The Schneider Kreuznach Macro Varon 85mm f/4.5


Michael Erlewine

On my seemingly-eternal search for interesting lenses for close-up work I could not help but come across the Schneider Kreuznach Macro Varon 85mm f/4.5 CAS lens, if only because Schneider promotes the Macro Varon all over the place. And that’s a lot of promotion for a lens most photographers have never heard of.

 

Well, I heard about the Macro Varon and searched it down to its price tag of $4500 and that set me back on my heels a bit. I don’t need a new lens THAT much. Well, perhaps a Zeiss Otus or two would be alright. I did make some calls, sent out some email requests and finally found that the Macro Varon could be had for somewhere in the mid $3K range brand-new. Well, of course that just sent me to Ebay looking for used copies. However, while it has happened, the Macro Varon does not show up used on Ebay very often, in fact hardly ever. Well, that limited my searching. I did find out that one sold on Ebay some time ago.

 

Again, I spoke with Schneider reps about the Makro Varon on the phone and finally just let it go. It’s not that I don’t have other lenses that I might buy. LOL. And for those of you foolish so think I’m rich, guess again. I sell old equipment to buy new equipment as I go along. I just do it methodically.

 

To make a long story short, recently a good friend sent me a message that there was a Makro Varon actually on Ebay for $1500. Well, that turned the corner for me and I bought it in about 15 seconds from receiving the message. It came from China, was used, but looked in decent condition. When the lens finally showed up at my door it was obviously brand new or in mint condition. However, it came in a strange industrial lens-mount which held the lens captive with three very tiny screws.

 

I exhausted my collection of tiny screwdrivers, flat, Phillips, and torx (star). Then I called the local optician and gear-heads and no one had a tool that small. Well, that was disappointing, since I had no way to mount the lens without removing this big clucky adapter that gripped it first. Then I went salvaging through dozens of boxes of camera-related stuff and finally found a set of tiny torx drivers, but none of them was small enough to work. But, there was one (tiny) hole where a missing torx wrench should be. Where was it? And sure enough, in the bottom of my box of Cambo Actus parts was the tiny torx screwdriver and to my surprise, it worked! I had the lens mounted in a few minutes and was good to go.

 

Now, I wanted to find out if this lens is best mounted directly to the camera and the camera placed on a focus rail, or should the lens be mounted directly on the camera with a small helicoid to focus with. The lens itself has no way to focus. It has six aperture blades (I wish there were more) and It has f/stops from f.4.5 through and including f/8. It does have something special, however.

 

The Macro Varon has an additional ring on the barrel that allows me to adjust the floating lens parts in the lens to fit a particular magnification ratio 0.5x to 2.0x. This compensates and suppresses aberration depending on the magnification ratio. The only other lens that I have that has such a ring is the first edition of the Nikon Printing Nikkor 150mm APO f/2.8. These rings actually work.

 

Another rather unique feature of the Macro Varon is that on each individual lens, during final adjustment, a tiny drop of red paint is placed on the rim of the barrel that allows (when the M42 adapter is screwed on tight) us to orient the particular lens to the camera sensor orthogonally, at right-angles. This is red dot calculated and optimized for each individual lens.

 

Anyway, I soon figured out that (at least for now) I get the most play out of mounting the lens on the Cambo Actus Mini View Camera. Next, I had to decide what kind of hood would be best, since my first shots (made without a hood) lacked a bit of contrast. I tried both flared and narrow-tube hoods and finally fashioned one from the Nikon K-Ring set, one K5 plus two K3s all screwed together. They made a nice tubular hood that seems fine so far.

 

Mounted on the Cambo Actus Mini, I soon found out that rather than the large (special order) cambo bellows I normally use that prevented me from getting as much field of view as I wanted with this lens, so I substituted a short bellows, which is fine because I do not need as much room with the Macro Varon anyway. That helped a bunch. I could also look into using a tiny extension/helicoid mounted directly on the camera, but I doubt that I would gain much, and moving the rear-standard on a view camera is better for stacking than using a helicoid. Anyway, I am up and running.

 

Here is a quick photo of my setup, the Nikon D850 on the Cambo Actus Mini. On that is the Schneider Macro Varon 85mm f/4.5 lens adapted to Nikon mount, with a hood made of several K-rings. So far, so good. And I include a couple of early shots taken with the Makro Varon to give you an idea of what this lens can produce.

 

This setup is not hiking-material, but certainly can go outside to the fields and meadows, at least if there is easy access so that the gear does not have to be carried far. The lens itself would be easy to carry for hikes, but would have to include some form of helicoid to focus or be happy with a DOF at F/8 and fixed focus.

 

Anyway, I’m checking out the Schneider Macro Varon 85mm and would be interested in any other user’s experience.

 

A fine review of the Scheider Macro Varon is this one by Robert O’Toole:

 

https://www.closeuphotography.com/macro-varon/schneider-macro-varon-lens

 

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_MEB9309-2-MV85-777.jpg

_MEB9146-2-MV85-777.jpg

_MEB9073-2-MV85-777.jpg

_MEB8958-2-MV85-777.jpg

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Comments


Great find, Michael. 

 

I've no knowledge of this Cambo-Actus apparatus, but am curious to know how you mount lenses to it? Does it have some kind of universal clamping system?

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Michael, these may be test shots but they are really nice - especially the first two.  I look forward to images from when you have fully integrated this new lens into your work flow.

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    • By Michael Erlewine
      I have been stacking focus for many years now, so I’m no stranger to this technique. And the track of my learning curve (more like a spiral) has been fueled by my using better and better corrected lenses (APO) to enhance the stacking. In other words, the more finely corrected the lenses, the more careful I have to be in stacking, and on around. It’s like a Catch-22.
       
