Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR
Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro-NIKKOR (62mm filters, 26.6 oz./752g, about $890). enlarge. This one came from Adorama. Amazon and J&R are also great places to get it. It helps me keep adding to this site when you get yours from these links, thanks! Ken.
Not for: This AF-S lens won't AF on the oldest and crummiest AF film cameras. The 105mm VR is not particularly convenient for dedicated macro because focus breathing causes the image size to change as one focuses. For portraits, the 105 DC is a much better idea for the same price. (See Portrait Lenses.)
This 105mm VR is a bargain. Yes, it's almost $800, but it's a solid hunk of professional precision made mostly of metal. It's much nicer than the 105 macro it replaces. For $800 today, all you usually get are plastic or obsolete-in-their-own-time DX lenses.
This 105mm VR Micro is built as well as the $1,700 70-200mm VR, and except that this 105mm can't zoom, it does exactly what the 70-200mm VR does, but better.
For all-around use as a general-purpose tele, this 105mm is Nikon's best yet.
My biggest concern is that it's very hard to get precise macro framing because the image size changes greatly (breathes) while focusing. You need to use AF-C and move yourself in and out to frame. You can't move yourself and then focus, because the image size changes so much that you can't frame unless you're in focus. This may seem silly, but it's a critical issue for macro use, and a big pain when you focus manually as most macro shooters do. The 70-180mm macro lens is much better for shooting macro all day. Breathing isn't an issue for normal use.
Nikon uses the word "micro" instead of "macro." They mean the same thing. I'll use these words interchangeably.
Nikon 105mm VR Micro. enlarge.
The incompatibilities for older or cheaper film cameras are that:
1.) It won't autofocus with the cheapest new AF film cameras like the N55, but if you focus manually, everything else works great. Even if you lose autofocus, these cameras have in-finder focus confirmation dots to help you.
2.) Late 1980s ~ early 1990s AF cameras like the N90s, N70 and F4 will focus just fine, but you'll lose VR. You'll have Program and Shutter-priority modes, but lose Manual and Aperture-priority since you have no way to set the aperture on the camera or on the lens.
3.) You're really pushing it with the oldest AF cameras like the N2020, N6006 and N8008. You'll have no AF, confused exposure modes, and no VR. Manual focus is fine, along with electronic focus indications.
4.) Since it has no aperture ring, it's just about useless with manual focus film cameras.
See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details with your camera. Read down the "AF-S, AF-I" and "G" and "VR" columns for this lens. You'll get the least of all the features displayed in all columns, since "G" (gelding) is a handicap which removes features.
Nikon's first 105mm f/4 micro was a 5 element, 4 group, fixed-element design. It was a short-mount lens for use on bellows.
The same 105mm f/4 became a traditional helical focus mount lens which focused from infinity down to 1:2.
The 10 element, 9-group 105mm f/2.8 AI-s replaced the 105mm f/4. The f/2.8 speed made it much easier to focus using the split-image rangefinders of manual-focus cameras. This lens used floating elements (the Close Range Correction (CRC) system) to optimize performance at all distances. Nikon still makes this manual focus lens.
This 105mm f/2.8 AF-S VR replaced the earlier mechanically autofocused lens.
Nikon made about 90,000 of the 105mm f/4.
Nikon has made about 90,000 of the 105mm f/2.8 AI-s macro, and still makes them.
Nikon made about 325,000 of the 105mm f/2.8 AF macro.
This AF-S VR 105mm macro is popular: Nikon's made about 120,000 of them so far as of 2008.
At introduction in 2006, the 105 VR sold for $830.
In 2008, the 105mm f/2.8 AF-S VR Micro sold at about about $775.
As of July 2010, it sells for $890.
All these prices are at full NYC discount; local retail is probably higher if you can find a store that carries it.
Specifications with commentary top
Nikon 105mm VR, 2008 sample. enlarge.
Nikon calls this the AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Nano-Crystal Coat.
AF-S and SWM: Silent Wave (focus) Motor.
VR: VR II Vibration Reduction.
Micro-NIKKOR: Nikon macro lens.
G: Gelded for cost-reduction and removing compatibility with older cameras.
IF: Internal Focusing.
ED: ED Glass.
Nano Crystal Coat (N): Nikon's latest anti-reflection coating
14 elements in 12 groups.
One ED element. and one with Nano-Crystal Coat.
Internal focusing: nothing moves outside.
It's got Nikon's SIC Super Integrated multiCoating.
