Tube lens tests for MFT and FF

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Lou Jost
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Tube lens tests for MFT and FF

Post by Lou Jost »

I just finished an extensive series of tests of tube lenses. My tests are a little different from the systematic, controlled tests of Robert O'Toole and Miljenko, and are not intended to compete with them. Mine are more subjective. They are based on stacks, so they can reveal astigmatism, determine whether color aberrations are the kinds that go away with stacking or not, etc. Robert focused on APS format, but I have MFT and FF, so I was interested in how the tube lenses behave for each of these formats. MFT is less sensitive than APS to corner issues, while FF is much more sensitive than APS to corner issues. As a result, my rankings and conclusions sometimes differ from Robert's.

Here is my list of tube lenses, all tested with the Mitutoyo 10x 0.28 Plan Apo:

Zooms:
80-200mm f/2.8 Nikon ED-IF zoom
Olympus Four-thirds 50-200mm zoom
Panasonic 45-175mm MFT zoom

Prime lenses:
Agfa 305mm
Lenzar 305mm
300mm f/4.5 Nikon ED-IF
300mm f/2.8 Canon fluorite
270mm Nikon-T ED large format
250mm Mamiya Apo RB/RZ67 medium format
210mm Repromaster
180mm Nikon ED non-IF
150mm Olympus Four-thirds
150mm Apo-Symmar
140mm Mamiya floating element RB/RZ67 medium format
135mm f/1.8 Sigma Art
135mm Nikon
135mm Vivitar/Komine
135mm Pentax
125mm Russian aerial photography large format lens
120mm Macro-Symmar
110mm Scitex S-3
105mm Nikon f/2.5
100mm Pentax
100mm Apo-Symmar
89mm Scitex S-3
80mm Repromaster f/4.5
75mm Olympus MFT
50mm Mamiya ULD RB/RZ67 medium format

Close-up and dedicated tube lenses
250mm Century Optics
208mm Raynox
ITL200 Thorlabs tube lens
200mm Kenko
125mm Raynox

It is a very diverse set. Sadly most were disappointing.

Method: For the lenses which could be adapted to a Nikon or Canon mount, I used a shift adapter that let me take an MFT picture of the lower right quarter of the FF aerial image. So the upper left corner of the photo is from the center of the aerial image, and the lower right corner is from the FF corner of the aerial image. This lets me test all formats from MFT to FF with a single stack, and lets me see finer differences than most other tests, because the MFT sensor has twice as many pixels in that area as FF camera.

I have a very dusty house so there is always a coating of white dust grains on my subjects. I think this helps me detect astigmatism...

Image
Above is an example of one of my test stacks. It is from the lower right quarter of a FF aerial image, captured with my shifted MFT sensor (the MFT sensor is a quarter the size of a FF sensor). The center of the aerial image is in the upper left corner of the frame, and the corner of the FF aerial image is in the lower right corner. This is the MFT winner, the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 ED-IF zoom. Note that it vignettes in the FF corner.

Results for MFT:
The MFT results were a huge surprise: The best lens at nearly all focal lengths from 200mm down to 105mm was the Nikon 80-200mm ED-IF zoom! Even the very expensive primes in that range didn't do as well. In a way, that's good news. A zoom with such a wide range is a joy to work with.

A few prime lenses came close. The Scitex 110mm S-3 is superb, though the extreme corners can be soft unless the objective is mounted almost touching the lens. The 150mm Olympus is cleaner than the Nikon zoom but less contrasty and with more astigmatism in the corners. The Sigma 135mm is also better in some ways than the zoom, but not so great in the extreme corners.

For lower magnifications, the Oly 75 is superb but there is a hint of vignetting in the extreme corners.

The Pentax 100mm land 135mm lenses were close contenders; the zoom had better center detail than the Pentax 135 but the Pentax corners were better.

I was surprised that Robert's best tube lens, the ITL200, did not match the Nikon zoom on an MFT sensor. Neither did the Kenko 200 close-up filter which got high marks from Miljenko. The problem with the ITL lens was astigmatism in the corners.