      I get lots of emails and messages about my photos. And not infrequently (at least from photographers) is the question as to whether I have tried one of the automated focus rails. In the past, I have taken a certain amount of pride in pointing out to these folks that I can stack quite well manually, thank you very much. I had no intention of varying my technique.
       
      Yet, as I pointed out above, the circular spiral of finer lenses and precise stacking led to more and better apochromatic lenses, like the Zeiss Otus series, the APO-El Nikkor 105, the Leica Elmarit-R APO 100mm macro, and so on. I pretty-much took these fine lenses in stride, hopefully learning to use them more and more skillfully.
       
      Then comes the Schneider Macro Varon 85mm industrial lens. I had kind of heard about this lens on and off for some time, but never had seen one come up used on Ebay and even trying to get availability and a firm price from the manufacturer and distributors was difficult. It was almost as if they did not want to sell to me because I was not a company that required industrial lens for line-scanning. I wrote them. I called them on the phone.
       
      A more detailed story about the Macro Varon would require a separate article. Suffice it to say that a good friend of mine, another photographer, sent me a FB message telling me that a Macro Varon just came up of Ebay and at an attractive price at that. It took all of perhaps one minute and I had bought it. It was not an impulse buy, because I had decided to get one quite a while ago, just not pay the retail price of about $4500. Ouch!
       
      The Makro Varon is a very highly corrected lens, certainly worthy of the name APO. However, perhaps most remarkable was that this was a lens built for a wide range of magnifications, which is unusual for industrial lenses, which usually have a very limited magnification range at which they are at optimum sharpness. The Macro Varon even has a separate ring to compensate for whichever reproduction-ratio is used, actually moving the inner lens elements around to accommodate that reproduction range. And, interestingly enough, its specs showed me that it could easily outperform the sensor of my fairly new Nikon D850. “Hmmmm, I mused. I’d like to see that.”
       
      And see it I did and pretty quickly too. But such a revelation soon led me to rethinking my bias against automated focus rails. It was not that I could not stack well, but I continue to get older and I am old enough as it is, and the little bumps, jars, and vibrations caused by me began to be more visible; they got in the way.
       
      Anyway, back to this blog. So, there I was, reading about the StackShot, when before I knew it my finger was hitting the return-key to order a copy. And to my surprise, the company (Cognisys) was right here in Michigan, only just up the road from where I live, in Traverse City.
       
      So, it was only a day or so before the automated-rail turned up at my door. However, learning to use StackShot was a bit of puzzle. It actually is very simple, but the manual is SO complete that finding the simple in it is hard. At least that’s how it struck me. I just wanted to get going right away and stack something, but although eventually that was easy, at first it was not so.
       
      And also, this device is meant for many kinds (or ways) of stacking. It took me a while to figure out what the name for what I wanted to do was. I finally did (Automatic Distance) and, as mentioned, it could not be simpler. Well, it could be explained more simply. LOL. As a software developer myself since the early 1970s, I recognized the kind of manual that indeed was precise, but is no beginner’s guide. I told them so.
       
      The problem was, IMO, how do I find what increment or step makes sense for the kind of close-up focus-stacking that I do. I don’t need the kind of detail one needs for stacking a bee’s knees, but I do need enough overlap of images to make the rendering of the stack smooth with no banding.
       
      Of course, I called the support line at Cognisys and spoke with a very nice person, only too willing to help. The problem was that at each question, each point where I was stuck, he pointed out that this or that particular choice was variable, very variable. So after fifteen minutes or so, I was right back where I started from, having to figure it out for myself. What’s new? Story of my life! LOL.
       
      And it took a while for me to run many stacks at different step-sizes to find a step-size that gave me what I was looking for and not one that took all day by over-stacking what probably couldn’t be seen. I wasn’t stacking a microscope image, but just a flower or two.
       
      I messaged Rik Littlefield, creator of Zerene Stacker, the stacking software I use, and asked him about over sampling. His response was that it won’t harm anything to make too many images, but it might add a wee bit of extra noise.
       
      After a few happy days with StackShot, here is where I am at. So far, it looks like the more detail you can get with the smaller increments with Stackshot, the better the result, within reason.
       
      StackShot likes to work in thousandths-of-an-inch or in millimeters or fractions thereof, your choice. I found myself working with MLS, thousandths of an inch, a setting of 20 Mls seems pretty good. 10 MLS is slightly better, but perhaps not worth the extra time, etc. A lot depends on keeping natural light even, which is hard with variable cloudiness.
       
      My thoughts on using the StackShot automatic-rail are positive. I have stacked for many years, always barely touching the focus barrel or whatever mechanism as required. I got pretty good at it, but also made little accidental bumps and knocks, which have never helped at all. And, as I drill down on these ultra-sharp industrial lenses that can challenge the sensor of even the Nikon D850, there is less room for user-caused error and a greater demand for regular precise increments.
       
      After many years of focus stacking, my most valuable learned skills are in setting up and composing the shot, although I have always done my best to move carefully through all the steps that focus-stacking requires. However, having tried out StackShot, I am convinced it has a lot to offer me in stability and consistency, leaving me more time to consider what shot I want to take. I am enjoying that.
       
      I have a fair amount of testing the Stackshot yet to do, but I am already getting a handle on it. By testing various step-sizes, I am already converging on what seems to work for me. I’m not doing photo-micography, but rather just simple close-up and macro photography.
       
      Of the many options that StackShot offers, the one I seem to be gravitating to is Automatic-Distance, which allows me to choose the granularity, the step-size, that works best for my work. In other words, I have one main step size that will be applied no matter what scope or distance I want to cover. Should that not be fine enough, I can easily make if finer, etc. The only caveat might be with spherical objects, where following the curve demands finer steps, IMO.
       