1 foot (0.314m).
6" (154mm) at 1:1.
Maximum Reproduction Ratio
Hard Infinity Focus Stop?
Sort of; only two little tits for f/32.
Infra-Red Focus Index
9 rounded blades.
Stops down to f/32 at infinity, f/57 at 1:1.
The previous 105mm AF Micro has only 7 straight blades.
62 mm, plastic.
Does not rotate.
The older 105mm AF Micro is 52mm and metal.
Nikon specifies 4.5" (116mm) extension from flange by 3.3" (83mm) diameter.
26.515 oz. (751.7g), measured, Japan version, 2008.
Nikon specifies 27.9 oz. (790g), so I suspect it has more plastic in 2008 than when it was originally introduced.
Plastic bayonet hood (HB-38), included.
CL-1020 pouch, included.
2010: A reader shares that his sample is now made in China.
I tried it, and the TC-20E works fine.
It autofocuses just with the TC-20E, so long as you aren't at the wrong end of the focus range and expecting it to bring all the way back.
22 February, 2006.
Nikon Product Number
2010 June: $890, USA.
2008 August: $775, USA.
2006 Frebruary: $830, USA.
Bronze box (USA).
Box, Nikon USA 105mm AF-S VR.
The 105mm VR is a bargain. Performance and construction are stellar, all for under $800.
The only gotcha is that the image size changes significantly as you focus in the macro range, which makes it tough to get precise framing. It's enough to drive me crazy trying to get tight macro composition.
The 70-180mm Micro is far better for this. Not only does the 70-180 zoom, but the image size doesn't change as you focus.
This seems silly, but this is why I'd pass on this 105 VR lens for all-day macro use. It's no problem for normal use, but try one and see if you can frame the way you want as subjects move.
AF is much better than the first samples I tried back in 2006. Those often would hang and not autofocus.
Today (2008) I tried it on the D3, D700, D300, D40, N75, F4, and even a Pronea S APS SLR, it just goes, and it goes fast. It's unlike anything else from Nikon and reminds me of the instant AF I get with the Canon 100mm Macro. On all these cameras, it bangs back and forth and just focuses on objects near and far without a problem.
It's also fast and sure on the N90s and D200, but it will sometimes hang up at the 1:1 end while pointed at distant subjects. Spin the focus ring back to the distant end, or use the Focus Limiter, and these problems go away.
AF with the D70 isn't always as sure. The D70 works great with this 105 VR, but compared to the others, can hang and need coaxing to focus more often than the other cameras.
AF is unusually fast. It's the fastest Nikon macro lens I've used.
AF always seems to be perfect on my D3.
Manual focus is easy. Just grab the ring at any time, a pleasure for use with a macro lens.
The ring turns about 220º from infinity to 1:1.
M/A - M Switch
Nikon goofed. This switch is supposed to be labeled "A - M."
The "M/A" position means autofocus. It's called "M/A" because back in the old days, when Nikon had almost caught up to Canon who had been doing this for ten years before, Nikon was trying to show off that you could focus manually while in the AF position.
Paint over the extra M if you're easily confused.
Thankfully I see none of the problems in 2008 that I saw with AF often hanging up on a D200 back with the first samples in 2006.
Nikon 105 2.8 Macro. enlarge.
Bokeh is much nicer than other Nikon macros. It's nice!
Not directly related to bokeh, but the 9-blade rounded diaphragm is uncanny because it's always round (not nonagonal) at every aperture.
It's weird to see a perfect circle opening and closing as you play with the diaphragm pin.
The color rendition seems the same as my other modern lenses.
The 105mm f/2.8 AF-S VR has no visible distortion.
At some distances there is slight distortion visible only with instruments. For critical use, this can be corrected by plugging these figures into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires hours of photography and calculations on the resulting data.
© 2008 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.
The 105mm VR just works great. It's easy to hold, focus and use. Nothing moves externally except the manual focus ring, and it only moves if you turn it.
Falloff on FX with real pictures is moderate at f/2.8, and invisible by f/4. This is as I'd expect.
I've exaggerated this by shooting a gray field and placing these on a gray background. By f/8, all traces of falloff were gone.
There is no problem with vignetting, even with combinations of thick filters. The 62mm filter is much larger than the front element.
There are no lateral color fringes on the D3, which would correct them if the lens had any.
* Maximum and minimum apertures are two stops smaller with the TC-20E. The Nikon's computer system is limited to f/90, so that's the smallest aperture you can get, regardless of repro ratio with the TC-20E.
