Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 G II ED VR N : Review


Introduction

The 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lenses have long been a first choice for social events and fashion photographers. The combination of versatile focal lengths, fast aperture, good target isolation, very fast autofocusing and high build quality, are qualities that few lenses can afford to have and absolutely needed for the professional who cannot go through the risk of getting less than acceptable results.
In this review I will describe my own experience, as a pure amateur, with the wonderful Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 G II ED VR, also known as “VR II” (which incidentally has Nikon’s Vibration Reduction implementation version II). Having previously reviewed the also professional level Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 G ED lens of the “holy trinity” of zoom lenses from the current Nikon lineup, I can say that the 70-200mm feels even more rugged, perhaps due to having thicker metal in its construction, and the number of optical elements inside contribute to a lot of weight, 1540 g. By the way, I’ll be reviewing it with the D700 full-frame DSLR, which even if it’s a big camera with a nice round grip, it still benefits a lot with the addition of the battery grip for better balance with the lens for long periods of time. Now here’s how the D700 combines with the 70-200mm, without the battery grip:

This was a very welcome addition to Nikon’s lineup, especially in the forum communities, since the previous version of the 70-200mm was known for producing high amounts of vignetting and lack of sharpness in the corners, especially at the long end. When this lens was released, the alternatives on the market were the Sigma AF 70-200mm f/2.8 DG EX HSM II and the Tamron SP AF 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD Macro. These lenses were good, had their own strengths but had a lot of weaknesses too, but of course they cost much less than the Nikkor. The Sigma was a fast focusing lens but had problems with chromatic aberrations and obvious lack of sharpness at the long end; the Tamron was the opposite, having great optical qualities but a very weak AF motor which was far from great for action, although it was known to be great for portraiture and could do very good closeups. But the best option was to opt for a used “VR I”, or even Nikon’s old AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8 D. Nowadays, the third-party makers put a lot of effort in their designs and the Sigma released a new version with OS (Optical Stabilization) and many improvements that contribute to better results, especially at the long end; Tamron, on another hand, produced an excellent lens with VC (Vibration Compensation) and USD (Ultra-Sonic Drive) motor. Both lenses finally seem to be good alternatives to the Nikkor.
The Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 G II ED VR is a complex design with no less than 7 ED elements to correct optical aberrations, and 1 Nano Crystal Coat to deal with flare and ghosting. The lens front element doesn’t rotate while focusing, so using a polarizer filter is not a problem. Typical for these kind of lenses, zooming is internal and therefore the length of the lens remains constant through the entire range. As said before, this lens introduces Vibration Reduction version II which is 4-stop effective, according to Nikon. The VR has two working modes – Normal and Active – Normal mode is best for static subjects and compensates for small low frequency movements, and Active mode is best for action where the lens tries to correct high frequency shakings in addition.
At about 1899€ today, this is a very expensive lens and still everybody have been raving about it. We’ll try to find out why.


Technical Specifications

Focal length 70 – 200mm
Maximum aperture f/2.8
Minimum aperture f/22
Field of vision 34 – 12 degrees (on FX)
Weight 1540 g
Dimensions 206 x 87mm
Optical construction 21 elements in 16 groups (7 ED elements, 1 Nano Crystal Coat element)
Aperture blades 9
Filter diameter 77mm
Minimal focus distance 140cm (104cm from the front element)
Hood HB-48, petal-shaped
Mount Nikon F


Mechanical Characteristics

Zoom ring Metal with rubber finish
Focus ring Metal with rubber finish, no infinity stop
Focus throw ? degrees
Focus motor Silent Wave Motor, allows full-time manual focus override
Optical stabilizer Vibration Reduction (version II), up to 4 stops capability
Front element rotation while zooming No
Front element rotation while focusing No
Internal focusing Yes
Lens extension while focusing No
Lens extension while zooming No


Handling

The Nikkor is a chunky piece of metal and it’s front-heavy with the D700, which is a heavy camera by itself, but balance can be restored by adding a battery grip, and shooting with this lens result in being very pleasant that way – I got only a bit of back pain after shooting and carrying the combo for about 8 hours at the races (the longest I shot with it so far). The zoom ring is thin and lightweight, isn’t damped and feels like rubbing metal against metal, but turns around very fast which is excellent for action photography where framing and getting the shot at the right moment is crucial. The focus ring feels a little heavier but allows for quick adjustments on-the-fly, since the lens supports manual focus override after auto-focusing. Speaking about focusing, the lens employs two different modes which are selectable via a switch on the side of the lens barrel – A/M and M/A. These namings may sound weird at first, and still sound strange after – A/M is a new mode that takes longer to recognize that the lens entered manual focus override mode (it takes a little more focus ring turning around by the user), which is useful for protection from accidental hits on the focus ring; M/A, in its turn, is the conventional auto-focus mode with manual override (it instantly enters manual mode at the slightest hit on the focus ring). The lens has a focus limiter for 5 meters which is nice to have when shooting outdoors for even faster AF. Speaking about speed, this lens is even faster focusing than the Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 G ED, especially indoors in low light, and is also the most accurate of all lenses I have used until today. As long there exist the slightest contrast to grab on, the lens nails it, and low light AF performance is really impressive. According to other tests, this is probably the most eye-catching characteristic compared to the other current third-party offers. Another eye-catching characteristic, but on the negative side, is the well known focus “breathing” when shooting close distance objects, which result in less-than-expected magnification. This can be disappointing, for instance, to the wedding photographer who needs to take that close shot of the wedding rings and other small details. Personally I prefer to use a macro lens for that kind of work, since probably the magnification without the “breathing” issue would not be acceptable anyway.
The lens includes a non-removable collar and a removable tripod foot adaptor. The collar can be turned around with ease after loosening the knob, and the tripod foot can be removed also from loosening its knob and sliding it out. The tripod foot is all metal and doesn’t flex. The Nikkor has a short petal-shaped hood which protects the lens but not so much from the Sun rays and should be more effective.


Resolution

For the resolution test I shot the 5 Euro bill in the studio. Focus was achieved using Live View to avoid auto-focus imprecisions and to compensate for an hypothetical field curvature. They are followed by a long distance test shot of a target placed at around 100 meters.
The first column shows a crop of the image center, the corner crop is on the second column and the third column shows a crop of the extreme corner. Each row represents an aperture setting, from maximum to f/22 in full stops. Here are the results:


70mm

At 70mm the center resolution is already excellent right from f/2.8 and only deteriorates at f/16 due to diffraction, and the DX corner resolution follows the same behavior. The FX corners are much less sharp at f/2.8 but reach very good levels already at f/4, and by f/5.6 they reach excellent levels.

At long distances, the results are much better and reach already excellent levels at f/2.8 in the FX corners. Stopping down does nothing to improve resolution and only clears the vignetting.
The lens is excellent at 70mm, especially at medium to long distance shots where every bit of the images reach impressive resolution levels.


105mm

Just like at 70mm, by 105mm the resolution at the center and DX corners is excellent already wide-open and only drops a little at f/16. But now the FX corners are already very good wide-open at reach excellent figures by f/4.

There’s really nothing to say here in this test. The lens performs brilliantly at 105mm like in the previous test.
This is probably the lens sweetest spot, but let’s see what happens at 200mm below.


200mm

Surprisingly, where this is typically the weakest spot of all 70-200mm lenses, here at 200mm and on the short distance test the FX corner sharpness is even closer to the center level than on the previous test, and reach top quality levels. The FX corner is only a hair less sharp and is affected by some vignetting, but nonetheless this is an impressive performance. The resolution figures only lose a bit of “bite” by f/22.

