Saturday, May 09, 2009

Tale of 3 Micro Nikkors

I remember buying my 55mm 2.8 AIS Micro-Nikkor on a whim. Basically I was not using my 28mm/2.8 Nikkor, sold it, and acquired the 55mm - never had a dedicated "macro" lens before, so thought it'd be something fun to experiment with. The 55mm 2.8 Micro is fantastic. Stupid sharp wide open, focuses down to 1:2 life size, which makes for interesting perspectives for a 50-ish lens, and its light. I just put on my 16-85 that I haven't used in ages, and oh man, that's a heavy piece of glass. I can't believe I trekked that and its tele breathen up Morialta and Black Hil Conservation Park.

Now the only main issue is I'm actually using it nowadays as my main lens. And being a MF lens, its not exactly easy to track moving subjects with. Props to the Manual Focus photographers pulling off the amazing shots. So I thought I'd look into Nikon's modern AF offerings. The 60mm AF-D and the 60mm AF-S. Here's my thoughts and comparisons:

Build quality:
1. 55mm 2.8 AIS Micro Nikkor. You hold it, you know its the good stuff. Why don't they make stuff like that anymore?
2. 60mm AF-D. Very nice, even though its plastic-ky. Feels very solid in my hand.
3. 60mm AF-S. Feels like any kit lens. Hello? Nikon? Some metal externals please?

I'll give the edge to the 55mm 2.8, though it's not very fair since I have used it *alot* in the field. The 60mm AF-D only for 2 days, and the AF-S only a few days. Somehow, I need a slightly higher shutter speed on the AF lenses to get rid of hand shake. Does 5mm make that much of a difference? The AF-D has a very nice manual focusing ring, big, easy to handle. The AF-s has full time manual, and the focus ring is very wide, easy to grab. But also easy to accidently move.

55mm 2.8 only has a focusing ring, very high tech. The AF-D has a AF/MF control on the lens, needs to have a button to be depressed to switch. Very nice. It also has a two-range focus limiter. The 60mm AF-S has full time manual focus, and a little MA/M switch - not much use for people using AF-On technique anyways.

Focusing Speed:
1. 60mm AF-S - I think this is the fastest of the bunch. Very solid lock on.
2. 60mm AF-D - *feels* slightly slow, but snaps in fast.
3. 55mm 2.8 - being non-autofocus, it takes ages to autofocus. Like. Never.

Super subjective stuff again, so take it with a grain of salt.
55mm 2.8 AIS - Generally smooth, however, I consider it a neutral - slightly harsh lens. This feel propogates even when stopped down to 5.6
60mm AF-D - Didn't bother to keep an eye out as I was distracted by its infinity focus issues (see below)
60mm AF-S - Still early days, especially since my 55mm has gone through hundreds of shots and this lens has gone through less than a hundred! That said, I think it is quite smooth, though I'd put in in with the neutral - slightly harsh lens. Needs much much more use in the field to get a feel for this.
300mm F4 AF-S.... what?! Well for fun, I must say I don't like the bokeh of the 300mm/4 AF-s, which is sad since its a nice big solid prime. Does not do well against harsh backgrounds.
70-300mm VR - bad. bad. bad. Both the 300/4 and 70-300VR perform very well if you choose a proper background to shoot against, but if against a harsh contrasty background. Ergh. If you are only going to put up 800x600 stills on the web, it's perfectly fine - you'll need to really blow stuff up to at least 10x15 to see it. 8x12s are fine unless I'm nitpicking.

Image Quality at close focus
Again, two of these lenses are so not field tested, take what I say with a grain of salt. The 55mm AIS and 60mm AF-S would be the winner here, because the 60mm AF-D shows definite signs of CA, very obvious since I use flash alot for my macro stuff. And usually I don't even bother about CA but it shows up a leeeetle too much. Now wide open at close focus (it's no longer F2.8 but F something else), the 55mm 2.8 and 60mm AF-S seems better imo. At 1:1 I'd say the edge goes to the 60mm AF-S.

Image Quality at Infinity focus
55mm 2.8 is perfect. I love it. 60mm AF-S - I think I may have a front focusing issue with my body, but it is generally excellent. And this is at F2.8 I'm talking about. Now the 60mm AF-D... don't bother focusing at infinity. Use it only for close up work. Horrible! This is probably a very stupid thing of me to do, buy a Micro Lens to use as a general purpose lens. I've read in forums that macro lenses are optimized for *duh* close up work. And aren't that good at infinity. But I'm very spoilt by my 55mm/2.8 that does both. Hence, the 60mm AF-S

Why did I even bother getting a AF lens anyways? Back in Australia, I'd like to go up close and personal with the critters in the wildlife parks, and using a MF lens only works on sleepy red roos, not the active greys. Moving kids are also in the same ball game. Finally, sold off the 60mm AF-D.

Here's some test shots using the 60mm AF-S with my neighbourhood cat.

Perpetually unappy, this furball will scratch if annoyed :P
Very obvious front focusing issue. But wide open its good enough for me. Focus point was on the left eye (or eye on camera right :P)
The 60mm Micro allows a very different perspective because of the ability to go closer. Not something say, a normal 50mm lens can do. (That said, I do still lust after a 50mm/1.4G :P )