tl;dr: good Fuji X lens for toy (10-30cm) photography?

I'm a fresh Fujifilm X-T20 owner. I'm planning to replace a Nikon D7000 with it, for gunpla photography. Problem is, I'm not yet sure what kind of lens should I use for this purpose on X-T20. Specifically, with Nikon I was just using a zoom - very nice 18-200, put the camera on a tripod, aim it at the subject, fire. For Fuji, I can probably go with XF55-200 as it'll give me similar close-up capabilities - but there's also a XF60 macro that'd allow me to do some close ups. I guess I just don't have enough experience with different lenses, and I'm unsure what will be the exact benefit of dedicated macro lens like that XF60mm. Will they differ significantly with regard to the minimal distance they can focus at? I remember this being an annoying factor when I tried to do some of my gunpla photos with a p&s (Sony RX100M3) - having to step back from the table and leaving a lot of margin in the composition.

FWIW, here's a breakdown of the data for my gunpla photos - sadly, only selected lenses/cameras combinations recored things like focus distance.

EDIT: for the record, I've gone for MC-EX16 ring and 55-200. I like the effect I'm getting so far, both with ring and without, and I'll be testing the studio setup once I'm back home.

  • Best bet is to rent a few lenses, see which work for you – cmason Sep 11 at 15:23
  • I'm currently travelling, and I'm in a place where renting is easy and cheap, but I have nothing to test the camera with. The place I live, on the contrary, has crazy rent prices. Hence my question here. 8) – yacoob Sep 11 at 15:24
  • I can't tell from the images: what is the scale of the toys you are photographing? – mattdm Sep 11 at 16:13
  • @mattdm They seem to be in the normal action figure range...~5" (amazon.com/Bandai-Hobby-Banshee-Unicorn-Gundam/dp/B00IAGUM9A/…) – Hueco Sep 11 at 17:51
  • 10-30cm - they come at different scales. – yacoob Sep 12 at 0:44
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The benefit of dedicated macro lenses is that they can focus very close, and achieve a 1:1 or 1:2 reproduction ratio. Based on your existing data (which is cool!), it looks like you're shooting a wide variety of focal lengths, at short focus distances. But it doesn't look like you need extreme 1:1 close up capability; correct me if I'm wrong.

Based on the above, I'd recommend trying an XF 55-200, plus an MCEX-16 extension tube. It will accomplish two things: first, your longer focal lengths will be served by the 55-200, but the macro ring will give you the close focus you require. Second, if you have a wider lens, such as a 27mm pancake or either of the 16-50 or 18-55 kit lenses, the macro ring will work with them too. It will have a dramatic effect on their focusing range -- 16mm of extension will make the kit lenses almost unusable on the wide end, but the mid-to-tele range should be able to get pretty close.

You will end up with a very versatile zoom plus a macro ring which works with any lens, for $100 more than the XF60mm macro lens. If you can easily rent this combo before you buy, that's a fantastic approach. And if you're willing to use third-party macro rings, it's $40 for two instead of $100 for one. (That's your decision; personally, I like my Fuji brand.)

Fujifilm publishes a very handy table of focusing distances, with and without macro rings, for all their lenses, here. My advice: don't get wrapped up in maximizing the reproduction ratio at all costs; just figure out what would give you the best value per dollar.

  • 1
    Came here to mention extension tubes and see you already have. +1 from me. Side note, I use a 12mm ET on a 70-200 and it get's me as close as I've needed for 95% of my I need to shoot something small shots. – Hueco Sep 11 at 17:54
  • Yep, I have an 11mm Fuji tube and it's pretty sufficient. Sizing will depend on your system's rear flange distance though. – thirtythreeforty Sep 11 at 17:55
  • Thanks for a suggestion. You're correct, I don't really need insect-like close ups. I've noticed the macro rings in the lens catalogue but I've ignored them for some reason. What would be the exact difference between using something like this, vs dedicated macro lens? In both cases the minimal focusing distance will be shorter. What are the downsides of using such ring? I mean, there must be some, otherwise noone would buy macro lenses 8) Will it affect depth of field significantly? I've missed DOF from my initial crunch, but looking at it right now, it seems I usually need at least 10-15cm. – yacoob Sep 12 at 1:07
  • The extension tube costs you light, typically 0.5–2 stops, depending on the tube. This is because it "overscans" a larger image circle on the sensor. You also lose the ability to focus at infinity. – thirtythreeforty Sep 12 at 1:40
  • I am not sure how it affects DOF, other than the usual rules about "smaller depth of field at shorter focus distances." – thirtythreeforty Sep 12 at 1:41

May I offer you an entirely different suggestion? You're not shooting moving subjects. It sounds like you aren't under time pressure during your shoot either, so you can switch lenses as much as you like.