The results from the long distance test reflect those at short distance – the FX corner is only marginally less sharp at f/2.8 and there’s some vignetting as well.

I didn’t expect this level of performance from a 70-200mm f/2.8. Usually the FX corners lack a bit of sharpness, have vignetting, and have a weak spot at 200mm where normally only the center portion of the frame is on a good level. This is not a problem most of the time because the subjects tend to be centered in the frame. But the Nikkor performs so well that it is now clear why it’s often compared with primes by users in forum communities. I may go a step further and say that few primes perform as good as this zoom lens, unless you’re comparing it to a 1899€ prime lens (but you’d lose the versatility of the zoom).


Distortion

For the distortion test I shot a brick wall, again:


70mm


105mm


200mm

The lens produces a bit of barrel distortion at 70mm which is negligible in real-world photos, and changes to pincushion at 105mm but also on a small amount and hardly visible. At 200mm the pincushion distortion level increases but now by much.


Vignetting

In this test I shot a white wall at home using tungsten white balance and setting exposure manually.


70mm

At 70mm, vignetting is very strong wide-open and much less so at f/4, before disappearing at f/5.6.


105mm

At 105mm, vignetting is strong at f/2.8 and decreases a lot at f/4. At f/5.6 it’s non existent.


200mm

At 200mm, vignetting reaches the weakest spot and is at a very strong level by f/2.8 which darkens the entire frame. At f/4 it’s still very strong but affects only the corners, and by f/5.6 it decreases a lot and practically disappears at f/8.


Chromatic aberrations

For this test I shot a car roof from above, on a very sunny day early in the afternoon.


70mm


200mm

The Nikkor employs no less than 7 ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements to reduce chromatic aberrations and the lens performs remarkably in this department. Aberrations are negligible at all apertures on every tests I did, including the always challenging shot of foliage against the sun. This is an excellent performance for any fast zoom lens.


Coma

Coma is an important requirement in astrophotography and usually affects the corners of most lenses. Lenses that are affected by coma produce comas (hence the name) instead of bright light points in dark backgrounds. One way to test coma is using a LED source of light at home in a dark room.
I put the light source at the center (first column), corner and extreme corner of the frame (second and third columns, respectively), at maximum aperture and stopped down.


70mm


200mm

Like most telephoto zooms, the Nikkor isn’t much affected by coma and the only distortions visible are in the halos around the center, where they stretch the more the points are closed to the borders, but the points themselves remain perfectly circular. Curiously, those halos seem to stretch a little more at f/4 than at f/2.8 on the FX corner.


Flare

In this test I shot the top of a small building against the sun, to see if I could get any flare vestiges. I started shooting directly against the sun, then placed the sun at the corner and finally made a shot with the sun just outside the frame.

Shot directly against the sun.
Shot with the sun placed at one corner of the frame.
Shot with the sun just outside the frame.

Typical for any telephoto zoom lens, the Nikkor is affected by flare in every situation with the sun nearby. Despite having one Nano Crystal Coat element to reduce flare and ghosting, flare affects negatively the images when the sun is at the center of the frame, reducing the overall contrast. When the sun is at one corner, the multiple internal reflections of the sun rays are clearly visible towards the opposite corner, and the overall contrast of the image is still affected badly. Finally, when the sun is just outside the frame, the overall contrast returns to normal levels but there’s still few internal reflections visible in photos.
Notice that this test was made without the supplied hood, but even with the hood there’s still few reflections visible in pictures but the overall contrast certainly benefits with its use. Perhaps performance with the hood on could be better if it were a bit longer, just like the one of the “VR I” version lens.


Bokeh

Thanks to the 9 aperture blades, we can expect circular out of focus highlights from this lens. I took a defocused picture at the widest aperture of the city lights and got crops of the center, corner and extreme corners. The test was repeated for the subsequent two stops.


70mm


200mm

Bokeh from this lens is perfectly circular at the center and suffers from the cats eye distortion in the extreme corners, and the out of focus highlights are a bit nervous on the inside at 70mm but get perfectly smooth at 200mm, at f/2.8. By f/4, we start to see some polygonization which is more visible at 200mm, but still the edges aren’t accentuated and produce smooth transitions and backgrounds that are soft and not distracting at the longest focal length. This characteristic doesn’t change much at f/5.6.
All in all, the lens has superb bokeh characteristics (for a zoom lens) which are surely amongst the best in class.


Macro/Close-up

The Nikkor was capable to focus as close as 140 centimeters from the sensor plane, or 104 centimeters from the front element. I shot an 1 Euro coin and this is what to expect at the minimum focus distance:


70mm


200mm

This shows clearly that the lens maximum magnification is too small for closeup work, due to the well known issue of focus “breathing” in this very lens.


Image stabilization

This lens introduced Nikon’s new version of VR (Vibration Reduction), which is advertised as giving an advantage of 4 stops. This means that at 200mm, one can shoot at speeds as slow as 1/13 seconds.
To test it, I shot the back of a street lamp from my window. The first column shows crops of the subject shot with VR off, and the second column shows them with VR on for comparison. Here are the results at 200mm starting at 1/200 s:

The results shows clearly that the VR II works as advertised and better, resulting in sharp images at 1/13 seconds with ease, and adding a battery grip I managed to shoot sharp pictures at 1/6 seconds, benefiting with the improved balance, though the percentage of keepers suddenly decreased. Of course, one has to build some technique to hold the camera and lens steady, so that the benefits of this technology can be applied. The image taken at 1/6 s is softer but that’s the result of shooting at f/20 which is greatly affected with diffraction. Surely VR version II works as advertised, and this versatility is amazing as long as your subject remains perfectly static.


Summary

Build quality 10 Built like a tank with tight precision
Handling 10 It’s obviously heavy but has perfect ring placement, and AF is extremely fast and accurate in every situation even in sports and very low light, catching the least amount of contrast to lock on
Resolution 9 Almost perfect, the only drawback is not so good FX corners wide-open at 70mm
Distortion 9 Very small amounts of barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushion thereafter, but not noticeable in most pictures
Vignetting 8 Very strong at widest apertures especially at 200mm
Chromatic aberrations 10 Never encountered issues, even on most challenging situations
Coma 9 Halos can be found on FX corners but they don’t affect negatively applications like astrophotography
Flare 3 Very weak resistance against flare and ghosting, the supplied hood isn’t very effective and should be longer
Bokeh 8 Very smooth at widest apertures, but gets polygonal early by stopping down
Overall 84% A fantastic lens and a truly reliable workhorse that delivers beautiful results, and the only disappointing features are weak flare resistance and the focus breathing issue


Samples

Here are some samples of pictures I made with this lens. Settings: simple RAW convertion with Nikon View NX2 at default settings (unless noticed), picture control set in-camera to Landscape mode, no post-processing applied except reducing to 600 pixel width.

