I know nothing about macro photography and may be talking a lot of shit.
Then on your next upgrade sell the kit lens and look for some in the 18-250 range (and if it’s a general walking lens, you can go for a non Nikon brand, and save a bit of money, e.g. Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM Lens for Nikon.
Renting a lens, is a good way to play with it, but I’ve always found the cost a little too high to justify it.
I hope this helps. Most of the time now by expensive camera and lens sit idle, and I use my iPhone as it’s quicker and easier to take pics of Noah. So you probably should ignore everything I’ve just said.
This comment is brilliant Sev, thanks so much!
Funnily enough, I have already given some consideration to the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G before – not as a macro lens, but just as a good prime for low-light conditions.
One thing I do need to consider is that for my camera, I need AF-S lenses if I want auto-focus. Which I probably wouldn’t for macro use, but it seems like a fairly high-priority on a general-purpose prime.
It’s hard to decide whether to look for one lens that can fulfil many roles, or to specialise, and refuse to compromise.
No problem. I’ve spent far too much time looking at lenses for the quality of photographer I am.
All those lenses are auto-focus, and I would’t buy a non auto-focus one.
Unless you’re looking at £1500 and up lenses, I think you you do better specialising. As you can’t get a “many role” lens that is good across all the ranges.
I would definitely go for a very fast prime as your first specialisation lens, then look for a good walking around lens with decent zoom. Then go back to a specialist lens for the next one.
I have a friend who has a 100mm prime which he uses for portraits of his kids. Granted he has to stand miles away, but the results are stunning.
Another option, instead of renting, is borrow my camera and lenses for a few weeks. Yes it’s Canon, but will give you a good feeling for what the lens can do, and you can decide if you want to look at the Nikon equivalent.
I want to upvote Sev’s comment.
Also Pete’s post title.
Hope I’m not too late.
That micro-Nikkor may look irresistibly cheap (ok, “reasonably priced for a Nikkor macro lens”) but it is very, very short. You’d have to be right on top of your subject, which is ok if it’s not moving but no good at all if it’s a bug or other wildlife that is easily spooked. And you’d be so close that lighting it might be a problem. Although much more expensive, I’d suggest saving up for a longer macro lens. I believe Tamron makes a 90mm that is well rated and not horribly pricey.
The other advantage is that any longish macro lens will also double as a rather nice ‘portrait length’ (yes yes, I *know*) prime, whereas the 40mm is normal-ish in length. If you want a normal prime, the 50/1.8D is wonderful and cheap if you can live without the AF motor, but it won’t satisfy your macro urges.
Depends what you want I guess. Me, I’d hold out for the longer macro lens and enjoy using it as a mid-size tele prime as well. Just my 2 cents’ worth.
…and I just read the comments above, so forget the AF 50mm f/1.8D (no focus motor). Go for the “G” variant you were thinking of.
The “D” will make a cheap macro lens if stuck on some ebay extension tubes or a reversing ring, but you will need to manual focus (most likely by moving the camera, preferably on rails. You can also use both the reversing ring AND the tubes together for silly magnification. I have done all of these things – it is fiddly, but works.
FWIW on a DX Nikon, your best value “first” prime is certainly the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G. I have this lens and it is (a) cheap to buy, and (b) a low light monster like the 50/1.8 Canon lens someone mentioned above (just a bit wider). A great first prime lens. Or the 50. Longer primes get stupidly expensive very quickly.
Sorry for the double comment, ideas popping around in my head.
Thanks for the comments, Richard. Definitely appreciate the feedback on the macro lens issue. I might have to mull on this for a while – I need to decide exactly what my budget is.
On the question of primes, it seems a no-brainer that I should go for it. But now I find myself agonising over whether I want the 35mm or 50mm. Well, at least I’ve narrowed it down to two.
If you can find a way to come get my camera and lenses, borrow mine for a week or so, and play with them. Then you’ll know which prime suits the type of photography you do.
Another way to approach this is to pretend your 18-55 is a fixed focal length lens. Set it to 35mm and resist all urges to change it, then go out and shoot for a while. On another occasion do the same with it at 50mm (or as close as you can get it). You won’t get the fast aperture, but you’ll find out what it’s like shooting with a fixed length… and solve the question Sev poses, as to which suits your shooting style.
Or, just borrow Sev’s equipment. 😉
I know for a fact that I tend to gravitate towards 18 rather than 55, which would suggest I’d be better off with the 35. But then part of the reason why I do that is to get more light in.