Macro lenses vs. bellows/extension rings
I'm considering doing some macro work. I have macro lenses for 35mm (Takumar and Rokkor), bellows and extension rings. I even have extension rings for 6x6 and a Mamiya TLR with built in bellows.
Obviously, I will experiment with everything, but I'm still interested in others' experiences.
The question is: Which is sharper: macro lens, regular lens on rings or bellows, or regular lens reversed?
Variables: specific lenses (of course), actual magnification, film format, etc.
I always use my rings, couple of things, I feel that a normal lens is sharper, I am sure there are others who like the macro lens, you can get more magnification with the rings than the macro lens, unless you go with a specialty lens like the Minolta 3:1, I use the rings over the belows due to the fact they couple with the exposure system in my camera and I don't have to figure extention factors to get the correct exposure, I also have several reversing rings, and I still use the extension rings due to the meter coupling, most of my commercial work now a days are macro shots, and this works out well for me. It is often overlooked, that the regular lens is one of the sharpest lenses around, my 50mm f/1.7 is one of the best lenses I have.
I use a Hasselblad, so using a macro lens is pretty much out of the question-- it costs at least $800. So I only have one lens, the normal 80mm; I also bought an extension tube because it's a lot more portable than the bellows, (and it's cheaper!). I doubt I'd ever buy the macro lens; unless I started earning a ton of money, I'm perfectly happy and content with my normal lens with an extension tube; though I do plan to buy another extension tube or two in the near future.
I've always been very happy with my macro shots, though my "macro" shots are really more like close-ups, when a large flower might fill the whole frame, not the aphid on that flower!
Anyway, I think the macro lens would ideally be a bit sharper, but I doubt you'd notice any difference between it and a normal lens with an extension tube/ring.
I've tried many different combinations, and there's no doubt that a dedicated single-focal length macro lens will give you the sharpest results in general, though you can often get quite acceptable results with a conventional lens and tubes or bellows, or a reversed lens (depending on the lens and the magnification ratio). Reversed enlarging lenses are often very good as well, and some enlarging lenses are designed to work well in the normal orientation. You can add tubes or a bellows to a macro lens, too.
If you reverse a lens, be extra careful about shading the exposed lens elements, which will be very prone to flare.
If the magnification ratio is high enough, you can use macro lenses designed for 35mm on medium format and even larger, if you have a way of attaching it to the camera. I have a Canon FD-Bronica S2a adapter that Frank Marshman made me for this purpose, and I've used my Canon FD 35/2.8 Macrophoto even on 4x5". I think it's sharper than my 25mm Luminar, probably because of better coatings. The Tamron SP 90/2.5 Macro is amazingly sharp on 6x6.
I can't speak for your "6x6", but I shoot Minolta 35mm and Mamiya C330 and have done quite a bit of 'macro'...
With the TLR, you can do some great work with a 65 or 80mm lens. The problem I always had was the parallax correction. I didn't have the Paramender at the time. I used to fram the shot, then swing the camera up to match the needle in the viewfinder. Framing was always correct, but the angle of view changed... The Paramender takes care of that and works great, but adds another step...
With a Minolta 35, I can whole heartedly reccommend the bellows I system with the special bellows lens and focuser attachment. Way back when, I used rings. Dave is completely right. The auto-exposure is great and after a while you just know which ring or combo to use. But the bellows system is infinitely adjustable for magnification and focus. With a meter in the camera like my XK's, I set the stop and the camera simply adjusts the shutter speed. Half-manual ;-)
Minolta made two lenses for the bellows system. A 100mm and a 50mm. They have no internal focusing and they're shorter than normal lenses. You can't use them without the bellows. If you want sharp, you won't find better! I believe a later bellows system may have had the auto arperture ring/cable but I didn't keep up? Maybe the Bellows III?
I also never kept up on "macro lenses". But all the ones I've ever seen are more like zoom lenses that allow you to focus closer than 'normal'. Not what I would consider a macro lens. And way too many elements and movements to be sharp. On the other hand, there probably are some true 'macro' lenses out there that I don't know about, similar to the LF macros that are simply designed for close-up work? They would probably also be good.