      So, the step sizes I have settled on should work. Physically, the StackShot is very well made, meaning it is robust, as strong or stronger than any other focus rail I have and I have ten or so. Its vertical profile for my camera is low, about as low as it could be and I have fitted it with my favorite RRS Arca quick-release clamp, the one with a larger knob. I can see no way that this is not better than what I have been doing myself by hand.
       
      And the program allows me to introduce all kinds of latency time, which I have done, so that at each movement of the auto rail, I take a second or so to let any vibrations created by the mechanism movement subside.
       
      The only problem, which has nothing to do with StackShot, is that since I use natural light, on a variably-cloudy day the lighting changes from moment to moment and affects the stack. To counter this, I would have to be standing there, slightly modifying the shutter moment-by-moment to keep the light stable. That kind of takes the auto out of automatic, but that’s the price we pay for natural light. It varies.
       
      So, my initial impression of the StackShot is not only good, but very good, almost something like “where-have-you-been-all-my-life?” good. I like it.
       
      As for taking the time I am used to spending stacking focus at the camera away from me, which I traditionally associate with meditative absorption on my part, it does not seem a problem. My hard-won skills are seeing the shot and setting up for it. With StackShot, I do the creative work and let an expert step through the mechanics while I do other stuff. Makes sense and seems fine.
       
      StackShot is easily rough enough to take into the field, provided you realize that it is heavy and if you don’t have any wind. Here in Michigan, I wait to see each day if there is no wind at first light. Rare, but it happens.
       
      A Hidden Surprise
       
      Surprise, surprise! There is almost always a surprise with new equipment. Using stackshot made one thing very clear. By standardizing the process of focus stacking (the mechanical part) all lenses were treated equally.
       
      It’s true that I always did my best to incrementally stack focus as carefully as I could. But, I cannot pretend that on any given day, I may have stacked looser or tighter, even or less even. I can only guess at the variation.
       
      But one thing is clear so far from using the StackShot and that is that the regularity of increments (the step size) reveals more clearly than I have ever seen the true or actual difference between any of these highly corrected lenses. It is clear that some of these lens differences were veiled by the more organic (sloppy) process of stacking by hand and not by auto-stacking.   
       
      However, by regulating the stacking process, it creates a much more level playing field. And I found it very easy to see the differences between lenses, many of which I could never before be certain about.
       
      And so, whatever else auto-rail stacking provides (and there is a lot) a wonderful bonus in allowing me to see more clearly than ever how lenses differ, something I have always strained to see (regardless of all the graphs) for myself. By stacking in a more regulated manner removes (at least for me) a veil that has been obscuring these difference all of this time.
       
      Below are a couple of tables that might be useful. StackShot likes to work in thousandths-of-an-inch or in millimeters or fractions there of.
       
      1 Millimeter = 39.3701 Thousandth of an Inch
       
      1 thousandth of an inch in is equal to 25.40 μm
      Thousandths-inch TO MILLIMETER
       
      10-mils = 0.254 Millimeters
      15-mils = 0.381 Millimeters
      20-mils = 0.508 Millimeters
      25-mils = 0.635 Millimeters
      30-mils = 0.762 Millimeters
      35-mils = 0.889 Millimeters
      39-mils = 0.9906 Millimeters
      39.37 mils = 1 Millimeter
       
      MILLIMETER to Thousandths-inch
       
      .25 MM = 9.84 Mils
      .333 MM = 13.11 Mils
      .5 MM = 19.685 Mils
      .666 MM = 26.22
      .75 MM =29.5276 Mils
      1 MM = 39.37 Mils
      1.25 MM = 49.2126 Mils
      1.5 MM = 59.055 Mils
      2 MM = 78.7 Mils
      2.5 MM = 98.42 Mils
      3 MM = 118.11 Mils
      3.5 = 137.8 Mils
      4 = 157.5 Mils
      4.5 = 177.2 Mils
      5 = 197 Mils
       
       
      Here are three example images, both done with StackShot, one with the Schneider Macro Varon f/4.5 and another with the APO-El Nikkor 105mm f/5.6. A third one is with the Nikkor “O” CRT lens. Also, a poor-quality shot (shot at night in bad lighting) of the StackShot controller (Vecro-ed to a post) and the basic StackShot setup. Note the RRS Quick-Release Clamp with the large knob.
       





    • By Michael Erlewine
      I have been stacking focus for many years now, so I’m no stranger to this technique. And the track of my learning curve (more like a spiral) has been fueled by my using better and better corrected lenses (APO) to enhance the stacking. In other words, the more finely corrected the lenses, the more careful I have to be in stacking, and on around. It’s like a Catch-22.
       
      I get lots of emails and messages about my photos. And not infrequently (at least from photographers) is the question as to whether I have tried one of the automated focus rails. In the past, I have taken a certain amount of pride in pointing out to these folks that I can stack quite well manually, thank you very much. I had no intention of varying my technique.
       
      Yet, as I pointed out above, the circular spiral of finer lenses and precise stacking led to more and better apochromatic lenses, like the Zeiss Otus series, the APO-El Nikkor 105, the Leica Elmarit-R APO 100mm macro, and so on. I pretty-much took these fine lenses in stride, hopefully learning to use them more and more skillfully.
       
      Then comes the Schneider Macro Varon 85mm industrial lens. I had kind of heard about this lens on and off for some time, but never had seen one come up used on Ebay and even trying to get availability and a firm price from the manufacturer and distributors was difficult. It was almost as if they did not want to sell to me because I was not a company that required industrial lens for line-scanning. I wrote them. I called them on the phone.
       
