Scanner lens vs Macro lens

Hi there, I’m putting together my first dedicated digital camera scanning setup so I’m researching and assembling each piece from scratch. I just picked up a second-hand Sony A7R IV yesterday and am now looking for a lens.

I thought I was set on picking up a used Sony 90mm Macro lens, but somebody pointed out that scanner lenses are probably a better fit. There isn’t much information on the Sony 90mm for scanning, as most reviews are related to general use, but there’s even less information about scanner lenses for films canning.

What are your thoughts and experience on this? Are scanner lenses actually better? Where can I read up on some testing results/analysis?

Thanks in advance!

Try this site: Lenses — Close-up Photography

Digitizer is right - Close-Up Photography is the best site for researching scanner lenses. And yes, a scanner lens will far outstrip any macro lens when used at its optimum magnification for flat field photography.

Thanks for your reply,

According to most reviews, Sony’s 90mm Macro has no meaningful field curvature either. I see a lot of people echoing your comment but also an equal amount of folks claiming the opposite: that scanner lenses are not that much better. Do you have a comparison study where I can reference? I can’t seem to find anything comparing a scanner lens to the Sony 90mm.

Not saying that you’re wrong, I just want to see more data.

Thanks! I’ve come across this site before but haven’t found a way to make a decision based on the 21 or so scanner lens reviews. Maybe I’m just bad at finding this, but does the author have a ranking list of the best lens? Reading each review, he also makes comparisons with different baselines, sometimes against a Nikon and sometimes against a Canon.

Thanks in advance!

No. Look through the lot and check out Minolta and Nikon scanner lenses.

Digitizer is right - again :wink:

With regard to Sony’s fine macro lens, it depends on your definition of ‘meaningful’ field curvature. What might not be meaningful to the reviewer of a lens intended for general macro photography is likely to be very meaningful when trying to achieve edge to edge sharpness when photographing a very thin, very flat object viz film.

With respect, folks who claim that scanner lenses are “not that much better” either don’t own one and/or are struggling with the cognitive dissonance of having invested is something else :wink: Many are perfectly happy with the results they get from a reversed zoom lens and that’s fine - for them. It all boils down to what standard one is working to.

Scanner lenses are optimised for this particular task and no other. General purpose macro lenses, no matter how good, simply are not.
Scanner lenses not only have extremely high resolving power but also virtually zero field curvature and perhaps more importantly, negligible chromatic aberration.

Ranking lenses is a bit of a mugs game as prices range from about £300 to well beyond £8000. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

My personal short list (depending on budget) would be:

Minolta Dimage Elite 5400 Scanner Lens
Nikon Scanner-Nikkor ED 100mm Scanner Lens
Schneider Kreuznach Macro Varon CAS 85mm f/4.5
Nikon Printing-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8A or any other of the Printing Nikkors by Rayfact.

The Minolta Dimage 5400 scanner lens (see the tests) was my choice based on cost/benefit ratio. Although it’s tiny and looks insignificant (to put it mildly!), its performance is outstanding and it’s relatively cheap. It behaves like a super-achromat and makes my other macro lenses look inadequate by comparison.

Balancing that, it should be borne in mind that scanner lenses, while brilliant for this task, are pretty much useless for anything else (fixed aperture, fixed focus, wafer thin DoF and a limited range of usable magnification). So, if you need your macro lens for anything other than flat field photography you will need two lenses. If that’s not an option, you might be better off sticking with a top quality camera lens and accepting its limitations.


Thank you for the detailed explanation!
I’ll look into the 4 lenses you recommended and study them more.

I use the Sony E-mount system and don’t see an easy way to use a scanner lens on that system. Am I missing something or is there some easy way to adapt some of these lens to the Sony mount?

According to close-up photography, see link a few posts above, a few “ordinary” lenses seem to be quite usable too, specially if you’re not into DIY. Again, things depend on what you want to achieve and are willing to invest, be it in $$ or brain&muscle effort.

A few interesting informations about repro factors, pupil magnification and more can be found here: