I’m back on modern photography this week and want to jaw about a macro lens with incredible optics. I’ll preface “incredible optics” with “it comes with some drawbacks”. More on that in a minute.
Nikon’s 200mm macro lens (Nikon calls it “Micro”) is quite simply the best macro lens Nikon has ever made. This lens has been in production since 1993 and continues to be made to this day. They’re proud of this lens. Whereas most lenses have applied painted markings, this lens has a metal nameplate screwed to the lens body (see above picture).
It’s an outstanding lens and Nikon charges accordingly. The cheapest price I could find during this writing was just under $1,800.00 US. I bought mine used on eBay from a professional photographer and still paid dearly. So what makes this lens so good? In two words, stellar optics. It only does one thing, and it does is better than any other lens Nikon has ever offered. The 200mm is a prime lens (there’s no mechanical zoom – it’s a human zoom) that is designed for sharpness with no distortion.
It’s all metal and built like a tank. The 200mm macro is for capturing close up images of tiny things with razor sharpness. You know those uncomfortably close up pictures of spiders and other little critters that reveal unbelievable details? Yeah, it’s this lens. That says a lot given that it’s not a large lens. For comparison, it’s sitting next to a moderately sized 16-85mm DX lens below.
The 200mm is technically an autofocus lens and will require a backwards compatible screw drive camera to use this feature, so autofocus won’t work on cheaper Nikons. Even so, you don’t want to use the autofocus feature on this lens, and I don’t believe Nikon really meant for you to. Don’t believe me? Look at the huge manual focus rubber grip in the above picture. The whole front end of the lens barrel is the focus ring. The ring movement is snug but silky smooth with the feeling of robust quality. Focus speed is consistent with the pace of the ring movement, no sudden leaps in or out during consistent ring turning travel.
The 200mm can also be used as a telephoto lens, and a lens hood can be purchased if you’re going to use it out in the sun or other strong light that is facing the lens. Nikon’s HN-30 hood for this lens is all metal with metal threads. There is no quick connect. It screws onto the lens filter threads. The hood is painted with black crinkle paint that matches the lens body.
What are the drawbacks? It produces extremely sharp images. That’s a problem if you want the background to fade out of focus nicely (bokeh). It’s an FX lens, so it has a magnifying effect when used on a DX camera. It equates to about a 300mm DX lens. Finally, the 200mm produces paper thin depth of field. That can be both good and bad. Even though the lens can be stopped from F4-F32, there is very little noticeable effect on depth of field (I’ve only used it on a DX camera, so I’m not sure about FX cameras). The extremely thin depth of field means you’re going to be using this lens on a tripod (which is probably why there is a permanently mounted metal tripod foot on this lens). Let’s take a journey through four progressively deeper layers of a Waltham pocket watch so you’ll see what I mean.
These pictures were taken at F10 to give extra depth of field. Even so, you’re jumping deeper through the watch by single gear thicknesses in those pictures. And just to be clear, the depth of field adjusts much finer than that.
Finally, the lens doesn’t really have any physical taper to it, so it’s rather funny looking. It sort of looks like a straight metal pipe attached to the front of a camera. The 200mm is a tool, so I don’t get too wrapped up in these things, but it’s just not sexy in any way. In other words, no one will remember this lens for it’s beauty.
So there you have it. The good. The bad. The ugly. Nikon’s 200mm lens is totally worth the price of admission, but it has very specific uses. You will need to carefully consider whether or not it should be in your lens arsenal.