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AF Micro-Nikkor 105/2.8D Review

by Patrick Hudepohl, August 2002


Introduction

Keyboard keys

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 "Micro" Nikkors.

Specifications

Intel Pentium processor
Construction 9 elements in 8 groups
Picture Angle 23° (20 ft.)
Minimum aperture f/32
Maximum aperture f/2.8 (*)
Minimum Focus Distance 31.4 cm / 12.2 inch
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:1
Filter Size 52mm
Dimensions (diameter x length) 76.2 x 104.1 mm / 3.0 x 4.1 inch
Weight 555 gram / 19.6 oz

(*) See note on effective aperture below.

Dip switches Chips and other electronics Intel chip on PC board

Handling

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 smoothly.

Two toadstools (in a very difficult to reach spot) Paardenbloem (Taraxacum officinale) Spider's web, polder

Image quality

Color Guard of the BHK TTB marching band

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.

Detail of Arc de Triomf, Barcelona

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. According to photozone.de, 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. Similarly, on 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.

Twig with flower buds, dark background

Autofocus

Teunisbloem (Oenothera biennis)

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.

Red berries Small flowers against light background

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 release.

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 problem.

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!)

Your Nikon Editor at work with the 105 Micro Nikkor Your Nikon Editor at work with the 105 Micro Nikkor

Photos courtesy Ruud Rozemeyer

Competition

The most obvious competition for this lens are the two other prime AF Micro-Nikkor lenses from Nikon:

If you use the Canon EOS system, the Canon EF 100/2.8 Macro is probably more useful.

Conclusion

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.

More information

Readers' Comments


Add a comment



Stefan Geschke , August 15, 2002; 05:06 A.M.

I just wanted to mention the manual version of the reviewed lens, the 105mm MF Micro-Nikkor (f/2.8). This lens only goes to 1:2 and needs the extension tube PN-11 (which has a tripod mount) to go to 1:1. Moreover, I think some of the newer AF-bodies will have trouble metering with the manual lens. (No problem with my F4 or my girlfriend's F801, but if I remember correctly, the F801 switches from matrix-metering to centered-weighted metering with this lens.)

Now for the good points of the manual lens. The build quality is exceptional. Since the lens only goes down to 1:2 and has a very long focus-throw, precise focussing at not-so-close distances is easy, making it a very good portrait lens (maybe except for bokeh).

The image quality at infinity is also exceptional. Many people rate this lens among the very best Nikkors at infinity. It is my favorite landscape lens. Since I am using mainly manual lenses, for me this is the perfect short tele, close-up and protrait lens.

One word about effective aperture: I don't think that the camera body needs to know the effective aperture for correct exposure. If the lens is set at f/5.6 and the effective apterture is (for example) f/8, then the camera knows that the lens is stopped down two stops (full aperture is f/2.8 marked) and meters the light coming in at full aperture. However, the effective aperture wide open differs from the marked full aperture by the same amount as the set aperture (f/5.6) differs from the effective aperture (f/8) at which we are going to take the picture. Thus, the camera thinks it is metering at f/2.8, but infact, it is metering at f/4. The camera thinks the picture is taken at f/5.6, but in fact, the picture is taken at f/8. As it turns out, the loss of light due to makro-extension is one stop when metering and one stop when taking the picture. The two "errors" cancel out and the picture will be exposed correctly.

What I am saying is that with TTL-metering, exposure-correction for makro-extension is not an issue, even with stupid camera bodies.

Eb Enflow , August 15, 2002; 01:18 P.M.

This is one of the sharpest Nikkor lenses. Too bad it's not an AFS. It's due for an update. On the D1X or similar model the focusing is fast enough. Lower-end Nikons do not fare so well with this lens in the focusing dept.

John Castle , August 15, 2002; 03:25 P.M.

