Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Nikon micro-Nikkor AFS 40mm f/2.8 Review

The micro-Nikkor 40mm f/2.8 AFS is one among many micro (macro, whatever; it's the same thing) lens options for someone looking to purchase such a lens. It's a DX lens, which means it's small, light, and cheap. How does it perform? My take on this might surprise you, so read on.

+ small, light, cheap. Just like DX lenses should be
+ great optical performance, no flaws to speak of.
+ 1:1 macro reproduction ratio (but read on)

- ridiculously short working distance. At 1:1 magnification, the front element is 1"/2.5cm or so from the subject!
- No VR. Understandable perhaps, but compared to, say, the micro-Nikkor 85mm f/3.5 VR, it's still a minus.
- ergonomics in general (focus ring, autofocus, etc.) are not very helpful for true macro work.

Optically it's very, very good. Its shortcomings are related to other issues

Intended Users
Great for:
  • best macro lens for D3300, D5500, or whichever entry-level body you're thinking about. Read 'Final Verdict' for more details
  • a DX normal lens that can double as a macro/close focus (but read below)
  • still life or product shots
Not for:
  • true macro work, particularly of living/moving things. Unacceptably short working distance at 1:1
  • thinking about (also) using it on FX? Nop, it won't work. Vignettes heavily and image quality deteriorates rapidly away from the center
  • although it is a good compromise between a macro and a normal lens, ultimately, it's not as good in either role filled by dedicated such lenses
This is at about 1:3 magnification ratio.
A 1:1 shot of this subject is impossible with the 40mm f/2.8 - not if you don't want to melt it!

Final Verdict
OK, I can imagine you might be a bit confused. I bet you're not 100% sure whether I actually liked and therefore recommend this lens or not. I did speak of not great ergonomics, of unacceptably short working distance, and of this lens being only a compromise. But I also spoke of this lens being the best macro lens choice for an entry-level Nikon. So, what's going on here?

Simple. Remember what I had said in this article?
The closer you get to 1:1 magnification, the more difficult it becomes
If you are a beginner in macro photography, you should not start with 1:1 magnification, and you should not start with bugs. Start with still life, find things in your kitchen or your warehouse. Reveal the rich world that is hidden in plain sight from our eyes. Photography should be about telling stories that have not been told before. Take macros of pencils, of forks, of corn seeds and padlocks. If you have an entry-level Nikon camera, if you're looking to make the first timid steps into macro territory, start cautiously. You need something small, cheap, easy to handle. This lens is totally fine for this role, and it won't bankrupt you. Will you overgrow it as (if?) you become more serious about and competent in macro photography? Absolutely. But trust me, until then it will teach you a lot of good things, it will improve your discipline, and it will allow you to take pretty great photos in the meanwhile.

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