Nikon 200mm f/4D ED-IF AF Micro Nikkor
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(From Nikon lens literature) Legendary in the world of close-up photography, superior Micro Nikkor performance delivers images of striking clarity while providing reproduction ratios of up to 1:1 without additional accessories. The extra long focal length of this lens provides the most versatile working distance. Extra Low Dispersion (ED) glass ensures apochromatic-like performance, with high contrast and sharper images. Internal focusing improves handling and focusing operation. Focuses from infinity to 19.4 inches (1:1 reproduction ratio). A-M (Automatic-Manual) switch.
It's axiomatic that good-quality prime (non-zoom) lenses do better than good-quality zooms, but this seems to be particularly the case in the Nikon lineup. The latest example of this is the phenomenal performance of the 200mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor: It's arguably the sharpest Nikkor lens we've tested to date, and its other characteristics are all well into the "superb" category as well. Here's the details of what we found in testing this excellent optic:
As noted above, sharpness is clearly this lens' strong suit. On our D200 test body, it turned in arguably the best sharpness plots of any Nikkor lens we've tested to date. Even wide open at f/4, the entire (DX-sensor) frame is very sharp, with just a hint of softening in the lower right-hand corner. Stopping down, it gets slightly sharper at f/5.6 and f/8, softening slightly starting at f/11, as diffraction-limiting begins to set in. - But across the entire range from f/4 to f/11, the degree of softness is such that you'd be very hard-pressed to see it visually. Diffraction limiting becomes evident at f/16, and by the time you get to f/32, the images are quite soft.
If the 200mm f/4's sharpness is excellent, its chromatic aberration performance is simply outstanding. - In fact, I don't think we've seen a lens with CA this low in all our previous testing. (As of 12/28/2006.) The maximum CA we found at any aperture was just 0.0083%, essentially negligible.
The 200mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor also does very well in terms of exposure uniformity across the frame. At f/4 on the D200, we found a maximum light falloff of just under a third of an f-stop, but from f/5.6 onward, falloff was right at the edge of our ability to detect it, 0.03 EV or less at all times.
Geometric distortion was also very low, with a maximum value of 0.025% pincushion, once again a negligible number.
I guess there has to be a weak point somewhere, and in the case of the Nikon 200mm f/4, it's AF speed. This is an older lens design for Nikon, and so relies on a motor in the camera body for its AF operation. (By contrast, newer Nikon lenses, carrying the AF-S designation, incorporate motors in the lens bodies themselves, making for much faster AF operation.) AF speed may thus depend somewhat on the strength of the AF motor in the body you happen to be using. (Although when I played with this lens on my aging D70, and on a D2Xs body we have here for review it seemed to take the same roughly 2-3 seconds to slew from closest focus to infinity on either body.) There is a focus-limit switch on the lens barrel though, to limit the closest focus to a bit over a meter when you're shooting non-macro subjects. When the focus-limiting is enabled, worst-case focus slew time is just over a second.
Speaking of closest focus, this lens does give you a pretty small minimum area, while providing excellent working distances from your subject. The official spec of 19.4 inches (49 cm) may not sound all that close, but keep in mind that the focal distance is measured to the film (or sensor) plane of the camera, not to the lens' front element. In the case of the 200mm f/4, this means that the actual distance from the front of the lens to the subject is about 10 inches, a comfortable distance that makes it easy to bring supplemental lighting to bear on extreme macro subjects. On a DX-sensor camera (framing factor = 1.5x), the minimum width covered is right around 23mm.
Build Quality and Handling
This is another Nikkor prime with tank-like build quality. The barrel is metal with a black wrinkle-finish coating, with a ribbed rubber sleeve covering the entire (very large) focus ring. The manual focus ring operates very smoothly, with lots of travel, making it easy to set focus very precisely. Unlike the Tamron 180mm f/3.5 that we tested recently, the manual/auto focus control engages/disengages both the focus ring and camera-drive connection, so it's entirely an either/or proposition. (That is, when in autofocus mode, the manual focus control ring has no effect whatever.)
Like many long, heavy lenses, the Micro Nikkor 200mm has a tripod mount permanently attached. The lens can be rotated freely to any angle within its support ring, and locked at any position by way of a small knob positioned at about 10 o'clock on the barrel. A handy feature is that the tripod mount itself has two mounting holes in it, one located at the back, towards the camera, the other to the front, further from the camera. This lets you choose the most appropriate mounting position, based on the weight of the body you're using: For heavier bodies, use the rear hole; for lighter ones, use the forward one.
