Dan Wells's reviews

  • Nikon 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED AF-S VR Micro Nikkor

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Sharpness, VR, 1:1 macro with a non-extending lens
    Size, a bit long on a digital body

    This is an amazingly specified lens - I've heard it called the "Alphabet soup" Nikkor (AF-S, VR II, ED, IF, Micro, G, Nano-crystal) - that's more designations than I've ever seen on any single lens! Several of the designations are not normally seen on the same lens (IF macros are rare, although not unheard of, and , as far as I know, this lens's combination of macro and VR or IS is unique).
    What does all the alphabet soup mean in actual use? It's tack sharp from infinity to 1:1 (but any $800+ prime with a modest focal length and maximum aperture had better be!). Expensive prime lenses are divided into frighteningly fast (50 mm f1.2), notably long (>300 mm) (or short(<14mm)) and strikingly sharp plus close-focusing (a range of 105 to 200 mm macro lenses). The expensive macro lenses are among each camera maker's sharpest lenses, and the 105 mm f2.8 Nikkor doesn't disappoint in this category. As a conventional, tripod mounted macro lens, it is as good as any I've seen, and better than the others I've owned (60 mm AF Micro-Nikkor and 55 mm Sigma)
    The combination of AF-S and internal focusing makes this a remarkably usable autofocus lens. Most macro lenses are really manual focus lenses (even if they supposedly have AF), because screw drive autofocus produces a very slow focusing lens if you have a long focusing throw, which all macro lenses do. Until very recently, camera body AF systems haven't really been up to the challenge of focusing a macro lens with very limited DOF. The fact that non internal focusing macro lenses also extend enormously as they are focused hasn't helped the situation, either. This lens solves all of these problems at once. The depth of field at 1:1 is so thin (by definition) that I still manually focus on a tripod when I'm in that close, but this is optical physics at work. I use the AF all the time with subjects in the 1:2 - 1:5 range, only a few inches across (subjects that the AF on my previous macro lens - a 60 mm AF Micro-Nikkor - would not have handled).
    The other notable feature of this lens is, of course, the VR. No VR system will produce sharp handheld images at 1:1 - the depth of field is too thin (any camera movement will lose the plane of focus). That said, I often use the VR on subjects in the 1:3 to 1:10 range handheld, and get many more "keepers" than I would without it. Close-up (as opposed to true macro) nature subjects are very possible at reasonable shutter speeds without a tripod - images I wouldn't dare try without the VR!
    Are there any disadvantages? Yes - three that I have found. This is a big, bulky pro lens, where other macro lenses are often small and light (most 60mm macros resemble a 50 mm 1.4, while this lens resembles a 28-70 2.8). Other 105mm macros are bigger than the 60s, but a lot smaller than this one. This is also a 150+ mm lens on a digital body, which is longer than most people's "ideal" macro lens. It gives a lot of working distance, but it doesn't double as a sharp midrange prime (it's more of a short telephoto). Of course, the third disadvantage is the price. It's the most expensive non-specialty macro lens around by a wide margin (the specialty lenses include Canon's lens that focuses well beyond 1:1, Nikon's discontinued true macro 70-180 zoom and a few 200 mm macros) .
    Even though it is long, bulky and expensive, this is an amzing lens! I would strongly recommend it to any Nikon owner who enjoys close-up subjects (anything within about 6 feet of the camera, right down to 1:1). It's probably too expensive to use as a 105mm VR prime if you'll never focus closer than 6 feet, but it is more than competent in that role as well.

    reviewed November 6th, 2006 (purchased for $850)