      A more detailed story about the Macro Varon would require a separate article. Suffice it to say that a good friend of mine, another photographer, sent me a FB message telling me that a Macro Varon just came up of Ebay and at an attractive price at that. It took all of perhaps one minute and I had bought it. It was not an impulse buy, because I had decided to get one quite a while ago, just not pay the retail price of about $4500. Ouch!
       
      The Makro Varon is a very highly corrected lens, certainly worthy of the name APO. However, perhaps most remarkable was that this was a lens built for a wide range of magnifications, which is unusual for industrial lenses, which usually have a very limited magnification range at which they are at optimum sharpness. The Macro Varon even has a separate ring to compensate for whichever reproduction-ratio is used, actually moving the inner lens elements around to accommodate that reproduction range. And, interestingly enough, its specs showed me that it could easily outperform the sensor of my fairly new Nikon D850. “Hmmmm, I mused. I’d like to see that.”
       
      And see it I did and pretty quickly too. But such a revelation soon led me to rethinking my bias against automated focus rails. It was not that I could not stack well, but I continue to get older and I am old enough as it is, and the little bumps, jars, and vibrations caused by me began to be more visible; they got in the way.
       
      Anyway, back to this blog. So, there I was, reading about the StackShot, when before I knew it my finger was hitting the return-key to order a copy. And to my surprise, the company (Cognisys) was right here in Michigan, only just up the road from where I live, in Traverse City.
       
      So, it was only a day or so before the automated-rail turned up at my door. However, learning to use StackShot was a bit of puzzle. It actually is very simple, but the manual is SO complete that finding the simple in it is hard. At least that’s how it struck me. I just wanted to get going right away and stack something, but although eventually that was easy, at first it was not so.
       
      And also, this device is meant for many kinds (or ways) of stacking. It took me a while to figure out what the name for what I wanted to do was. I finally did (Automatic Distance) and, as mentioned, it could not be simpler. Well, it could be explained more simply. LOL. As a software developer myself since the early 1970s, I recognized the kind of manual that indeed was precise, but is no beginner’s guide. I told them so.
       
      The problem was, IMO, how do I find what increment or step makes sense for the kind of close-up focus-stacking that I do. I don’t need the kind of detail one needs for stacking a bee’s knees, but I do need enough overlap of images to make the rendering of the stack smooth with no banding.
       
      Of course, I called the support line at Cognisys and spoke with a very nice person, only too willing to help. The problem was that at each question, each point where I was stuck, he pointed out that this or that particular choice was variable, very variable. So after fifteen minutes or so, I was right back where I started from, having to figure it out for myself. What’s new? Story of my life! LOL.
       
      And it took a while for me to run many stacks at different step-sizes to find a step-size that gave me what I was looking for and not one that took all day by over-stacking what probably couldn’t be seen. I wasn’t stacking a microscope image, but just a flower or two.
       
      I messaged Rik Littlefield, creator of Zerene Stacker, the stacking software I use, and asked him about over sampling. His response was that it won’t harm anything to make too many images, but it might add a wee bit of extra noise.
       
      After a few happy days with StackShot, here is where I am at. So far, it looks like the more detail you can get with the smaller increments with Stackshot, the better the result, within reason.
       
      StackShot likes to work in thousandths-of-an-inch or in millimeters or fractions thereof, your choice. I found myself working with MLS, thousandths of an inch, a setting of 20 Mls seems pretty good. 10 MLS is slightly better, but perhaps not worth the extra time, etc. A lot depends on keeping natural light even, which is hard with variable cloudiness.
       
      My thoughts on using the StackShot automatic-rail are positive. I have stacked for many years, always barely touching the focus barrel or whatever mechanism as required. I got pretty good at it, but also made little accidental bumps and knocks, which have never helped at all. And, as I drill down on these ultra-sharp industrial lenses that can challenge the sensor of even the Nikon D850, there is less room for user-caused error and a greater demand for regular precise increments.
       
      After many years of focus stacking, my most valuable learned skills are in setting up and composing the shot, although I have always done my best to move carefully through all the steps that focus-stacking requires. However, having tried out StackShot, I am convinced it has a lot to offer me in stability and consistency, leaving me more time to consider what shot I want to take. I am enjoying that.
       
      I have a fair amount of testing the Stackshot yet to do, but I am already getting a handle on it. By testing various step-sizes, I am already converging on what seems to work for me. I’m not doing photo-micography, but rather just simple close-up and macro photography.
       
      Of the many options that StackShot offers, the one I seem to be gravitating to is Automatic-Distance, which allows me to choose the granularity, the step-size, that works best for my work. In other words, I have one main step size that will be applied no matter what scope or distance I want to cover. Should that not be fine enough, I can easily make if finer, etc. The only caveat might be with spherical objects, where following the curve demands finer steps, IMO.
       
      So, the step sizes I have settled on should work. Physically, the StackShot is very well made, meaning it is robust, as strong or stronger than any other focus rail I have and I have ten or so. Its vertical profile for my camera is low, about as low as it could be and I have fitted it with my favorite RRS Arca quick-release clamp, the one with a larger knob. I can see no way that this is not better than what I have been doing myself by hand.
       
      And the program allows me to introduce all kinds of latency time, which I have done, so that at each movement of the auto rail, I take a second or so to let any vibrations created by the mechanism movement subside.
       
      The only problem, which has nothing to do with StackShot, is that since I use natural light, on a variably-cloudy day the lighting changes from moment to moment and affects the stack. To counter this, I would have to be standing there, slightly modifying the shutter moment-by-moment to keep the light stable. That kind of takes the auto out of automatic, but that’s the price we pay for natural light. It varies.
       
