I’ve always wanted to be able to take macro shots with my DSLR and it’s always angered me that P&S cameras can do it naturally. Rubbing it in worse, seeing foo-bar-baz’s pictures with his AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED I felt I had to have one. My reverse mounted AF Nikkor 50 mm f/1.8D just wasn’t cutting it. So I took the plunge…
For a considerable amount of time now I’ve tried to find a way to justify buying the same lens foo-bar-baz uses, but at $880 CAD + taxes I just couldn’t do it, not when other manufacturers offer similar products at greatly reduced price points. I understand that they may not be as good but what would the difference actually be compared to the price difference. While Nikon wanted $880 CAD, Sigma wanted $650 CAD, Tokina wanted $600 CAD for their 100 mm and Tamron wanted $550 CAD for their 90 mm. All of them are comparable in focal length for the most part and would likely net me similar results in that regard though Nikon’s had vibration reduction giving it an advantage. But quality of the optics? This was mostly unknown to me and really still is.
I knew that I didn’t want Tamron, I’ve always been steered away from them for one reason or another and it’s my understanding that they’re inferior to other brands in terms of the build quality and materials used, as well as their optics. Would I have noticed? It’s hard to be sure, but I can say that over the few years of using my AF-S Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G ED lens and my AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D side by side, the 50mm prime while dirt cheap at $160 CAD or so is by far superior in every way to the 18-70. It’s clarity is absolute where the 18-70s feels soft in comparison. So I felt it safe to assume that while immediately I wouldn’t necessarily notice the inferior optics of the Tamron lenses, later on I might and would likely regret it.
Sigma and Tokina were pretty much unknowns to me however. I’d heard of their names but never much more and I’m still unsure as to whether my choice to buy Sigma over Tokina or over Nikkor was the best idea, at least in terms of quality. As Sigma and Tokina were both similarly priced at similar focal lengths it seemed a bit of a crap shoot as to which to pick. I asked around to people of varying degrees of experience and really didn’t get too much, though I’d heard from a few people who actually owned Sigmas and felt they were pretty good and based on their testimony I went Sigma as well.
Finally choosing the lens I wanted I headed to my local Henry’s store to take a look at it in person and ask them some questions and bounce those off my brain for a bit. It turns out they didn’t have one in stock but could order one from their warehouse and it would arrive later that week. Visiting them a second time after the lens arrived to check it out for real this time, I was pretty happy with the results and learned something I didn’t know at the same time. While this Sigma claims f/2.8 it’s sorta not, in fact I’m going to simple say that it isn’t f/2.8 at all, you have to be probably greater than 30 feet away to actually use f/2.8 as it’s only available at or very near to infinity. What happens is, as you focus closer and closer the minimum f-stop changes from f/2.8 down to f/5.6 at the closest focus distance of 31.3 cm. This makes some sense when viewed with regards to macro shooting, if f/2.8 were used at the closest focus distance, only a sliver of the object would be in focus. But as a portrait lens used indoors this is really disappointing. This however was not my intended use so I was willing to overlook this pitfall, additionally the sales person assured me that the Nikkor lens did the same. Though I have not confirmed the truth behind his statement and have taken his word on it.
Deciding I wanted the lens a head of time I’d taken $700 CAD with me in cash with the assumption in my mind that the cost would not exceed this price point, forgetting that it was a $650 lens and thinking it was $600. The sales person proceeded to process the item for check out and said “That’ll be $$734.44” Oops. I told him I only had $700 cash and asked if I could buy the lens with that, he was willing to budge a piddly $16 or so down to the $718 mark which still meant I couldn’t buy the lens with what I had thus a useless amount to tell me. As he was unwilling to negotiate and I unwilling to pay more at this point I left the store. Immediately upon exiting the door I pulled out my new work provided Blackberry Bold 9700 with actual internet (unlike my old one from the dark ages of 4 MB data plans), and did a simple Google search with the terms “Sigma 105 Canada”. The first hit led me to B&H Photo in the US where the same lens was being sold for $479 USD. Doing the currency exchange that worked out to $488.53 CAD earlier this week ($500.50 CAD as of writing), a savings of $161.42 CAD in base price alone. Immediately I went home to look into this matter further and decide my course of action.
