Macro Lens Comparison

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Macro Lens Comparison

I have several older manual focus macro lenses that are perfectly suitable for use on digital camera bodies. Modern digital cameras with in-body image stabilization (IBIS) are perfect for macro use so I thought I'd take a few pictures of a simple object and compare the results. The goal is to use these as I would in real life - that is to say I would focus using the focus peaking assist of the camera body, enable IBIS and use a tripod for stability. Since macro photography is extremely sensitive to camera movement, I would remotely trigger the shutter when possible.

For my test I used a Sony A7R2 and the Remote PC software to control the shutter. I used focus peaking on the camera's rear LCD display. ISO was set to 400 and two images were captured for each lens - one at f/5.6 and one at f/8.0. Focusing was performed with the lens wide open. All images are in jpeg format with no post-processing. The A7R2 images are 42 MP. For the Sony A65 images (see below) I used a self-timer. Those images are 24 MP.

My test object measures just a tad over 1.5 inches in diameter or a few millimeters more than the width of a "full-frame" image (24 x 36mm). All test shots are slightly less than 1:1 (see images).

I tested the following lenses. None are native to the Sony E-mount; each is adapted as described. As you'll see, they vary a a bit.

  • Contax Apo-Makro-Planar 120mm f/4 N-mount + NAM-1 + Fringer SN-SE adapter (MF). This is a 645 medium format lens so with a 1.5x crop factor, so the equivalent focal length is about 180mm.
  • Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG EX Macro EF + Sigma MC-11 adapter (AF). This is a Canon EF autofocus lens. I left it in AF mode to act as an AF/MF comparison. Unfortunately I inadvertently set the lens in AF "limit" mode so it wouldn't focus any closer. I therefore assumed it was limited to 1:2 (even though it can go 1:1) and only realized my mistake after I'd cleaned up. Oops.
  • Vivitar 105mm f/2.5 Series 1 Macro + Fotodiox Pro FD to NEX adapter (MF). This is a Kino lens.
  • Tokina 90mm f/2.5 AT-X Macro + Macro extender + Fotodiox Pro FD to NEX adapter (MF). This is the "Bokina" lens.
  • Tamron 90mm f/2.5 SP 52B + Fotodiox Pro FD to NEX adapter (MF). I don't have the 1:1 adapter for this lens so I could only go to about 1:2.
  • Canon 50mm f/3.5 Macro nFD + Vivitar 2X Macro focusing teleconverter + Fotodiox Pro FD to NEX adapter (MF). I should have used the Canon lens by itself in order to get the best results for this lens.
  • Canon 50mm f/1.4 SSC FD + Vivitar 2X Macro focusing teleconverter + Fotodiox Pro FD to NEX adapter (MF). The 1.4 lens was sitting there so I used it.
  • Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro (AF). I used this as another point of comparison. This was taken on a Sony A65 APS-C body with auto-focus, so with a crop factor of 1.5, the equivalent focal length is about 75mm. The colors from this camera are visibly different and I didn't bother to match them to the other images.

Use the table below to download each image for viewing. Note their file size.

Test Item Camera body f/5.6 image f/8.0 image
Contax 120mm f/4 A7R2 at 1/20 sec (29 MB) at 1/10 sec (31.6 MB)
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 A7R2 at 1/20 sec (26.7 MB) at 1/10 sec (28.6 MB)
Vivitar 105mm f/2.5 A7R2 at 1/20 sec (31.9 MB) at 1/10 sec (28.6 MB)
Tokina 90mm f/2.5 A7R2 at 1/15 sec (32.8 MB) at 1/8 sec (28.7 MB)
Tamron 90mm f/2.5 A7R2 at 1/25 sec (28.5 MB) at 1/13 sec (30.5 MB)
Canon 50mm f/3.5 + 2X A7R2 at 1/6 sec (28.3 MB) at 1/3 sec (29.8 MB)
Canon 50mm f/1.4 + 2X A7R2 at 1/6 sec (29.6 MB) at 1/3 sec (31 MB)
Minolta 50mm f2.8 A65 at 1/50 sec (11 MB) at 1/25 sec (11.2 MB)

I tried to focus all the lenses the same way; yet there are obvious variations in the focal plane from lens to lens. This could be user error (me) or the need to make micro adjustments. So if a lens seems to be less sharp than another at the same spot in the image, check a different area of the image and see if it's better elsewhere. That said, from a user point of view, having a lens work just right without requiring tweaking is important!

Are there any conclusions you might ask? The Contax is the clear winner. It has amazing contrast and sharpness across the frame. After that, well, you be the judge.


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