Quote Originally Posted by David Brown
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.

Whadaya think?
David, you've asked several questions, all of them ancient.

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.