PEN E-PL1: THe elusive "long macro"

Discussion in 'Adapted Lenses' started by naturecloseups, Oct 30, 2010.

  1. naturecloseups

    naturecloseups Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 10, 2010
    Much is made of the "long macro" lenses on 35mm/APS-C -- here's some food for thought with regard to lens characteristics and working distance.

    Below is a comparison shot of all the three "long macro" lenses I currently have (please ignore the wide angle perspective distortion thanks to the shot being taken with a digital compact with an achromat almost permanently attached).


    On left: Nikon AF-D ED IF Micro Nikkor 200mm/f4

    Focus type: Nikon F Autofocus, D-type
    Focal length: 200mm
    Maximum aperture: f4
    Lens construction: 13 elements in 8 groups
    Weight: 1200g
    Maximum magnification: 1:1
    Filter size: 62mm

    On right: Canon FD 200mm f4 Macro

    Focus type: Canon "New FD" breech-lock bayonet mount manual focus (IF design)
    Focal length: 200mm
    Maximum aperture: f4
    Lens construction: 9 elements in 6 groups
    Weight: 880g
    Maximum magnification: 1:1
    Filter size: 58mm

    Center: Sigma 180mm f5.6 APO MAcro MF for Nikon AIS

    Focus type: Nikon AIS F-baynet mount manual focus (IF design)
    Focal length: 180mm
    Maximum aperture: f5.6
    Lens construction: ? elements in ? groups
    Weight: 450g
    Maximum magnification: 1:2
    Filter size: 52mm

    For me the one in the center is the best all-round performer on the PEN E-PL1. I find that one of the two most interesting macro lenses I have ever used (the other one would be Kiron/Lester Dine 105mm f2.8 1:1 Macro). With a weight of only 450 grams, a pretty workable (at least for m4/3 bodies) magnification and a very generous working distance, this lens echoes the philosophy of m4/3rds -- lightweighted compactness with more than decent quality. As you can see I also own two other long macros whose quality is unquestionable, so my choice is not driven by "sour grapes syndrome".

    Is the max aperture of f5.6 a problem? For the poorsighted using OVFs in dim lighting conditions -- maybe, but not for someone using stopped down mode and using a high-res EVF or LCD. Doesn't matter even the least bit for actual image quality because almost all users typically use an aperture of f8 or smaller regardless of the max aperture provided by the lens. The modest max aperture is the reason why this lens is so amazingly compact and lightweight. That is probably also the reason why the lens was never popular in its time. To those who want all their macro lenses to double as portrait lenses with a wide max aperture -- dudes, spend some more cash and get a proper portrait lens, you know? Who knows.. next thing you might want is to be able to brush your teeth and browse the web with the lens you just bought.

    This lens is rare to find. Sigma didn't manufacture it for more than a couple years. I waited a long time before I could get one. The build quality is pretty interesting -- a mix of metal and polycarbonate with a high quality rubberized coating all over.

    Reluctant as I am in using a ring flash -- my compact workhorse flashes (Nikon SB30 and Sunpak PF20 XD) don't do very well even for slight fill when the working distance is too long. They need to be fired at full power with the diffuser activated, and that drains the battery faster than how I can drown a can of energy drink. I need more light, closer to the subject.

    For that reason -- below is a photograph of my preferred rig when I want to use the Sigma 180/5.6 APO Macro. An SB30 (as pictured) or a Sunpak PF20XD drives the Metz 15 MS-1 wireless ringflash (actually, a twin flash in the guise of a ringflash) mounted on the front rim of the lens. When I am using the EVF, I use the on board flash as the commander. The ringflash has variable manual output and I typically keep it at 1/16 or 1/32 power to provide just a touch of fill, low enough for the batteries (2x AAA) to last a couple outings.

    Keen observers will also see I am using a NIkon PN-11 52.5mm extension and that is mounted on the compact yet surprisingly sturdy RRS BH-25 ballhead using a 6" Arca-style RRS long rail plate. The reason for the extension is the very useful working distance vis-a-vis magnifications it provides. The reason for the rail plate is to do fine adjustments of the working distance without needing to move my tripod.

    I did some quick measurements with a measuring tape and this is what I found

    Lens set at infinity: magnification 0.3x (effective 0.6x on m4/3rds), working distance 38 (yes, thirty eight) inches. You'll get similar effect if you use a non-macro 180mm lens instead.

    Lens at closest focus: magnification 0.8x (effective 1.6x on m4/3rds), working distance 11 inches.

    Certainly a tool one would like to take to a dragonfly/butterfly shoot!

    The "long-distance"macro rig


    The following two shots were shot using the above combo. Uncropped full-frame taken from a comfortable distance.

    Banana Skipper


    Burnet Moth

    • Like Like x 7
  2. Narnian

    Narnian Nobody in particular ...

    Aug 6, 2010
    Midlothian, VA
    Real Name:
    Richard Elliott
    Thanks for the information! It will be a while before I can afford a 200mm macro and your excellent work keeps reminding me of why I would like to get one.

    When I shot 35mm film I had a 50mm macro and always had difficulty shooting insects. With the GF1 and my 100/4 Micro-Nikkor I am getting more of the shots I used to miss. With a 200mm I would have even more working space.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. Rider

    Rider Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 14, 2010
    What quick release plate do you have on the Olympus?
  4. naturecloseups

    naturecloseups Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 10, 2010
    Rider -- I am using the Kirk PZ-130 Arca-style plate. Fits perfectly and battery door is totally unobstructed.
  5. Boyzo

    Boyzo Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 3, 2010
    Beautiful shots great composition and the backgrounds are superb
    • Like Like x 1
  6. drpump

    drpump Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 28, 2010
    I'm a newcomer to this forum and I love the macro shots you're getting, but I'm also curious: why would you use the E-PL1 instead of a larger format/sensor camera? The advantages of light weight and compactness are gone with these lenses. Aren't there also adapters for these lenses on other cameras? Thanks.
  7. deirdre

    deirdre Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Aug 9, 2010
    The advantage of compactness isn't completely gone, and there are some advantages:

    1) The 2x crop factor gives you much more distance, and distance costs.
    2) The long lenses are lighter (and cheaper) than their longer equivalents in full frame.

    Sure, it's heavy to carry around a tripod and a 200mm lens (I've done it), but it's still smaller than the equivalent FF 400mm gear. That Nikon lens in 400mm weighs 6.3kg, for example.
    • Like Like x 2
  8. naturecloseups

    naturecloseups Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 10, 2010
    Drpump -- what you said is right in a way. But as deirdre pointed out above, there are still certain advantages in terms of effective angle-of-view (makes good use of the sweet spot in the image circle formed by FF lenses) and still low camera body weight.

    For me the additional benefits are

    - No mirror slap.

    - Ability to use 7x-14x magnification in live view mode on the LCD or optionally with the excellent VF-2 aux EVF. A great feature for macro/closeups.

    - This enables me to tap into a wide pool of classic legacy lenses, almost all of which can be used via appropriate adapters. And for the occassional handheld with fill flash I will still get image stabilization for all of them thanks to IBIS.

    Additionally, why carry around the mirror when you don't need it? It's only a matter of another few years that SLRs go the way of TLRs.

    All this from an SLR shooter of 20+ years. I still have 2 of my most beloved SLRs (x2 Nikon FM3A) that I will never let go. But I do believe the future is mirrorless.