Fujifilm cameras are extremely versatile, you can put basically any lens on it with an adapter while losing hardly any quality over using these lenses with their original cameras. You do lose all the electronics from the lens when adapting, so keep that in mind when picking lenses.

The trick is to find lenses that suit your photography style that are great quality for a low price. I dabble in macro photography, but I think the 80mm Fuji lens is just too expensive for dabbling.

My still-macro gear:

  • M42-FX adapter (bought from amazon UK, 20 pounds). This adapts any M42 lens to my camera. M42 is a popular mount from the past. Many brands used it and there are tons of lenses available for it.
  • M42 macro tubes (3 euro in a thrift shop). This turns all my M42 lenses into macro lenses. They do lose a few stops of light, but that doesn't matter when using a tripod on a still object. They keep their depth of field.
  • Pentacon 135mm f/2.8 (bought on ebay, 40 euro). I love this lens! It's not as great as my 50-140mm f/2.8, but it's a LOT cheaper and pretty great still. Note that it requires around 2 meters of space to be able to focus at all. For items your size, you'll need around 3 meters. If you have that space, this is a great, cheap combo with a macro tube. I'll try to shoot some models with this combo so you have an idea.

A few more suggestions:

  • 50mm f/1.4 Super-Takumar. You should be able to find a used one in good condition under $100.
  • 100mm f/3.5 Canon Serenar. Goes for under $200 usually. Beware, this is a M39 mount, you'd need a different adapter.

Depending on the size of the subject you might want to look at a tilt/shift solution. This allows you to place the focus plane exactly where you need it. (The tilt bit I mean, shift is not relevant for this purpose, but they do tend to come as a pair). As you may have experienced, when shooting macro the depth of field tends to become painfully small.

Fuji does not offer any tilt-shift lenses at present, but I have a Nikon-Fuji X adapter with tilt and have bought an old all-manual Nikon 28mm lens for it, although I haven't gotten round to actually trying this combination out yet. Some extension tubes might be needed to get the focus distance short enough. I have however used a Canon-mount 35mm T/S lens for macro on an X-T2 via a plain adapter and it worked quite well without tubes. 35mm proved a bit tight for my purposes hence the 28mm.

  • For the moment I went with the extension tube - in time, once I get a better feel of the camera, I'll think about more exotic combinations like this. – yacoob Sep 13 at 10:39

You may wish to consider the following options. The images were chosen because they contain subjects that are of similar size to the figurines you wish to photograph (~15-25cm).

  • The XF 18-55/2.8-4 kit lens with or without extension tubes. It's always worthwhile to start with the kit lens when familiarizing yourself with a new system. You can defer additional purchases if you already have this lens.

    Third-party extension tubes with pass-through electronics are about a quarter the price of the official extension tubes. If you don't mind cropping, they may not be necessary.

    XF 18-55

  • The XF 18-135/3.5-5.6 is a reasonable alternative to the kit lens, but a stop slower and twice the cost. It is weather resistant, if that matters to you.

    XF 18-135

  • The XC 50-230/4.5-6.7 is slower than the XF 55-200/3.5-4.8, but covers a slightly larger zoom range at less than half the price (~$270 vs $600). Its OIS is good for about 4-5 stops of stabilization, but speed shouldn't be much of a problem for you since you use a tripod and shoot subjects that exhibit minimal movement.

    XC 50-200

  • Adapted lenses. If you have any old, manual-focus lenses that you know work well for your purpose, you may be able to use them with an adapter until you find a suitable native solution. Belle-Sophie suggests a number of lenses that may be used with an adapter.

  • I have the XC 50-230 and I must say its usefulness is kinda limited to broad daylight. Certainly, it's a good lens for the price, but if you have the means and want to use the lens for things other than macro, I would probably favor the 55-200. – thirtythreeforty Sep 12 at 1:38
  • @thirtythreeforty What problems do you have with less than broad daylight? OIS on the XC 50-230 is good for 4-5 stops. Also, OP is going to be using a tripod with subjects that exhibit minimal movement. – xiota Sep 12 at 1:48
  • That's true. My copy gives me shutter-shock artifacts on shutter speeds between about 15-60 that go away when the OIS is off or the electronic shutter is used. I'm not sure if I have a goofy copy or not, but otherwise it works well. – thirtythreeforty Sep 12 at 2:44
  • @thirtythreeforty Maybe you can describe and ask about the "shutter-shock" as a question, if it hasn't been asked already. – xiota Sep 12 at 2:54
  • 1
    Here is my question, for those curious. – thirtythreeforty Sep 12 at 21:51

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