For me, the short focus throw in the 5m-infinity range can be a problem, focusing on subjects just under the infinity level can be difficult to get a good focus on for it seems that like one degree of rotation is like on foot in distance or something :)

I too would agree that the build quality is very good, I bought mine a year ago used, with 3-4yrs of use from the previous owner. There is no dust or anything on the inside of the lens and only a few knicks and scratches on the barrel (mostly on the areas where the barrel has a crease in it, by the aperature ring, by the filter ring et cetera). An update with a crinkle-finish and (this is just an idea here, I don't know if this is possible) being able to adjust where the short and long portions of the focus throw are, being able to switch for close and far subjects in the ability for fine focusing.

Jay J. Pulli , August 16, 2002; 08:07 A.M.

This is a great lens and I have had great results using it over the years, for example....

http://www.elohi.com/photo/closeup/

Now I am using it on the D100. However, there is an annoying "feature" of this lens, and that is, if you are using manual focus and point the lens downward (for example, in copy work), then the weight of the front element cluster pulls the lens all the way out until it stops.

Umit D , August 16, 2002; 09:24 A.M.

Judging a macro lens' performance by MTF is totally lame cause these tests are carried out at infinity setting. This lens delivers extraordinary sharpness up close.

Focusing in the macro range is very painful because it changes magnification with focus, you have to set a magnification first and focus by moving camera back and forth, a focusing rail is excellent but cumbersome to carry and set up in the field. Most contemporary macro lenses are like that btw.

Georg Kern , August 16, 2002; 10:32 A.M.

To Stefan: The AF-Nikons need the effective aperture for the matrix metering and the 3D-TTL-flash. That's why these features do not work with manual focus lenses.

Ilkka Nissila , August 16, 2002; 02:54 P.M.

Many macro subjects (such as plants in backlit sun) can be best metered using an incident meter (since the area of the subject may not be sufficient to fill an in-camera spot meter. This is where the automatic compensation for the bellows factor of the AF Micro-Nikkors together with a body-controlled aperture are a blessing; no correction calculations/tables are needed.

Stefan Geschke , August 17, 2002; 06:39 A.M.

Good points, Georg and Ilkka. I did not know that the newer AF Nikons need to know the effective aperture for their more advanced metering modes (for the 3D-TTL flash the camera needs to know the focussing distance, right? This is of course almost the same as to know the effective aperture, except for lenses that change their focal length when focussing, as most Micro-Nikkors probably do.) And I did not think about exernal light meters, where a camera body displaying the effective aperture obviously comes in handy.

David Manzi , August 19, 2002; 07:37 A.M.

Good review, but I want to add my two cents regarding the MTF numbers. First, as the previous reader cited, the tests are conducted at infiniity. Second, they test one sample. Third, they test only a narrow parameter that in no way indicates what the photographer will actually see on film. Yes, good lenses CAN score high, and poor lenses CAN score low, but there are many, many exceptions. But, too many people want a simple, tell-all number, so they use Photodo ratings as a crutch. Forget Photodo, and trust only what you see on film. The MTF numbers say nothing about color fidelity, distortion, build quality, or handling, all of which can contribute to the final image.

Tor Johnson , August 19, 2002; 10:41 A.M.

A couple years ago Practical Photography did a macro lens comparison which included detail MTF tests. The top three lenses mountable on Nikon bodies were the Sigma 90mm, the Tamron 90mm, and the Nikon 105mm. The Nikon scored minutely better in the middle apetures however it was beaten at the extremes by the Tamron 90mm.

I own a Tamron 90mm and the company I work for has a Nikon 105mm. Both leses are excellent performers. I am a little partial to the Tamron since it is even sharper than the Nikon at the apetures I use most (the two extremes). Also this lens seems slightly less 'harsh'. I also need my macro lens to do double duty as both a macro and portrait and find the 90mm to be simpler to work with than 105mm. Boiling it down: the Nikon's MTFs are good but not perfect and the ratings mentioned above are likely accurate.

Mike Kovacs , August 20, 2002; 05:00 P.M.

