Nikon lenses: 70-200 vs 70-180 micro

Started Jul 26, 2012 | Discussions thread
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David H Dennis
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Nikon lenses: 70-200 vs 70-180 micro
Jul 26, 2012

I enjoy a wide variety of photography, but the images people seem to like the best are the butterflies. I've included a few of my best ones with this post.

These images are taken from a theme park called Butterfly World in Pompano Beach, which allows you to get very close to the butterflies. But not as close as you would in a typical fixed macro setup. Tripods are not allowed there, and in any event I value the freedom and flexibility tripod use makes pretty much impossible. As a result, if I got a macro lens, the 70-180 seems like a really appealing choice.

Some of these images are not perfectly sharp. This is most likely because they were taken with a 24-70mm f/2.8 mid-range zoom. The zoom itself is sharp but often doesn't get me close enough to the butterflies for the most accurate focus.

I have taken other images with a 70-300 f/4-5.6 telephoto zoom. This is a cheap lens and because the focus ring is loose it's harder to get a good shot. More to the point, focus distance is nearly five feet, which makes it impossible to get really close to the butterflies.

The 70-200mm f/2.8 lens was the next lens I planned to get, even at a wallet-busting $2,400. I like its versatility and sharpness, and of course it's a full-on professional lens with the best quality manual and auto focus systems in the biz. (Of course for butterflies manual focus is generally what we need). Then I noticed it had a minimum focusing distance of 4.6 feet, barely less than the 70-300 that was giving me so much trouble in that regard.

So I became intrigued by the 70-180mm f/4.5-5.6. This would be harder to focus but will focus as close as 1.2 feet, which really seems great for this kind of shooting. And reviews say it's extremely sharp, just as the 70-200 is. It's available only used, in the $1,500 range. A significant savings, but basically to be ignored because I think I will eventually get the 70-200 for general purpose use anyway.

Googling around brings me to the concept of extension tubes, which apparently can be fitted to the lens more or less like you do a teleconverter. Apparently they change focal distance by moving the lens itself in relation to the focal plane. One thing that's not clear to me is what focus distances are available to you when you put one on - can you still focus to infinity, or do you have a maximum focus distance with the tube? Since I like taking close and (relatively) wide shots with the same setup, this is an important question for me. Would adding an extension tube to the 70-200 make it work as a macro lens and therefore eliminate the need for a 70-180, or are there significant drawbacks?

So with this background in mind, what lens would you rather have on your camera, the 70-180 macro or the conventional 70-200?

Thanks for your input!

D

 David H Dennis's gear list:David H Dennis's gear list
Nikon D4 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II
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