NiSi Close-up Lens Kit Review
The price of a dedicated macro lens can make close-up photography out of reach for some. However, the launch of a new accessory from NiSi might be about to change all that. Tracy Calder puts the NiSi Close-up Lens Kit to the test.
In the beginning
When I first became interested in close-up photography more than 20 years ago, the cost of a dedicated macro lens meant it was way out of my reach. Thankfully, while I was saving up I came across a set of close-up attachment lenses in a charity shop. Lenses like these come in a variety of powers (or diopters) and work by reducing the minimum focusing distance of a lens, allowing you to fill the frame with your subject.
Single-element close-up lenses
There are three main types of close-up attachment lens: single, double, and triple element. Single element versions have one optical element and tend to come in sets of three. Lenses with different powers can be screwed together to increase magnification, but bear in mind that attaching multiple bits of glass to the front of your lens can cause vignetting (darkening of the corners of an image) as the edges can physically block the light as it enters your lens.
Single-element close-up lenses have other drawbacks. Optical quality, for one, isn’t brilliant. At wide apertures chromatic aberration (due to colours being incorrectly bent by the lens) can be an issue, while image softness is also common. These disadvantages are reflected in the price - a single-element close-up lens will set you back around £15.
“The main job of this accessory is to turn a telephoto into a macro lens.”
Double-element close-up lenses
Double-element lenses (sometimes known as achromatic close-up lenses) have two optical elements and are less prone to chromatic aberrations, as the second piece of glass corrects the problems caused by the first. These lenses are superior in terms of image quality, but they also come with a higher price tag – around £75.
Triple-element close-up lenses
Triple-element close-up lenses have three optical elements, making them highly corrected pieces of glass. As you can imagine, these lenses perform well, with little signs of chromatic aberration, and good sharpness – particularly in the centre of the image. (The main player in this area is Raynox with its popular DCR-150 and DCR-250 Macro Conversion lenses).
The review – the NiSi Close-up Lens Kit
Having decided that close-up and macro photography were going to be my ‘thing’, I bit the bullet and bought a macro lens (a Sigma 105mm). Truth be told, since then my close-up attachment lenses have been gathering dust in the loft. A few weeks ago, however, I heard about an accessory that might just shake up the market – the NiSi Close-up Lens Kit.
Chinese manufacturer NiSi has been making filters for photographers and filmmakers for more than a decade now, with 10–20 launches every year. The Close-up Kit was announced in July, and has been well received by close-up aficionados. The main job of this accessory is to turn a telephoto into a macro lens. As a result, NiSi recommends pairing it with a zoom or prime lens in the focal length range of 70-300mm – the longer the focal length, the higher the magnification. (You can achieve near 1:1 magnification around the 200mm mark.)
“Straight out of the box this feels like a quality product.”
Straight out of the box this feels like a quality product. The lens, which is made of double optical corrective glass, is relatively weighty and comes in a handy, rigid pouch. It has an apochromatic design, which means that three wavelengths are brought into focus in the same plane, minimising chromatic aberrations and reducing softness around points of high contrast. The lens has a multi-nano coating, which helps to deliver natural colour and reduce reflections.
At present, the lens only comes in a thread size of 77mm, but the kit comes with two adapter rings (72-77mm and 67-77mm) to broaden its appeal. Attaching it to my Canon 24-105mm zoom was pretty straightforward as it has a 77mm filter thread, but having tried the adapters too I can vouch for their efficiency.
Having arranged some flowers on a table illuminated by the light from a window, I set up my tripod, and positioned the centre column at 90°, so I could shoot straight down. Immediately I noticed the minimum focusing distance of my lens (which is around 45cm) was pretty-much halved, and I could focus about 25cm from my subject.
Next I experimented with a range of apertures to see if I could detect any image softness. This time my subject was a rose in a local park, and having secured the stem to a bamboo cane to steady it I set about my business. NiSi recommends keeping the aperture between f/8 and f/16 and, truth be told, opening the aperture up to f/4 I could kind of see why. With the lens wide open there was noticeable softness. That said, shooting at f/8 sharpness was impressive across the entire frame. What’s more, I saw no signs of chromatic aberration.
“shooting at f/8 sharpness was impressive across the entire frame”
On the downside, being forced to use mid-range apertures gives you less opportunity to throw distracting backgrounds out of focus, and also means longer shutter speeds.
There’s no mistaking this is a quality piece of glass. It’s well designed, optically impressive, and significantly less money than a macro lens. While it might not match the quality and versatility of a dedicated macro, it’s ideal for photographers on a budget, or those looking to see if macro and close-up photography might be their ‘thing’. I only wish NiSi had brought it out 20 years ago!
Good for: Anyone who shoots macro infrequently, or wants to assess their interest before investing in a macro lens. Travellers who are looking to save room and/or weight in their kit bag.
Significantly cheaper than a macro lens
Comes in a handy, rigid pouch
Life-size (1:1) magnification possible
Compact enough for travelling
Good image quality across the frame
Currently only available in one size (77mm)
Bit on the heavy side
Sweet spot at mid-range apertures (f/8–f/16)
Image quality doesn’t quite match a macro lens
Further information: en.nisioptics.com