I have had my eye on a certain macro-lens for a while. I occasionally like to shoot close-ups and have been using extension tubes, but extension tubes are kind of a pain to use. They reduce image quality and available light and you often need to fiddle around with exactly which tube length you need. They are also plastic and kind of weak. This is why I have been considering getting a dedicated macro lens.
I have been internet ‘window shopping’ for macro lenses for about a year. There are some nice Nikon lenses, but they are expensive. Last fall I read that Irix announced a 150mm f/2.8 ‘Dragonfly’ macro-lens and that was all I heard about it for a few months. I didn’t really know what to expect as I had never used this brand. In mid-December it hit the stores for about $600 and I looked at it and waited for some reviews and then kind of forgot about it for a while. Then in August I received a nice bit of Amazon credit and thought of this lens again and ordered it from Adorama through Amazon. The lens arrived in good shape and I soon went out to find some subjects for close-ups.
This lens has an aluminum body, is weather sealed, and relatively heavy. It has an f/2.8 maximum aperture, which is quite fast, and 150 mm focal length with a 34.5 cm minimum focus distance. This should allow you to get right up in some bug’s grill. It is also a manual focus lens, which makes it a bit more work. There are some Nikon macro lenses that have auto-focus, but are a bit more expensive. There is a shorter Nikon 105mm f/2.8 macro for about $810 and a longer Nikon 200mm f/4 macro for about $1800. While the Nikon lenses are highly rated, the Irix Dragonfly lens is about the focal length that I wanted and didn’t cost nearly as much ($600).
The Irix lens has an interesting feature that I haven’t used yet called a Focus Lock. There is a ring on the front of the lens that allows you to tighten it to increase the resistance of the focus until it is locked in place. This might be good for tripod work with a still life subject. In the pictures below you can see the lens with hood and tripod collar attached to my camera. The 24-120mm f/4 zoom lens is behind it for comparison. It also comes with a zipper pouch that the entire rig snugly fits in.
So, Sunday morning I went out to one of my favorite hiking spots, Balcones Canyonlands NWR, and walked around with the macro lens to see what I could find. As you may have already guessed, there will be a butterfly photo soon. All of the following photos were shot through the Irix Dragonfly 150mm lens.
The main trail is currently lined by yellow flowers. I thought that they looked nice in the morning sun and I experimented with shooting them. There was a bit of a breeze, so focusing was a problem close-up to the flowers. The photo below shows the trail lined with yellow wildflowers.
The photos below show a couple of close-ups. I didn’t really nail focus on the first photo because of the breeze, but I like the way it turned out anyway with the blurred background. This was very close to the flowers, but not as close as I could have gotten.
My method of manual focusing close up in a slightly breezy environment is to estimate the distance using the tick marks on the lens, then look through the view-finder with the shutter button partially depressed, camera in single-point focus mode, and watch the focus indicator in the lower left as I dial the focus ring. It takes a little practice to keep the focus target on the subject while watching the focus indicator, but you can get pretty good focus this way through the view-finder.
With the second image below, I placed some out-of-focus wildflowers in the background. I was hoping to get some blurry yellow and green behind the main flowers to give the image a little depth.
Both of the above photos were shot at f/11, but when you get in close, the tighter aperture doesn’t buy you much focus depth. But the background does blur nicely giving you good separation between the subject and background. I kind of think that the background blur in the above photo has a watercolor look to it.
There is no lens correction filter available for this lens in LightRoom yet, but I don’t think that I really needed one. There is no noticeable vignette in the photos and I couldn’t really find any chromatic aberrations. I mainly just applied the Adobe Landscape profile and bumped the exposure a little. It is possibly not as sharp as my Nikon lenses, but I can’t make a determination on that yet, because my focusing may be suspect.
Moving up the trail, I chased a bee around for a while but really didn’t get anything to show for that. But then an enormous butterfly flew in and posed for me on some purple flowers. I got down to try to be level with the butterfly and got as close as I could without spooking him and hectically tried to focus around his head.
The above image is not a vertical crop, though I did crop in from the sides to get a 5×7 aspect ratio. I was going for a square crop, but I felt that the square crop was leaving too much of the background out of the photo.
The large butterfly, stayed around this flower for a while and I got to move around and get a few different perspectives. In the below photo (shot at f/5) you can see its profile and notice how thin the focus depth is by looking at its antennas.
I could have definitely gotten closer to the butterfly if it would not have been scared away. I got down close, took photos, crept in closer, took photos, then it flew away.
The below photo is a bit of a crop, but I like how it has the butterfly looking right into the camera. I exported an extra large image for this photo as it is my favorite. I’d say that I got good focus on the butterfly’s eyes and proboscis.
So, there you have a butterfly shot with a Dragonfly. I kind of knew that these were the best photos that I was going to get on this outing, but I finished my hike anyway. I enjoyed making a hike just to shoot with this lens. When you are locked into one focal length, it focuses your mind to think about creative ways to frame and where to stand/crouch. And I was certainly lucky to find a nice butterfly on violet flowers in the morning sun.
As to the Irix Dragonfly lens, it is nice to shoot with a real macro instead of trying to mess around with extension tubes. The f/2.8 aperture lets in a lot more light than you would get with extension tubes on a lens. And I can also focus on items at a distance without removing the extension tubes. The images look great and I don’t feel like I have to do much correction in LightRoom for distortion, vignetting, or chromatic aberration. I have seen some bad chromatic aberration problems using extension tubes. The lens is solid and weather-sealed and it has a big grippy focus ring. And it is a very reasonable price.
If I had any complaints, it would be the weight and the lack of auto-focus. Manually focusing close-up while hand-held is quite challenging. I have found that I can get good results using the focus detect indicator in the viewfinder with the camera set to single-point focus mode and holding as still as possible while making minute adjustments to the focus ring.
The lens is also quite heavy as you may have guessed from noticing the tripod collar. It got tiresome to lug around on a hike because I wasn’t comfortable with the lens dangling from the camera, so I held it the entire time. It also makes the bag heavier if I am carrying it on a trip.
I am not certain yet on sharpness as it is a bit difficult to for me to focus reliably handheld. But I am usually more interested in the composition than zooming into the pixel level for sharpness and am not trying to write a lens review. But if I want to crop a lot, sharpness could be a concern.
Thanks for reading about my macro lens and the butterfly that I shot photos of. What do you think of the background blur? It seems to have a particular watercolor effect in my opinion. If you have any comments or questions, please put them below.