From what I know now, with a manual Minolta system, I would still opt for the Bellows I system with the 100mm lens. And one of these days I'll pick up the 50mm to go with it. That's what I consider 'macro'!
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David, you've asked several questions, all of them ancient.
Originally Posted by David Brown
Macro lens or non-macro lens? It depends. For magnifications > 1:10, a macro lens ought to be better, but there are not-so-good macro lenses and non-macro lenses that do well in that range. But y'r Takumar and Rokkor macro lenses are good ones, so looking for a lens that will shoot better than either from 1:1 to 1:10 isn't worth the effort.
Regular lens reversed? I don't know why people think that reversing a lens will improve its performance closeup. Non-macro lenses, also macro lenses with integral focusing mounts, are optimized for the rear node-to-film distance < the front node-to- subject distance. At 1:1, the two distances are, by definition, equal, and above 1:1 rear node-to-film distance > front node-to-subject. So for best performance above 1:1 all of these lenses should be reversed. I've read that some non-macro lenses do better reversed in the range 1:1 to 1:10, though, so if you want to use one in that range you should try it pointing both ways before using it seriously. A priori, up to 1:1 facing normally should be better.
Does it matter which relatively decent lens you use? I doubt it. With the macro lenses I've shot on 35 mm and 2x3, the best compromise between depth of field and sharpness in the plane of best focus for magnifications between 1:1 and 1:10 seems to be around nominal f/22. They all go to hell at nominal apertures of f/32 and smaller. Around nominal f/22 all of the ones I've used shoot about equally well between 1:1 and 1:10. This with KM on 35 mm and EPP/EPN on 2x3. Similar results with TMX, both formats. In this range, technique, including focusing, is more important than which relatively good lens is used. Note that there are some relatively doggy macro lenses, e.g., the 135/4.5 Tominon.
I've also got pretty good results from 1:1 to 1:10 with some enlarging lenses, e.g., 75/3.5 Boyer Saphir B and 4"/5.6 Enlarging Pro Raptar. The 4" Enlarging Pro Raptar is an amazing lens, shoots very nearly as well as a good 100/6.3 Luminar at f/22 from 1:4 to 1:1 and wide open from 1:1 to 4:1. Given today's prices, its hard to justify buying the Luminar; in fact, I sold mine a couple of years ago, kept the Wolly.
My son has been using the Rokkor 135 f:2.8 (mid 70's vintage) on extension tubes. He has gotten excellent results near 1:1 and lower reproduction ratios. We looked at slides taken with that combo side-by-side with Olympus 90mm macro shots (about 1980 vintage lens) and 100mm f:4 Macro-Elmar shots, and his work looked just fine by comparison. The person shooting the Oly macro wasn't expecting much, he's a professional photographer who's done extensive macro work over the last 20+ years, and was impressed by the Rokkor's performance.
I think that if I am looking for technically accurate detail...say I'm illustrating the disassembly of a carburater,i'd go with a roadtested Macro lens,like the Micro Nikkor or Pentax or the 90 mm from Tamron or Series 1 Vivatar. I tend to lean to bellows when for whatever reason I'm doing macro with a big Tele. Since I tend to use a screw mt. for Macro,auto tubes and a not reversed lens is the handy option-and there's some plus in not having the obstacles between your creative intent and the result. Generally....take a big toolbox to the job when you can.
Explore a bit. There's field trips where carrying 40 lb of gear means you won't get to the place where that great shot is. at other times....having bellows,tubes,5 lenses and a tripod might let you discover the ideal mix.
I figure the most obvious shot-has already been done. If your intent is creative/artsy rather than technical/illustrative...keep that in mind.
Generally....there's more than one way to bake a cake and there's many many ways to do Macro photography. One of my best macros was a close in of a backlit Dahlia shot on a very grainy Focal 400 slide film and using a 300 mm Sigma that wide open tended toward soft focus. It was in most respects the wrong lens and the wrong film but the combo gave a great result.
Originally Posted by Lee L
Good Evening, David,
I can't comment on MF macro, but I suspect that the overall convenience of a macro lens is just as significant in MF as it is in 35mm. After some years of using rings and bellows, I finally bought a used 100mm Kiron macro for my Olympus bodies (the 90mm Olympus was several times more expensive) and have been very impressed with the results--and the convenience.