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Monday, September 19, 2016

Comparing 3 Budget-Friendly Macro Lenses for Nikon DX

Introduction

My comparative reviews are quite popular - see ultra-wide angle lenses for DX, 3 super zooms, and 5 budget normal primes. This is to be expected, as people often need an overview of the plus and minuses of the lenses they have their eyes on. For some people, buying the latest and greatest is possible; for most of us, it isn't.

Macro shots involve discipline. The right macro lens can be crucial

Today I've tried to compose a list of the three most attractive but budget-friendly macro lenses for your Nikon DX camera. The requirements I set are those: a) fully compatible with entry-level models. In other words, it must have an autofocus motor. b) maximum price $600 (new)
    Here are the lenses I picked:

    1. Nikon micro-Nikkor AF-S 40mm f/2.8
    2. Nikon micro-Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/3.5 VR
    3. Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di

    Let's first have a quick summary of the pros and cons of each lens (in the usual no-nonsense AmateurNikon style), and then we'll talk a bit more about the nuances.

    Analysis


    1. Nikon micro-Nikkor AF-S 40mm f/2.8



    + small, light, and cheap, a great match for an entry-level DX camera
    + great optical performance, no problems
    + 1:1 reproduction ratio (but read on)

    - ridiculously short working distance at 1:1 magnification
    - No VR.
    - focus ring and ergonomics overall not great for macro

    The AF-S 40mm f/2.8 is optically excellent (for the price, anyway)



    2. Nikon micro-Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/3.5 VR



    + great optical performance, though we begin to expect more at this price
    + VR is great if you're also using it as a short tele
    + size and weight about right

    - f/3.5 is not f/2.8.
    - Build quality only 'OK', at this price we expect a bit more
    - bokeh could be better

    The AF-S 85mm f/3.5 has excellent sharpness, particularly in the center


    3. Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di



    + optically flawless (it's an FX lens, so this means great corners on DX)
    + splendid working distance, 90mm is perfect on DX.
    + superb value, a lot of performance for not much money

    - autofocus motor is of the older, "whining" micro-motor, without instant override
    - no VR (the newer, stabilized version is more expensive).
    - extends significantly during focusing (but front element does not rotate)

    The Tamron has the best bokeh of the bunch

    Conclusions & Recommendations

    This wasn't as easy as you might think. Trying to find three true macro lenses with autofocus motors for less than $600 (new) is so difficult that one of them (the Tamron) is actually a full-frame lens. If you have a DX camera that does have an autofocus motor, things are much simpler and the offerings much more.

    But what if you're the proud owner of an entry-level Nikon camera, such as the new D3400 or the D5500? In that case, consider your priorities.

    • If you want the best possible image quality within the price boundaries presented here, I think the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 is your lens.
    • If you want the cheapest possible option (that still has an autofocus motor and is a true macro), get the Nikon AF-S 40mm f/2.8
    • If you want a more all-around lens, that can function as a short tele or portrait lens, the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/3.5 is a reasonable choice, but also probably the most difficult to justify - at this price, you expect something at least as brilliant as the Tamron, which it isn't.
    Personally, I'd get the Tamron. It's not a DX lens (which isn't necessarily a disadvantage, if you can live with the bit extra weight and size) and its focus motor isn't perfect - though it does the job. But when all is said and done, it has a darn good image quality, and it's mechanically sturdy.



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