All this was quite sad for me, because I have been using the Nikon zoom for a year or two and had figured that some prime lenses or dedicated tube lenses must be better. So I spent a small fortune on exotic lenses, only to find that nothing matches what I had been using.

Results for FF:

This was even sadder than the results for MFT. Very few lenses did well. The Nikon zoom vignettes at all focal lengths so it gets eliminated immediately. At 150mm the Apo-Symmar was pretty good except in the corners, but was not blindingly sharp. The Nikon 180mm ED non-IF was good except for some slight red CA in the edges. The Raynox 208mm and Century Optics 250mm close-up lenses were quite good though, in agreement with Robert's results (I used them in his recommended orientation and with his recommended normal distances--THANK YOU ROBERT!-- but note that his short-focused alternative distances caused FF corner problems).

The Nikon 300mm ED-IF is pretty good except for red fringing in corners.

When I have more time I will post some examples so you can see the problems. I will also add to this post if I test other tube lenses.

hero
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Post by hero »

For what it's worth, I tried using an EF 300/4L IS as a tube lens for a Mitutoyo 10x but the results were awful on a full-frame sensor. Too much contrast loss, very soft, and lots of chromatic aberration. I wouldn't recommend it. I have a 300/2.8 L IS but I don't know of any way to mount the objective to something with that front element diameter, and I suspect it would not be worthwhile anyway, given what I have learned from Rik about the importance of the location of the entrance pupil for these telephoto designs. I think this is also why the Raynox does so well, despite its simplicity, since these 300mm lenses are shorter than their focal length would suggest.

Lou Jost
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Post by Lou Jost »

I found a huge ring by pure chance on the B&H website which exactly fit the giant front element of the Canon lens. The lens doesn't even have front filter threads, but the ring fit perfectly. Then an 86-52 step down ring on that other ring, and I was done. I wouldn't say the result was terrible, just not as good as some alternatives.

I still think there must be something better out there. I'm thinking about apo triplet telescopes now....they have some of the simplicity of a Raynox, but much better glass. Then a field flattener at the camera end of the tube.

RobertOToole
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Post by RobertOToole »

That is a huge group of lenses Lou thanks for sharing the results of all that work. You tried a larger assortment that I expected!

You tried a 2.8/300?! :shock:

I know how it feels to spend a lot of time and money on lenses that only turn out to be duds. One that I hoped would work was a Sigma 100-400 f/5-6.3 lens but the corner shading and CAs were terrible. I still have a pile of diopter lenses that failed testing that are now sitting collecting dust.

I now know who to check with before I try another unknown tube lens :D

Best,

Robert

ChrisR
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Post by ChrisR »

Well done Lou!

I assume the Makro Symmar which pleased Robert, and the 125mm Raynox were just "in the miiddle somewhere" - as they don't get a mention?

For a near-200mm tube lens, the available and unexotic Raynox DCR-150 remains an easy choice, I think.

A detail - you wrote that the ITL200 caused vignetting on MFT. That seems odd? Pehaps I misunderstand how you got that.
Chris R

Adalbert
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Post by Adalbert »

Hello Lou,
Many thanks for the test!
BTW, I have used the CANON EF 70-200L and CANON EF 100L macro as the tube lens for years :-)
Now, I’m using the Sigma LSA and Raynox DCR-150.
BR, ADi

Lou Jost
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Post by Lou Jost »

Thanks for the comments and for the tests that Robert has done, which made this easier.
A detail - you wrote that the ITL200 caused vignetting on MFT. That seems odd? Pehaps I misunderstand how you got that.
ChrisR, I didn't say that, I said it showed astigmatism. Since Robert makes single shots for his tests, and keeps his wafers spotlessly clean, this astigmatism may not have been noticeable in his tests of the same lens. Alternatively, perhaps I had alignment issues? I might try retesting it with a different mount....

