which macro lens to photograph root and plant samples

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by inanc_tekguc, Jan 16, 2014.

  1. I am given a task to help a non-profit come up with their inventory of roots and plants that are used for medicinal and food purposes in a community.
    Below is what I have in mind, which begs your suggestions:
    I plan to set up a photo stand myself. I have a Manfrotto 055 x-ProB which allows the central bar of the tripod go horizontal.
    I will also prepare a dark background 12"x12" floor and a glass platform 3" or so above this black background to avoid bringing the texture of the background to the images.
    (Got the idea from http://wyomingnaturalist.com/plant_blue.html).
    I will either use two Nikon SB-800 for lighting, or set up two table lamps as permanent light sources. I can consider getting cheaper flashes to leave them with the non-profit when I am done.
    Finally the most important question:
    Which lens to get?
    Our budget will be limited but if I am keeping this lens, I can spare some money to a total of around $800 (having the possibility of a used Nikon 105mm in mind).

    The inventory will be used academically and in a museum type of display possibly. So the photos will need to allow recognition of the plants/roots.
  2. You can use cheap manual flashes or table lamps not matter much. Once the exposure and color balance is determined it's going to be the same all the time. Digital camera can correct color from a table lamp well unlike film. You can also use just a normal 50mm lens or so. You don't really need macro lens because the magnification in linked pictures aren't that high.
  3. SCL


    The lens you mention is indeed a terrific lens - I've used the AFD version for years now. You don't say which body you will be using, but since most macro shooting is typically done in manual mode anyway, you can certainly go with much less expensive manual focus lenses, such as the old Tamron 90/2.5 (using an Adaptall mount for the body of your choice) (here's a link if you're unfamiliar with it (http://www.adaptall-2.org/lenses/52B.html). OTOH, if you are using a micro 4/3 body and want to go with a shorter macro lens (but which would give you a field of view of about 100mm on a full frame body), both the Canon FD 50/3.5 and Olympus OM 50/3.5 are excellent choices as well. I have used all of the above and don't think you would be disappointed in any of them.
  4. It seems to me that working distance, subject size, and camera format are going to intersect to determine the appropriate focal length. A 105mm may be far too long for comfortable work.

    Are we talking about a DX format body, here? If so, a cheap 18-1xx kit zoom, readily available, would be a good laboratory for determining the right distance/focal length recipe. Unless you're talking about working up very close, and inside the minimum focus distance of such lenses.

    Since you're not talking about photographing bee eyes and whatnot, I find that the 60/2.8 Micro is very good lens for "things that fit on a plate."
  5. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    To the OP, a year and half ago, you mentioned that you had a D300 and a 18-200 zoom: http://www.photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00aWOy

    Which camera body/bodies are you using now?
    I have the 60mm AF-S macro and two 105mm/f2.8 macros, a very old AF and the current AF-S VR. All of those are fine lenses. If you are still using a DX body, you may consider the shorter 60mm due to the DX crop.
    For DX, there are also the 85mm and 40mm macro options from Nikon. Except for the 105mm AF-S, all of them are well within your budget.
  6. I would expect, if you have the space to do so, that a bit of working distance would be in your favour, since it will flatten out perspective a bit - getting very close would distort the appearance of the plant. Longer macro lenses also make it easier to approach animal subjects (if you're keeping the lens) and get lighting in a useful place. Of the vaguely longer lenses, for a long time the budget recommendation was the 90mm Tamron (pre-VC version - the VC is better, but 50% more expensive). It has a little chromatic aberration at f/2.8, but it's impressively sharp - and you'll be stopping down a bit anyway. The 100mm Tokina lacks the chromatic aberration, but may be slightly softer and needs a camera with an AF motor if you're not going to manual focus (not an issue for the D300).