125mm, f/4.0, 1/1600s, ISO 200
170mm, f/4.0, 1/2500s, ISO 200
155mm, f/4.0, 1/1250s, ISO 200
150mm, f/3.5, 1/2500s, ISO 200, out of camera JPEG
165mm, f/2.8, 1/4000s, ISO 200, out of camera JPEG
70mm, f/2.8, 1/640s, ISO 200, out of camera JPEG

Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro : Review


Introduction

The Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro is a highly popular lens amongst amateur photographers looking forward to take themselves into the realm of macro photography. I will be showing you the results of my own tests on a Nikon D700 full-frame DSLR. This lens belongs to the SP (Super Performance) line of lenses made from Tamron, that generally have been delivering very good performance and (especially) great value for money. This lens has been replaced recently by the VC USD version which adds Vibration Compensation optical stabilization system and a silent and fast Ultra-Sonic Drive motor with the purpose of being compatible with the newest entry-level Nikon DSLRs.
Here’s how it looks with the D700:

Announced in 2004, this particular iteration (model 272E) was optimized for digital sensors, hence the Di (Digitally Integrated) designation, and received a few cosmetical changes. Internally, this lens has 12 elements in 9 groups, none of them being of any special kind, and has 9 straight aperture blades. It doesn’t have an AF motor, so it will not focus automatically on the newest entry-level DSLRs. Speaking about focus, selecting between auto and manual is done through a push-pull clutch mechanism, which isn’t exactly friendly on the field, but mainly when it doesn’t auto-focus on the exact point at first shot and one needs to override it slightly. But when doing macro photography, most of the time it’s better to use manual focus anyway, and although the focus ring isn’t damped by any means, it is easy to turn the focus ring around since the mass of the moving elements is low. The lens is very light and compact, and with a filter thread of 55mm and weighing only about 400g, it makes a very portable lens to carry around, either on the field doing macro or on the streets shooting candids unconspicuously.
The lens is mostly plastic on the outside and has a metal mount. There’s also a rotating switch on the side that limits the minimum or maximum auto-focusing distance, depending on the current focusing point – it can either limit AF between 0.44m and infinity, or between 0.29m and 0.42m, which is nice to have to speed up the AF time. The front element doesn’t rotate while focusing, but the lens extends a lot between infinity and 0.29m, which is a bad disadvantage when shooting small insects from very close distances. In this matter the Micro-Nikkor AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G ED VR, which I also reviewed, is priceless. Like most lenses made for Nikkor until 2004, the Tamron has an aperture ring and allows to lock it at f/32 for AF, otherwise the camera would show an fEE error on the display.
Today, the Tamron can only be found on the used market, and at a price of about 250€ it’s a tremendous value for money for seriously starting getting into macro photography.


Technical Specifications

Focal length 90mm
Maximum aperture f/2.8 (far distance) – f/5.6 (nearest)
Minimum aperture f/32 (far distance) – f/64 (nearest)
Field of view 27 degrees (on FX)
Weight 405g
Dimensions 97 x 72mm (148 x 72mm, extended)
Optical construction 12 elements in 9 groups
Aperture blades 9, straight
Filter diameter 55mm
Minimum focus distance 432mm (270mm from the front element, focus limiter on), 290mm (95mm from the front element, focus limiter off)
Hood 2C9FH, round
Mount Nikon F


Mechanical Characteristics

Zoom ring n/a
Focus ring Plastic and metal with rubber finish, no infinity stop
Focus throw 260 degrees (focus limiter off)
Focus motor No
Optical stabilizer No
Front element rotation while zooming n/a
Front element rotation while focusing No
Internal focusing No
Lens extension while focusing Yes, up to 51mm
Lens extension while zooming n/a
Maximum magnification 1:1


Handling

With the D700, the Tamron is very lightweight and it’s easy to hold while doing street photography or portrait work. The lens is not a beauty by any means, and feels kind of cheap in use mainly due to the almost all-plastic build and the odd focus clutch mechanism. The front element is deeply recessed from the front of the lens, about 20mm, which makes it hard to reach for cleaning, and also because of this I never used the lens hood.
In macro photography and manually focusing, the lens provides a focus ring with a long throw for careful focusing, which is always nice to have, but the lens extension is so long that it can be very cumbersome when shooting insects from very close distances. This aspect of the lens is what makes it feel so cheap in use and separates it completely from the likes of the Micro-Nikkor AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G ED VR. On the other hand, there are differences concering autofocus as well: although the Tamron can’t be said to be slow focusing, it hunts a lot in low light and even under good light if the contrast is a little low. Switching the AF limit on can speed up the back-and-forth hunt but not by as much as one could expect. Another issue with the Tamron is the permanent out of focus when trying to focusing on targets at similar distances, but only at medium to high distance targets. This problem arises when I use the lens to shoot portraits or street photography at maximum aperture, whenever I do a sequence of shots on the same target, and the result is: the first shot generally is in focus, but all the next shots will be out of focus, and the only way to work around this is to stop down to f/4 at least. Mind you that the problem exists only at maximum aperture, so I’m not sure if it’s only with my copy or a known issue with this lens. Because of these observations, and not surprisingly, the Micro-Nikkor trumps the Tamron in the AF department in every way possible. It’s simply in another class of its own, as the price suggests.
In summary, handling this lens is not really very pleasant, and unfortunately it may be not the ideal tool for some areas of macro photography either.


Resolution

For the resolution test I shot the 5 Euro bill as usual. Focus was achieved using Live View to avoid auto-focus imprecisions and to compensate for possible field curvature issues.
The first column shows a crop of the image center, the DX corner crop is on the second column and the third column shows a crop of the FX extreme corner. Each row represents an aperture setting, from maximum to f/22 in full stops. I opted to show crops only until f/22, since closing the aperture even more results in more and more diffraction. Also, the target was at a such distance from the camera that the maximum effective aperture was f/3.0 instead of f/2.8 – the camera always reports the effective aperture. Here are the results:

It shows the incredible amount of detail that the lens is capable to deliver in short distance department, right from the maximum aperture from corner to corner. It appears to be even a hair sharper than the 105mm VR in the FX corner, which loses a bit of “bite” there at maximum aperture.
The Tamron is a winner here, and for the price it’s fantastic! But what about long distance targets? Let’s see below:

There’s a loss of sharpness at f/2.8 in the FX corner, just like happened with the 105mm VR, and there’s also some vignetting affecting the exposure. At f/4 the problem is solved.
This indicates that the Tamron could be a superb lens for every kind of shooting, and I can only fault it when it misses focus wide open when using AF.


Distortion

I tested distortion with the usual brick wall shot:

Distortion is extremely low but has a wavy characteristic that it’s a little hard to describe and depict here in this image, but it’s virtually never a problem in the field and barely visible even in this kind of targets.


Vignetting

In this test, I shot a white wall at home using tungsten white balance and set exposure manually:

There’s a lot of vignetting at the widest aperture that affects the entire picture, but decreases substantially by stopping down. At f/5.6 it’s completely gone.


Chromatic aberrations

For this test I shot a car from above on a bright sunny day early in the afternoon:

This lens is Di (Digitally Integrated) which means it should take care of chromatic aberrations better than its antecessors, but although this test doesn’t show any vestiges, I know from experience that it shows a some wide open especially in metal surfaces under bright light. But at f/4 they’re completely gone.


Coma

Coma was tested using a LED source, at home in a dark room. I put the light source at the center (first column), corner and extreme corner of the frame (second and third columns, respectively), at maximum aperture and stopped down.

Coma is visible at full aperture already in the DX corner in these type of test shots, but it’s rarely seen in practice. The points of light are always pretty much circular everywhere and only the small less bright areas around the center are kind of oval, but hardly distracting. By f/4 the “problem” is not visible anymore. All in all, it’s a more than good performance here.


Flare

I shot some foliage in my garden against the sun, to see if I could see any flare vestiges. I shot directly against the sun, then placed the sun at one corner and finally made some shots with the sun just outside the frame.

Shot directly against the sun.
Shot with the sun placed at one corner of the frame.
Shot with the sun just outside the frame.

