Nikon have raised a few eyebrows with the introduction of this lens as it is the first true Macro lens to carry stabilisation, Nikon’s VRII vibration reduction. Winner of the prestigious TIPA award for the best professional lens, we take a look at how it performs.
- Focal Length 105mm
- Max aperture f/2.8 (reads f/3)
- Min aperture f/32
- Min focus 0.31m (working distance 0.15m)
- Construction 14/12 elements/groups
- Filter size 62mm
- Hood HB-38 (Supplied)
- Dimensions 83x116mm
- Weight 0.72kg
- Price (SRP) £599
Build and handling
This lens comes supplied with a lens hood, body and lens caps and a soft, draw string pouch to keep it in. With a diameter of 83mm the lens is a touch fatter than you might expect with a lens of this nature but with a constant length of 116mm it is no longer than normal. The clean, simple barrel has just three accoutrements, a manual focus ring, a distance window marked in metres and feet with a reproduction ratio scale for good measure and a control panel sporting three two-position switches. These control, from top to bottom, the AF/MF, focus limiter and VR on/off. The build quality of all the elements is up to Nikon first class standards.
The idea of introducing Nikon’s newest version of VR to a Macro lens, especially at the focal length that is most popular with photographers is a good one, taken the number of extreme close-up shots that are ruined by camera shake. Does it work? Well, yes it does and I spent a day chasing butterflies and insects to check out their claims of up to 4 stops slower shutter speeds being needed between 3m and infinity. They do explain in their literature that, as magnification increases, so does the effect of camera shake, however, even at closer distances I found the VR system helped get more ‘keepers’. The AF-S autofocus system is a joy to use given that it is silent and very quick for a dedicated macro lens. The focus limiter, which only stops the focus going shorter than 0.5m, improves this speed even further in normal use. The system also allows manual over-ride without switching, another bonus.
The 62mm filter thread adorning the non-rotating front element is a popular size and the hood fits bayonet style with a positive click.
So, all in all a well thought out and put together lens, but how does it perform optically? The answer to that is, astonishingly well! There is no distortion that can be seen with the naked eye and the Imatest module could only measure 0.27% pincushion. Chromatic aberration is so well controlled that throughout the aperture range, which, incidentally, is a massive 8 stops, it never comes close to the threshold where it becomes visible, let alone a problem. The resolution, although slightly softer at the edges at wider apertures, never gets to the point where it would be visible on an A4 print and the average resolution at f/8 is one of the best I’ve ever seen.
With a construction of 14 elements in 12 groups including one ED element and one utilising Nikon’s nano-crystal coat to cut down internal reflections, the lens delivers good contrast and colour rendition across the frame. In fact, the only thing I could find that could be described as a negative is that, wide open, the lens only registers as f/3-3.1 and that is less than a third of a stop.
On the bonus side, internal focussing keeps the lens a constant length and Nikon are honest enough to provide a working distance as well as the more common closest focus distance. This lens gives a working distance of around six inches (150mm) depending on the camera body whereas, by tradition, the closest focus distance of 31cm, which is measured from the film/sensor plane is around twice that!
At 720gms weight, the lens is not so heavy that it becomes a pain when carried for long periods on the camera dangling from your neck, a practice that I am sure the vibration reduction will go a long way to encourage. It is certainly lighter to hump around than a heavy tripod and that is why Nikon have produced the lens.
A 100% crop from the centre area of this hand held shot with VR engaged. f/11 at 1/60sec in a slight breeze.
Above: 1/25sec and f/14 were the settings for this handheld shot with VR engaged.
Right: Again hand held, this shot at f/11 and 1/180sec shows the contrast and clean backgrounds supplied by this lens.
Click on each comparision photo below to view full size versions
105mm set at f/8
105mm set at f/2.8
Below is our lens test data. To find out how to use these graphs look at this article: How we test lenses.
There is not a lot I can criticise about this lens considering the optical performance along side the build quality and features. I think it will find a lot of friends amongst both professionals and keen amateurs alike. The only downside to the lens is the price, which is a bit steep for a type of lens that many will already have in their kit. Is it worth an upgrade? If you suffer from camera shake, yes!
In summary, the positive points of the Nikon AF-S VR 105mm f/2.8 IF-ED are:
The only true macro with stabilisation. And it works
Truly superb optical quality
Rapid and silent autofocus
The negative points are:
Drop-off in resolution at the edges when wide open. (Minor)
Check the latest price for the Nikon AF-S VR 105mm f/2.8 IF-ED Micro-Nikkor here
Discuss this lens and other related lens subjects here
Test by Ian Andrews www.wildaboutkent.com