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Macro Lens - Which One ??

Anura Fernando , Mar 02, 2011; 09:59 p.m.

I have a Nikon D7000 and considering adding a macro lens to my gear. I did some research and short listed below three lens (Nikkor AF-S 105mm VR is out of my budget),

  1. Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro D Macro
  2. Nikkor AF-S 60mm F/2.8 G
  3. Nikkor AF Micro 105mm F/2.8

I saw some good reviews for Tokina and would like to know the pros and cons of each from those who are already using these lens.


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Allan Armstrong , Mar 03, 2011; 01:34 a.m.

I purchased a 105 f2.8 AF micro in 1993 and it has been one of my most useful lenses since. In 1993, I shot film and used the 105 for macro and portraits. Now that I'm shooting digital, I don't do so much macro, and shooting DX my 50 f1.8 (from 1993) is also a good portrait lens, but I appreciate the 105 micro's longer focal length for outdoors and its close focusing for food. More recently, I have the 70-200 f2.8 VR, so I don't use the 105 micro for portraits any more but it is a really good studio tool. It is probably the single best lens purchase I have made.

I have not owned the other lenses you are considering, but here are my opinions comparing it to the:

  • Tokina 100 macro -- I've never had an issue with Nikkor glass and I often learn of deficiences of non-Nikkor glass. You get what you pay for. Also, the 105 f2.8 AF micro would be used, so it would not depreciate. I think you can get one for $350 now. If you chose to get the Tokina lens, it would depreciate like a brand new car.
  • Nikkor 60 micro -- More working distance is always an advantage for macro work. The 60 might be a better length for portrait than 105, but you could always pick up a $120 50 f1.8 to plug that hole.
  • Nikkor AF-S 105 f2.8 VR micro -- I like the old one better because it is much cheaper and the front element is recessed, giving it a built-in hood. What a nice lens!

I frequently use the 105 f2.8 AF micro in the studio. I also have a 70-200 f2.8 VR2, but it is big and bulky, so I prefer the 105 micro. Often when I get to the final image I shoot with the 105 micro, I also shoot it with the 70-200. The 70-200 is claimed to be one of Nikon's best in terms of image quality (sharpness, bokeh, etc.) but I never notice any advantage over the 105 micro.

Outside the studio, for sports and portraits, the 70-200 f2.8 VR2 is the bomb. The 105 f2.8 AF micro is lacking zoom, VR, and focusing speed. The 105 micro is a great tool for macro and stuido work and if you're ok with no VR and no zoom, a great portrait lens also.

If I were considering the 105 f2.8 AF-S micro, I'd get the 85 f2.8 PC-E instead. I'd love to have a tilt-shift lens. Unfortunately, that bad boy is $2k.

D.B. Cooper , Mar 03, 2011; 02:18 a.m.

You don't mention what you'll be shooting with the lens, and that hinders any recommendation so I won't make one. A few thoughts though...for flowers, etc. a shorter working distance is usually fine. For shy bugs (most of them are shy), you'd want a longer focal length to get the front of the lens away from the subject enough to where it won't spook them. VR is useful for hand-held shooting, but not needed with a tripod. Fast lenses aren't necessary with macro since you'll be stopping down to gain depth of field, but it is nice for the usual macro technique of manual focus since you get a brighter viewfinder with the wider aperture. Selecting a macro lens to do double-duty (e.g. as a portrait lens also) seems attractive on the face of it from a purchase cost standpoint, but what you're really doing is compromising performance for both applications.

A good macro lens will be slow to focus since the focusing mechanism is geared lower for finer focusing increments. I have to turn and turn and turn the focus ring to get anywhere using my macro lens for 'normal' photography, and the AF speed is glacial, but fine focusing control is just the thing to have when I'm on a bug's face or inside a flower's reproductive parts. OTOH, many of these lenses are quite sharp and may be suitable for landscape or other work. Don't let anyone tell you a macro is too sharp for portraiture - it's much easier to soften a too-sharp image in post than it is to sharpen one that's too soft. Good luck with whatever you select.

Eric Arnold , Mar 03, 2011; 02:32 a.m.

