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Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR Lens Review

Gary Wolstenholme reviews the Nikon AF-s DX Micro 85mm f/3.5G telephoto macro lens.

|  Nikon AF-S DX MICRO NIKKOR 85MM F/3.5G VR in Interchangeable Lenses
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Handling and features


This telephoto macro lens for DX format Nikon cameras costs around £400 and sports Vibration reduction technology, a modest maximum aperture of f/3.5, an internal focusing design and a silent wave focusing motor. The 85mm Micro DX is one of the longer macro lenses available for the DX system, with the 40mm f/2.8, and 60mm f/2.8 Micro lenses available at the shorter end.

The closest equivalents from third party manufacturers included Tamron's SP 90mm f/2.8 Di II, which costs around £330 and has a faster f/2.8 maximum aperture, but doesn't focus internally or have a silent focusing motor. Sigma's 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro lens, which costs around £340 may also be considered. This lens also has a bright f/2.8 maximum aperture but no silent focusing motor or internal focusing system. Both these third party options also lack Vibration Reduction.

Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR Handling and features

Weighing only 355g, this lens is quite lightweight for a telephoto macro, thanks in part to the modest f/3.5 maximum aperture. The lens barrel is constructed from high quality plastics, typical of Nikon's mid-range line-up of lenses and it balances well on the Nikon D300 used for testing. Although this lens makes no claims of wether resistance, a rubber gasket has been fitted to the metal lens mount to help prevent the ingress of dust and moisture into the camera.


A wide rubberised focusing ring provides ample control over focus adjustments, having just the right amount of resistance to stay put when adjusted, without being too stiff. As this lens sports a silent wave motor, auto focus is fast for a macro lens and virtually silent. Focus can be adjusted at any time by simply grabbing the focus ring too.


The minimum focus distance of 28.6cm provides ample working distance for many subjects and life sized magnification. A distance scale window is provided, but there is no scale for hyperfocal focusing, which can occasionally be useful. The lens also lacks a focus limiter switch, but as focusing is so swift with this lens, it isn't much of an issue in practice. As the lens employs an internal focusing design, it does not extend at minimum focus and the filter thread does not rotate.

Nikon's Vibration Reduction II system fitted to this optic promises to allow sharp shots to be taken at shutter speeds up to four stops slower than the normal rule of thumb for hand held shooting would allow. With care, sharp hand held shots can be taken at shutter speeds as low as 1/8 sec about half the time, which is roughly four stops slower than the recommended shutter speed for hand holding a lens of this focal length on a DX format camera.

Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR Performance

Although not mind-blowing, this lens puts in a decent performance as far as sharpness is concerned. At maximum aperture sharpness is good in the centre of the frame, and approaching good towards the edges.

As the lens is stopped down, the clarity improves until f/8, where sharpness in the centre of the frame is excellent, and very good towards the edges.

Resolution at 85mm
Resolution at 85mm

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D300 using Imatest.

Chromatic aberrations are kept within reasonable levels. At their worst they just exceed one pixel width towards the edges of the frame at f/16. This level may start to become visible, but only in very large prints or harsh crops from the edges of the frame.

Chromatic aberation at 85mm
Chromatic aberation at 85mm

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D300 using Imatest.

Falloff of illumination towards the corners is well controlled, with the corners of the image area being only 1.13 stops darker than the image centre at f/3.5. Visually uniform illumination is achieved when the lens is stopped down to f/5.6 or beyond.

As might be expected for a fixed focal length lens, distortion levels are minimal. Imatest managed to detect 0.319% barrel distortion, which will pose few issues for most photography. If straight lines are absolutely critical, then you'll be glad to know that the distortion pattern is uniform across the frame, which should make any corrections straightforward.

A deep circular hood is supplied with this lens, which does an excellent job of shielding the front element from any extraneous light that may cause a loss of contrast of flare in images. Occasionally, when shooting into the light contrast levels can drop off substantially, but only when the light source is very strong.

Nikon AF-S DX MICRO NIKKOR 85MM F/3.5G VR Sample Photos

Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR Verdict

Nikon's latest Micro Nikkor optic strikes a good compromise. It is a lens packed with the latest technology and features, but at a price that is really quite reasonable.

Although the performance of this lens may not be up with the best of Nikon's macro optics, it is certainly good enough to satisfy most photographers, especially if used at optimum apertures with care. Overall it is a good value, lightweight macro companion for DX format camera owners.


  The Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm Lens is a good value, lightweight macro companion for DX format camera owners.

Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR Pros

Good sharpness at optimum apertures
Vibration Reduction
Internal focusing

Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR Cons

No focus limiter switch (although autofocus is fairly swift without it)
Although good, clarity isn't as impressive as some other Micro Nikkors


Nikon AF-S DX MICRO NIKKOR 85MM F/3.5G VR Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Nikon AF-S DX G
Focal Length85mm
Angle of View19
Max Aperturef/3.5
Min Aperturef/32
Filter Size52mm
35mm equivalent127mm
Internal focusingYes
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Min Focus28.6cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsLens hood, Lens caps, Soft Case

View Full Product Details

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