NiSi Close Up Lens Kit NC Review: Macro Field Test
The only reason why I began shooting insect close-ups is because, as a kid, I couldn’t afford a long enough lens to photograph birds. A friend of my parents, sensing my frustration, kindly gave me a close-up filter to convert the only lens I had – a standard 50mm. This enabled me to capture frame-filling shots of miniature things.
That inexpensive close-up filter sparked my interest in macro photography, and shooting close-ups soon became a conscious choice. A year or two later I had saved enough cash to buy a dedicated macro lens; to be honest with you – other than using close-up dioptres to illustrate articles on shooting close-ups on a budget – I’ve barely used a close-up filter since. I’ve rather snobbishly overlooked them, favouring the convenience and quality of a macro.
However, macro lenses are generally not cheap things to buy, and if you don’t shoot close-ups regularly – or are just starting out – can you justify the outlay? Meanwhile, when travelling, you might crave the ability to get ‘up close and personal’ to subjects, but don’t want the added weight and bulk of carrying an extra lens. Maybe a close-up attachment is the answer?
NiSi are an innovative Chinese filter brand who have been making big headway in the industry over the past decade or so. They’ve already launched over 100 different kinds of filters and holders and they have just added a close-up filter to their line-up: the NiSi Close Up Lens Kit NC. This is the difference it makes to a shot:
If you are not already aware, a close-up filter is effectively like a magnifying glass, attaching to the front of a lens and reducing its minimum focusing distance in order to increase the lens’s magnification. I’ve had the opportunity to use this new filter pre-launch, enabling me to give you lovely Nature TTL readers an early review, and my first impressions, of this close-up attachment.
Cost and features
First things first. As close-up filters go, this is not a cheap option. Costing just over £100, it is a considerably more than the budget version filters you can get online, where you can potentially buy a set of dioptres for under £20. But you get what you pay for, right?
Unsurprisingly, cheap close-up filters are optically a little suspect and quality is compromised. NiSi’s new close-up filter is still inexpensive compared to a macro lens, but it is costlier than other close-up filters due to its superior construction. It boasts double optical corrective glasses with apochromatic design and muti-nano coating. This is intended to provide better resolution and authentic colour, with minimal fringing.
Due to its more advanced construction, the filter is deeper and heavier than any other close-up filter I’ve used previously. The filter’s weight and solid build give it a real quality feel. The lens is supplied with a nice, padded protective pouch, which zips up and slips neatly into your camera bag.
Currently, the lens is only available in a 77mm filter thread size, so it is also supplied with two adapter/step rings – one 72-77mm and the other 67-77mm. I mostly used my Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/4 ED VR while testing the lens, which has a 67mm diameter and using the stepping ring is quick and simple.
Optical quality and performance
Close-up filters are a fantastic cut-price option for photographers, but they are not generally known for high-quality results, which is why enthusiasts tend to overlook them in favour of a dedicated macro. Overall image quality tends to be soft, particularly toward the edges of the frame and at large apertures. Photos also tend to exhibit unpleasing artefacts like chromatic aberration. But NiSi’s version is corrected and optically better than most other close-up filters.
Having said that, it is still recommended that you avoid using the filter with a large aperture and if you do open up the lens, you will noticeably see image quality drop and soften. However, between f/8-f16, this filter really performs well. You may notice a little vignetting around the edges, but image quality across the frame – not just in the centre – is very good. I was pleasantly surprised at just how good results were using the filter coupled with my 70-200mm (NiSi recommend a focal length of 70-300mm).
Most close-up filters are marked with their dioptre value (typically, +1, +2, +3 or +4, with larger numbers representing greater effective magnification). NiSi’s version doesn’t have a dioptre value and it is tricky to calculate the exact magnification achieved at different focal lengths at different working distances. Not that this really matters, though.
Using the filter, you can achieve superb levels of magnification and you will see from my sample images that you are comfortably able to fill the frame while shooting close-up studies of dragonflies wings or smaller subjects, like damselflies and butterflies. As with any close-up attachment, be prepared to get quite close to subjects, with a typical working distance in the region of 20-30cm. However, close-up filters are so easy to use – you literally just screw the filter on the lens and you are ready to go.
If I’m honest, my expectations were modest when NiSi first approached me to trial the filter. But the lens genuinely surprised me and completely surpassed my expectations. This is a quality piece of kit – solid and well-constructed. Image quality is really very good once you hit the filter’s sweet spot in the region of f/11.
No, it doesn’t match a macro lens for quality, and you wouldn’t honestly expect it to. However, it does come close and I would have no concerns about using images taken using the NiSi close-up filter for publication. For anyone wanting to dabble in close-ups, but without wishing to invest hundreds (maybe thousands) on a macro lens, this is the answer – an excellent way to convert existing lenses.
It is also a great weight saving alternative to carrying a macro, whenever you need to travel light. Costing just over £100, I think this represents very good value for money. I suspect this filter will encourage many more photographers to try close-up photography.