Best glass for getting close

Can a pack of screw-in filters really offer a viable alternative to a 'proper' macro lens?


Macro Options
Nikon AF-S DX 40mm f/2.8G Micro V.S. Hoya Close-up Lens Kit HMC

  Nikon AF-S DX 40mm f/2.8G Micro
Mount Nikon AF-S DX
Autofocus Yes
TTL Metering Yes
Infinity Focus Yes
Image StabiLizer Not featured
OpticaL Elements 9
Diameter 69mm
Length 65mm
Website www.nikon.com
Price £240/$280
Hoya Close-up Lens Kit HMC
Mount Screw-in filter type
Autofocus Lens-dependent
TTL Metering Yes
Infinity Focus No
Image StabiLizer Lens-dependent
OpticaL Elements 1
Diameter 46-77mm
Length 5mm (approx)
Website www.hoyafilter.com
Price: £70/$70
Type This DX format 'micro' lens is designed for cameras like the D3400 and D5600, on which it has an effective focal length of 60mm. It delivers full 1.0x magnification at its closest 16cm focus distance, measured from the focal plane near the rear of the camera body. Often referred to as close-up 'filters', because they screw into the front of a lens, these supplemental lenses act as magnifying glasses. This kit comprises three lenses with different magnifying strengths of +1, +2 and +4 dioptres, plus a soft carrying pouch.
Features This is Nikon's most inexpensive micro lens, yet it still has an AF-S system that enables autofocus with any Nikon DSLR, complete with full-time manual focus override. It also has an autofocus range limiter that can lock out close focusing for general shooting. Unlike cheaper alternatives, these Hoya filters are of good quality with metal frames. They're available in a range of attachment thread sizes, from 46mm to 77mm, and each has a thread at the front and rear, enabling you to stack the lenses for a greater magnifying effect.
Ease of use Weighing 235g, it certainly isn't a heavy lens, and it's reasonably small as well, making it ideal for popping into the spare corner of a kit bag. It's easy to fit and to use, although, at its closest focus distance, the front comes very close to the subject, at just 3.5cm. An advantage of this kit is that you don't have to swap the lens you're using on the camera. Even so, it can be a little fiddly and time-consuming to screw a close-up lens into the filter thread, more so if you're using two or three to maximize magnification.
Versatility With a fast f/2.8 aperture rating and effective focal length of 60mm, it makes a good general-purpose prime with impressive image quality. At f/2.8 you get a tighter depth of field than with standard zooms, and faster shutter speeds under low lighting. Size options enable you to use these with any lens that has a filter thread up to 77mm. You'd need to buy the size that corresponds with your largest lens's filter thread, plus step-up rings for any other lenses. Only short-range focusing is possible.
Performance Image quality is very pleasing, with excellent sharpness, practically no colour fringing and absolutely negligible distortion. Autofocus is a bit slow, but this isn't generally an issue for extreme close-up photography, where manual focusing is often preferred. Even with all three +1, +2 and +4 dioptre lenses fitted to a standard lens, you're unlikely to get full 1.0x magnification. Image quality can be pretty good, but won't be as impressive as from the Nikon macro lens in terms of sharpness, distortion and colour fringing.

 

VERDICT*

A set of close-up lenses like this Hoya kit is certainly small and lightweight, and offers a relatively inexpensive solution for capturing extreme close-ups. It also avoids the need for swapping the lenses, which can be an issue in dusty conditions. However, dedicated macro lenses, like the Nikon 40mm here, will always deliver better image quality, and they make great portrait lenses too.

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