I've never had an issue with Nikkor glass and I often learn of deficiences of non-Nikkor glass. You get what you pay for. Also, the 105 f2.8 AF micro would be used, so it would not depreciate. I think you can get one for $350 now. If you chose to get the Tokina lens, it would depreciate like a brand new car.

total hearsay. the tokina is as good as any macro lens in its class. at least that's what the experts say. allen, you go out of your way to be hyperbolic about the tokina's alleged deficiencies -- have you ever used one? it's sharper at 2.8 than the tamron 90 and otherwise good at any aperture. build quality is superb. it's one of tokina's best lenses and has the one-touch clutch mechanism nikon lacks. i'm not knocking the older nikon 105 micro, which is probably a better pure macro lens than the 105 VR, but i think you go out of your way to down the tokina, which is an excellent lens by all accounts. and, for no apparent reason, you bring in the 70-200 and the 85 PC-E, which the OP didnt even ask about.

granted the tokina costs $400 new, but you get a warranty with that. also, with a used lens you always run the risk of there being an undisclosed issue. to the OP, i would consider the tokina, along with the tamron 90, which is a little better overall but soft at 2.8. the tokina is very close, however--ultimately, i picked that over the tamron b/c i felt the 2.8 performance would be better for portraits.

Matthew Brennan , Mar 03, 2011; 02:39 a.m.

It depends upon what sort of "macro" subject matter you wish to photograph.

If you want to shoot subjects at the smaller end of the scale I'd recommend not spending $$$ on autofocus lenses as with very small subjects / higher magnification micro photography you really need to manually adjust the focus so AF becomes somewhat redundant in these cases.

As you have the D7000 which meters with Ai and Ais lenses, may I suggest you go for a relatively inexpensive Micro Nikkor Ai 55mm f/3.5 or a Micro Nikkor AiS 105mm f/2.8 both of which yield a 1:2 maximum magnification. Or better still, if you can find a Kiron Ai 105mm f/2.8 Micro lens you get 1:1 max. magnification, the same sharp IQ as the Nikkors and a super long focus ring throw which makes precise focusing much easier than short focus ring throw counterparts.

I have the Nikkor 55mmf/3.5 and the Kiron 105mm f/2.8 and can recommend both for ease of use and IQ. I began with a Micro Nikkor AF 105mm f2.8 D lens - it was plenty sharp but I never used it as an autofocus lens so I sold it and purchased the Kiron MF lens for half the price and have never looked back.

Michael Kohan , Mar 03, 2011; 02:49 a.m.

I just got the Tamron 60mm f/2, with rebate it was just over $400. It seems like it should be on the list, especially with it being f/2. I plan on using it for macros and portraits.

Fred Scalliet , Mar 03, 2011; 04:27 a.m.


have you considered a 2nd-hand Nikkor 70-180mm micro ? It is the only macro zoom I know of. What else is remarkable about it is that maximum aperture (f/3.5-5.6) keeps constant regardless of the focusing distance, while most macro lenses get darker as focus gets closer. I personally own this macro lens and have a lot of fun with it. It has 1:1.3 magnification, and i still get great results with an additional 4x close-up lens attached to it.

If you Google for it, you'll see that everybody who owns one loves it !

...just my 2 cents ;-)

Rene GM , Mar 03, 2011; 04:41 a.m.

There is another one, you might consider: Sigma 50mm F2.8. The price is on the cheap side. But the optics are quite good. There is also the Nikkor 85mm macro, which should beat all of them.

Peter Hamm , Mar 03, 2011; 06:52 a.m.

The 70-180 is indeed an awesome and unique product, and priced that way, too. You could pay nearly 2 grand for one (which is WAY more than they sold for when available new). So many people like them, and they made so few, that they carry an artificial premium.

Another great alternative is older manual AIS lenses. Fact is, you could probably get BOTH a 55mm f2.8 or f3.5 AND a 105mm f4 used for close to or even less than one of the lenses you're talking about. And these lenses are EXCELLENT!

Since AF is useless for micro (imho) and your camera will meter with an AI or AIS lens... I'd go that way.

Anura Fernando , Mar 03, 2011; 08:11 a.m.

Thanks everyone, great advice so far. Sorry I couldn’t mention that what kind of subjects I am intend to photograph using this lens. DB Cooper, you guessed right, primarily flowers, insects and still subjects. Portraits are not one of my main objectives but its a bonus if the lens is good for portrait work too.
Fred, you have certainly given me another option to consider, sure I will do some research on that too.

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