The lack of special elements in the design of the lens also shows here in this test. Shooting against the sun doesn’t result in a real loss of contrast, but the problem is the high amount of internal reflections when the sun is placed in the corner of the frame or just outside. Of course, macro photography and sun in the frame usually don’t go together, but it’s a real problem when shooting landscapes of any things other than macro with the sun there or nearby. It’s also susceptive to flare at night with street lamps, so watch out.


Bokeh

The lens has 9 straight aperture blades, and therefore it’s expected to see circular out of focus highlights at maximum aperture and polygonal shapes when stopping down. I took a defocused picture at the widest aperture of the city lights and got crops of the center, corner and extreme corners. The test was repeated for the subsequent two stops. Due to the focus distance I selected for this test, the maximum effective aperture was reduced to f/3.5.

As expected, bokeh at the widest aperture is generally pleasant but not as creamy as with the 105mm VR because of the visible edges. This is especially noticeable when shooting against foliage and the sun, where the multiple out of focus highlights and their edges can be a little distracting. At f/4 the difference is the begin of the polygonalization of the highlights, which are clearly seen at f/5.6.
Of course, overall it’s still pretty good.


Macro/Close-up

With the focus limiter switched on, the Nikkor was capable to focus as close as 43.2 centimeters from the sensor plane, or 27 centimeters from the front element. When the focus limiter is switched off, the focus distance drops down to 29 centimeters from the sensor plane or 9.5 centimeters from the front element, to a maximum magnification ratio of a real 1:1.
I shot an 1 Euro coin and this is what to expect at the minimum focus distance:


Focus limiter on


Focus limiter off


Summary

Build quality 6 Almost entirely plastic but the build is tight
Handling 4 Lens extension while close focusing and clutch mechanism may bother some, repetitive misfocus wide open is bad
Resolution 10 Superb sharpness across the frame at all apertures, it hardly gets better than this
Distortion 10 Absent in all practical shooting
Vignetting 9 Very strong at full aperture, but improves a lot by stopping down
Chromatic aberrations 8 Easily seen in metal surfaces in bright light at maximum aperture
Coma 10 Pretty much unnoticeable in practice
Flare 4 Contrast almost doesn’t suffer but may produce harsh internal reflections
Bokeh 6 Very soft but highlight edges can be distracting at times, gets polygonal too early by stopping down
Overall 78% A good lens for getting started with macro photography, and delivers beautiful results in many other areas


Samples

Here are some samples of pictures I made with this lens. Settings: native JPEG, picture control set to Landscape mode, no post-processing applied except reducing to 600 pixel width.

90mm, f/11, 1/125s, ISO 400, external flash
90mm, f/8, 1/200s, ISO 200
90mm, f/2.8, 1/200s, ISO 200
90mm, f/20, 1/80s, ISO 500, external flash
90mm, f/4.5, 1/10s, ISO 200, tripod
90mm, f/3.0, 1/500s, ISO 200

Voigtländer Color-Skopar 28mm f/2.8 SL II Aspherical : Review


Introduction

I’m back again with my newest lens review, this time of the Voigtländer Color-Skopar 28mm f/2.8 SL II Aspherical lens for the Nikon mount, tested as usual on a Nikon D700 full-frame DSLR. Just like its twin sister lens, the Voigtländer Color-Skopar 20mm f/3.5 SL II Aspherical, this is a pancake lens with a slim, elegant design, and makes a very portable and lightweight combo with the D700 as shown below:

Just like its twin, the retail price of €449 doesn’t seem cheap at first, but besides being an all-metal lens it has a relatively fast maximum aperture, especially for a pancake design. Pancake lenses are particulary rare in Nikon mount, and this lens may be like a God’s send for those who appreciate shooting with this type of lenses. This lens looks so similar to the 20mm f/3.5 that I will base my description of the 28mm on that review I wrote some time ago.
The lens includes an aspherical element to reduce aberrations and distortions. Being a manual focus lens, it can be a bit limiting for you depending on your shooting style, but that’s also true for every manual focus lens such as Nikkor AI or Zeiss ZF lenses. The fact that the lens has a wide focal length reduces this limitation a bit, being very easy to focus anywhere you want.
I’ve been shooting with this lens for some months now and I have better feelings with it than those I had with the 20mm which performed badly on the full-frame sensor, and now I trust this lens for every occasion where I need to travel light. The 20mm was a sweet lens on DX, it had the perfect focal length to cover a great range of scenarios, and I used it mainly to shoot street scenes, landscapes, monuments, inside museums and churches, cafés, pretty much everything I wanted. But when I migrated to FX I wasn’t that enthusiastic with the focal length, and worse, it performed badly in the corners. So I looked forward to Cosina to release a new pancake lens with a equivalent focal length on FX, and voilà, it seemed that Cosina was listening to me and didn’t took much time for this 28mm to arrive. I was also thrilled that they increased the maximum aperture to f/2.8.
Last time I used this lens was on my summer vacations in southern Spain and I loved it, it performed so much better than the 20mm, that I was shooting at f/4 all the time in churches and museums with no regrets. The maximum aperture was also excellent when I needed to do a close up or a quick portrait, since the quality at the center of the frame is very high. It looked like I was shooting again with the 20mm on my old D300, but seemed even better! This lens was also good to shoot unnoticed among the multitude of tourists that visited the region at that time of the year, but also got a few smiles from other photographers that were curious about its diminute size. But I will describe its performance in detail below.


Technical Specifications

Focal length 28 mm
Biggest aperture f/2.8
Smallest aperture f/22
Field of vision 74.8 degrees (on FX)
Weight 180 g
Dimensions 25 x 62 mm
Optical construction 7 elements in 6 groups, 1 aspherical element
Aperture blades 9, straight
Filter diameter 52 mm
Minimal focus distance 22 cm
Hood LH-28N (optional)
Mount AI-S, CPU integrated


Mechanical Characteristics

Zoom ring n/a
Focus ring All-metal, with infinity stop
Focus throw 160 degrees
Focus motor n/a
Optical stabilizer n/a
Front element rotation while zooming n/a
Front element rotation while focusing No
Lens extension while zooming n/a
Lens extension while focusing Yes, 6 mm
Internal focusing No


Handling

Handling this lens is every bit the same as handling the 20mm, so I will basically copy-paste the same description.
The Voigtländer is a very compact lens as you can see above in the pictures, and being all-metal it’s very well built and surprisingly heavy for such size. Being a manual focus lens, probably the most important aspect is how the focus ring feels on your fingers, and it does indeed feel great. The focus ring is perfectly damped and focusing is very smooth. I have been shooting with some manual focus lenses (AI-S and Samyang) but focusing with this lens feels even better than those. It feels smooth and has a long throw of about 160 degrees for precise focusing. This is mostly useful in near distance, of course, because from about 10 meters to infinity there’s almost no need to move the focus ring again. The lens stops focusing on infinity which is great news for astrophotographers.
The less positive things about this lens is that it doesn’t have a lock on the aperture ring, therefore watch out and keep the aperture ring at f/22, otherwise you’ll get a fEE error on your LCD display. Because the lens is so tiny and there’s almost no space between the focus and aperture rings, attaching and dettaching the lens from the camera can be a bit difficult, but with a firm grip on both focus and aperture ring, along with the fixed 3mm spacer in between, it can be done but be warned that the lens gets almost glued to the camera.
Anyway, my only thumbs down goes (once again) to the front cap which gets off so easily with just a small touch. I instantly replaced that cap with a (heresy!) Canon one.


