Since my return from Tokyo towards the end of August I have been in a considerable slump when it comes to my photography. I have not felt inspired or motivated to get out and capture any street photography. And what little I did capture has been as a result of having my Fujifilm X70 camera in my bag with me. The joy has just not been there. Speaking to my photography friends allows me to see that this is not uncommon. Many of us get into a creative funk in one form or another from time to time. So what to do? I decided to try something new by getting up close and personal with my subjects….I am of course talking about macro photography.
Previously, when I shot with Canon gear, I had a macro lens and mostly photographed plants and moss and bugs. Nothing terribly original or overly exciting. Then moving to Fujifilm gear I didn’t pick up a macro lens as I was mostly focused on street photography. Fujifilm introduced the XF60mmF2.4 macro lens way back in the early days of the Fujifilm X Series. It is not a true 1:1 macro lens but a 1:2 ratio instead. But it was the only offering, until very recently, in the macro class. Then a few weeks ago Fujifilm announced the highly anticipated release of the XF80mmF2.8 macro lens and let me tell you, that thing looks like a beast. Similar in size to the XF90mmF2 for those that have experience with this lens. It is also the first Fujifilm prime lens to have OIS or image stabilisation. And this will be a true 1:1 macro lens. It is not available for purchase just yet but any day now it will be.
With my new found focus (pardon the pun) in attempting some macro photography, I went a little old school and picked up a Fujifilm MCEX-11 Macro Extension Tube. In early 2015 Fujifilm released two macro extension tubes. The MCEX-11 and the MCEX-16. They are often referred to as a tube of air as these tubes don’t actually have any glass in them at all. They are merely a ring that creates a greater distance between the sensor inside the camera and the front glass element of the lens you have the ring attached to. This in turn allows you to achieve a far smaller focal distance between your subject and the front of the lens. The Fujifilm macro extension tubes are exceptionally well built and are solid and sturdy when attached to both the lens and the body of the camera. They lock into place on the lens with a locking mechanism that has to be engaged to remove the ring from the lens. There are connection points that allow for data to pass between the lens and the camera and also for auto focus and aperture to work effectively.
In short the MCEX-11 and MCEX-16 allow you to turn a non-macro lens into a macro lens of sorts. You can even stack the two MCEX macro extension tubes together. Personally I don’t think this is necessary. With the MCEX-11 and the Fujifilm X-T2 camera body, I tested a number of X Series lenses – notably the Fujifilm F2 trinity: XF23mmF2, XF35mmF2 and XF50mmF2. Personally I found that the XF50mmF2 lens was the best performer and easiest to obtain focus with the MCEX-11 attached. I have included some images for you below as well as a brief explanation of minimal focal distance with and without the MCEX-11 attached.
The XF23mmF2 has a minimal focal distance of approximately 22cm. With the MCEX-11 attached this dropped to less than 5cm and was the most difficult to achieve a clear focus on the subject given the close proximity. As a result of having to get so close, my lens was creating shadow against the object and I was not able to get a clear shot. Also the slightest movement toward or away from the subject made achieving focus near impossible. Another very important point to be aware of when using the MCEX-11 is that the depth of field becomes paper thin. At F2, any 3D object will have a very fine point that is sharp and in focus. Then the the focus will drop off and become very soft very fast towards the back of the object. As a result, I found that the best outcomes were achieved when I shot at F16, the smallest aperture on any of the F2 trinity of lenses. Also using a tripod made a huge difference to achieving clear focus versus hand held.
And that brings us to the performance and capabilities of the Fujifilm XF60mmF2.4. The X Series first macro lens. Well it is a solid little lens with the usual high standard of build quality expected of Fujifilm. The front element of the lens actually moves back and forward externally to achieve focus. And that is a bit of a problem. The auto focus on this lens is slow and the lenses can hunt back and forward for focus. With that front element extending and retracting it can be tough to nab a clear shot when out and about trying to capture a flower swaying in a slight breeze or a bug on the move. Granted this is one of the first lenses Fujifilm released for the X Series so the technology is older. I also took some test shots with the XF60mmF2.4 with the MCEX-11 attached. This resulted in a minimal focal distance similar to using the XF50mmF2 with the MCEX-11 attached but a much more compact image. And the clarity in the image is great.
Of course the added benefit of the XF60mmF2 lens is that it has also been known to be quite a suitable portrait lens in good lighting conditions. This makes the lens quite a versatile addition to a kit especially if you like to dabble in a little bit of everything. As I mentioned earlier, the XF60mmF2 I used is a loan lens. So I will shortly be returning it to its owner. I don’t have any regrets about this nor do I have a need to rush out and buy my own copy of this lens. For the minimal amount of macro work I do I feel that the MCEX-11 attached to either the XF50mmF2 or the XF35mmF2 is enough. From a cost perspective, for the odd macro shoot, the Macro Extension Tube is by far a more affordable option. They retail for around $120.00 each in Australia versus the XF60mmF2.4 macro that retails for well over $500.00. And don’t forget that the beastly XF80mmF2.8 true 1:1 macro lens is due out any day. Who knows, perhaps that will be a part of my kit one day too.