As I mentioned on Monday, I rented a Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro (macro) lens from LensRentals.com for a few days. I had never used a macro lens before so I did some research by reading reviews by Ken Rockwell and Thom Hogan. With a little knowledge, I proceeded to use the lens in every way I read not to use it. 🙂 I hand held it and let the ISO climb on my Nikon D700 digital SLR camera up to 6400 and beyond. These were shake down shots as I got used to how the lens worked. Especially, in how close it would focus and under what conditions. Like most auto-focusing lenses, if there is not a lot of contrast in a scene, it tended to hunt. No switches needed to change to manual, I just reached out and turned the focusing ring.
The next morning I set up in my studio to do some proper work with the lens. The setup consisted of background cross bar, several backgrounds, a table to make photographing small objects easier, a tripod, shutter release cable, light stand, Nikon SC-29 flash cord and Nikon SB-600 Speedlight.
In the first set of photos, I attached the Nikon D700 with 105mm macro lens to the tripod. This is one lens when using it on a tripod, you must turn the image stabilization or VR, off. To further minimize camera shake, I took Tracy’s advice and turned on Exposure Delay which flips up the mirror and waits 4/10ths of a second after pressing the shutter to release. To make sure the focus was sharp and where I wanted it, I used LiveView and zoomed in to make my final focusing adjustments.
Focusing this lens at first was a challenge. Due to it’s extreme range from telephoto to 1:1 macro, it would sometimes hunt for focus through its entire range if there was not enough contrast to auto focus. Another quirk of this lens is how it “jumps” the image larger as you focus in close. The jumping was a little discerning at first. I soon got used to it and, by the end of the weekend, I barely noticed it. In contrast with the Reverse Lens Macro technique, focusing was so much easier as one would expect. For a comparison, I sprayed some water on a similar package ribbon as I did in the reverse lens macro post (see link).
After using the tripod for most of the day, I took the camera off the tripod and left it attached to the flash. This gave me the freedom to move around and try different angles. I used faster shutter speeds as the D700 can flash sync up to 1/250th of a second. Even though macro lenses have a shallow depth of field when close focusing, I was able to use aperture to control creative exposures. I engaged the VR but, again, the closer the lens focused, the less effective the VR became. Another reason to use fast shutter speeds when not on a tripod.
The last part of the lens test was the field trip to the zoo. I was even more impressed with this lens as I used it as a portrait lens for the small creatures. I could almost get nose to nose with this Prehensile-tailed Skink.
Like photographing people, you must get the eyes in focus. After that, the soft focused areas in front and behind the eyes are seen more easily.
I am glad I tried close up filters and the reverse lens macro technique first before using a real macro lens. It made me appreciate the lens that much more. I did not have it long enough to really explore how close I could really get with it. I have now put a macro lens on my To Buy list. There are still a couple more I’d like to try out before making a purchase so this will not be the last of macro photos you’ll see from me. The reverse lens macro or RLM will show up once in a while. The extension tubes mentioned in my primer on Close Up Photography will also find a place in my photography soon.