In this article, I would like to introduce my new macro lens, the Mamiya Macro MF 120mm f/4. I already showed some product images taken with this lens and will write some articles focusing on some macro projects I’ve got in mind.
Why not a Canon macro or any 135 film macro lens?
When considering getting into macro photography, you will quickly realize that the macro lenses available from your camera manufacturer are often sold for at least 500 to more than 1’000 bucks. It’s not a cheap investment at all and people unsure about their commitment should at first try macro photography using so-called macro tubes and a prime lens that offers both accurate manual focus and a manual aperture ring.
When somebody asks me for an affordable macro lens that also offers 1:1 magnification, I always recommend to get the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro. It comes with AF and can be had used for a good prize too.
I wanted an all manual lens though, preferably adapted and with some vintage charm.
The Mamiya Macro MF 120mm f/4
Mamiya is a legendary brand when it comes to Medium Format and they are still in business with their cameras and lenses, although not as well known as Phase One or Hasselblad.
I was looking for a true macro lens to replace my micro Nikkor 105mm f4 Ai and many people over at http://www.fredmiranda.com recommended this lens as a close second to the Contax Zeiss APO Macro Planar 120mm f/4 which sells used for way more. Being on a limited budget, I went for the Mamiya and to date do not regret my decision.
The lens is a true 1:1 magnification macro lens, meaning that the object you’re taking a picture of is reproduced in its original size on the sensor.
In addition to the well-known distance scale in feet and meters, the macro lens also features a magnification scale in green (see image above).
Size and build quality
At its shortest, the lens measures only 111mm in length:
It has a reasonably sized 67mm filter thread with a deeply recessed front element. The coatings are beautiful and the recessed placement of the front element helps against flaring without the need for a hood. I might get one for portraiture anyways.
This lens was originally intended to be used on a Mamiya 645 medium format camera. 645 film has a significantly larger surface area: 3x area vs 135 film or digital full frame. As a point most can relate to, the digital full frame sensor is only 2,3x larger than any APS-C sensor in a Sony/Nikon/Fuji/Pentax camera.
What does this mean?
Using this lens on digital full frame means that you heavily crop the lens. This, in turn, results in several desirable advantages:
- you only use the center area of the lens and not the borders where the sharpness usually isn’t quite as great.
- vignetting, even shot wide open, is nonexistent
As you would expect from a macro lens – and especially so from a premium manual focus only medium format lens – using the focusing ring is an absolute joy. The ring is very wide, covering most of the lens barrel, and turns smoothly with just the right amount of resistance.
Starting at infinity, turning the ring by 180° you are only slightly past the 1:2 magnification ratio. It takes another 120° turn to get to the full 1:1 magnification. This allows for extremely precise focusing.
Like most macro lenses, the Mamiya macro does not feature internal focusing but shows a rather impressive amount of extension when at the minimum focus distance:
The aperture ring is very slim and turns quite easily – too easily for my taste. The aperture consists of 9 nicely rounded blades, which I consider very important because this is a lens you will often find yourself using stopped way down to f/11 or smaller.
Considering that the digital version of this lens sells for 2’990$ at B&H, you should expect quite the performance.
I got mine in mint condition for as little as 300 bucks, although not the digital version because I’ve got no need for the chip. However, Mamiya have not changed the optical construction of the lens, they simply added the chip for the digital medium format cameras.
Here are some properties of the lens
I’ve used this image several times already, but it’s the first ever macro I shot and I love the result. This was a quick snap at my friend’s eye with a softbox as main light and an umbrella for some fill, no special processing or any other aids used. The image was not cropped either.
I first tried my luck with the usual suspect from Pixco. Unfortunately, the adapter was faulty and a locking pin missing, so that the lens would not lock in and could be freely rotated in the adapter.
I sent this one back and ordered the Fotodiox pro M645-EOS adapter, although without the AF confirm chip. Should I find that I miss it too much, I’ll probably install one myself.
The build quality is exceptional and the adapter sits tight on the lens with not play whatsoever.
Here are a few close-ups I took when I first got the adapter
some spring macros
and some more
A 1:1 macro, handheld, with natural light
My keyboard at 1:1 magnification, no crop, lit by the monitor