Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
The 105mm f/2.8D AF Micro-Nikkor, or 105 Micro for short, is probably
Nikon's most used macro lens. I believe the main reason for this, is
that the lens can, to some degree, serve triple duty. First of all,
it is a macro photography lens and it allows you to take photographs
at a 1:1 reproduction ratio, which means that a 24 by 36 mm subject
will fill the entire frame. Second, it makes a very good general purpose
short telephoto lens. Third, it is also at least a very reasonable
portrait lens. Please do not ask me why Nikon calls their macro lenses
9 elements in 8 groups
23° (20 ft.)
Minimum Focus Distance
31.4 cm / 12.2 inch
Maximum Reproduction Ratio
Dimensions (diameter x length)
76.2 x 104.1 mm / 3.0 x 4.1 inch
555 gram / 19.6 oz
(*) See note on effective aperture below.
The 105 Micro is a professional lens from Nikon; however, it has a plastic
outer shell and does not look as nice as the AF-S zooms. Still, the build
quality is very good. I have used mine for 3.5 years and have not encountered
any mechanical problems. It may be worth noting that the aperture ring
operation is somewhat less than smooth, but certainly not problematic.
The 105 Micro is not the best portrait lens. Because it is primarily
intended as a macro lens, it can be focussed very precisely at
distances shorter than 1 metre. The focussing throw from infinity
to 1.5 metres, however, is very short. This makes manual focussing
(on the eyes of your subject, most likely) rather difficult.
Other lenses are more suited for portraiture, for instance
the fast AF 85 f/1.4D lens and the AF 105 f/2 DC and AF 135 f/2 DC
lenses. These "Defocus Control" lenses allow you to change the
appearance of out of focus elements so that they appear softer or coarser.
I can find no fault with the 105 Micro when used as a general short
telephoto lens taking landscape or city photos.
The 105 Micro has an inner barrel containing the lens elements.
As you turn the focussing ring towards the shortest distance,
this barrel extends from the outer shell. A small amount of play
is normal, so you need not worry about that.
Especially during outdoor macro photography, it is very easy
to bump into twigs and leaves, causing smudges on your lens.
The front element of the 105 Micro is recessed, helping to
prevent this, as well as flare caused by direct sunlight.
It also lessens the need to use a protective UV filter.
As Philip Greenspun explains in his review
of the 60mm Micro-Nikkor, the Nikon system computes and displays
the effective aperture. If you set the aperture ring to the maximum
aperture of f/2.8 and turn the focussing ring to the minimum distance,
the camera will display f/5 and use that number when determining
exposure. Note that this is intended and correct behaviour and
certainly not a malfunction.
This lens is equipped with a M/AF switch: this means that you can
switch between manual focus and auto focus on the lens. I find this
much easier to use than the tiny switch on my F100 camera and I wish
more Nikkors used this system. One may note that it also complicates
the user interface, because now there are actually two switches
that prevent the AF system from engaging.
Manual focussing, particularly at distances shorter than 1 metre,
is very good. The focussing ring is well dampened and runs very
The 105 Micro can deliver incredibly sharp photos. This lens enables
you to capture extremely fine detail, but make sure you use the right
film for the job (I prefer a fairly slow slide film, Fuji Sensia II 100
or Fuji Provia 100F). I have not encountered problems with light fall-off
or vignetting, but I should add that I hardly ever use this lens wide open.
The rendering of out-of-focus areas ("bokeh"), particularly highlights
is somewhat less pleasing; it appears somewhat harsh and I would rather have
it a bit softer.
The photo alongside this paragraph is a crop
from a larger image, scanned from negative, which I believe illustrates
the issue. The photo was taken at f/2.8 or perhaps f/4.
Note that the effect varies with the background and that it is
much less noticable if there is a darker background.
When photographing architecture with the 105 Micro and my F100, I
have noticed a strange problem which makes it seem the lens is
susceptible to flare. If I point the lens upwards to capture some
detail of a building (often with some bright sky present), the
viewfinder becomes somewhat "misty". It may just be an unlucky
combination of wide aperture and the F100 viewfinder, because it
is not nearly so much of a problem on the resulting slides.
Nevertheless, it is best to use a lens hood and to be careful.
A note on the accompanying photo: I distinctly remember the view
finder getting quite "misty" when taking this shot; the resulting
slide and scan seem to be alright.