      So, my initial impression of the StackShot is not only good, but very good, almost something like “where-have-you-been-all-my-life?” good. I like it.
       
      As for taking the time I am used to spending stacking focus at the camera away from me, which I traditionally associate with meditative absorption on my part, it does not seem a problem. My hard-won skills are seeing the shot and setting up for it. With StackShot, I do the creative work and let an expert step through the mechanics while I do other stuff. Makes sense and seems fine.
       
      StackShot is easily rough enough to take into the field, provided you realize that it is heavy and if you don’t have any wind. Here in Michigan, I wait to see each day if there is no wind at first light. Rare, but it happens.
       
      A Hidden Surprise
       
      Surprise, surprise! There is almost always a surprise with new equipment. Using stackshot made one thing very clear. By standardizing the process of focus stacking (the mechanical part) all lenses were treated equally.
       
      It’s true that I always did my best to incrementally stack focus as carefully as I could. But, I cannot pretend that on any given day, I may have stacked looser or tighter, even or less even. I can only guess at the variation.
       
      But one thing is clear so far from using the StackShot and that is that the regularity of increments (the step size) reveals more clearly than I have ever seen the true or actual difference between any of these highly corrected lenses. It is clear that some of these lens differences were veiled by the more organic (sloppy) process of stacking by hand and not by auto-stacking.   
       
      However, by regulating the stacking process, it creates a much more level playing field. And I found it very easy to see the differences between lenses, many of which I could never before be certain about.
       
      And so, whatever else auto-rail stacking provides (and there is a lot) a wonderful bonus in allowing me to see more clearly than ever how lenses differ, something I have always strained to see (regardless of all the graphs) for myself. By stacking in a more regulated manner removes (at least for me) a veil that has been obscuring these difference all of this time.
       
      Below are a couple of tables that might be useful. StackShot likes to work in thousandths-of-an-inch or in millimeters or fractions there of.
       
      1 Millimeter = 39.3701 Thousandth of an Inch
       
      1 thousandth of an inch in is equal to 25.40 μm
      Thousandths-inch TO MILLIMETER
       
      10-mils = 0.254 Millimeters
      15-mils = 0.381 Millimeters
      20-mils = 0.508 Millimeters
      25-mils = 0.635 Millimeters
      30-mils = 0.762 Millimeters
      35-mils = 0.889 Millimeters
      39-mils = 0.9906 Millimeters
      39.37 mils = 1 Millimeter
       
      MILLIMETER to Thousandths-inch
       
      .25 MM = 9.84 Mils
      .333 MM = 13.11 Mils
      .5 MM = 19.685 Mils
      .666 MM = 26.22
      .75 MM =29.5276 Mils
      1 MM = 39.37 Mils
      1.25 MM = 49.2126 Mils
      1.5 MM = 59.055 Mils
      2 MM = 78.7 Mils
      2.5 MM = 98.42 Mils
      3 MM = 118.11 Mils
      3.5 = 137.8 Mils
      4 = 157.5 Mils
      4.5 = 177.2 Mils
      5 = 197 Mils
       
       
      Here are three example images, both done with StackShot, one with the Schneider Macro Varon f/4.5 and another with the APO-El Nikkor 105mm f/5.6. A third one is with the Nikkor “O” CRT lens. Also, a poor-quality shot (shot at night in bad lighting) of the StackShot controller (Vecro-ed to a post) and the basic StackShot setup. Not the RRS Quick-Releas Clamp with the large knob.
       





    • By Michael Erlewine
      On my seemingly-eternal search for interesting lenses for close-up work I could not help but come across the Schneider Kreuznach Macro Varon 85mm f/4.5 CAS lens, if only because Schneider promotes the Macro Varon all over the place. And that’s a lot of promotion for a lens most photographers have never heard of.
       
      Well, I heard about the Macro Varon and searched it down to its price tag of $4500 and that set me back on my heels a bit. I don’t need a new lens THAT much. Well, perhaps a Zeiss Otus or two would be alright, which I already have. I did make some calls, sent out some email requests, and finally found that the Macro Varon could be had for somewhere in the mid $3K range brand-new. Well, of course that just sent me to Ebay looking for used copies. However, while it has happened, the Macro Varon does not show up used on Ebay very often, in fact hardly ever. And that limited my searching. I did find out that one sold on Ebay some time ago.
       
      Again, I spoke with Schneider reps about the Makro Varon on the phone and finally just let it go. It’s not that I don’t have other lenses that I might buy. LOL. And for those of you foolish enough to think I’m rich, guess again. I sell old equipment to buy new equipment as I go along. I just do it methodically.
       
      To make a long story short, recently a good friend sent me a message that there was a Makro Varon actually on Ebay for $1500. Well, that turned the corner for me and I bought it in about a minute from receiving the message. It came from China, was used, but looked in decent condition. When the lens finally showed up at my door, it was obviously brand new or in mint condition. However, it came in a strange industrial lens-mount which held the lens captive with three very tiny screws.
       
      I exhausted my collection of tiny screwdrivers, flat, Phillips, and torx (star). Then I called the local optician and gear-heads and discovered that no one had a tool that small. Well, that was disappointing, since I had no way to mount the lens without first removing this big clucky adapter that gripped it. Then I went salvaging through dozens of boxes of camera-related stuff and finally found a set of tiny torx drivers, but none of them was small enough to work. However, there was one (tiny) hole where a missing torx wrench should be. Where was it? And sure enough, in the bottom of my box of Cambo Actus parts was the tiny torx screwdriver and to my surprise, it worked! I had the lens mounted in a few minutes and was good to go.
       
