Digital Micro

Digital Micro Done Dirt Cheap

My 1967 Nikon F uses a T series viewfinder, making this camera a “Nikon F Photomic T.”

The lens I use with it is a 1969 Micro-Nikkor-P Auto 55mm f3.5. But this lens can also be used for digital.

Here’s how:

Find an “entry level” Nikon D-SLR. When the D40 came out in November, 2006 it was the first D-SLR without an auto-focus motor in the body. Nikon did this to make the camera available for $499 – and perhaps to get you to buy new lenses as the camera only auto-focuses with lenses that possess an AF motor in the lens barrel. Nonetheless the D40 was a very popular camera and remains my workhorse. Its illegitimate offspring, the D40x, also is a gem. Why? No AF motor in the body means no electrical contacts in the F mount. The mount is far less busy than the more expensive Nikons. And, more importantly, it means the super cheap D40 (and its descendents) can use almost any lens Nikon ever made (see for a lens compatibility chart).

The Micro-Nikkor-P (and P-C – better coating) Non-AI lens is available on eBay for $90-$100. It’s a 55mm lens that is very slow (f3.5) but very crisp (especially at f32). It is a great chunk of glass and a real bargain.

To use the Micro-Nikkor on a D40 (etc.), set the mode dial to manual and bracket your shots to find the right exposure. There is no auto anything when you use a rabbit-ear lens on a D-SLR. Not unlike using an F with a prism. Except that you see the results immediately. And they are impressive. I typically focus (on still lifes) at about 8 inches from the subject and set my ISO to 400 to emulate film. These settings work well for my purposes. The one problem is DOF.

Micro photography can be tricky where Depth of Field is concerned. But the D40 has an answer. The popup flash must be set to manual mode via the D40 menuing system (it’s in Custom) but once you do this you can either experiment with the amount of power supplied to the flash (from FULL to 1/32 in half steps) or do what I do…I set my f/stop to f32 and set the flash to Full Power. I shoot at either 1/125 or 1/160 in a well lit room and things work pretty well. Except for the harsh light from the strobe working at full power. But there is a solution.

I use a homemade diffuser on my D40/x strobe. I made it by cutting a 1/2 inch strip out of the barrel of a translucent film canister (Kodak and CVS – made by Fuji – both work well). Slide the film canister over the popup flash and you have a nice, crisp image. And at f32, any dust motes on your low pass filter will be very visible. A hurricane blower solves this problem. Use the Nikon menu to lock-up your mirror, invert the camera and use the blower.

Disclaimer: this strategy works for me, your mileage may vary. Worse case scenario – you end up with a great camera and great lens, acquired for next to nothing.

© 2013, Thomas Altfather Good. All materials are available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL)

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