As of this writing (late December, 2006), we haven't tested many telephoto primes yet, and only one third-party lens that might compete with this one. That's the Sigma 150mm f/2.8, a slightly shorter macro from Sigma with a one-stop faster maximum aperture. Street prices for the Nikkor 200mm f/4 are currently running right around $1,350, well over twice the price of the Sigma. Tamron makes a 180mm f/3.5 that users report as quite sharp, but with a plastic barrel that scratches easily. Nikon also makes a 180mm f/2.8 non-macro lens that we tested recently.
Competition - Sigma 150mm f/2.8
As excellent as the Nikkor 200mm f/4 is, the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 gives it a real run for its money. -- And at a street price that's less than half that of the Nikkor optic, plus a maximum aperture that's a full stop faster. We tested the Sigma on our Canon test bodies (an EOS-20D and EOS-5D), and minor differences between camera platforms make really minute hair-splitting difficult, particularly in the area of sharpness. That said though, it's clear that the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 is definitely in the same league with the Nikon 200mm f/4 in terms of sharpness, a notable achievement given just how sharp the Nikkor is, combined with the fact that the Sigma accomplishes this with a full stop wider maximum aperture. The Sigma does show somewhat higher (but still pretty low) chromatic aberration though. It shows a bit more vignetting wide open, but when stopped down to f/4 (where the Nikkor starts), it's very low indeed. Distortion is also very, very low. We would rate the build quality of the Nikkor somewhat higher, but then you'd expect that for a lens costing twice as much.
Competition - Nikon 180mm f/2.8 non-macro
When we tested it, we were quite impressed with the Nikon 180 f/2.8's build quality and handling, but a bit less so with its sharpness, particularly wide open. At f/4, it's sharper, but still a bit off the high mark set by the Nikkor 200mm f/4 at that same aperture. It showed lower vignetting than the 200mm f/4, but higher chromatic aberration and distortion. Build quality is very similar. If you don't need the macro capability, the Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 is an excellent lens, and one costing only about half what the 200mm f/4 does.
By any measure, the Nikon 200mm f/4 is a truly superb lens, delivering exceptional sharpness, low distortion, and uniform exposure across its aperture range. It is large and quite heavy though, and its autofocus performance is on the slow side. If you're looking for superb macro performance and tack-sharp images, you can't do better within the Nikon line. That said though, the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 delivers images that are almost as good (with just slightly higher distortion and a bit more chromatic aberration), at a price point that's hundreds of dollars lower.
Nikon 200mm f/4D ED-IF AF Micro Nikkor User Reviews
10 out of 10 points and recommended by toondesmit (3 reviews)sharpness, tripod collar, enormous focusing ringweek plastic ring to set Manual or Autofocus
Most of the time I use the Nikon 300mm f/4 AFS with the Nikon extension tubes for macro. Working distance is great and depth of field a bit more forgiving than the 200mm Micro.reviewed August 24th, 2008
However for smaller critters I started using this lens again. In combination with the D300 and D200. I am thrilled with the results. I always use a tripod and Mirror Lock Up. Sharpness is terrific. I don’t miss VR and the tripod collar is sturdy enough.
See for yourself:
Sometimes I have a hard time choosing between the 300mm with the PN-11 and the 200mm Micro!
10 out of 10 points and recommended by bradhill (9 reviews)Sharpness; long working distanceAF performance
The sharpness of this lens is well-known, and I find it to be one of my sharpest lenses (though not as sharp as the amazing 200 f2 VR). However, I find its longish working distance (especially when paired with a camera with a DX sensor) when working with many macro subjects to be of even higher importance.reviewed October 30th, 2007 (purchased for $1,800)
I agree with almost everyone's view that the AF performance on this lens is poor. However, this is a MICRO/MACRO lens and, as such, I believe that AF performance is pretty much irrelevant to its intended use. If anyone is looking for a good macro lens with a good autofocus system, they should probably look at the Nikkor 105 f2.8 VR.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Zed (8 reviews)Very sharp!Slow autofocus, heavy
I tried this lens out one day in a camera store because I was curious about it. The store let me use their D50 and I used my memory card to record the images and review later.reviewed November 15th, 2006
This lens produces amazing image quality, but is terrible when using auto focus. I would not recommend using this lens if you plan to chase bugs, unless they are sitting and not moving unless you manually focus. It takes a good 10 seconds to acquire focus after making loud noises while the gears inside shift around. If you want to use this lens, do not waste your time with the auto focus.
If you have some jewelry, plants, or non-moving items that will not scurry away from the loud noises it produces, this lens will produce images beyond your expectations.