60 mm or 105mm?

Author: Martin Edge

"When to use the Nikon 60mm macro or Canon 50mm macro in favour of the Nikon 105mm or 100mm from Canon"

60mm or 105mm? NOW THERE IS A QUESTION!

MARTIN EDGE considers the age old question:

"When to use the Nikon 60mm macro or Canon 50mm macro in favour of the Nikon 105mm or 100mm from Canon"

Divequest works with more underwater photographers than any other dive tour operator. This article may not be relevant to those who use either a Nikonos or Sea & Sea MM11, however, for all of thos using housed SLR cameras in underwater housings then make your self comfortable and get your head around the following!

Many of you are hooked on the 105mm lens and that is great! It’s a superb lens with excellent optics and will provide a life-size ratio at its minimum focusing distance. Many are so hooked that you have neglected your 60mm macro. Some of you will have decided not to purchase a 60mm at all! That’s okay if you fully understand the advantages and the disadvantages of each.

I am often asked for my preference between a Nikon 60mm macro lens and its big brother the 105mm macro. It’s a most important issue, particularly for someone who is about to purchase and house a Nikon SLR camera. Most can only afford one macro lens at the start, so which one do you go for?

The 60mm lens is the workhorse macro lens for the majority of underwater photographers.

The advantages:

• • It will focus all the way from infinity down to 1:1 ratio or life-size. In other words, the image on the 35mm transparency or negative is the same size in reality as it is on the film.

• • It’s great for fish pictures and larger marine life and the advantage here is that you don’t need to back off in order to get the entire subject into the frame. Why is that an advantage? Well, because you are shooting through a shorter column of water between the lens and the subject. Therefore, everything is sharper, vibrant and more colourful because you have minimised the water column.

• • Auto focus works great with this lens.

The disadvantages:

It’s the reason why so many are leaving the 60mm in favour of the 105mm.

When working at the highest magnification (1:1) with the 60mm macro the working distance from lens to subject is very small; 3 inches max from the end of the port to the subject! Now that is small! Take a practical example in the sea. A blenny on coral. This popular little creature can fill the frame of your viewfinder when working between life-size at 1:1 and half life-size at 1:2. It’s very difficult to place a flashgun in the ideal position at such a close working distance, particularly the larger flashguns on the market at present. If it’s a still life subject then you have a good chance of success when up close. If it’s a shy subject, the likelihood of spooking it is almost a certainty, not only with the intrusion of your port but the flashgun too.

This is where the advantages of the Nikon 105mm macro lens become much clearer:

• • It has all the characteristics of the 60mm.

• • It too will focus from infinity to life-size but at a greater and more comfortable working distance from the lens to the subject; six inches.

• • This is a huge advantage, it allows space for some flexibility, flash placement can be considered and altered, the risk of spooking the subject is reduced, it’s reef friendly and you do not feel that you are so close as to choke the creature

• • The water column, although increased is still at a minimum and is usually not affected by backscatter.

The disadvantages of the 105mm: (This is the bottom line for me!)

• It’s the larger subjects that are suffering!

• I agree that with the really small stuff the 105mm is in a class of its own for all the reasons I have highlighted above. However, the problems occur when you start to select larger subjects such as fish or octopi.

• Shooting from a greater lens to subject distance can and will increase the chance of back scatter and absorbs the bright colours, which have been painted with your flashgun.

Lets imagine that you have found a large octopus. You compose, but the subject is too large in your viewfinder. You back off slightly to get it into the composition and leave a little space around the edges to produce a more pleasing image. In this common scenario you could have 4 feet of water column between lens and octopus. This, I would suggest is too much water. If you move closer then you spoil the composition, stay where you are and there’s too much water in between. This is where the 60mm would have been preferable. You compose at 4 feet and slowly, carefully, patiently move in until you achieve the desired composition. Always Remember - get as close as possible in order to reduce lens to subject distance.

If you can afford to purchase both the 105mm and the 60mm macro lens from the outset then do so. They will both get used depending on your style of photography and the subjects you wish to capture. If after reading this article you feel that it is more your style to shoot very small creatures the size of your finger nail up to the size of an A5 envelope, then choose the 105mm. If you fancy your chances with the reef fish, groupers, soldier squirrel, turtles, soft coral branches, then the 60mm will always be your workhorse!

• If you own a 60mm macro lens then always pack it on your photographic trips. Use it whenever you feel that you are backing away too far from the subject using a 105mm.

• Use it if you are shooting a subject the size of, or larger than, an A4 piece of paper and the subject will allow you to get close.

• Use it for fish pictures if they allow you to get close in

• Use it for turtle pictures

• Use it on land for general scenes and portraits

Re-discover this lens again in your underwater photography. It is your workhorse!

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