Dave Tameling | Old Macro New Macro Part 2

Old Macro New Macro Part 2

October 08, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Part one of my test put two best-in-class macro lenses to use on the street. One from just a few years ago and one from well over 20 years ago.


A macro comparison wouldn't be a comparison without some true macro shots so I set to work setting up a macro studio at home. I don't shoot studio macro shots often so it's a little improvised but it gets the job done. The goal was to get the conditions as identical as possible for both cameras. For this test I used a Manfrotto tripod with a gear head and a sliding video mount plate to make all adjustments. It's crude but it served well enough. An Einstein firing into a 60" umbrella directly over the camera provided all light.

testing set up

I shot various items with varying levels of detail, texture, and colour so that the images could be compared side by side. I thought images would need to be cropped to account for the difference in focal length but this wasn't the case...at 1:1 magnification they are very close. The NEX-7 is known to have a better dynamic range and colour reproduction than the 7D but I don't think this was a significant factor in the results. There is a slight difference in colour between the images. It's unknown if this is due to the lenses or the cameras. Both cameras were set to identical shutter, aperture, and ISO settings. Slight discrepancies in exposure between the cameras were adjusted in Adobe Lightroom 4 but no other adjustments were made other than fixing the white balance to Daylight in Lightroom. Each subject was shot at various aperture values from wide open through f/16. 


I'll start with my conclusion. Keep in mind that these are full frame lenses being used on APS-C sensor cameras. You can view the results below and see for yourself after that...


The Canon lens is excellent and it's hard to imagine a lens being any better...or needing to be. The lens is as sharp as any sane person would need a lens to be. In the corners there is just a hint of softness wide open. It's so subtle I'm not even sure it's not in my head and has to be blown up to 100% to even try to find it. Bokeh is fantastic. Shooting a small object on a white background produced no flare in the lens even when the light was turned up too high.



The Tokina is also excellent and produces fantastic results. At it's sharpest there is no perceivable difference in sharpness between the two lenses. It is also slightly soft in the corners wide open more so than the Canon. Again, you have to look very closely to see it. There is some chromatic fringing wide open but it's slight and is only obvious at 100% magnification. This is gone at f/4 (the next stop on the ring) completely as is any softness in the corners. Bokeh is great though I feel that the Canon is better. The Tokina does flare when shooting into a white over exposed background. Perhaps not the best lens for high key photos but certainly I've seen worse. Considering the age of the lens this isn't surprising. The Canon no doubt has much more sophisticated technology built into it for preventing such things. This lens extends when it focuses which makes macro work a bit more tedious requiring constant adjustment of the camera compared to the Canon. This is quite tedious without hardware dedicated to macro work. The contrast produced by this lens when the lighting is correct is the best I've seen.


NOTE: It has occurred to me that the depth of field is so shallow wide open at 1:1 magnification on these lenses that the slight softness in the corners could have been accentuated by the edges of the subject being slightly further away from the lens. I haven't tested this but during the tests I did perform it was obvious that wide open, the depth of field is incredibly shallow. Care must be taken to make sure everything is perfect. I have no doubt that small discrepancies can impact image quality in these conditions. Something as simple as the sag in the camera due to the weight of the lens can throw things severely out of focus or change the focal plane and make it impossible to get the entire subject at the same focus. I did my best to prevent these things from impacting the testing but it's obvious by looking at my samples my samples that I was off in some places when the lenses were wide open.



The Canon lens produces one of the highest image qualities I've seen in any lens I've used.  It's sharp at all apertures, controls flare very well, is built solidly, has weather sealing, and goes to 1:1 with internal focusing. While the Canon costs significantly more than what I paid for the Tokina, it still commands a surprisingly high price despite it's age. Even at top dollar, you'll pay half what the Canon sells for new. From what I've seen comparing the two, it would be hard to go wrong with the Tokina if you had the choice. If you require any of the features offered only in the Canon like weather sealing, it's pretty much your only option.


The below pictures were taken at 1:1 magnification and at various apertures ranging from wide open to f/16. The only edits which were done were slight adjustments to the exposure so that they are all the same and the white balance was set to Daylight in Lightroom.


Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Tokina AT-X 90mm f/2.5
Canon 1:1 F/16 Canon f/16 Tokina 1:1 f/16 Tokina f/16
Canon 1:1 F/11 Canon f/11 Tokina 1:1 f/11 Tokina f/11
Canon 1:1 F/8 Canon f/8 Tokina 1:1 f/8 Tokina f/8
Canon 1:1 F/5.6 Canon f/5.6 Tokina 1:1 f/5.6 Tokina f/5.6
Canon 1:1 F/4 Canon f/4 Tokina 1:1 f/4 Tokina f/4
Canon 1:1 F/2.8 Canon f/2.8 Tokina 1:1 f/2.5 Tokina f/2.5

You may have to head to the gallery (http://bit.ly/OeMQLU) and look at these images full size to see any major differences...that's how good and how closely matched they are. Here's a quick sample for the pixel peepers out there.


Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Tokina AT-X 90mm f/2.5
Canon 1:1 F/4 top right f/4  Near Top Right Corner Tokina 1:1 f/4 top right f/4 Near Top Right Corner

By f/4 you can see that both lenses are performing at an outstanding level of sharpness with no softness or other flaws in the image. I like to think that the Tokina outperforms the Canon when considering micro-contrast but at this level it's a non-issue...they're both amazing lenses.



Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Tokina AT-X 90mm f/2.5
Canon Flare on Black

Canon F/2.8

Tokina Flare on Black

Tokina f/2.8

Canon Flare on White

Canon f/2.8

Tokina Flare on White

Tokina f/2.8

All images were over exposed slightly to accentuate the flare. Even on black the Tokina is flaring a little while the Canon is rock solid in both images. This isn't a deal breaker for the Tokina but I'll have to be more careful when using it to make sure I don't get too much light coming into the lens.


To see the full size images, please jump over to the gallery: http://bit.ly/OeMQLU


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