Resolution

For the resolution test I shot a near distance object and a far away building to find out if there were any visible differences in image quality between those distances. As usual, I focused with Live View and re-focused when moving the target to the corners.
The first column shows a crop of the image center, the corner crop is on the second column and the third column shows a crop of the extreme corner. Each row represents an aperture setting, from maximum to minimum in full stops. Here are the results:

The resolution at the center is already excellent straight from the maximum aperture, showing high contrast and clarity. This is always true until f/16, from which diffraction starts affecting the image and there’s a loss of contrast. The DX corner resolution is not so good wide open but is more than acceptable at f/4 and peaks at f/5.6, and keeps on high values until f/16. The extreme corners are a bit weaker at f/2.8 and appear affected greatly by vignetting, but after quick correction in post-processing it is visible that the problem is not that much the lack of sharpness. If DX corner sharpness improves greatly at f/4, the extreme corners will take one more stop to reach similar levels. But still, for very good sharpness across the frame it’s better to stop down to f/8, or f/11 if critical sharpness is needed on the extreme corners of FX.
This is great performance on very close targets, but what about “real world” where most of the time the target is at at least several meters away?

Although this target seems a bit flat in contrast, careful examination shows that there are no meaningful differences in resolution, being already excellent at f/2.8 in the center and very good in the DX corner, but not so good in the FX corner and still affected by heavy vignetting. The aperture of f/8 delivers very good resolution across the frame, just like we saw in the previous test.
In conclusion, this is a much more versatile lens than the 20mm with a broader range of useful apertures, which was to be expected from the start since 20mm is more difficult to produce than a 28mm lens, especially when we’re talking about pancake lenses, and also because the maximum aperture is higher.


Distortion

For the distortion test I shot some tiles:

The lens distortion is well controlled. There’s a mild amount of barrel distortion but generally it’s not noticeable on most shots, and it’s easy to correct in post on architecture photos if needed.


Vignetting

In this test I shot a white wall at home using tungsten white balance.

Just like it was detected previously on the resolution test, vignetting is very heavy wide open and improves significantly by f/4. From f/8 and down it generally doesn’t show up in images. Notice that this is mostly visible on shots of white walls like this. As a matter of fact, f/5.6 is already pretty much free from vignetting.


Chromatic aberrations

It was a clear bright sunny day with the sunlight reflecting on my car, and I took pictures of a area of high contrast:

The use of an aspherical element is an important feature in this lens for taking care of distortions and aberrations, and once again Cosina made an excellent job to keep aberration levels at negligible levels. From all the shots I made with this lens there wasn’t a single day I noticed any fringing issues. The lens deserves the maximum score here.


Coma

Coma is an important requirement in astrophotography and usually affects the corners of most lenses, especially wide-angle lenses and particularly old designs. I tested coma using a LED source of light in a dark room.
I put the light source at the center (first column), corner and extreme corner of the frame (second and third columns, respectively), at f/2.8 and f/4 (one stop down).

At f/2.8 the lens produces high amounts of coma even in the DX corner and much more so at the extreme corners, and doesn’t really get much better by stopping down. This is very unnattractive for astrophotographers, and if you are thinking of going out shoot the stars wide open, you better think twice or you might not like the results. This lens is awful in this regard, just like the 20mm was.


Flare

I shot several pictures on my backyard trying to get flare vestiges, and the result is as follows. I started to shoot directly against the sun, then placed the sun at one corner and then shot with the sun just outside the frame.

Shot directly against the sun
Shot with the sun placed at one corner of the frame
Shot with the sun just outside the frame

The Voigtländer has very good quality coatings inside and the results put it along with the best lenses I’ve used, with great flare resistance and keeping the overall contrast on high levels. There’s just a bit of veiling flare around the sun but no ghosting was detected on other parts of the frame. You just need to be a little cautious when shooting with the sun just outside the frame, and for this it might be a good idea to use the LH-28N lens hood available separately. Overall this is a very good result.


Bokeh

This is a wide angle lens and therefore the quality of the out of focus area of an image is not a primary aspect to consider, but still, since the lens has a relatively fast maximum aperture and 9 diafragm blades, one might expect acceptable renderings of out of focus highlighs. So lets see how the lens fares in this matter.
For this test I took a defocused picture at f/2.8 of the city lights and got crops of the center, corner and extreme corners. The test was repeated for f/4 and f/5.6.

The out of focus highlights are pretty circular at f/2.8 thanks to the 9 aperture blades, as expected, although the corners reveal the cats-eye distortion due to vignetting. Although circular, the highlights show pronounced edges and nervous interiors, but nevertheless it’s not distracting at this aperture when looking at the entire picture on my monitor. Closing down to f/4 reveals the outcome of the straight aperture blades and stays like this when closing down further. Generally, with this lens it’s better to shoot close-up subjects with the maximum aperture, where the center sharpness is already very good, to get the best out of focus renderings.


Macro/Close-up

The Voigtländer was capable to focus as close as 22 centimeters from the sensor plane, or about 15 centimeters from the front element. I shot an 1 Euro coin and this is what to expect at the minimum focus distance:


Summary

Build quality 9 A beautifully well crafted lens, but the front cap is rubbish
Handling 10 Buttery smooth focus ring and very solid, compact lens, with CPU contacts for the automated exposure modes
Resolution 8 Excellent center sharpness, very good corners and fairly good extreme corners at moderate apertures
Distortion 8 Well controlled barrel distortion for a wide-angle lens and easily correctable if needed
Vignetting 7 Very strong wide open but improves greatly stopped down
Chromatic aberrations 10 A winner just like its 20mm sister lens
Coma 6 Very strong in the corners wide open, gets just a little better by stopping down
Flare 9 Great performance, but be most careful when the sun is just outside the frame
Bokeh 5 Circular only at f/2.8 but very nervous and pronounced edges, and gets polygonal at smaller apertures
Overall 79% A good pancake lens with very much expanded range of useful apertures for FX


Samples

Here are a few pictures I took during my past holidays and in my backyard. Settings: native JPEG, picture control set to Landscape mode, no post-processing applied except reducing to 600 pixel width.

f/4, 1/25s, ISO 800
f/8, 1/400s, ISO 200
f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 200
f/8, 1/80s, ISO 400
f/4, 1/640s, ISO 200
f/8, 1/320s, ISO 200

Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 G ED N : Review


Introduction

I’ve been shooting with the Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 G ED standard zoom lens on full-frame for several months now, and since I already know this lens pretty well I decided to write yet another review of this lens. This is a widely known lens and has been very well regarded as a reliable workhorse of many professional photographers out there, being particularly popular amongst photojournalists and event photographers. These last words are easily associated with the focal range of this lens, which allows to take a variety of shots from groups of people to full body portraits and even head shots.
The camera used in this review is a Nikon D700 full-frame DSLR. Here’s a couple of images of lens and body:

This lens was introduced in 2007 and has been untouched since then, both in performance and price, basically because the third-party alternatives failed to deliver in crucial aspects for professional photographers: AF speed, toughness and optical characteristics such as sharpness wide-open and bokeh, except for, maybe, the previous professional zoom lens Nikkor AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8 D ED that was a very good lens already and only needed an update. Only very recently has emerged a new contender from a third-party maker, the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD, which I had with me for less than a week – I was ready to buy the Tamron but exchanged it for the Nikkor – and couldn’t review for such short period of time, but it was a very nice lens and throws image stabilization as a bonus. Maybe Nikon is planning an update with VR? Since this lens was mainly designed to shoot moving subjects and the latest Canon addition doesn’t have IS as well, I’m not sure if VR is such welcome feature for pros.
The Nikkor employs 15 elements in 11 groups, with 3 of these elements being of ED type to reduce color aberrations and another element equipped with Nano Crystal Coat to take care of internal reflections. On the outside, the lens is a looker; such well crafted piece of metal gives you confidence for the roughest scenarios and it’s a pleasure to use in the field. The downside is that it is very heavy even on a body like the D700, but according to other users it seems to balance very well with a battery grip. Personally I don’t use a battery grip because I’m not a heavy shooter and don’t use the combo in portrait orientation very frequently, but I might add a grip in the future for the sake of the experience.
At a steep price of about 1600€, it’s about one third more expensive than the Tamron offer, but does the performance of the Nikkor gives the price any justice?


