Before I got my first true Macro lens, a Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG, I had a cheap way of getting macro shots: Mounting a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF reversed using a reverse ring (Nikon BR-2A or the cheaper clone). The picture of that setup and sample image can be found here. Basically it worked OK. On my D200, the camera maintains auto-exposure but no more auto-focus. The images are quite sharp. The magnification is not high through.

Recently I acquired the 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX, which is a nice prime lens for DX format Nikkon DSLR cameras that gives you a “normal” field of view. When I stumbled across the reverse adapter ring I purchased long time ago on a dusty shelf, I decided to try it with the Nikkor AF-S 35mm f/1.8G lens.

The immediate problem I had was aperture control. ¬†Being a G-lens means there is no aperture ring. The aperture gets stuck at the minimal open when the lens is reverse-mounted on the camera. The viewfinder becomes extremely dark, making composition and focusing almost impossible. I overcame this problem by operating the aperture lever by hand. Opening it all the way to compose and focus then let is snap back to the smallest setting (f/22) to take the shot. A SB-600 in remote mode was triggered using the built-in flash on my D200 as wireless commander.¬†Occasionally, I tried to hold the aperture somewhere between the largest and the smallest by hand. Auto exposure, even TTL flash exposure, works on a D200 with a reversed lens. The same isn’t true for D40, D80, D90, etc, which needs manual exposure control.

So how well did it work?

Magnification

The ruler below shows mm/cm scale. Based on the sensor size of 23.6 x 15.8mm on D200. The magnification is 23.6/13.5 = 1.75X! In comparison, revered 50mm f/1.8D gives me only ~0.7X magnification. Most macro lenses give maximum 1X magnification. Besides cost, the magnification is probably the most compelling reason to use the reversed Nikkor 35mm lens as a macro lens.
Poor man's macro lens

Image quality

It is decent. A few sample shots can be found below. All images are shown scaled down from the original size of 3872 X 2592 but without cropping. It is a little soft at f/22.

Poor man's macro lens

Poor man's macro lens

Poor man's macro lens

Poor man's macro lens

Practical aspects

  • Exposure – Auto exposure (including TTL flash) is available on high end Nikon bodies. Otherwise the correct exposure can be obtained by trial and error with the help of histogram. Without an aperture ring, it is not very convenient to get an aperture that is not the largest or smallest of the lens. However with practice, you can manipulate the aperture lever with one hand while pressing the shutter release with another.
  • Focus – No auto focus. It has to be focused manually. It is not possible to focus at infinity. Basically you need to move the camera and lens closer to the subject until the desired focus is achieved. It is not very usable on a tripod without a macro slider or focusing rails. I found it easier to just handhold the camera. With light from flash ¬† freezing the motion, the blur caused by camera shake can be reduced to insignificant level. However you still need to be as steady as possible since the depth of field (DOF) is super thin.
  • Working distance – You have about 50mm or two inches from the lens to the subject. It is very usable.
  • Magnification – Unlike a true macro lens that allows you to choose different magnification factors by simply changing the subject to camera distance, there is only one magnification using the reversed lens. For a larger subject, the field of view will be too narrow to cover it completely.
  • Dust particles – The rear of the lens is left unprotected so don’t use it in dusty environment.

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