I am not a big fan of the AF 105/2.8 micro-nikkor for my sort of work. In order to reach 1:1, the lens effectively reduces its focal length and hence its working distance. You'll get quite a bit more working distance with the old 105/2.8 micro and the PN-11 tube.

If you don't care about owning a "portrait" lens, the older AI 105 f/4 micro-nikkor is perhaps the best optical performer of them all. They are often available for half the price of the 105/2.8. You could always use the money saved to buy a real portrait lens.

Larry Segil , August 26, 2002; 07:22 P.M.

The lens is also a great performer underwater. It is ideal for portraits both of fish and the smaller flora and fauna.

Vincent K. Tylor , September 03, 2002; 11:59 P.M.

I agree that this is one very sharp lens. However the depth of field is uterly pathetic, regardless of what aperture I use. It has become practically useless. I find that my 80-200 2.8s zoom is often preferred (even though I need to get five feet away!!). Or the 28-70 zoom with a 2.0 teleconverter works even better than the macro. If I need an insect, the 105 is great. If I want flowers, forget it. Even the Tamron 28-200, long retired now, is actually better for flora. Too bad. I love Nikon and every other lens that I have purchased.

Umit D , September 06, 2002; 09:37 A.M.

However the depth of field is uterly pathetic, regardless of what aperture I use.

Hmm, this guy (must be an optics revolutionist) knows what he is talking about.

Joseph Albert , September 10, 2002; 03:22 P.M.

Judging a macro lens' performance by MTF is totally lame cause these tests are carried out at infinity setting. This lens delivers extraordinary sharpness up close.

If you are referring to photodo, I believe that they do their MTF testing at 1:10 for all lenses. Other MTFs, such as those done by the manufacturer in evaluating a lens they design, surely are done at a wide range of focusing distances.

If you look at the Nikon macro lenses, a few points can be made:

1. Most of them use floating elements to ensure very good optical performance throughout the focusing range (the 55/3.5 may be the lone exception).

2. Some are better at infinity (55/2.8 AIS/AF, 105/2.8 AIS) than they are in the macro range, and some are better in the macro range than they are at infinity (55/3.5 AI, 60/2.8 AF, 105/2.8 AF). The 55/3.5 near infinity and the 60/2.8 near infinity are probably the only instances where you need to worry about getting less than a professionally acceptable image quality.

3. Having the camera tell you the effective aperture is useful for depth of field calculations and also for metering with a handheld meter, such as an incident meter or 1 degree spotmeter.

Umit D , September 11, 2002; 12:36 P.M.

If you are referring to photodo, I believe that they do their MTF testing at 1:10 for all lenses. Other MTFs, such as those done by the manufacturer in evaluating a lens they design, surely are done at a wide range of focusing distances

Photodo is referred obviously, cause it is the source author mentions in his review and they DO test lenses only at infinity if you go and read their site. Nikon's own MTFs are here, they look like to be carried at infinity too(at least one fixed distance), unfortunately MTF of 105 micro is not published. It is likely that they are computer simulations rather than actual tests (like Canon does in their Lenswork). Japanese anyone?

Todd Peach , September 23, 2002; 07:13 P.M.

I have one of these lenses here at work, along with an SB-21 and N90s. One of the things about this setup that I find quite remarkable is how easy to use it is. I've been using various types of macro gear for 25 years, so I'm well aware of the complexities of extension factors, narrow DOF, and camera shake associated with high magnification. I find I can hand this rig to engineers / techs who have minimal photo experience and they can produce decent shots right out of the gate. The seamless way this rig goes down to 1:1, coupled with a very easy to use ringlight make this a joy to use handheld.

One other oddity: the ringlights come with two filter rings, one for 52mm and one for 62mm. The body of the 105mm can accept the 62mm, and in fact it's recommended you use it this way. This keeps the flash weight off of the moving portion of the lens.

W Mohn , October 03, 2002; 04:37 P.M.