Technical Specifications

Focal length 24 – 70mm
Maximum aperture f/2.8
Minimum aperture f/22
Field of view 84 – 34 degrees (on FX)
Weight 900g
Dimensions 133 x 83mm (155 x 83mm extended)
Optical construction 15 elements in 11 groups (3 ED elements, 1 element with Nano Crystal Coat)
Aperture blades 9, rounded
Filter diameter 77mm
Minimal focus distance 38cm (19.8cm from the front element)
Hood HB-40, petal-shaped
Mount Nikon F


Mechanical Characteristics

Zoom ring Metal with rubber finish
Focus ring Metal with rubber finish, no infinity stop
Focus throw 74 degrees
Focus motor Yes, Silent Wave Motor
Optical stabilizer No
Front element rotation while zooming No
Front element rotation while focusing No
Internal focusing Yes
Lens extension while focusing No
Lens extension while zooming Yes, up to 21mm
Maximum magnification 1:3.7, at 70mm


Handling

The Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 G ED is a huge lens for walking around on the streets and screams pro and expensive anywhere. It wasn’t designed for the amateur shooter, the tourist or the hiking afficionados, but instead, was developed for the event and photojournalism photographer with speed and optical performance in mind. I’m speaking about this because it seems that I did the wrong choice: I’m not a pro, I rarely shoot events or other “high responsability” services, and I’m basically a walk around shooter that loves to travel and doesn’t love carrying heavy weights very much. That said, I had sold many of my cheap lenses and had funds, so I wanted the best possible lens for my most used focal lengths in the last years – from about 28mm to 70mm. So that’s when the Tamron offer arrived; I tried it for less than a week but I ended finding it not very ergonomic because it’s a big fat lens, always felt that I had paid too much for the plastic build, and didn’t like the 82mm filter size. The VC was a nice feature for an amateur like me but I lived well until then without image stabilization, so it wasn’t crucial to me. In the performance area I found that it was something better than the zoom lenses I had before, but things like AF speed and bokeh left some buyers regret in my mind; for the money I guess I was expecting more. So I decided to take the plunge and ended paying 500€ more on the Nikkor and returned the Tamron back to the store.
The Nikkor felt more comfortable on my left hand due to its compact size and that way I seemed to have better shooting technique, because I could have a firm hold on the lens that never did with the Tamron. The Nikkor is very long for a standard zoom lens but the real problem is its weight. At 900g the lens alone, it’s not anymore the friendliest travel lens that I had before with the Nikkor AF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 D, but now it’s a complicated beast to carry around and I quickly had to forget walking around with a wrist strap, or I might end injured. Now I carry the combo with a nice leather strap put diagonally around my body and support it with my right hand just in case if something goes wrong. As I said, the length of the lens is not a problem but the weight is. If you’re thinking of getting this lens for your new D600, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise of severe front-heaviness. Anyway, whenever I come home after a day shooting out there and watch the results on my monitor, I quickly forget all the sacrifice because the output is so fine looking.
When using the Nikkor with the supplied lens hood, the overall length remains constant because the lens hood is attached to the fixed part of the lens. The moving part of the lens extends when zooming towards 24mm and towards 70mm. The length is lowest at 50mm. Nikon were clever about the way they designed the zoom mechanism, because since the lens extends much more towards 24mm that towards 70mm, in the end it is the right thing to do because that way it minimizes the risk of adding vignetting at 24mm due to the lens hood. By the way, the hood is a sturdy piece of quality plastic that is very hard and doesn’t bend. The Tamron design is the regular one: the length is lowest at 24mm and highest at 70mm, and the hood is attached to the moving part of the lens; hence, its total length varies with the zoom setting.
The Nikkor is a very fast lens regarding AF speed and never hesitates even in low light. It will focus on the subject in the lowest light available until there’s nothing to focus on, and only then the lens begins to hunt. It’s a joy to use it in continuous focus tracking when following people on the streets or other moving objects. Therefore, if you absolutely need a fast standard zoom lens (and I don’t mean the aperture), this is the lens you need.
So now let’s find out below more in deep what this lens is about.


Resolution

For the resolution test I shot the 5 Euro bill as usual. Focus was achieved using Live View to avoid auto-focus imprecisions and to compensate for possible field curvature issues.
The first column shows a crop of the image center, the corner crop is on the second column and the third column shows a crop of the extreme corner. Each row represents an aperture setting, from f/2.8 to f/22 in full stops. Here are the results:


24mm

At 24mm the center resolution is already excellent at f/2.8 and only starts to get worse at f/16 due to diffraction. The corner and border resolution never reach the same level and sharpness is even slightly disappointing at this focal length at the corners. The edge-to-edge resolution is acceptable but nothing to rave about, and stopping down doesn’t improve things much around here.

I was curious and thought that usually my real world photos are better than this, so maybe it could be an issue related to the focus distance. So I decided to test the resolution on long distance shots. I will follow up the short distance test with a new long distance test shot to check for any differences.

It seems that after all the resolution at the corners is really lower than at the center, even when stopping down to f/8, but the good thing is that it’s slightly better than in the short distance shot. From f/8 and down, the sharpness is acceptable for landscape photography but the resolution levels are far from any prime lens especially in the corners. Another thing is that long distance shots never have so much vignetting.


35mm

At 35mm the lens delivers excellent sharpness in the center and borders, but never reach the same level at the extreme corners in the short distance shot.

It can be seen that in the long distance shot the resolution across the board is excellent but suffers a little only at f/2.8 in the extreme corners. Overall it’s still better than at short distances.
The resolution in this focal length increased very much compared to the resolution at 24mm and it’s very good already at f/4 across the board.


70mm

At 70mm the sharpness at f/2.8 is excellent in the center but there’s a penalty in the borders that only recovers at f/8. The extreme borders are very good from f/11 and beyond.

Once again, the sharpness difference from center to extreme corners is not so noticeable in the long distance shot and the main differences from f/2.8 to f/8 are mainly in the amount of vignetting.

In summary, the resolution characteristic of this lens clearly indicates that this lens is clearly geared towards events and photojournalism professionals with excellent rendition from medium to telephoto ranges and less so at the widest focal lengths. There’s also much more vignetting problems on very short distance shots even using moderate apertures, but in real world photos, which most of the time mean medium to high distance targets, both resolution and vignetting are very well controlled.
The Nikkor is widely known to be a lesser performer, or even described as being quite bad from some users, at 24mm. That is my experience too. If find that the sharpness across the board improves a lot from about 28mm and peaks at 50mm. In my real world shots I’m always pleased with sharpness at the center at every focal length and I just make sure I stop down to at least f/8 on general landscape photography.
If I need to shoot at f/2.8 at 24mm I do it without thinking twice. Here’s an example at 24mm and f/2.8 that I took recently inside a church:

The photo was taken at ISO 640 and has been resized only.
Personally, I which that this lens were better at 24mm than at 70mm because I shoot wide most of the time. In the few days I had the Tamron, it seemed to perform better at 24mm than at 70mm, so watch out the focal lengths you use more and what are most important to you.
If you absolutely need superb sharpness at 24mm, any prime will do it even the oldies. It’s up to you to decide if you need the convenience of the zoom lens.


