Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S vs Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro
It would be a crime to publish this page of the review without a comparison to the previous 105mm f/2.8G! This F-mount lens was widely considered one of the sharpest on the market when it was released. The only issue is that it was released in February of 2006. In the years since then, optical design has marched on.
Before I show you the following charts, I should mention that my copy of the F-mount 105mm f/2.8G is one of my most-used lenses and has literally travelled the world with me. There’s a chance that I’ve bumped it around enough to diminish the sharpness slightly over time. That’s my disclaimer behind the following charts, where the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 S absolutely smokes its predecessor:
At every aperture and everywhere in the frame, the Z lens is sharper than the F lens. The biggest differences are at f/2.8 and f/4, although even at the narrower apertures, the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 is clearly ahead.
That said, the biggest issue for macro photography is not lens sharpness, but depth of field. I’m often at f/22 for extreme macro photos, where the differences between any two lenses tends to be very small. Considering the F-mount 105mm f/2.8G’s performance in other areas – bokeh, distortion, vignetting, and chromatic aberration – it’s still a great lens overall. Even though it’s not as sharp, I intend to keep my copy and save some money.
Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S vs Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S
What if you’re not just a macro photographer, and you’re considering the Z MC 105mm lens for other reasons? Maybe you’re a portrait photographer or even a landscape photographer wondering if it can perform double duty. In that case, you might be considering the Z 85mm f/1.8 S as an alternative, since it’s a relatively similar focal length, yet the 85mm is a brighter, lighter, and less expensive lens.
Here’s how the two compare in terms of sharpness:
Make sure that you compare the same apertures against each other in the charts above! Otherwise, the 85mm lens will look like it’s at a disadvantage because of the f/1.8 maximum aperture.
In short, at a given aperture, the Z 85mm f/1.8 S is sharper in the center by a small amount. Meanwhile, the midframes are pretty comparable overall, and the corners are a slight advantage to the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 (especially at f/2.8). If you want to declare one of the lenses sharper than the other, it really depends on how much you value center vs corner sharpness, and what aperture you’re using.
That said, I don’t think that any of these differences are enough to be relevant to real-world photos, and I recommend choosing between these lenses on other considerations instead. If f/1.8 would be useful for your work, obviously go with the 85mm f/1.8. Same if the somewhat lower price and weight sway you in that direction. Otherwise, I’d pick the 105mm f/2.8 for the extra versatility that its macro capabilities offer.
Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S vs Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S
This one isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but maybe you’re wondering how the Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S compares to one of the best zooms on the market today, the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S. Could the macro lens be a replacement for the zoom? Well, no, not if you care about the 200mm focal length. But just considering 105mm, it’s a pretty interesting comparison:
Somehow, despite being a zoom lens, the Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S manages very similar performance to the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 S – in fact, arguably a hair better. The zoom lens is a bit better in the center and midframe throughout the aperture range, whereas the macro lens wins in the corners at f/2.8. At the rest of the apertures, the corners are much closer or even in favor of the zoom.
Both lenses are so sharp that the specifics don’t matter too much, but to my surprise, the Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S gets the slight nod.
Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S vs Other Macro Lenses
Would I ever recommend a different macro lens as a Nikon Z shooter? Yes, under the right circumstances. But you’d need to have some pretty specific needs.
I’ve had the opportunity to try almost all of the macro lenses from 90mm to 105mm from various manufacturers. The Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S is better optically than all of them. The next best alternative is the Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2× Ultra Macro, which is shockingly sharp considering that Laowa has some serious duds in their lineup like the 12mm f/2.8.
Considering that the Laowa lens goes to 2x magnification, I would definitely consider it as a macro photographer even though it’s an all-manual lens. The 1:1 magnification of the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 isn’t limiting for most subjects, but if you like photographing the smallest of bugs, you’ll want more magnification than that.
I would also consider the Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8 if you’re more of a casual macro photographer and don’t see yourself shooting at 1:1 magnification all the time. It’s a much lighter and less expensive lens than the Z MC 105mm f/2.8.
Some photographers reading this will wonder why I’ve left out the Nikon 200mm f/4D so far – probably Nikon’s most famous macro lens of all time. The 200mm focal length lets you stand much further back from your subject, which is a big help for macro photography. It’s also an exceptionally sharp lens. However, it cannot autofocus on Nikon Z cameras with the FTZ adapter. It’s also expensive. Here’s hoping that Nikon makes a dedicated macro lens for the Z system that’s longer than 105mm some day!
Spencer: I was a bit surprised that the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S matched the macro lens’s sharpness or actually beat it slightly. But even so, this is one of Nikon’s highest-resolving lenses ever, especially in the corners.
Nasim: That goes without saying once you look at the performance of the older generation 105mm f/2.8G by comparison. Back in the day, that was known as a seriously sharp lens and one of the best that Nikon offered. We’ve come a long way in less than 20 years.
Spencer: So, could the new 105mm f/2.8 credibly fill the telephoto gap for Nikon Z shooters? I’m guessing that you don’t just see this as a specialty macro lens?
Nasim: Of course it could, but I don’t see the point of this lens unless you also intend to use the macro features. Otherwise, why not just get the Z 85mm f/1.8 S? What Nikon really needs, is to update the 70-180mm f/4.5-5.6 macro lens from the AF-D era. If Nikon can make a lighter and sharper version of that lens for mirrorless, it would have a lot of appeal as a general purpose telephoto.
Spencer: Well, there is a mystery 70-180mm on Nikon’s roadmap. Not that it’s likely – I’m just saying.
Nasim: Don’t give them hope! Unless the sky is falling, you and I both know that it’s going to be a rebranded Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8.
The next page of this review sums up everything and explains the pros and cons of the Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 S. So, click the menu below to go to “Verdict”:
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