Now that spring has finally arrived, here's a hands-on review of using the Nikon 200mm f/4D IF-ED macro lens for outdoor flower photography.
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 chahn-30llenges, and it’s with those in mind that I’m looking at these lenses.
The specific lens I’m focusing on here is the Nikon 200mm f/4D IF-ED. 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.
This model was first released in 1993, back when the 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, with the 105mm’s lens hood attached.
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.
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
Aside from the usual filters and lens cap accessories, there are two dedicated accessories for this lens that can come in handy.
The first is the HN-30 screw-in lens hood. It’s 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. The lens doesn’t come with a lens hood included–it’s an optional extra.
The second is 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.
This is a top-shelf, old-school (relatively speaking) macro lens. It’s very, very sharp, especially for its telephoto focal length, and is optically 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.
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.
You can find them at B&H Photo.