      Now, I wanted to find out if this lens is best mounted directly to the camera and the camera placed on a focus rail, or should the lens be mounted directly on the camera with a small helicoid to focus with. The lens itself has no way to focus. It has six aperture blades (I wish there were more) and it has f/stops from f.4.5 through and including f/8. It does have something special, however.
       
      The Macro Varon has an additional ring on the barrel that allows me to adjust the floating lens parts in the lens to fit a particular magnification ratio from 0.5x to 2.0x. This compensates and suppresses aberration depending on the magnification ratio. The only other lens that I have that has such a ring is the first edition of the Nikon Printing Nikkor 150mm APO f/2.8. And these rings actually work.
       
      Another rather unique feature of the Macro Varon is that on each individual lens, during final adjustment, a tiny drop of red paint is placed on the rim of the barrel that allows (when the M42 adapter is screwed on tight) me to orient the particular lens to the camera sensor orthogonally, at right-angles. This red dot is calculated and optimized at the factory for each individual lens. They differ.
       
      Anyway, I soon figured out that (at least for now) I get the most play out of mounting the lens on the Cambo Actus Mini View Camera. Next, I had to decide what kind of hood would be best, since my first shots (made without a hood) lacked a bit of contrast. I tried both flared and narrow-tube hoods and finally fashioned one from the Nikon K-Ring set, one K5 plus two K3s all screwed together. They made a nice tubular hood that seems fine so far.
       
      Mounted on the Cambo Actus Mini, I soon found out that the large (special order) cambo bellows I normally use prevented me from getting as much field of view as I wanted with this lens, so I substituted a short bellows, which is fine because I do not need as much room with the Macro Varon anyway. That helped a bunch.
       
      I could also look into using a tiny extension/helicoid mounted directly on the camera, but I doubt that I would gain much, and moving the rear-standard on a view camera is better for stacking than using a helicoid. Anyway, I am up and running.
       
      Here is a quick photo of my setup, the Nikon D850 on the Cambo Actus Mini. On that is the Schneider Macro Varon 85mm f/4.5 lens adapted to Nikon mount, with a hood made of several K-rings. So far, so good. And I include a few early shots taken with the Makro Varon to give you an idea of what this lens can produce.
       
      This setup is not hiking-material, but certainly can go outside to the fields and meadows, at least if there is easy access so that the gear does not have to be carried far. The lens itself would be easy to carry for hikes, but would have to include some form of helicoid to focus or be happy with a DOF at F/8 and fixed focus.
       
      Anyway, I’m checking out the Schneider Macro Varon 85mm and would be interested in any other user’s experience.
       
      A fine review of the Scheider Macro Varon is this one by Robert O’Toole:
       
      https://www.closeuphotography.com/macro-varon/schneider-macro-varon-lens







    • By Michael Erlewine
      The Printing Nikkors: Images and Range
       
      The Nikon industrial Printing Nikkors are exemplary and highly corrected lenses, but for whom? Who wants to use them because, for the most part, they are restricted to a particular narrow field of view. There not only is no infinity available, but in general they are highly restricted as far as view. 
       
      Worse (much worse) is that the higher the f/stop, the less sharpness and resolution. So, we can’t just dial up the f/stop to f/11 or f/16 and expect spectacular results. The Printing Nikkors are optimized wide open or close to it.. They may be better than ordinary lenses, but the sharpness and resolution are confined to the lens either wide-open or nearly so. And that is a very thin depth of field. Who uses that?
       
      And so, there is no sweet spot for standard photography unless... and here it comes, we stack focus. That’s where these lenses come into their own and earn their high prices, at least in my book. Using focus stacking, we can paint on focus just where we want it, a razor-thin layer at a time.
       
      Yet, even for focus stackers, the reproduction rate for most is very limited in range. It’s a kind of “take it or leave it” proposition, i.e. use this limited field of view or forget about it. Most Printing Nikkors only come alive on a bellows system, some work only well on a focus rail and none work well on the camera itself without a rail or a small helicoid. There is no native helicoid or way to focus other than the rail, which as focus stackers know, is the least preferred way to stack focus.
       
      Why do I bother with these lenses and invest hard-earned cash in finding them? That’s a good question, but the answer is: I like the quality in these lenses and I only wish that kind of correction was the standard in lenses. The closest I come are the Zeiss Otus lenses, (and the Zeiss 135mm) which I consider an Otus.
       
      With the above in mind, let’s look at the main Printing Nikkors (95mm, 105mm, and 150mm) and see what their field of view IS like. Forget about macro range and above. These lenses can go there, but I don’t. Someone else can check that out.
       
      The 95mm PN standard magnification range is listed as 1/3x~1/1.5x, while the 105mm PN standard magnification range is listed as 1/1.5x~1.5x, and the 150 PN standard magnification range is listed as 1/x. Other than there, we are going outside their optimum qualities at our own risk IQ-wise.
       
      Since I don’t usually do macro, but rather close-up photography, that tells me that the PC 95 is going to be the most useful (all around) for me. It does not mean that the others (or the 95mm) don’t go higher in f/stops, but that they don’t go higher at their sharpest. 
       
      What’s the point of having a $3K lens if I am not going to be able to shoot at the range I want to shoot at and get top IQ? Unless I want to stack focus, I am kind of limited to “arty” photos, ones with just a hint of field depth. It’s nice, but for only once in a while.
       
      The 95mm PN can be used mounted directly to my Nikon D850, provided that camera is mounted on a focus fail. I could also add a very small helicoid to the lens, but the moment I do that I immediately lose some of what I most need, range. This lens is designed for something like 1:2 magnification. I find the 95mm very sharp, easy to use, and probably gives me the best bang for the buck, so to speak.
       
      The PN 95mm has 45mm outer threads. The lens mount M45 x 0.75 and there are 12 blades.
       