Distortion

Here are the brick wall shots:


24mm


35m


70mm

The Nikkor produces a considerable amount of barrel distortion at 24mm that evens out at about 28-30mm. Above that, the distortion characteristic switches to pincushion type and remains constant up to 70mm.
Beware when shooting architecture at 24mm, especially horizontal lines. Above that there’s not much to complain about.


Vignetting

In this test, I shot a white wall at home using tungsten white balance and set exposure manually:


24mm

At 24mm, vignetting is very strong wide-open and down to f/4. By f/5.6 the light loss is acceptable and improves greatly afterwards.


35mm

At 35m there’s still an hefty amount of vignetting wide-open but almost vanishes at f/4.


70mm

At 70mm, the lens vignettes badly wide-open but quickly improves already at f/4. From f/5.6 and later there’s nothing to worry about.

The lens suffers from heavy vignetting at f/2.8 on both focal ends but the amount is very acceptable stopping down to f/4. This is particularly visible in short distance shots, but everywhere else it’s a lesser problem and some photographers like to add a touch of vignetting in post-processing, thus in the end it might be a non issue. For landscape photography be prepared to remove it in post or in camera.


Chromatic aberrations

For this test I shot a car from above on a bright sunny day early in the afternoon:


24mm


70mm

This lens employs three ED elements in its optical construction to reduce chromatic aberrations, and as expected it doesn’t disappoint in this matter. Sometimes there’s a small glimpse of purple fringing in the extreme corners at f/2.8, mainly at 24mm, but only if you’re shooting foliage against the sun or other extreme situations. This lens is amazing in this regard.


Coma

Coma was tested using a LED source, at home in a dark room.
I put the light source at the center (first column), corner and extreme corner of the frame (second and third columns, respectively), at maximum aperture and stopped down.


24mm


70mm

The lens suffers from a small amount of coma distortion wide-open at 24mm but it’s almost perfect at any other setting. This is perfect for astrophotography, you just have to remeber to stop down at 24mm.


Flare

My usual building shot for evaluating flare is no longer in construction, so this time I shoot foliage against the sun to see if I could get any flare vestiges. I started to shoot directly against the sun, then placed the sun at the corner and finally made some shots with the sun just outside the frame.

Shot directly against the sun.
Shot with the sun placed at one corner of the frame.
Shot with the sun just outside the frame.

This lens has one element with Nano Crystal Coat to reduce flare and ghosting and, contrary to what I found on the Micro-Nikkor AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G ED lens I reviewed, flare is well controlled to a minimum and contrast is always kept in high values. When shooting against the sun there’s a halo around it but it doesn’t occupy the entire image as happens with the Micro-Nikkor, and contrast is high in the rest of the image. Placing the sun in the corner of the frame makes the worst case possible revealing the internal reflections, but the worst thing is that blue tinted ray that ruins the shot. Mind you that I did this test without the lens hood, and in fact I can confirm that the hood is very efficient eliminating flare and ghosting. When the sun is just outside the frame there are vestiges of ghosting but there’s no veiling flare at all.
I can judge this lens based on using it with hood or not. Without the hood, flare can easily ruin a shot if you attempt to put it in a corner, and with the hood on the lens is simply superb.


Bokeh

The lens has 9 rounded aperture blades, thus it’s expected to get circular out of focus highlights. I took a defocused picture at the widest aperture of the city lights and got crops of the center, corner and extreme corners. The test was repeated for the subsequent two stops.


24mm


70mm

The bokeh produced with this lens is already quite good at 24mm in the center of the frame even stopping down, although can be a little distracting due to the edges at f/2.8. Another problem is that the corners may reveal some polygonal shapes. This level of performance is already amazing for a zoom lens and incredible for such low focal lengths. Zooming in to 70mm makes perfect out of focus highlights with only a slight amount of nervousness, and once again might produce some polygonization in the corners.
Overall, this is a superb performance for a standard zoom lens and leaves any other current contenders to dust.


Macro/Close-up

The Nikkor was capable to focus as close as 38 centimeters from the sensor plane, or 19 centimeters from the front element, resulting in a maximum magnification ratio of 1:3.7 at 70mm.
I shot an 1 Euro coin and this is what to expect at the minimum focus distance:


24mm


70mm


Summary

Build quality 10 A bulky piece of metal that gives you confidence wherever you are
Handling 9 Except for the weight, it’s a compact lens with all rings in the right place and has lightning fast AF
Resolution 8 Great resolution overall, but its Achilles heal is the wide end
Distortion 7 Noticeable barrel distortion at 24mm and a little pincushion then
Vignetting 8 Strong at f/2.8 at any focal length but well controlled otherwise
Chromatic aberrations 9 Occasionally visible a glimpse in the extreme corners
Coma 9 Some distortion at 24mm and f/2.8, and that’s about it
Flare 5 Use the hood and the score becomes a 10
Bokeh 9 Stunning for a standard zoom lens, even at 24mm versus some primes
Overall 81% A sharp and reliable standard zoom lens for the professional that just delivers the goods, anywhere and anytime


Samples

Here are some samples of pictures I made with this lens. Settings: native JPEG, picture control set to Landscape mode, no post-processing applied except reducing to 600 pixel width.

24mm, f/8.0, 1/500s, ISO 200
70mm, f/2.8, 1/160s, ISO 200
70mm, f/11, 1/160s, ISO 200
70mm, f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 400
36mm, f/8.0, 1/400s, ISO 200
35mm, f/11, 1/125s, ISO 200

Micro-Nikkor AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G IF ED VR N : Review


Introduction

Today I present you with my review of the Micro-Nikkor AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G IF ED VR N macro lens, tested as always with the Nikon D700 full-frame DSLR. More than a decade has passed by since the previows D version was announced, and this G version includes lots of goodies that add more value to it, resulting in a much more versatile design for general use, not only suitable for macro but also very capable for portraits and landscapes.
This is how it looks with the D700:

Having been anounced in 2006, this lens introduces many new features and design changes compared with the previous version, such as: AF-S motor with manual override, VR II (Vibration Reduction, version II) optical stabilizer, ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass and even one element with Nano Crystal Coat to reduce flare and improve micro contrast. The internal construction suffered many changes and now has 14 elements in 12 groups instead of 10 elements in 9 groups of the D version lens.
The lens is built with metal and high quality plastic parts, all very tightly together, and the result is a large lens weighing a hefty 790 grams. The lens has three switches, one for selecting between autofocus (with manual focus override) and manual focus only, other to activate VR, and another switch to limit minimum focus distance to half a meter. This is a G lens and therefore has lost the aperture ring, so it doesn’t work any more with the older manual SLRs.
At a price of 899€ today, this lens is not exactly cheap, but as you will see not only you get a true 1:1 macro lens but also a terrific long distance shooter with professional build quality and features. This is a true gold-ring lens and deserves that distinction.


