The Nikon AF-S VR 105mm f/2.8G ED Macro has good focusing performance overall, but it’s not perfect. In my experience, when I try to focus on a subject in the distance, it occasionally gets “stuck” at a close focusing distance and refuses to move to the more distant area. Turning on the limiter switch helps, but even then, I’ve had the issue pop up from time to time. In such cases, you can “unstick” the lens by manually focusing further in the distance before engaging autofocus again.
The long focus throw that I praised so much on the previous page also works against the lens a bit when using autofocus. It simply has more ground to cover; focus isn’t as fast as on some lenses like the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E that are designed for quick autofocus. Accuracy isn’t lacking, and it’s hardly slow, but sports photographers should consider looking elsewhere. I’ve found it fast enough for some wildlife shots, but it’s still not the ideal tool for that job.
At macro distances, lenses aren’t known for good autofocus performance, but I find that the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro holds up well. I use autofocus consistently down to at least 1:4 magnification (good for dragonflies, lizards, and “environmental” photos where a small bug is surrounded by a lot of negative space). I’m willing to use autofocus at 1:3 and 1:2 most of the time, and I don’t find the speed or accuracy lacking. At 1:1, though, I prefer to focus manually by gently moving the camera forward and backward and taking the photo when my subject looks critically sharp in the viewfinder.
I don’t notice any distortion in images from the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro in real-world images. My lab tests say that it has approximately 0.44% barrel distortion, which is completely negligible.
The Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro has a bit of vignetting wide open, but it shrinks into insignificance as you focus closer or use a narrower aperture. Here are the full lab results:
Note that the graph does not include f/2.8 results at close focus, because the lens’s largest aperture at 1:1 magnification is f/4.8.
I’ve never found this lens’s vignetting objectionable in practice, but especially against a gray field, you can see that it’s not always invisible. Both of these shots are taken at the widest aperture setting available, which is f/2.8 at infinity and f/4.8 at 1:1 magnification:
This does exaggerate the vignetting, though, unless you’re fond of shooting out-of-focus patches of overcast sky and then printing it against a gray board.
The Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro is neither the sharpest nor the dullest macro lens on the market. Considering its age, it holds up well, although photographers looking to take advantage of 45+ megapixel sensors will probably prefer something made in the last decade. Here’s what I measured in the lab at non-macro distances, using our usual Imatest chart:
This is a solid performance but nothing spectacular, unless you consider that this lens came out in 2006 and my copy has been heavily used over the years.
To see what these results mean in practice, here are some good old fashioned test chart images to show the lens’s sharpness at different aperture settings. I’ll start with 100% crops from the center of a chart at non-macro distances, taken on Nikon’s 45-megapixel Z7. Click each image to see full size:
The lens performs well in the samples above, with minimal loss of sharpness in the images even at f/2.8. To my eye, the sharpest samples above are at f/4 and f/5.6, which matches the lab tests. The lens then gradually loses sharpness due to diffraction, and by f/16, it’s not very sharp any more.
Next are similar crops from the corner of the lens. These are also taken at a non-macro focusing distance:
Naturally, these are weaker than the results from the center. They’re not so blurry as to concern me, but you’ll probably want to stop down to f/8 if you want to maximize sharpness for something like landscape photography. (Or stop down further to f/16 if you need more depth of field, which frankly is a bigger problem than lens sharpness in most landscape photos.)
I also tested the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro on a miniature test chart made for macro photography, where I focused at about 1:2 magnification. Here are the results, starting with crops from the center:
These all look pretty similar to me, frankly. The shots at the maximum aperture (f/4 because of the close focus distance) and f/16 are a bit less sharp than the others, but everything looks fine.
Note that it’s tricky to compare these crops directly against the photos shot at a distance, since these are two different test charts. However, the images at a distance do look sharper to my eye.
Lastly, here is the lens’s corner sharpness performance at close focus distances:
This is the blurriest so far, but it’s still not terrible. More to the point, there aren’t many real-world situations where you’ll be at 1:2 magnification and need pin-sharp corners in your images. Film copying is one possibility, and perhaps hobbyists who photograph flat objects like coins or stamps will need such performance. But if you photograph typical macro subjects like flowers and bugs, a lens’s corner sharpness is irrelevant 99% of the time.
I know these sharpness tests can be tricky to parse without side-by-side comparisons, so I’m including some on the following page of this review, “Lens Comparisons.” But my takeaway is – although the 105mm f/2.8G Macro is extremely sharp for a lens from 2006 – macro lenses in recent years have set higher standards of sharpness. However, this lens is sharp where it needs to be. The center is sharp at all distances and apertures, while the corners are sharp at narrower apertures at a distance. Most photographers will find that more than suitable for real-world needs.
To me, the biggest optical issue with the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro is that it has significant levels of longitudinal chromatic aberration – in other words, purple and green color fringing in out-of-focus areas of the image.
This image shows it with reasonable clarity. Note that the tip at the close end has a purple halo around it, while the region behind the focus area has a similar halo of green:
It may be clearer in these 100% crops (click to see full size):
This is fairly pronounced and is higher than the average macro lens. Color fringing in out-of-focus areas can also be tricky to correct in post-production without adding unwanted, low-saturation artifacts elsewhere in your shot.
The good news is that I deliberately captured the image above in order to exaggerate the effect. In many cases – especially if your out-of-focus areas are colorful instead of gray – you won’t see any color fringing at all. It’s only harmed a handful of my real-world images across the last ten years. But the fact remains that it’s stronger than on most other macro lenses out there.
As for the other common type of chromatic aberration, lateral CA, I find none to be visible on this lens in real-world use, and the small bit detectable in a lab setting is easily removed in post-processing without leaving any artifacts behind.
Bokeh, the quality of out-of-focus regions in an image, is lovely with this lens. The Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro has smooth bokeh and minimal distracting patterns. It complements macro subjects nicely, even when you’ve stopped down the lens to narrow apertures like f/16. You may notice a slight ring around out-of-focus highlights in some images, but it’s well-controlled and not as strong as on most other macro lenses.
I don’t claim that this lens’s bokeh is quite at the level of an 85mm f/1.4 or similar, but it’s still excellent. As such, I think photographers who want a dual-purpose lens for macro photography and portraiture should give the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G serious consideration.
Sunstars and Flare
Although it’s not as common to point a telephoto lens like this at the sun compared to a wide-angle, you may still have bright sources of light in your images from time to time. When that source of light is sufficiently bright, like the sun, the lens performs just as badly as a typical telephoto:
However, if the source of light is a bit dimmer, the 105mm f/2.8G performs well and maintains a high level of contrast. For instance, in the photo below, the bright light behind these damselflies is actually a reflection of the sun on a nearby pond, which the lens handles without issue.
That’s as much as we can ask of a telephoto lens. I have no complaints in this department.
Under the right conditions, this lens can produce some nice sunstar effects, but it’s going to be much harder to capture them compared to a wide-angle. For the image below, I had to stop down to a whopping f/25 to get a decent sunstar effect:
None of this is out of the ordinary for a telephoto lens, and I’d even say the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G is a bit better than average in these areas.
The next page of this review dives into the sharpness tests a bit more, as well as comparing the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G against other macro lenses you may be considering. Click the menu below to go to “Lens Comparisons.”
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