General Question

allergictoeverything's avatar

Extension tubes, or macro lenses?

Asked by allergictoeverything (105points) March 8th, 2010

Yet again, I’m facing another dilemma. Eer since I’ve been interested in photography, I’ve been interested in shooting macro. However, as most photographers (or even noobs) are probably aware, macro lenses cost a fortune. SO! Here’s my question. Out of the three, which would be the best to shoot macro with, with accordance to price vs quality.

1. A set of Nikon extension tubes (PK-11A, PK-12, and PK-13) selling for $245CAN (off ebay, so no tax)

2. Nikon AF-S 85mm f/3.5 IF ED VR II DX Micro-Nikkor Lens ($655.34CAN after tax)

3. Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8 VR IF-ED Nikkor Macro Lens ($949.19CAN after tax)

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7 Answers

Rarebear's avatar

Well, it all depends on how fast you want your lens and how much glass you want to buy, and whether or not you want vibration reduction. In a situation like this you get what you pay for.

So ask yourself 3 question:
1) What is my budget? If you can’t afford a $949.19 lens then it’s not even worth talking about.

2) What am I going to use it for? If you’re just going to use it for farting around with the occasional close up shot, then you don’t need the expensive lenses.

3) How much crap do I want to carry around? Any equipment you buy means you have to carry the equipment around.

Make sure the lens you have already, even though it might not technically be a macro lens, doesn’t have at least some macro capability. For example, I have a very cheap Canon kit lens that came with my camera that actually does pretty well close up.

I’ll just add that I have no experience with extension tubes. But an extension tube won’t make your lens any faster than it is.

CMaz's avatar

Extension tubes = cheep, but work good.

macro lenses = Better quality and resolution.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

It’s a bit of a loaded question to compare the extension tubes to expensive Nikkors. There is a middle ground.

The most popular and highly rated macro lens in history is the $450 Tamron 90mm f/2.8

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what users say

This optical formula has been around since the early 1990’s. The lens has many different versions available on the used market. But all of the 90mm f2.8 Tamrons are the exact same optical design. The older f2.5 version is not the same, so watch out for that one because it does not focus 1:1 without an adapter.

Don’t be fooled by all the comments of slow AF for 90mm macros. A macro should be used in MF. Why pay extra for an expensive AF mechanism that should never really be used anyway. I have two of these Tammy’s, both different versions of the same newer model in the link provided. They are spectacular for both macro and portraits. The 90mm Macro Tammy is as sharp (if not more) than any Nikkor, Canon, Zeiss, or Leica lens I’ve ever owned.

Find the older versions used at $250.

Both Sigma and Tokina make like products too. I’ve not experienced the Tokina, but the Sigma’s tend to have a yellow cast, and will not match the colors of your Nikkors. The Tammy’s will match the Nikkor color much closer.

For the price of the Nikkors, get the Tamron and a set of used extension tubes, thus turning a Macro lens into a Micro lens.

jaytkay's avatar

What lens would you use with the macro tubes?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


Yes I enjoy those as well, though I stopped frequenting “digital picture” when I left Canon. I particularly like the extremely thorough camera testing at dpreview. They are the only site I know that provides data on the extinction resolution, beyond maximum resolution. This is important for reducing moire’ patterns in tightly weaved clothing, and as such, a main reason why I use Sony/Maxxum for my fashion work rather than Nikon/Canon.

Sports and Journalism are well suited for Nikon/Canon and even Olympus, and I much prefer those systems for that. Fashion, Portrait, and Landscape, I prefer my Sony’s because of the extinction resolution, and locking spot meter function. But I’ve got to say, that little Panasonic GH1 looks real nice in so many different ways.

I wish there was a good site for lens testing. Not the technical side, those are all over the place. But the end user experience is what I’m mostly concerned with. Luminous Landscape seems to do a good job with that, but unfortunately, the lens selection is limited. But at least they cover the main pro glass. Dyxum is where I find everything Sony/Maxxum. It’s a huge site that covers everything on that line specifically. It even addresses how to fix certain problems like back focus yourself without having to send the camera in. There’s a fun section of DYI photo accessories like custom made ring lights and lots of weird stuff.

Inconsistent quality sample variations are rampant in all lens makers. So I don’t trust the technical lens tests beyond a general guideline. No lie, I typically buy 2–3 copies of a lens before I find the one that performs best. One might work great on a full frame, but lousy and back focus on a half frame.

Though I’ve been happy with all of my Leica lenses, their SLR camera bodies are very fragile. Canon pisses me off because they refuse to repair my vintage L series lenses, plus they change their accessories, batteries, and RAW file plug-ins every time they release a new camera. I can’t keep up with it. Nikon seems to have settle down though. I’m really excited about their new line of Nano Crystal lenses. Saving up to try some of those.

Rarebear's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies I agree with you about Canon. They were ahead of Nikon for awhile, but I think that Nikon has caught up. I have a buddy who is a die-hard Canon guy. He has the f2.8 L series 70–200 IS lens, and the L-series 17–55 lens, as well as an assortment of other L series lenses. And even he says Nikon is better now.

Too rich for my blood, though. I bought a Canon mostly for astrophotography, and at the moment I have the kit lenses, but I’m looking to upgrade—but I don’t want to invest in L-series glass at this point. I keep looking at Tamron products, but something always holds me back.

My father was a professional photographer before the world went digital and he used mostly 120 mm format film cameras for his professional work. I remember endless hours in his studio holding up newspapers while he tested various lenses. I flew solo in a darkroom by the time I was 10. Those were the days…

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