Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 105mm F2.8G ED VR Review


Introduction:

The Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 105mm F2.8G ED VR is a short telephoto macro lens, that offers a great deal of flexibility. This lens is a great all around performer, and proves to be an excellent lens for portraits, landscapes and just about anything in between, even though it is designed for 1:1 macro work.

The 105mm F2.8G fits right into the middle of the micro lens lineup (for FX cameras), including the AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm F2.8G ED, and the AF Micro Nikkor 200mm F4D IF-ED. The AF-S 105mm F2.8G ED VR is the only Nikon micro lens that can accept modern AF-I/AF-S Nikon teleconverters. 

(Review based on use with the Nikon D700 and D800)

Build Quality and Handling: (Based on Made In China version)

The barrel of the lens is made of tightly assembled polycarbonate. The finish, on the barrel, has a slightly rough texture, which makes the lens easier to grip. The lens feels well balanced and comfortable to hold when combined with a mid-range DSLR, like the Nikon D300(s)/D700/D800. On smaller, lighter bodies the lens makes the combination feel somewhat front heavy.

The manual focus ring is made of the usual ribbed rubber that is found on professional grade Nikkors, which aids smooth focusing. Manual focusing is on the good side for a modern auto focus lens, but is still no match for a good old manual focus Nikkor from days gone by.


The M/A | A and focus limiter switches move smoothly and have a reassuring clicking sound when moved. The VR switch also moves smoothly, but has a deep clunking sound, rather than a click. It almost feels like something inside the lens is shifting, when the VR switch is moved. None of the other VR equipped lenses that I have used before give this kind of physical feedback.


Features:

The AF-S 105mm F2.8G has a high end feature set, including vibration reduction (VR), Nano Crystal Coating, ED glass and an IF design. The VR with this lens is type 1, which means that it provides up to three stops of shake reduction. While VR is not overly helpful for actual 1:1 macro work, it is useful for normal range shooting, including portraits. The Nano Crystal Coat (Note the large "N" on the lens barrel) helps to reduce the effects of internal flaring, which can cause problems with digital sensors. ED glass helps to deal with chromatic aberrations. IF means that the lens focuses internally, so the lens does not extend, even when focusing at 1:1. 

Like most Micro Nikkors the 105mm VR's focus distance scale provides not only the distance in metres and feet, but also shows the reproduction size. Example: Subjects at 1 metre (3 feet) have a reproduction ratio of 1:7, while subjects that are at 0.314m have a 1:1 reproduction size. 1:1 = The object appears at life size on the image sensor.


The lens is a "G" type, which means there is no aperture ring, so the settings must be changed in camera. The numerous electronic contacts transmit shooting information, such as distance, to the camera. The lens also features a rubber gasket on the rear, which helps prevent dust and moisture from entering the lens mount. The lens features dust and moisture resistance seals, but is not waterproof.

Note: Like all macro lenses the maximum aperture will only be displayed when focusing on distance subjects. In the case of this lens, F2.8 will only be available for subjects beyond 1.5m/5ft. When focusing on closer objects a narrower depth of field will be used. At 1:1 reproduction size the maximum aperture will be F4.8. 

* The AF-S Micro Nikkor 105mm F2.8G ED VR is fully compatible with all Nikon DSLR's, both FX and DX (As of February 2014).

Auto Focus:

The lens features a quiet AF-S (Silent Wave Motor), and as noted above is compatible with all Nikon DSLR's. The lens also works with some film cameras, check the user manual for compatibility.

The AF-S 105mm F2.8G VR is not the fastest focusing lens in the world, but it is no slouch either. To get the most speed of the lens, using the focus limiter is almost a must. When the full setting is used the lens will hunt if you miss the subject, particularly when working in low light/contrast situations. If the subject(s) being photographed are more than 50cm away, using the limiter switch set to 0.5m to infinity is ideal.  Overall focus acquisition is good, but it can struggle in the macro range. When shooting macro subject manual focus is often the better choice. Stationary subjects, like a coin might not be a problem for auto focus, but a moving insect like an ant could be.


Optical Performance:

The AF-S 105mm F2.8G VR, like most macro lenses, is an excellent performer optically. While I do not put my lenses in front of test charts, this lens is easily the sharpest in my camera bag.

There are no major flaws in the optics, unless you want to count vignetting, when used wide open, as one. Chromatic aberrations have not been an issue, in real life use, but could be found if you go hunting for it in the corners at wide apertures. Diffraction does not seem to be a problem with the 105mm VR, as even when used at apertures greater than F22, there is no apparent loss of detail.

Here are some sample images: Right Click on images to view at a larger size

1/125s
ISO400, 4s, F13

Winter Blast
ISO 400, 1/40s, F8

At Odds
ISO 100, 4s, F25

Snow Drop
ISO 100, 1/640s, F7.1

Dusty Quarter
ISO 100, 90 seconds, F25

Familiar Ground
ISO 100, 1/80s, F8

Comments and Conclusion:

The Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 105mm F2.8G ED VR is a high quality macro lens. While the lens is great at macro work, it also preforms well at other tasks, such as landscapes and portraits. The optics of the lens are simply outstanding, and it is hard to find any flaws, without looking at test charts.

RWD 1582

The VR and auto focus performance are acceptable, considering the type of lens this is. Both auto focus and VR are not well suited to use when working at macro distances, but can be helpful. Thankfully the lens features a limiter switch, which improves focusing speed on subjects that are more than 0.5m away.

In terms of price, the lens is a great value. The lens can be found for under $800 at reputable dealers (I'm speaking of Nikon authorized dealers, and not gray market models).  Competing lenses, like the Sigma 105mm EX DG HSM OS, Tokina 105mm F2.8 AT-X Pro and Tamron 90mm F2.8 Macro are also available, and in some cases at a lower cost. If you are looking for a purebred portrait lens at this focal length, you may want to consider the Nikon AF Nikkor 105mm F2D DC. While the lens is an older deign it has a large maximum aperture, and the defocus control (DC).

Additional Comment:

Unlike other micro Nikkors, the 105mm VR works with the Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC14E II. The teleconverter makes the lens 150mm, and extends the working distance at 1:1 by about 10cm. That might not sound like much, but it could make the difference between startling an insect or not. When using the teleconverter an external light source may be required, since the maximum aperture at 1:1 falls down to F6.7. In daylight that is not a problem, but indoors or in low light conditions it could make the viewfinder too dark to see through. While I did use the lens with a teleconverter a few times, I have not used it enough to comment on overall performance. From what I have seen the combination is usable, with no apparent drop in sharpness.


Pros:
  • Outstanding Optical Performance
  • Useful for many types of subject matter
  • Reasonably Compact, but not light weight 
  • Vibration Reduction is useful for non-macro work
  • Chromatic Aberrations is well controlled 
  • The only Micro Nikkor that accepts the TC14E II, increasing the focal length to 150mm 
  • Internally focusing (IF) design means the lens does not extend when focusing on close subjects.
Cons:
  • Could be considered heavy by some users.
  • More expensive than third party competitors at this focal length, but that is normal for most Nikkors vs third party alternatives.