Nikon lenses look the same whether they are plastic or metal, so online you probably think this is a plastic lens like most under-$1,500 lenses. Nope, this is mostly solid alloy. Compared to the earlier 105mm AF Micro, it's built like a tank.
These observations are from a 2008 sample from Japan.
Hood and Bayonet Mount
Metal; rubber covered.
Epoxy-sputtered metal alloy.
Yes, just two tits for f/32.
Look like metal.
Embossed and planed metal.
Laser engraved onto bottom rear of metal barrel, near mount.
Ass-Gasket (dust seal at mount)
Noises When Shaken
Mild klunking from all the internal hardware.
2010: Seems like China.
With those caveats, I've never used a sharper 105mm lens than this 105mm f/2.8 AF-S VR.
Like the other 105mm macro lenses, it's sharp everywhere at every distance.
Unlike the superior 200mm f/4 AF, I almost can imagine just the tiniest bit of softening at f/2.8, but to see it I need special test shots and then I need to flick back and forth between these images.
For flat subjects, diffraction limits performance at f/16, it's stronger at f/22, and downright soft at f/32, but that's physics. The softening from diffraction at f/32 is less than the improvement you get to depth-of-field for 3-D subjects, and for most macro work, I shoot at f/32.
To my surprise, the optics of the 105 2.8 VR are so good that they look OK with the TC-20E.
There's just the slightest hint of color fringing on a D3 and it's just a teeny-weeny bit softer wide-open (f/5.6), but it's quite useable.
The funniest thing is how the combo looks. The 105 VR is a fat 3.3" (83mm) diameter chub, and the TC-20E is a skinny 2.6" (65mm) tube. It looks like a chub on a stick!
Nikon says turn off VR on a tripod, but leave it ON on a monopod or with a wiggly tripod head.
Nikon says that your cameras's AF-ON button will AF, but not not fire up VR, so you'll need to be sure to half-tap the shutter long enough before your shot for VR to stabilize.
% Perfectly Sharp Shots at 20 feet (6m)
By "sharp shots" I mean perfect tripod-equivalent sharpness when viewed at 100%, as shot on a D3 by me. For most uses, one can use much slower speeds. See Why VR Matters for more.
Lowest speeds for perfectly sharp shots 50% of the time
"Real Stops" are how many extra stops I get over shooting without VR. "Marketing stops" is improvement over the old-wives' tale of 1/focal length as a lower speed limit.
The VR II system of the 105 VR gives me a solid three-stop improvement, and if you believe the old-wives' tales, I can see how Nikon claims four stops.
In all cases, the VR system works great for shooting distant subjects hand-held. It's not claimed, and I didn't test it, for macro range. I did shoot in my studio at macro, and it didn't change anything shooting under Novatron strobes hand-held.
Hint: VR improves your hit ratio. It doesn't guarantee that every shot will be sharp. I always shoot at least three-shot bursts at slow speeds so I can pick the sharp shot out of several when shooting handheld at really slow speeds.
Nikon's 105mm f/2.8 Micro-NIKKORs keep getting bigger.
All the 105 Micros are very sharp. I'm not going there here. See my 105mm shootout for that, which predates me getting my hands on this VR 105mm.
This VR lens is bigger, fatter, heavier and tougher than any previous 105 Micro, and even bigger and heavier than the 105mm f/1.8 AI-s. This newest 105 Micro as fat around as Nikon's first pro AF-S lenses, which needed all the internal space for the big pro AF-S motors.
The 200mm f/4 AF-D is a tiny bit sharper wide open if you work in a lab, but no different with live 3D subjects.
For shooting normal subjects, this is my favorite 105mm lens. The AF-S and instant manual-focus override make it the ergonomic winner.
I love VR, but for macro I always use flash to stop action and have enough light for small apertures to get depth-of-field.
For when I'm shooting macro for long periods of time and continuously reframing many different objects, I prefer the discontinued 70-180mm Micro.
If I was going to use this as part of a larger pro system, I'd attach a 62->77mm step-up-ring to convert this to today's pro standard of 77mm, and use a 77mm Nikon UV or Hoya UV filter for protection. This is what I really do; I just put on a step-up ring when I get a lens like this and treat it as if it's a 77mm filter thread len as long as I have it.
If you step it up to 77mm, don't forget a new "pinch" type Nikon cap in 77mm.
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