      The 105mm PN pretty much has to be on a bellows or view camera and, even then, the range is limited to about one view and (for my work) that is not even at its sharpest.
       
      The PN 105mm has 43mm filter threads and the lens mount is M45 x 0.75. There are 12 blades.
      There are two PN 150s (actually three), but the one not mentioned here follows the lead of the PN 150, 2nd version, and I don’t have it.
      The 150mm PNs are advertised for 1X magnification range, but it will work wider, but of course at a loss in IQ I would imagine.
       
      The PN 150mm (first version) has front and rear threads of 62mm. I’m not an expert, but this earlier version of the 150mm has an additional ring that compensates for the magnification, insuring sharper images over a wider range of magnification. This is perhaps what makes this version the most useful to me. It actually works and is kind of amazing to watch. You just dial it in and it is sharper.
       
      And the PN 150 (version 2) has a filter thread of 58mm and 12 blades. It can’t go much above f/4.5 and not lose quality. It does not have the extra ring to compensate for magnification.
      As far as mounting the Printing Nikkors to the Nikon-F mount, it is not difficult, but you do have to match up adapters. I have enough laying around here to mix and match until they all are ready to go. 
       
      I post here two stacked photos for each of the four Printing Nikkors I have. These photos give you a rough idea of the kind of reproduction-ratio that I can get with these lenses. I am sure if you want to go 1:1 and above, you would with some get better results. However, I do the best I can with what I have.
       
      Below are shown two sets of four images, the first four are simple stacks of 2 layers, one each focused around the center of each flower. This lets you see each lens with little stacking. However, these are at f/11, which is the opposite end of where the lens is sharp. It still is pretty good.
       
      The second four images are all stacked liberally. They will show you what a stacked image looks like with each lens.
       
      I’m not sure what you will get out of these, but you can take a look. Meanwhile, I continue checking out these interesting (to me) lenses, the Printing Nikkors.
      I will have to post the other four images in a second post. Won't fit.
       
       








    • By Michael Erlewine
      The Nikon industrial Printing Nikkors are exemplary and highly corrected lenses, but for whom? Who wants to use them because, for the most part, they are restricted to a particular narrow field of view. There not only is no infinity available, but in general they are highly restricted as far as view. 
       
      Worse (much worse) is that the higher the f/stop, the less sharpness and resolution. So, we can’t just dial up the f/stop to f/11 or f/16 and expect spectacular results. The Printing Nikkors are optimized wide open or close to it.. They may be better than ordinary lenses, but the sharpness and resolution are confined to the lens either wide-open or nearly so. And that is a very thin depth of field. Who uses that?
       
      And so, there is no sweet spot for standard photography unless... and here it comes, we stack focus. That’s where these lenses come into their own and earn their high prices, at least in my book. Using focus stacking, we can paint on focus just where we want it, a razor-thin layer at a time.
       
      Yet, even for focus stackers, the reproduction rate for most is very limited in range. It’s a kind of “take it or leave it” proposition, i.e. use this limited field of view or forget about it. Most Printing Nikkors only come alive on a bellows system, some work only well on a focus rail and none work well on the camera itself without a rail or a small helicoid. There is no native helicoid or way to focus other than the rail, which as focus stackers know, is the least preferred way to stack focus.
       
      Why do I bother with these lenses and invest hard-earned cash in finding them? That’s a good question, but the answer is: I like the quality in these lenses and I only wish that kind of correction was the standard in lenses. The closest I come are the Zeiss Otus lenses, (and the Zeiss 135mm) which I consider an Otus.
       
      With the above in mind, let’s look at the main Printing Nikkors (95mm, 105mm, and 150mm) and see what their field of view IS like. Forget about macro range and above. These lenses can go there, but I don’t. Someone else can check that out.
       
      The 95mm PN standard magnification range is listed as 1/3x~1/1.5x, while the 105mm PN standard magnification range is listed as 1/1.5x~1.5x, and the 150 PN standard magnification range is listed as 1/x. Other than there, we are going outside their optimum qualities at our own risk IQ-wise.
      Since I don’t usually do macro, but rather close-up photography, that tells me that the PC 95 is going to be the most useful (all around) for me. It does not mean that the others (or the 95mm) don’t go higher in f/stops, but that they don’t go higher at their sharpest. 
       
      What’s the point of having a $3K lens if I am not going to be able to shoot at the range I want to shoot at and get top IQ? Unless I want to stack focus, I am kind of limited to “arty” photos, ones with just a hint of field depth. It’s nice, but for only once in a while.
       
      The 95mm PN can be used mounted directly to my Nikon D850, provided that camera is mounted on a focus fail. I could also add a very small helicoid to the lens, but the moment I do that I immediately lose some of what I most need, range. This lens is designed for something like 1:2 magnification. I find the 95mm very sharp, easy to use, and probably gives me the best bang for the buck, so to speak.
       
      The PN 95mm has 45mm outer threads. The lens mount M45 x 0.75 and there are 12 blades.
       
      The 105mm PN pretty much has to be on a bellows or view camera and, even then, the range is limited to about one view and (for my work) that is not even at its sharpest.
       
      The PN 105mm has 43mm filter threads and the lens mount is M45 x 0.75. There are 12 blades.
       
      There are two PN 150s (actually three), but the one not mentioned here follows the lead of the PN 150, 2nd version, and I don’t have it.
       
      The 150mm PNs are advertised for 1X magnification range, but it will work wider, but of course at a loss in IQ I would imagine.
       
      The PN 150mm (first version) has front and rear threads of 62mm. I’m not an expert, but this earlier version of the 150mm has an additional ring that compensates for the magnification, insuring sharper images over a wider range of magnification. This is perhaps what makes this version the most useful to me. It actually works and is kind of amazing to watch. You just dial it in and it is sharper.
       
