My love for funky lenses of a certain vintage is no secret.
Today, weather played a factor in the amount of time I had with a Sears 28-200mm f4-5.6 macro lens. I only had a small window of time to walk around the neighborhood with this lens.
Macro vs. Close-up
There is a difference between macro photography and close-up photography. Often times lens manufacturer’s marketing departments will brand lenses as macro, but in reality the lenses are only capable of 1:4 to 1:8 magnification. Macro photography is the practice of photographing small subjects to appear large. Usually with a magnification of 1:1 or 1:2 ratio. Typically this means a proper macro lens has a very close focusing distance.
Using this argument; the lens I tested today is a close focusing zoom lens. Depending on the zoom, the ratio this lens rates at a 1:4 magnification ratio at 28mm and a 1:7 ratio at 200mm. In macro mode at 28mm I can bring the front lens element just shy of 4in (10cm) and 200mm the closest I get is roughly 48in (1.2M). This is pretty darn close. In normal mode, 28mm close focus is 8ft (2.5M), and at 200mm the close focus is 6ft (1.2M). The way the lens achieves the close focus is by a twist ring that pulls the rear element further away from the sensor. This lets you focus closer but it prevents you from focusing to infinity. This is great because it bypasses the need for extension tubes. This is a novel idea.
Ok, so how does this thing handle?
It doesn’t handle very well. This lens is heavy. The front filter ring is a 72mm, there is a lot of glass in this monster. I don’t have a scale, but it weighs noticeably more than my Canon EF70-200 f4L. With the adapter for the Fujifilm-X series, the lens is just about 7in (18cm) long and add another inch (2.54cm) at 200mm. This is not a photowalking lens. It’s awkward, bulky and is difficult to focus. I don’t much care for push/pull zoom lenses either. This lens is just not very well suited for the way I like to work.
I did notice that this lens has a real t-stop issue compared to prime lenses. T-stop is the measurement of the actual amount of light that the lens allows to pass through. This is not to be confused with f-stop, which is calculated by the diameter of the iris as it relates to the focal length.
I did a quick comparison with two prime lenses. I metered through a 28mm and a 200mm prime lens set at f5.6. Both prime lenses let in slightly more than 1 stop of light compared to equivalent focal length in the Sears 28-200 zoom lens. This is very common with older zoom lenses, and a big reason I don’t usually use vintage zoom lenses. Prime lenses do have several advantages but convenience is probably not one of them.
Because of the t-stop shortcomings, using this lens on a cloudy day means boosting the ISO higher than I really like. This lens is difficult to hand hold at 200mm in many conditions.
Image quality is the most important feature to me.
I was a little surprised, this lens fared a bit better than I thought it would. This lens does not come close to the resolving power of modern glass, but the images I got from it were pretty good for my taste. There is some chromatic aberration that is easily managed. Shooting close-up, the lens is pretty sharp, as long as you could hold the camera still that is. The vignetting is not too bad either, especially for a zoom lens of this vintage. Despite its weight, it doesn’t feel particularly well built. It’s a little wonky.
It’s a cool lens, albeit with limited practicality. I enjoyed using it, but it is not a lens I can recommend for a casual photographer, whether shooting film or digital. It’s not a true macro, but it can be handy for a few situations if you don’t own extension tubes. Extension tubes will give a better quality on a prime lens than with this zoom. However, if close-up image making is not your usual thing and someone gives you this lens, then by all means take it and get an adapter.
I’ll certainly use it again, but it’ll be under very limited circumstances.