A macro lens lets you get a very, very close up shot of something. While long lenses, like a normal non-macro 135mm prime, are wonderful, they often have far out close focus distances (on some anamorphic lenses, as far away as 6 feet!) that make it hard to get that "just the iris of an eye" shot you are looking for.
A macro lens lets you get that tight insert on an eye, a pencil tip on paper, or any other detail of the scene that is going to help you tell your story and make your editor's life easier in post. Every job I do I am sure to make sure there is a macro somewhere in the kit—often the beautiful but very-expensive-even-as-a-rental ARRI macro, and there have even been a few jobs I've done that shot only on macro.
With the rise of affordable cine primes like the XEEN and Sigma Cine lines, one lens that hasn't shown up in those kits and thus is still quite normal to rent is a macro. Even when we don't have a shot that definitely calls for a macro on the shotlist for the day, they're so useful that we add one to the gear list when we can.
There have been too many times in our career when we needed one and didn't have one, when creative inspiration struck and we didn't have the tool to get close enough, that we always try to have a macro with us.
That's why we were excited when Irix announced a "cinema" focused macro, available in PL , MFT, Sony E and of course the market dominant EF mount. We guessed it would be under $1500, which might be affordable enough to just have one around on all jobs. Once it shipped for only $1300 (for PL) and $1195 (for EF), we were excited to spend a few days with it and see how it performed. At that price point, having a true 1:1 macro that we could potentially own and bring on every job, or at least afford to rent and hope to see start showing up in rental packages, was very exciting.
In macro terms, 1:1 means that you can create an image on your sensor that is identical in size to the image in reality. Shooting a 1cm tall object, it'll create an image on your sensor that is 1cm tall. This is exceptionally useful for filmmakers in both narrative and documentary who want to help paint the overall world of a piece they are working on, or frankly to just get "editor putty" that helps in post.
If shooting a documentary, having a lens like this around means you can easily and quickly grab 4-5 extreme detail shots of every location you shoot in (shag carpeting, painted window sashes, etc.) that will help with crafting transitions and editing interviews that make for a strong piece.
This is where the Irix really shines. When you want the "full-on iris" shot of an eye, you can just do it. If you want to grab textures of carpet, details on a picture frame, or fingernails on a table, you can just do it all, and the image looks quite pleasing through focusing.
If you put up a focus chart you will see a tiny, itsy bit of chromatic aberration when all the way in at close-focus, which you can see in the slight purple fringe around the strong black/white contrast, but it's surprisingly well controlled for such an affordable lens and it's absolutely something that you are rarely going to notice in real-world use outside of a lens chart.
Perhaps, maybe, if you have a shot with very blown-out highlights in the background you'll end up with unpleasant fringing, but for the most part, most users will be able to use this lens without ever seeing any artifacts. Focus charts, with their black to white contrast, are designed to show this off, and it's not something that bothered us in our tests.
Aberation is very well controlled.
Lens "feel," the distinct sensation of spinning the focus and iris ring, is a widely varying thing. There are "looser" and "tighter" rings, some feel smooth, some feel dry, some feel accurate, some feel sloppy. However, none feel like the Irix.
We're not saying that it's the "best" feel of a lens we've ever felt (that is probably the feel of an Angeineiux Optimo 25-250), but it's a nice feel, and most interestingly, it's very unique. In the dark, based off of "ring feel" alone, we'd be challenged to name most lenses (the Sigma Cine Primes, maybe), but we absolutely could name the Irix, blindfolded, just based on lens ring feel.
It's not good or bad, it's a nice lens feel, but it's something worth pointing out.
When you focus closer to the lens on a macro, the image gets darker. This is a known effect of working in macro.
Back in the days of working on film, you had to use complicated tables to compensate for it, and one of the perks of the ARRI macro was that it would compensate for you. In fact, as you focused closer on the lens, you could hear an audible click inside the lens as it compensated exposure.
The Irix macro doesn't do this. However, for $1300 we wouldn't expect it to, and frankly, in the age of digital capture, it just doesn't matter like it used to. Since you can see your accurate image on your monitor, and have all sorts of tools like false color to help with exposure. The fact that exposure shifts when you get really close to close focus is just something to note about working with macro.
One criticism is that, as cool as the lens shade is, the magnetic shade pops off quite easily. You should never, ever pick up a lens by its lens shade, but one time when picking it up by the physical body of the lens our fingers slipped and slid into the lens shade, which popped off.
It's a potential issue because the lens shade is magnetically attached, making it not the ideal back-up. With another lens, the shade would've worked as a "backup," holding the lens in place. Since we had two hands on the lens, it was fine, but it's yet another great reminder to hold lenses with two hands whenever possible.
Between this and the offering of the 11mm lens, it's clear Irix is going for a pincer strategy. There is so much competition in the "18-85mm cine-prime" space that starting at the far end with macro, then going for the super-wide, is very smart.
We'll need to see their whole lineup to see how it compares, but right now having tested the macro it feels like a really strong "hello" from a company new to the cinema space. This is absolutely a lens that we feel will intercut admirably with other lens systems with minimal work in post and will allow filmmakers to get shots they just can't get from the main lineup of normal lenses in a kit.
- T3 maximum aperture
- Magnetic Mount System
- 86mm front filter thread
- Magnetic Mount System (first accessory: lens shade)
- Front diameter of 95mm
- Canon EF, Sony E, MFT and PL mounts