Apr 082011
 

[Picture of the lens was taken by Nikon]

I’ve wondered a few times whether a non-photographer like me can make use of a macro lens as part of their toolkit. I think the answer is still “no”; since my definition of non-photographers is people who shoot to remember things vs. shooting to create art, it seems fairly unlikely that what you’d want to remember is the hair on a bug that turned up.

Still, when an AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED showed up on Craigslist, in new condition, at what looked like a pretty reasonable price (asking $750), I finally decided to take the plunge.  With under 10 pictures since I picked it up last night, and no natural light to work with, I can’t say I know anything about it yet, but hopefully that will change.  If not, the nice thing about buying used is that you can always sell a lens for roughly what you paid for it!

Now, in defense to my credentials as a non-photographer, I thought it’d be nice to have one macro lens for rare occasions, but most of my interest in the lens was that it’s supposed to be stellar for portraits too.  All data seemed to indicate that the 105VR is as sharp as my 85/1.8 at f/2.8 (which is about as wide as I go with the 85/1.8).  But at 85mm+, with my shaky hands, the addition of vibration reduction on the 105/2.8 is very attractive, and while it’s not as acclaimed as the 85/1.4 (which I’ve never touched) for portraiture, the consensus seemed to be that it would outdo the 85/1.8 for this purpose.

Finally, since the amazing 24-70/2.8 is by far my most used (and thus carried) lens, the 105mm is a better complement at the long end than the 85/1.8, which I don’t carry or use if I’ve got the 24-70 with me; it’s not worth it for 15mm extra.  So if I’m out and about with 3 lenses in a situation where I can’t predict in advance what I’ll use, I’ll likely bring the 10-24, 24-70, and either this 105 or the 70-300.  Big difference vs. the 70-300 at the long end, but I rarely go that long.

On macro – it didn’t take too much playing around last night to realize both how little I knew and how much there is to learn if you want to get half decent macro shots.  I have a reasonable sense of depth of field on “normal” shots, but I was just stunned how little there was when operating at very small distances.  The tiniest back-and-forth motion of the camera completely knocked any handheld shots out of focus.  Finally I stopped down a little, got out the flash and tripod, and found an innocent strawberry to throw up on the chopping block for the first real test shot for the lens:

Strawberry at f/6.3

That’s not even close to the minimum focusing distance of the lens, and already just the surface of the strawberry is in focus (it’s stem is somewhat blurred).  Always hearing that diffraction kicks in after f/11 (not to mention my flash power kicking out), I bumped it up to f/11; things were a little clearer:

Strawberry at f/11

The edges of the strawberry are still not too sharp if you look at the bigger version, though at least you can see some texture in the stem now.  Still, it sure does highlight that depth of field kicks out much faster than diffraction kicks in!  At least know I understand why anyone would bother with techniques like focus stacking (where you digitally combine multiple shots of the same object that each have a different focus point)!

The other thing I learned from the exercise is that the exact positioning of the light source matters that much more at macro distances, because the surface texture and details look so remarkably different.  The two shots above look quite different in this regard, even though the change to the position of the flash was relatively minor.  I like the top better for primarily this reason.

I don’t think I’ll be taking many macro shots, but I have to admit it was pretty cool looking at some of the shots that were much closer than the two above, because there’s so much you don’t see with your naked eye.  The 105VR seems well suited to the macro task, though, and I’m really looking forward to trying it out in good light with the family on some definitively non-photographer shots!

 Posted by at 8:16 am

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