Calculating out the shipping, duty and taxes I would have to pay to ship it across the border I came to the conclusion I’d save $91.30 CAD a huge savings and totally worth it, especially because that was even with next day shipping. The lens arrived enormously quickly, 36 hours from the start of it’s travels to my door. But I’d miscalculated, the taxes I thought I’d be paying were wrong, the HST tax that I thought would have to be paid doesn’t go into affect until July 1st. This meant I only had to pay GST and duties, saving me even more money. In the end I saved $134.93 CAD by ordering from the US. The funnier part of this whole story is when I calculated what I was asking Henry’s to discount the lens, it was only 4.7%, a tiny amount that would have allowed me to purchase it for $700 CAD even. Instead, due to their unwavering opinion of worth, I went elsewhere and saved an enormous amount of money. I suppose I should be thanking them for this, but I wont instead I’ll just be happy that in the end I was a smart consumer and willing to wait a day or two for my item to arrive instead of immediately gratification.
One of the biggest reasons and advantages for my getting a proper macro lens has to do with control. My cheap attempt at macro photography using a reverse mount coupling ring with my 50mm prime worked, but it lacked all the control you would normal have with a proper lens. Control like focus, the reverse mounted 50mm would only focus at one distance and one distance alone. This terribly limited the angles with which you could shoot and the amount of an item you could have in frame at any one time. Some of you may have even wondered why all my macro shots were always so close and of limited areas when a nicer shot could have been had by moving the camera back 5 cm, but unfortunately that would have netted me an entirely out of focus shot. This proper macro lens will allow me to focus anywhere I want between the distances of infinity and 31.3 cm from the object at which the object is 1:1 scale with the sensor, allowing me entire control over the shot and allowing me to frame each shot how I actually want, maybe even getting artistic.
To provide a little perspective of the differences between the lenses here are some comparison shots from very similar positions and settings. Both sets are entirely unprocessed beyond my white balance preset in Lightroom which was applied to all pictures equally.
The key differences between the left and right side revolve around 3 things you should pay attention to, and probably others I’m not even aware of. These 3 things are, distortion, contrast and colour. Take Horo for example, on the left her face is distorted, not noticeably so on it’s own as I never noticed this until these comparisons, but looking at the picture on the right it’s immediately apparent that her face was distorted as it’s properly shaped on the right. Compare the contrast, the Sigma has far better reproduction of the actual contrast from the scene over the reverse mounted 50mm, this is most apparent in the Black Rock Shooter pictures. The last difference is a little more subtle but the colour is something I’ve always had issue with when using the reverse mounted 50mm, it always always differed from when it was properly mounted. For a while I tried to fix every picture so that they’d be uniform throughout each set but eventually gave up and stuck with my presets, even if that meant the macro shots would have slightly differing colour. Now that the Sigma will match my presets perfectly like the 50mm does when mounted in it’s proper configuration this should speed up my photoshoots considerably as I wont have to fiddle as much in post-processing and just blanket process across the board as I did with non-macro shots.
In the short time I’ve had this lens I’ve been pretty impressed with it. It seems quite sharp and it’s build quality feels pretty decent. I love how finely I’m able to adjust focus through the macro range of the lens and the limit switch which stops the lens from seeking too long. I think the money was well invested and I hope to get some good use out of ‘er. The less I have to use my 18-70mm the better. Of course there’s still that one downside of the f-stop in relation to focus, I really do wonder if the Nikkor 105mm lens suffers from this as well as f/2.8 at ‘normal’ distances would be pretty great, but I suppose my 50mm @ f/1.8 is better suited for those situations.
Now I can get all the pantsu shots I always wanted…