Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 Focus Speed and Performance
In general, macro lenses have such a long focus throw that they focus more slowly than a typical lens. They also tend to have more issues with hunting for focus or getting stuck at the wrong focusing distance. Although the Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 isn’t perfect, it’s the best macro lens I’ve used in this regard.
One small issue is worth noting. If you’ve been taking pictures at landscape or portrait distances, then suddenly want to switch to macro photography, the lens needs a bit of cajoling before the AF system cares to lock onto closer subjects. I find that racking manual focus toward the macro distances is enough, and after that point, the lens has no issue autofocusing for close-up photos.
My only other complaint is that focus-by-wire – the type of focus system on the 105mm f/2.8 S – is a bit tougher for focusing manually. It’s not something that bothers me on most lenses, but macro photography tends to require manual focus more than most genres. In short, I wish this lens had a traditional focusing ring that offered more tactile feedback when adjusting manual focus.
Other than that, all is well. The Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S focuses very quickly and accurately, and it continues to perform well even in low light. Although it’s a bit slower than something like a 70-200mm f/2.8, it’s much faster than a typical macro lens, and you may never notice unless you’re photographing high-speed sports.
The Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 S has very low levels of distortion at just -0.66% barrel distortion. Any distortion under about 1% is invisible in typical photos, even with a straight line like the horizon in the photo.
Unless you photograph a lot of architecture, you won’t notice the distortion on this lens – and probably not even then. I should also point out that a lot of post-processing software automatically corrects this (tiny) distortion by default anyway.
In uncorrected images, the Nikon Z 105mm f/2.8 Macro has relatively low levels of vignetting, especially at close focusing distances. Here’s a full chart of vignetting levels:
Note that there is no “close focus” entry for f/2.8 above, and the second entry is split into f/4.5 and f/4. This is because the Z MC 105mm f/2.8’s maximum aperture narrows to f/4.5 at the minimum focusing distance.
Even the maximum vignetting of 1.6 stops – which you’ll get if you focus at infinity and use f/2.8 – beats most other f/2.8 lenses. Once you’ve stopped down to f/4, the vignetting is very low, and it’s completely negligible after that point.
By comparison, the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G macro lens for the F-mount maxes out at 1.26 stops of vignetting at infinity and 0.47 stops at close focus. But that lens has some of the lowest vignetting of any f/2.8 glass we’ve ever tested. A typical lens will have more than that, like the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8, which maxes out at 2.20 stops.
Here’s a real-world example with no vignetting corrections to show how the Z MC 105mm f/2.8’s vignetting looks in a worst-case scenario:
If you’re an Adobe Lightroom user, keep in mind that Lightroom’s lens profile for the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 directly reads information from your in-camera vignetting reduction setting. If you want your photos from this lens to have full corrections by default, you need to turn the vignetting correction to “High” in-camera. This is true even if you’re shooting .NEF files. It’s not a big deal because you can always add or remove vignetting manually, but I recommend turning the in-camera corrections to “Medium” or “High” to minimize your post-production work.
The Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 Macro has low levels of lateral chromatic aberration no matter the aperture. Here’s the chart:
Anything under about one pixel is almost impossible to notice in real-world images, even with chromatic aberration corrections turned off. By comparison, the previous generation 105mm f/2.8G Macro maxes out at 1.01 pixels of chromatic aberration (which is still good). So, the Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S is a seriously impressive performer here. I can’t see lateral chromatic aberration in any of the photos I took with this lens.
Granted, this performance isn’t unusual for one of Nikon’s high-end S-series lenses. For example, the Z 85mm f/1.8 S maxes out at 0.40 pixels of chromatic aberration. Even the Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S never gets higher than 0.62 pixels when it’s zoomed to 105mm, although it reaches 1.08 pixels at its weakest focal length of 70mm.
What is exciting is that Nikon has also minimized longitudinal chromatic aberration with the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 S. This was a bit of a problem with the previous F-mount version: out-of-focus areas would take on a green or magenta hue in some photos. I hardly see this at all on the Z lens, which is a huge improvement.
The Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 S is one of the sharpest lenses we’ve ever tested, especially in the corners. Here’s how it measures in our lab:
Even at f/2.8, the lens is extremely sharp out to the corners. It improves a bit by f/4, which is arguably the sharpest aperture on the lens. That said, the corners get a hair sharper at f/5.6, so that’s the aperture I would use with this lens for photographing landscapes where everything is at infinity focus. But no matter what aperture you use (aside from f/16 due to diffraction), the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S is a seriously sharp lens.
In terms of other sharpness issues, I don’t detect any focus shift or meaningful levels of field curvature with the Z 105mm f/2.8 S macro lens. It maintains its high level of sharpness at close focusing distances, at full 1:1 magnification, and at infinity. There really isn’t a weak point on this lens in terms of sharpness. Macro and landscape photographers alike will be very happy with this performance.
Bokeh is another word for the qualities of the background blur in a photo. “Good” bokeh is completely subjective, since different photographers have their own preferences for how the background blur should look. That said, photographers commonly want their bokeh to be soft, not distracting. Out-of-focus highlights that are round, uniform, and soft-edged are usually considered favorable.
A 105mm f/2.8 macro lens has the potential to be a great choice for getting smooth backgrounds. After all, the three variables that give you a shallower depth of field are a wide maximum aperture, a long focal length, and a close focusing distance. The Z MC 105mm f/2.8 can do all three! But how does that blur actually look in photos with this lens?
To my eye it’s very good. Out-of-focus specular highlights are round and soft, although there’s a bit of a “cat’s eye” shape near the corners. Here’s an example at the maximum aperture of f/2.8 that I consider very typical of the lens:
And a crop:
Nice and creamy! Actually, this is just about the ideal bokeh to my tastes. I don’t mind the slight cat’s-eye look here, and the result is extremely soft and painterly.
Since this is a macro lens, there are cases where you’ll need to stop down extensively – even to f/16 or f/22 – while still capturing out-of-focus backgrounds. So, I also wanted to check the bokeh at narrower apertures with the lens. Here’s an example at f/8:
And an extreme crop:
The bokeh still looks great to my eye, and it’s surprisingly round for f/8. I have no complaints about this at all, even though the f/2.8 example was obviously softer.
That said, if I push things, I found that I could make the bokeh look a bit worse on this lens. In particular, in photos with extremely bright, out-of-focus specular highlights, you can end up with sharper edges in some parts of the background blur. It’s visible throughout the aperture range but gets a bit more noticeable at narrow apertures. Here it is at the most extreme:
And the crop:
This is as exaggerated as it gets, and you’ll rarely see anything like this in your photos with the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 S. It’s also not terrible. But there’s no doubt that as your specular highlights get brighter and smaller, they’ll start to take on harsher edges as well.
Even so, I’d characterize the lens’s bokeh as far above average. That’s especially true when you consider the extremely minimal amount of color fringing in out-of-focus areas. It’s not a perfect lens for creamy bokeh, but it’s certainly very good.
Flare and Sunstars
Although flare and sunstars are more important with wide-angle lenses, since you’re more likely to have the sun in your wide-angle photos, you’ll be happy to know that the Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S does a great job in both regards. I took several photos with the sun directly in the frame, and this lens never gave more than a small dot of flare.
In terms of sunstars, I can’t say it’s likely that you’ll care too much on a telephoto lens, but I was pretty impressed that I got this sunstar at f/8 when I went looking:
That also doubles as another example of the low flare on this lens. For a telephoto, this is as good as I could hope to see in terms of both flare and sunstar performance.
Spencer: I expected this to be a good lens considering the reputation of the S-line, but it still managed to beat my expectations. The corner performance in particular is outrageous.
Nasim: When you look at Nikon’s reputation for macro lenses, they’re always easily some of the company’s sharpest lenses. Now we see what happens when you combine that with the larger Z mount.
Spencer: Normally, this is where I’d balance things out by mentioning a couple of flaws, but I’m not seeing any here. What do you think? Maybe the 1.6 stops of vignetting?
Nasim: No, even that is pretty low for an f/2.8 lens. This is some of Nikon’s best performing glass no matter where you look, including sharpness, vignetting, distortion, CA, bokeh and so on. Well done to Nikon on this one!
The next page of this review dives into the sharpness numbers a bit more, with some comparisons against other lenses that Nikon users may be considering. So, click the menu below to go to “Lens Comparisons”:
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