If you are interested in MTF grades and other such numbers, you
are going to be disappointed twice. First, because I did not
perform my own MTF tests and second, because the 105 Micro
appears not to be the top performer in tests on other web sites.
the Nikkor scores "excellent" with a score of 4.47. However, both the
Canon EF 2.8 100mm Macro (non-USM) and the 60/2.8 Micro-Nikkor score
"outstanding" at 4.57 and 4.63.
www.photodo.com, the MTF grade for the 105 Micro-Nikkor is 3.9,
while the 60 mm Nikkor scores 4.2 and the Minolta AF 100/2,8 Macro 1:1
shines at 4.5.
I am not sure what to think of such numbers. I am happy with the
lens: I like the focal length, it performs very well and works
with my Nikon camera.
Even when the focus limiter is engaged (resulting in a limited
focus range from infinity to 0.5 metres, or from 0,314 metres to 0,5),
this lens has a long focussing throw. This allows for extremely
precise macro focussing, but it can cause the AF system of
your camera to hunt. Using a Nikon F100
or a Nikon D1H, I find AF performance perfectly
usuable, except in low light situations where AF sometimes because
quite problematic. I do not regret the fact that this lens does not
have an AF-S ("Silent Wave") focussing motor built in.
I find autofocus useless for macro photography and strongly prefer
manual focussing. That way, you can more easily determine the exact
point of focus and you do not have to worry about the camera locking
on a different part of the subject. Macro photography, almost by definition
I would say, is a nearly endless process of manoeuvering, focussing
and checking depth of field.
Incidentally, you may find this tip regarding the use of the depth
of field button that I found in
John Shaw's "Landscape photography"
useful. Select the maximum aperture on the lens. Then press the DOF button and
slowly close the aperture. By doing it slowly, your eyes can adjust to
the deminishing level of light and you can better judge depth of field.
Accessoires and other lenses
I think the most important accessories for the lens (or macro photography
in general) are:
Tripod. As you approach the 1:3, 1:2 and 1:1 reproduction
ranges, you will find that depth of field becomes increasingly smaller.
It is not uncommon to use f/22 or f/32 to make sure enough of your
subject is acceptably sharp. Using slow film and taking care not to
place your subject in bright sunlight, this means slow shutter speeds.
So, get the biggest, sturdiest tripod that you can. One particularly
useful feature is a center column that can be flipped horizontally:
this should help you manoeuver your camera in position. Read
our article on tripods
for more information.
Polarizing filter. This filter not only removes glare
from large windows or pools of water, it also greatly improves
colour saturation of smaller objects. Even the smallest petal
of a flower can shine quite noticably and a polarizing filter
can dramatically increase contrast and colour saturation. Note
that a polarizer also reduces the amount of light, further increasing
the need to use a tripod.
Cable release. You do not want to ruin your photographs
by having your hands on the camera when you take the picture. You
could do this by using the self timer, but for outdoor macro photography
this is not very practical. If there is any wind, your precious little
flower will swing from one side of the frame to the other and you will
need to wait for a quiet moment. The delay of a self timer, even
if it is only two seconds, can be too much. Instead, use a cable
You may wish to use flash to stop the motion. My attempts at this have
been rather unsuccesfull: harsh lighting as a result of direct, on-camera
flash. Maybe you can do better with a TTL flash cord (SC-17) and a bouncer
or reflector. Alternatively, use a ring-shaped macro flash, such as
Nikon SB-21 or SB-29.
Occasionally, a right angle finder (DR-4) is useful. It allows you to
look into the view finder from above and can prevent you from having
to strain your neck. I have one. It works. It cost $250. It mostly sits
in its box.
If you are interested in building a high quality Nikon system that is
relatively affordable and easy to carry, you should consider the following:
Nikon F80 / N80 body, with the AF 24/2.8
wide-angle lens, the AF 50/1.8 standard lens and the 105/2.8 Micro. They all share the same,
small (i.e., relatively cheap) filter size, are a lot smaller and lighter than the
professional AF-S zooms and easily perform better than the "dickless yuppie" 28-300 zooms.
The entire package can be carried in the smaller shoulder bags and day packs without any
The two images below illustrate a very simple setup for table-top macro
photography (note that I actually use my DR-4 here!) They show that you
do not need a lot of expensive equipment: a few books, large sheets of
paper or cardboard and some piece of (non-reflective) fabric can be used
to create macro images at home. As you go along, you will discover a lot
more useful accessories: a small brush, a plant mister, pieces of string
etc. Experiment and have a lot of fun (and watch out for lower-back pain!)
If you are looking to buy your first (or next) professional lens that
enables a whole new world to be explored, but one that can also be used
for general photography, the 105mm f/2.8D AF Micro-Nikkor is a very good
choice: it offers sharp optics and excellent handling. If you are serious
about portrait photography, consider some of the alternatives.