    I would think carefully before paying the premium for the current VR Nikkor 105, fine though it is. (If you're going to spend that money, look at the 150mm Sigma, though it may be a bit long for this job.) If you can find a cheap previous version, though, it's fine. There are very few bad macro lenses out there (though the Nikkor 85mm DX is borderline); there are plenty of overpriced ones, though. If you're really on a budget, look at lenses like the older 55mm micro-Nikkors. Good luck.
  7. Will you only use this lens for this very specific task, or would it be convenient to later on be used for other macro work as well? If only for this work, I'd get the AF-S 60mm f/2.8G, if not: another focal length (90-105mm) might be more all-round.
    As Andrew hints, I would look also at the 3rd party options - all brands have very good macro options and all of them for a lot less money than what you pay for the Nikon. Tokina 100mm, Tamron 90mm both are excellent lenses, and the Tamron 60mm f/2 could be very interesting too, since it will fairly nicely double as a portraitlens (but it is DX only).
  8. IMO, unless you are shooting handheld, the nikon 105 VR is overpriced for what you get. if all you need is a longish macro that goes to 1:1 you could look at the earlier version of the 105, the tokina 100 or the tamron 90. there's no advantage in IQ from the VR version, and the other lenses are just as good optically -- and cost much less.
    also, if you need to show the entire plant, including the roots, it very well may be that 100mm is too long, and a shorter macro may be better-suited for the task. you may not even need a macro at all, just decent lighting.
  9. Some thoughts:
    • A sheet of glass under the subject... mmm. The images at your link look too odd to my taste. Maybe it`s the grey background, or the softness, or the "heavy" processing (maybe it was a bit difficult to keep an even, reflection free background)... I don`t know.
    • Straight flash project harsh shadows. Any diffusion material will work under the flashes or continuous light. It`d be great to use any kind of soft box. The aim is to avoid too much work in the post processing, or to simply get right JPEGs.
    • To work with a tripod, with a subject over a horizontal plane is the way to work, but also a real pain. I think I`d prefer the camera on the center column upside down (rather than using an horizontal column), and the tripod over a table, but then the problem is to frame and to focus. A tethering system could be a good solution here (there are free tethering software online).
    • About the lens... the framings at the link goes from a few centimeters to a full sized plant. If you are working on a tripod pointing to the floor (and specially if the camera is fitted upside down in the center column), the distance is limited. For the smallest items a 105 will be great, but to frame a 25mm subject (1:11 on DX), you will be working approximately at 70+ centimeters, so a 55-60mm lens could be a more comfortable option (a 105mm lens will ask for a subject to sensor distance of more than one meter). I`d define first the working method and framing areas before buying any lens. Check for the lens specs, magnifications and working distances. For outdoor shoots of living plants, the focal length does`t matter at all.
    • If you`re on a budget, I`d get any manual focus Micro-Nikkor. On the tripod and with a tethered system, or using Live View, the feel of manual focus rings is always welcomed.
    • For a little more money, maybe an AF version is more versatile, specially the 60AFS.
  10. Just a word about using table lamps, if you care about maintaining color accuracy try to get something with daylight bulbs at least. Tungsten bulbs in particularly have very strong color casts and not everything can be recovered in post-processing. God forbid using those awful energy-saving bulbs, those are just evil.
  11. Use your SB-800s with one as master , in I-TTL mode. You may want to diffuse the light a bit but hanging some frosted
    shower curtain does an excellent job of doing that and is very cheap.

    LENS: the AF-S 60mm f/2.8G Micro-Nikkor. You want more depth of field and working distance than the 105mm will give
  12. Ellis: Could you elaborate on that depth of field and working distance comment? I'd have thought the 105 would give more working distance (typically a good thing, although I'd want to be careful it wasn't getting inconveniently large in this set-up with an only-somewhat-macro subject), and I'm not sure that the DoF is significant here. It certainly isn't for conventional lens discussions, but I'm not sure whether the assumptions fall apart in macro.

    I suggested something longer more for the perspective than for the working distance - though I'd sooner have a longer macro than a shorter one 99% of the time. (Wider is better for environments, but longer really helps if you want bugs or the ability to shoot flowers without standing in the flower bed...) In this case, for documentary purposes, I'd have thought a flatter perspective may be more appropriate. However, I'm not quite clear of the size of plants we're discussing (other than, presumably, smaller than 12"x12"). For something the size of a daisy, a longer lens might be representative. For something the size of a coconut, you'll be quite a distance away.

