Nikon’s updated macro

5 09 2008

Source : The Star

Get up close and personal with Nikon’s updated 60mm Macro lens.

AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8

AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8

NIKON has recently been on the upgrade path for their classic lenses.

For example, last year, the ­venerable 105mm f/2.8 Micro Nikkor was updated with an ­internal focus design, silent AF-S motor, Nano Crystal Coat anti-reflective coating and Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) optical image stabilisation system.

However, with all these additions, the 105mm gained quite a bit of girth over its predecessor, making it even less of a lens you’d chuck into your bag “just in case.”

Well, as expected, Nikon has just updated the other famous Micro Nikkor in its line-up, the 60mm f/2.8, long considered the cheaper (and some say slightly sharper) baby brother of the 105mm.

Just like the 105mm, the 60mm gains all the advantages of Nikon’s new technology (AF-S, internal focusing, Nano Crystal Coat) except one — the 60mm does not have VR.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the 60mm retains nearly the same size and shape as its ­predecessor, i.e. it’s compact, not too heavy and definitely a lens which you can easily stow into your bag without thinking.

Why a macro?

Now if you’ve never used a macro lens before, this is probably a good juncture to talk about why you need one.

Of course, a macro lens is, as the name suggests, a lens for shooting close ups.

For a lens to be considered a macro, it has to be able to reach a magnification ratio of at least 1:1 which means that it will focus close enough to form a life-size image on the image sensor.

Forming a life-size image on the film or sensor plane actually means that when you print or view the image, it will of course be larger than life size.

There’s lots of fun to be had with macro work, as it opens up a whole new world of photography, where even the most mundane objects will take on a new (and often alien) aspect.

However, that’s not all a macro lens is good for — every macro lens on the market is also made so that it will also do double duty as a very sharp portrait lens, great for ­shooting head-and-shoulders portraits.

In old 35mm film format, the range between 80 -100mm is considered a good range for portraits because it produces the most flattering perspective for shooting head-and-shoulders portraits.

In the DSLR world, however, where the crop is 1.5x, the Micro Nikkor 60mm is now a perfect portrait lens as it has the equivalent of 90mm, which falls nicely in the sweet spot of portrait focal lengths.

Performance

Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at what’s new on the 60mm Micro Nikkor.

Since I own the previous version, this is a good opportunity to make a direct comparison between the old and new, and see whether picture quality and performance has gotten better or worse in the newly redesigned 60mm f/2.8.

The AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 features the same standard 62mm filter thread as its predecessor. Note the tiny front element.

SAME BUT DIFFERENT: The AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 features the same standard 62mm filter thread as its predecessor. Note the tiny front element.

The most obvious difference, of course, between the old and new 60mm is the change from ­screw-drive focusing to an all internal-focus Silent Wave motor (AF-S) design, which means that the lens no longer extends out at all as you focus closer.

On the old 60mm the lens ­actually lengthens about an inch or so as you get to the closest focusing distance.

However, the lens-to-subject distance at 1:1 magnification ratio has shortened a little bit compared to the older lens — now your subject is about 4.1cm from the front element at 1:1 where it used to be 6.5cm in the older lens.

This isn’t a good thing since you have to get pretty close to a bug and could potentially scare it off before you can get down to ­shooting.

On the upside, the move to AF-S and internal focusing means that the lens doesn’t make any audible noise so there won’t be any sudden movements on the lens to startle jumpy insects, so it’s a bit of give-and-take here.

The focus travel is a little bit shorter than on the older 60mm — it takes just a 90° turn to go from infinity to the closest focusing distance.

This short travel also has both good and bad points when it comes to autofocus.

While the advantage is that the camera can zip into focus fairly quickly, the main problem I found in use when compared to the older, longer focus travel 60mm is that it’s a little too easy for the camera to zip past the point of focus altogether and not be able to achieve focus at all.

On the older 60mm for example, the long focus travel distance ­­(nearly 180°) for the lens means that the camera is more likely to hit the correct focus simply because there’s a wider area in which the camera will have the subject in focus.

Strangely enough, the opposite is true in manual focus mode — Nikon has geared the manual focus ring such that it takes a whole 180° turn to go from infinity to closest ­focusing distance, which means you really have quite minute control in manual focus mode.

The focus ring also has a very good feel, with just the right amount of resistance to really feel like a manual focus lens of old.

So the conclusion is — when working on macro, you’re better off using manual focus mode.

If you opt for autofocus, however, I found the best way to avoid a lot of hunting is to let the camera ­automatically choose between all available autofocus points (in the D300 that’s 51 areas to choose from, while in the D200 you get up to nine points) so that there’s a higher chance of getting something in focus before you shoot.

1 magnification ratio.

LOOK INTO MY EYES: Macro lenses give you a fresh perspective on common objects - this is how close you can get with the 60mm macro at 1:1 magnification ratio.

After focus you can always move slightly closer or further away from your subject to fine tune where exactly you want to be in focus.

Build quality is top notch — although not built like a tank like its telephoto siblings, the AF-S 60mm Micro Nikkor has a very high quality feel with a good balance of size and weight, something which the overly thick 105mm AF-S VR does not achieve.

Oh yes, there is one other ­problem with AF-S — unlike the older screw-drive version, you cannot use an older mechanically coupled extension tube and use stop-down metering with the new 60mm AF-S.

Instead if you want to get closer you need to buy an extension tube which has the electronic contacts to work with the lens’ electronically controlled aperture.

Picture quality

Autofocus issues aside, the 60mm performed admirably — if anything it is a lot less prone to flare than its predecessor thanks to the Nano Crystal coat.

As far as picture quality in general (as in non-macro) is concerned, both the older 60mm and the new 60mm had very similar levels of sharpness even shooting wide open at f/2.8 or with the aperture stopped down to f/11.

Contrast and exposure accuracy was slightly better with the new 60mm Micro Nikkor, but the ­downside is that the new lens seems to exhibit a little bit of chromatic aberration at the edges of the frame compared with the old 60mm which had almost none.

In macro however, both the old and the new are excellent — other than the slightly closer ­focusing distance, both lenses produced excellent macro shots on an APS-sized camera like the D200.

I didn’t have the opportunity to try it out on a full-frame camera (since I don’t own one) so I could not gauge the performance of the lens in the image area outside of the DX frame.

Conclusion

Should you buy the AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8? Again, the answer is this — if you already own the previous version, then there’s really very little reason to upgrade unless you are enamoured with the Silent Wave motor and the internal focusing (which I am).

However, if you are using a Nikon D40/D40X/D60 or an old manual focus Micro Nikkor and are looking for a relatively affordable macro lens to go with your Nikon DSLR, then the 60mm AF-S is a good buy.

Want more working distance or image stabilisation? Then you’d have to pony up about RM1,000 more for the AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED.

Pros: AF-S design means ­whisper-quiet operation; internal focusing so lens does not extend.

Cons: A hint of chromatic ­aberration on the edges of the frame.

AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G ED

Nikon Corp

Macro lens

Lens construction: 12 elements in 9 groups

Compatible with: DX and FX Nikon DSLRs

Filter thread: 62mm

Maximum f/stop: f/2.8

Minimum f/stop: f/32

Reproduction ratio: 1:1 (life size)

Dimensions: 73 x 89mm

Weight: 425g

Price: RM2,088

Website: http://www.nikon.com.my

Review unit courtesy of Nikon (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, (03) 7809-3688

Zoomer : Mmmm… I might need oneof this superb lense, especially when I’m required to shoot close-ups of my clients’ rings, hantaran, details on their faces, etc. But, since my budget is a bit tight lately, maybe I should hold the thought till… maybe end of the year?


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