As for the comment about the lens (or viewfinder) getting "Misty" in the review, are you sure your breath wasn't fogging up the viewfinder? If you point a camera straight up, the viewfinder goes horizontal and collects more breath vapor.

Just a thought, because that happens to me too sometimes.

John Bert , October 05, 2002; 11:03 A.M.

For those of you who would prefer a lenshood, especially for field shooting at intermediate distances to infinity or tricky backlighting, the old metal snap on hood for the Nikon 105 f2.5 MF or the shorter snap on metal hood for the Nikon 85 f2.0 MF work perfectly. I have used these combinations for years, with and without filters, and had no troubles.

Eugene Chen , January 28, 2003; 06:23 P.M.

It does look like this lens suffers from flare problems. All pictures on this page seem not as contrasty as they should be. Any similar observations?

Patrick Hudepohl , January 29, 2003; 11:50 A.M.

I recently concluded that over the past two-and-a-half years, my scanner has slowly been accumulating dust and the result is that the quality of my scans is not as good as it used to be. I'm afraid it has also affected the image quality of the scans in this review.

I plan to clean my scanner of have it cleaned and also to redo some older scans. The lens does indeed take better pictures than my scans show (although relatively small JPEG files can never be good judgement material).

Sorry about this...

FNU Jeffrey Brawijaya , April 09, 2004; 10:51 P.M.

It has been a lot of debate about the quality of this lens against Tamron 90mm and Canon 105mm. The most recent one shows that Tamron in a lot of aspects can beat Canon, especially in terms of price. Unfortunately it said that our Nikon came third behind these two lenses. I own Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 non D, but when I combine it with Velbon slider, you cannot complain about anything. This lens is just a marvel of Nikon. The speed is sure soooo slow but why do we need AF-S for Micro Nikkor? You are going to turn off the AF anyway. From the review and comments, I did not see any comment about the use of horizontal slider. I really don't get it. It IS a very nice piece of invention for us to do macro photography IMO. ++++ FNU Brawijaya

Jewell BuncIII , February 15, 2008; 08:28 A.M.

Hhello My name is Jewell BunchIII and I am searching for a good micro lens to shoot micro photography how does the nikon 105 compare to the tamron 90,tamron 180,and the finally the nikon 60mm lens is this lens better than the other why or not

Joseph Massimino , October 12, 2009; 03:26 P.M.

The newest version of this lens is Nikon 105mm f/2.8 G VR AF-S Micro-Nikkor Lens As you can see, the current information shows that this review is outdated. This lens does have AF-S, and VR (Vibration Reduction). It is popular enough to be hard to locate on some days. The current price is in the $940 +- $15 range.

Thies is what they say about the newest of this lens. Note that they address most of the negatives of htis review. The AF-S VR 105 f/2.8G IF-ED brings the benefits of vibration reduction (VR) to the domain of Macro photography. It offers high-resolution, high-optical performance for both digital and 35mm film format SLR cameras. This lens incorporates Nikon's second-generation vibration reduction system (VR II) that allows flexible hand-held shooting by stabilizing the image to the equivalent stability of a shutter speed that is 4 stops faster when compared with a conventional lens. The SWM (Silent Wave Motor) and IF (Internal Focusing) ensure quiet autofocusing with quick and convenient switching between autofocus and manual operation. Optical performance is enhanced by an ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass element that minimizes chromatic aberration, and Nano Crystal Coat which drastically reduces flare, enabling finely defined, clear images

JOE PRETE , January 19, 2012; 07:42 P.M.

I've got the newer or newest version of the AF-S MICRO NIKKOR 105MM 2.8G ED VR. It's also an "N". I think this lens was $975.00 and worth every penny of it. The only thing I find odd about it is NIKON'S use of the word "MICRO" while the rest of the world uses "MACRO". The lens is quite heavy, but so is the camera, but I could describe the lens in one word -"SUPERB". I wouldn't trade the earlier versions if I had one, but I would never part with this lens. ... Joe Prete  


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