    Actually, that's a point. If you're handling subjects of very different sizes, the "hang a horizontal column over it" approach can make adjusting distances a bit tricky. Hopefully you can just crop in post-processing: the AF 70-180 micro is an expensive beastie, I've done the "macro from the column" thing with my 055 as well, and the problem is that the only way to adjust height is by lengthening or shortening the legs. Some other tripods allow arbitrary column angles, although you'd want to be sure about the security of the locking - at least the 055 can't droop. You might like to see if you can find a cheap macro rail from somewhere (I have a Manfrotto one that I've yet to use, sadly) - that might let you move the camera vertically while the column is horizontal, and make framing easier. A little bit of me wants to suggest a macro shift lens so you can avoid reflections of the camera in the glass, but that's probably throwing too much money at a minor problem; hopefully reflections would be well out of focus anyway.

    Good luck!
  13. "and the problem is that the only way to adjust height is by lengthening or shortening the legs"

    Andrew, why not to use the camera on the center column, upside down? I don`t know about the 055... Doesn`t this tripod allow to work this way?
    If so, you can adjust the height with the column in vertical position (20-40cms?), keeping the camera leveled all the time. In my Gitzos, there is enough room between the legs to comfortably use the back screen (Live View), or even the viewfinder without an angled accessory.
  14. For a working area of 30 x 30 cm, what's wrong with a tall copystand? Maybe mount the camera sideways, if you want to light from a long-axis as side so as to avoid the shadow of the vertical 'leg'.
    I might suggest an older Sigma 50mm 2.8 DG Macro. No HSM (AF-S), but your D300 be on OK.
    You may consider tethering too with ControlMyNikon to select the best AF point or see the true focus point in LV MF.
  15. A 60 Micro (or even a 55mm manual focus micro) would be my choice. Lighting? You just have to be creative, but a speed light and some white reflectors would get you pretty far down the road.
  16. Jose: Good point. When I last shot macro with a 055, my problem was a combination of needing the camera off to the side of the tripod because of the mechanics of the support of what I was shooting and a lack of desire to have the camera inverted, just for convenience. I also wanted forward/back movements (preferably without moving the whole tripod), so I was in trouble either way. But you're quire right, you can take the column entirely out of a 055 and reinsert it inverted (at least, I think).

    With a glass background, I might be a little wary of doing this if only because the tripod legs would appear as reflections. It would be easier to hide the centre column. I guess using a flash tent would be better still.
  17. Inanc, I would go with a 50 or 60mm. It sounds like you will have good control of your working distance and if you need to isolate an
    aspect of the plant you can crop and still have good depth of field. Also most modern macro lenses are very good and you don't have to
    spend too much to meet your needs. A good used third party sigma 50mm macro lens will cost less than $200 and will not disappoint
    you. Good hunting.
  18. At identical image sizes, depth-of-field will be the same regardless of whether a 105mm or 60mm lens is used. At macro distances DoF only depends on magnification and aperture. The 105mm lens will give more working distance, making it easier to control lighting angles and reflections.
  19. thanks everyone for all the feedback.
    I got some nice ideas and warnings out of your responses:

    - glass might create some problems because of reflection
    - i can get away with a regular lens without needing a macro (will do some tests)
    - if i decide i need macro, Tamron and Sigma could provide good and affordable alternatives
    - if i got extra space, having a longer macro would allow more flexibility in lighting.
    - consistent and preferably diffused light is the way to go.
    To answer your questions:
    I just got a refurbished Nikon D600. So, I am in the FX league as well as in DX with my older D300. Lens-wise, I got 24-70mm 2.8, 50mm 1.4 from Nikon and 70-200mm 2.8 from Tamron (was stupid enough to lose my Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 in Yosemite a couple months ago :( That was over a year's savings gone in an instant).

    I will talk to my director to find out more about our exact needs of outcome and return back to your feedback here.
  20. the 60mm f2.8d is great macro lens on a budget. going for a song on the used market.
    the 105mm f2.8d is another good choice.

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