      And the PN 150 (version 2) has a filter thread of 58mm and 12 blades. It can’t go much above f/4.5 and not lose quality. It does not have the extra ring to compensate for magnification.
      As far as mounting the Printing Nikkors to the Nikon-F mount, it is not difficult, but you do have to match up adapters. I have enough laying around here to mix and match until they all are ready to go. 
       
      I post here two stacked photos for each of the four Printing Nikkors I have. These photos give you a rough idea of the kind of reproduction-ratio that I can get with these lenses. I am sure if you want to go 1:1 and above, you would with some get better results. However, I do the best I can with what I have.
      Below are shown two sets of four images, the first four are simple stacks of 2 layers, one each focused around the center of each flower. This lets you see each lens with little stacking.
      The second four images are all stacked liberally. They will show you what a stacked image looks like with each lens.
       
      I’m not sure what you will get out of these, but you can take a look. Meanwhile, I continue checking out these interesting (to me) lenses, the Printing Nikkors.
       




       
       
       
       




    • By Michael Erlewine
      I’m sure this will interest few, but any is better than none. If we are looking into apochromatic (APO) lenses, then the Printing Nikkors can’t be avoided as candidates because they were designed to copy motion-picture film at the highest resolutions. To do this, they had to be highly corrected or our movies would all be fringe-tainted. We can’t have that.
       
      These are largish, somewhat heavy (the 150mm), lenses that require special mounts, which are not too hard to find. Yes, these lenses are a pain in many ways, but they produce great photos, some of the best if you are looking for lenses that have really been corrected. The term APO is not a standard and has been used to label lenses that are hardly apochromatic, but the Printing Nikkors are highly corrected and they are expensive too!
       
      One problem with obtaining the Printing Nikkors is their prices, which have been coming down as film companies abandon them in favor of all-digital projection. Still, they are said to have originally cost something like $12,000 apiece, so I have been told. Today, they sell on Ebay for much less, but still enough for my pocketbook. Anyway, we might want to know which of the Printing Nikkors (there are at least five varieties) does the most for us, so to speak, if we only buy one.

      Thanks to the website CoinImaging.com, the coin-photo folks have been kind enough to compare some of these lenses and graph out the results. What I present here are some of those graphs and results, for which I thank them very much! I failed to find the name of whoever is doing all this testing, but I thank him or her. This site uses IMATEST to test out lenses, which gives us a base.
       
      I am not going to spend time here on the history of the Printing Nikkors or their resale value, etc. You can find that on the web, if you look hard. The point of this article is to drill down on which of these lenses does what and the enclosed graphs will very much help with that. If you don’t like reading graphs, here is a shortcut to the best of the points, but you really have to study the graphs. This is just the tip of the top, so to speak, a generalization.
       
      Compared here are:
       
      Printing Nikkor 95mm f/2.8
      Printing Nikkor 105mm f/2.8
      Printing Nikkor 150mm f/2.8 (150-1)
      Printing Nikkor 150mm f/2.8 (150-2) [later]
       
      [There is a 75mm Printing Nikkor, but I have never seen one, even for sale. And there is a 3rd version of the Printing Nikkor 150mm, but I don’t have one, but it is a later version and I am told is similar to the later version of the 150mm, titled here “150mm-2.”
       
      QUICK RESULTS
       
      Chromatic Aberration vs. Aperture
      Note: All good, minimal, aberration, but the 95mm PN is best.
       
      Chromatic Aberration vs. Magnification
      Note: 95mm best at 0.5, 105mm best at 0.75-1.50
      150-1 not so good.
       
      Corner Resolution vs. Aperture
      Note: All very good, but 95mm is outstanding.
       
      Corner Resolution vs. Magnification
      All fairly good, but the 95mm is outstanding at about 0.50
       
      Corner Sharpness vs. Aperture
      Note: All very good, but the 105 is best.
       
      Corner Sharpness vs. Magnification
      Note: The 95mm best at 0.50, but the 105mm best at around 1.0 to 1.25.
       
      Resolving Power vs. Magnification
      Note: The 150-2 mm is way better than the rest at 0.50.
       
      Resolution vs. Aperture
      Note: All good, but the 95mm is best.
       
      Resolution vs. Effective Aperture
      Note: The 150-1 is the best at f/5 to f/8. Rest also very good, with the 150-2mm only good at around f/5.6.
       
      Resolution vs. Magnification
      Note: All pretty good, but the 150-1mm is the best of the lot from 0.50 to beyond 1.5.
       
      Sharpness vs. Aperture
      Note: The 95mm is hands-down the best. All pretty good, with the 105mm the worst.
       
      Sharpness vs. Effective Aperture
      Note: All good within a particular range, with the 150-1mm the best of the lot from f/5 to f/8.
       
      Sharpness vs. Magnification
      Note: All good within their best range, but the 150-1mm the best of the lot from 0.50 through 1.25.
       
      Working Distance and Magnification
      Note: The 150.1 is the best of the lot.
       
      TOTALS of “Bests”
       
      095mm = 7
      150-1mm = 5
      105mm = 3
      150-2= 1
       
      What this says is the 95mm is the best as an “all-around” lens, followed by the 150-1mm. Of course, this could depend on what you are doing. For example, the 150-1mm is best for close-up work, but the 150-2 is best for macro, etc.
       
      I hope this interests at least one other person! LOL.



    • By Dallas
      I discovered a feature of the software I didn't know existed before and have implemented it in the page footer of all posts where tags are in use. So, for example, having tagged this post with Nikon and Olympus, readers should see shortcut links to several posts with the same tags in the footer. 
       
      Enjoy! 
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