The Makro-Symmar was very good but not as contrasty as the zoom, and had a tiny bit of red CA on APS corners. The Raynox 125mm was very good, nearly as good as the Nikon zoom on MFT, but had astigmatism on FF corners. Again, this could be an alignment/centration problem, and perhaps should be rechecked. But again, I think astigmatism might not be as conspicuous in Robert's single-frame tests, I am not sure.

Yes, the Raynox 208mm remains an excellent and easy choice, using the normal distances recommended by Robert, though perhaps reducing the objective-lens space to 25mm if the goal is to cover FF.

Edit : Regarding my last comment about the Raynox 208mm, the Nikon zoom is significantly sharper in the center, and at 200mm it remains pretty sharp to FF edges , though with hard vignetting in the FF corners. For my scientific work, with whole flowers that don't fill the frame completely, the corners would be black anyway, so I would prefer to use the zoom at 200mm instead of the Raynox.

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Post by ChrisR »

Sorry for the misread - and thanks for the clarifications.
Chris R

Lou Jost
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Post by Lou Jost »

Here is the difference between the centers of the 80-200mm Nikon f/2.8 ED-IF zoom (left) and Raynox 208mm at Robert's optimized distances (right). The differences are best seen if both are enlarged to 200%. Remember that this is 200% of small MFT pixels; on a FF camera the difference might be less conspicuous, but would show up like this if using pixel shifting or future 60-80Mp sensors. High-density MFT sensors make differences easier to see.

Image

santiago
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Post by santiago »

Great tests, thank you Lou!

The difference in IQ of the Nikon 80-200 vs the DCR-150 is massive... the Nikon being clearly superior. What was the orientation of the DCR-150 and the distance to the lens?
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Lou Jost
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Post by Lou Jost »

I used the distances provided in Robert's tests for 200mm tube lenses:
The tube lens, facing forward, is focused at infinity, and there is 50mm between tube lens and objective. These were the results of his experiments with many different distances and arrangements, for APS format.

I noted, however, that 25mm distance gave a better balance between center and corner resolution on FF.

santiago
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Post by santiago »

Lou Jost wrote:I used the distances provided in Robert's tests for 200mm tube lenses:
The tube lens, facing forward, is focused at infinity, and there is 50mm between tube lens and objective. These were the results of his experiments with many different distances and arrangements, for APS format.

I noted, however, that 25mm distance gave a better balance between center and corner resolution on FF.
Ok, thanks for the info!
Santiago
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Lou Jost
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Post by Lou Jost »

There are many versions of that 80-200mm zoom; later today I'll photograph mine so there is no confusion about which version this was.

Edited to note that mine is the 1999-2004 AF-S model:
https://kenrockwell.com/nikon/80200afs.htm
https://kenrockwell.com/nikon/80-200mm-history.htm

It is unusual in that it has 5 ED elements. Some vintage Nikon versions of the 80-200mm zoom have only 3 ED elements.

It also has separate focusing and zooming rings, and does not change length when zooming. It is also approximately (though not exactly) parfocal throughout the zoom range. And it has an aperture ring and tripod collar. These are all important features for a zoom's use as a tube lens.

Lou Jost
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Post by Lou Jost »

This is the good zoom:
Image

I got mine cheap because the autofocus was broke. This had no effect on manual focus.

For MFT it is a truly great tube lens. It beats most others at their fixed focal lengths, and on a 10x Mitu it lets me vary the magnification from 100% of nominal m down to 50-60% of nominal m.

It shows hard vignetting on FF though, even at 200mm.

RobertOToole
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Post by RobertOToole »

Lou Jost wrote:This is the good zoom:
It shows hard vignetting on FF though, even at 200mm.
This is due to the fact that all Nikon Pro-series bodies were all APS-C, not until the D3 in 2006 Nikon did a big switch to FF. Before that they were pushing crop sensors and is the main reason I left Nikon for Canon and only returned for the D3 in 2007 then the D3S in 2008 or 2009. In the early 2000s Canon was years ahead in technology but this changed with the D3 :D

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