Spring is here, and as usual I’ve been spending a good bit of time recently taking photos of flowers.
Since I’ve been lucky enough to be able to use many of Nikon’s current range of macro lenses, I thought it a good opportunity to do a short series of macro lenses for flower photography.
I’m focusing here on hand-held use outdoors. Inside a studio you have a lot more control. Aside from precise control over lighting, you can put a tripod anywhere you want without anyone tripping on it or yelling at you to get it out of the flower bed. And, perhaps most important, your subjects are still.
Outside, flowers are often moving even on a very still day and you might not have the luxury of being able to plant a tripod just anywhere you want. Even using something to hold the flower still might be out of the question much of the time.
So hand-held flower photography outdoors can have its own set of challenges, and it’s with those in mind that I’m looking at these lenses.
Nikon 200mm f/4D IF-ED Micro / Macro Lens
The specific lens I’m focusing on here is the Nikon AF Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Lens. It’s a prime macro lens. Nikon uses the term micro for their macro lenses, but they’re the same thing. Since the rest of the world uses “macro,” that’s what I’m using.
The headline feature of this macro lens is that it provides close-up shooting with a comfortable working distance to the subject. From 1.6 ft (0.5 meters), you can get 1:1 close-ups. For comparison, with the 105mm f/2.8, it’s 1 ft (0.3 meters), so you have to be that much closer. For working in the field, that versatility is a bit of a double-edged sword. It does mean that you can have a more comfortable working distance with some space between you and the flower or insect. But the downside is that it also means that focus and tracking can be tricky.
Hands On with the Nikon 200mm f/4D IF-ED
This model was first released in 1993, back when the AF-D series was Nikon’s next big thing. And it definitely has a retro feel to it. From the stamped metal nameplate to the rough, grippy finish to the metal barrel casing, it doesn’t look or feel quite the same as the rest of Nikon’s current crop of cameras.
It’s heavy for its size and feels very solid in the hand. Here it is side-by-side with the Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED.
First, without the 105mm’s lens hood attached.
And with it.
And here it is side-by-side with the Nikon AF-S Micro-NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED Lens.
There’s no much going on with controls on the lens. To help with fine control over focusing, it has an oversized focusing ring and there’s an onboard aperture selection ring (locked in place when set to AF mode to help with stability). If you want to toggle between manual and automatic focus you have to toggle a ring (and hold down a locking button while you do it). And there’s a limit/full slider that is helpful to minimize focus searching.
On the side there’s a large knob dial that’s used to tighten and loosen the built-in tripod collar.
And that’s about it. There’s no vibration control or other selectors.
The autofocus works well enough, but it’s on the slow side when compared with some of the newer lenses. And it’s especially slow if you’re going from one end of the focus to the other—somewhere the focus limiting switch comes in handy.
The lens is also pretty heavy in your hand and an in your bag. It’s not the kind of lens I’d just throw in a backpack as an afterthought.
Rather than just talking about it, here are some samples taken using this lens. I have posted a much larger collection separately.
Focal Length: 200mm Maximum Aperture: f/4 Minimum Aperture: f/32 Minimum Focus Distance: 1.6 ft / 0.5 meters Physical Size: 3.0 x 7.6 inches / 7.6 x 19.3 cm Weight: 2.6 lbs / 1.2 kg Maximum Angle of View on FX: 12° 13 elements in 8 groups with 9 diaphram blades Filter Size: 62mm Made In: Japan
This is a top-shelf, old-school (relatively speaking) macro lens. It’s very, very sharp, especially for its telephoto focal length, and is excellent optically. But it’s also a model that is over two decades old, has reasonably slow autofocus, and doesn’t include vibration reduction. And with a manufacturer’s list price of $1795, it’s not an inexpensive lens.
For the purposes of handheld flower photography, I’ve found it to be a very attractive lens but not necessarily my first choice in many scenarios. The 200mm telephoto reach means that you can get in close visually even for times when you might want some air between you and the subject. But it also means that focus and tracking can be a challenge with moving subjects. The closer you get, the greater the challenge.
A better use for this lens would be when you can stabilize the camera and the subject. And that would also make it more practical to use things like extension tubes to broaden the lens’s range.
You could use this for non-macro work, such as portraits, but there are better options for that that are faster, more versatile, less expensive (as well as some that are much more expensive, like 200mm f/2, and have better bokeh at working distances.
But if you’re after a specialist macro lens and are looking for a comfortable working distance from your subject, it’s hard to beat.
Where to Find Them
Since I originally posted this, this lens has been discontinued, and they’re not easy to find new or used anymore.
Good places to check for used copies include KEH or eBay.
Accessories for the Nikon 200mm f/4D IF-ED Micro Lens
Filters. It takes standard Filters. It takes standard 62mm screw-in filters: Polarizer | UV/Haze | ND.
Lens Hood. Oddly, the lens doesn’t come with a lens hood included—it’s an optional extra. But the hood for this lens is model number HN-30 screw-in lens hood. It is a cylindrical lens hood that, like most lens hoods made by the major manufacturers, is overpriced for what it is, but it does serve a very useful function, especially for macro photography when you want to minimize stray light. In practice, you’s probably find that there are other aftermarket 62mm lens hoods that will work just fine on this lens, but I haven’t tried them.
Lens Case. It comes with an old-school hard lens case, the CL-45. This is included when you buy the lens, but you can also replace it if something happens to your original one. There’s no particular reason you need to use the official Nikon case; there are plenty of other good options you can find.