Technical Specifications

Focal length 105mm
Maximum aperture f/2.8 (far distance) – f/4.8 (nearest)
Minimum aperture f/32 (far distance) – f/57 (nearest)
Field of view 23 degrees (on FX)
Weight 790g
Dimensions 116 x 83mm
Optical construction 14 elements in 12 groups (1 ED element, 1 Nano Crystal Coat)
Aperture blades 9, rounded
Filter diameter 62mm
Minimum focus distance 46.1cm (29.5cm from the front element, focus limiter on), 31.4cm (14.8cm from the front element, focus limiter off)
Hood HB-38, petal-shaped
Mount Nikon F


Mechanical Characteristics

Zoom ring n/a
Focus ring Plastic with rubber finish, no infinity stop
Focus throw 270 degrees (focus limiter off)
Focus motor Yes, Silent Wave Motor
Optical stabilizer Yes, Vibration Reduction II
Front element rotation while zooming n/a
Front element rotation while focusing No
Internal focusing Yes
Lens extension while focusing No
Lens extension while zooming n/a
Maximum magnification 1:1


Handling

With the D700, the Nikkor is fairly well balanced, but with a smaller camera it’s recommended to buy a battery grip since it can be very nose heavy. The lens looks and feel are great, being very solidly built like a professional lens. I have been walking around the streets with the D700 and this lens and few people look at me as the lens is not very lengthy and not intimidating. I could take candid pictures from relatively far away with ease without being suspicious. The thing changes when I use the hood; the total length increases a lot and in the streets I felt that I looked like a stalker, as this thing become huge and attracted a lot of attention.
The focus ring has a generous throw for careful framing, being very precise for far away shooting as well and not only for macro. Unfortunately, the focus ring isn’t damped although it’s fairly smooth, and this is the only practical “defect” I find compared with other professional lenses. The focus limiter sets the minimum focus distance to 0.5 meters which is very useful for shooting in the streets or events where quick focusing is a necessity. When turning the limiter on, the AF is really quick, especially for a macro lens! It’s much faster focusing than my Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G, for instance, especially in low light situations. Turning the limiter off increases the focusing time by a lot and also increases the potential for hunting even in good light. So, basically I always shoot with the limiter on in most shooting I do, and in macro I don’t care for AF anyway and I always focus manually. And I almost forgot, the AF is really silent and in line with the other pro lenses.
The inclusion of VR is a blessing in the streets and on the occasional close-up when you don’t have a tripod nearby, as it can save the shot, particularly on that close-up shot when you have to close the aperture a lot to get all things in focus. It is always a challenge to get everything in focus with a long focal length as is 105mm, though, and that’s why VR can be so handy.
One of the greatest things I love about this lens is the fact that all focusing is internal, even towards the magnification of 1:1, since nothing moves outside. That’s another plus for macro shooting because I don’t have to worry myself about the front element touching the subject when I just want to avoid it. Also, the front element doesn’t rotate while focusing which is always nice when using polarizers.
All in all, handling this lens is a breeze in all possible situations, from macro to landscape shooting.


Resolution

For the resolution test I shot the 5 Euro bill as usual. Focus was achieved using Live View to avoid auto-focus imprecisions and to compensate for possible field curvature issues.
The first column shows a crop of the image center, the corner crop is on the second column and the third column shows a crop of the extreme corner. Each row represents an aperture setting, from maximum to f/22 in full stops. I opted to show crops only until f/22, because closing the aperture even more results in more and more diffraction. Also, the target was at a such distance from the camera that the maximum effective aperture was f/3.0 instead of f/2.8 – the camera always reports the effective aperture. Here are the results:

From this test I’ve found that the Micro-Nikkor is a perfect performer right from the maximum aperture, with only almost negligible softness in the extreme corners that disappears when stopping down. The overall contrast decreases a bit by f/16 and diffraction settles in at f/22 and gets worse afterwards.
The Nikkor is a stellar performer and I couldn’t ask more of this lens. It’s just stunning at every “normal” aperture and you have to see it to believe it, even in full-frame. This kind of performance is somewhat common with most macro lenses, but it’s likely that some people were expecting less when Nikon decided to change the internal construction and increased the number of elements. This has to be one of the sharpest lenses ever.


Distortion

I tested distortion with the usual brick wall shot:

Distortion is very low, with a only a tiny amount of barrel distortion that is counteracted by an equal bit of mustache at the corners. The result is straight vertical lines, and horizontal lines having a very residual wavy characteristic. This is negligible in the field and barely visible even in these test targets.


Vignetting

In this test, I shot a white wall at home using tungsten white balance and set exposure manually:

There’s a lot of vignetting at the widest aperture that decreases substantially by stopping down, but it’s only visible when shooting far distance subjects. This can result well in portraits and street candids, though. For small distance shooting there’s nothing to worry about because the lighting across the frame is always fairly uniform.


Chromatic aberrations

For this test I shot a car from above on a bright sunny day early in the afternoon:

This lens employs ED glass to reduce chromatic aberrations to a minimum and this test clearly shows that it works, and it works very well indeed. I’ve never found any fringing issues even when shooting close-ups of bright metal objects under intense light. In this regard, this lens is perfect.


Coma

Coma was tested using a LED source, at home in a dark room.
I put the light source at the center (first column), corner and extreme corner of the frame (second and third columns, respectively), at maximum aperture and stopped down.

Coma is hardly visible only in the extreme corners at the widest aperture but the effect disappears stopping down. It’s an excellent performer in astrophotography, and I have always confirmed it in the field. It’s not really perfect at the extreme corners wide open, but it’s almost there.


Flare

I shot a building in construction with the sun sneaking from a window, to see if I could see any flare vestiges. I started to shoot directly against the sun, then placed the sun at the corner and finally made some shots with the sun just outside the frame.

Shot directly against the sun.
Shot with the sun placed at one corner of the frame.
Shot with the sun just outside the frame.

This was truly unexpected, because everyone was talking about how great Nano coating is reducing flare, but I quickly saw myself that Nano is not the miraculous solution only by itself. Nano coating is great improving flare resistance, but the amount of flare that a lens can produce is highly dependent on the lens design. In this very lens, flare and ghosting can be really horrendous. This is the worst case I’ve dealed with so far, much worse than the Nikkor AF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 D that I have tested before.
Shooting against the sun gives a tremendously high amount of flare, with the brightness obscuring most of the picture. Putting the sun in one corner reveals an ugly reflection that goes diagonally across the image, ruining any shot. When the sun is just outside the frame, the issue can be easily controlled using just the lens hood.
Obviously, this lens has to be handled with great care when shooting with the sun in the frame, even when taking pictures of sunsets! I can’t imagine any worse performance than this.


Bokeh

The lens has 9 rounded aperture blades, thus it’s expected to get pretty circular out of focus highlights. I took a defocused picture at the widest aperture of the city lights and got crops of the center, corner and extreme corners. The test was repeated for the subsequent two stops. Due to the focus distance I selected for this test, the maximum effective aperture was reduced to f/3.5.

I couldn’t want much more from this lens in terms of bokeh at full aperture. The out of focus highlights are so creamy smooth, either inside and on the edges, that always results in very attractive backgrounds. There is the cats eye effect in the corners due to vignetting, but few lenses don’t have it. At f/4, a slight polygonization can be noticed and gets a little worse at f/5.6, but even then bokeh is a delight especially when considering the aperture value.
Overall, although not perfect bokeh as, for instance, the one from a Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.4 G lens, you can’t go wrong with this Micro-Nikkor in terms of bokeh.


Macro/Close-up

With the focus limiter activated, the Nikkor was capable to focus as close as 46.1 centimeters from the sensor plane, or 29.5 centimeters from the front element. When the focus limiter is switched off, the focus distance drops down to 31.4 centimeters from the sensor plane or 14.8 centimeters from the front element, to a maximum magnification ratio of a real 1:1.
I shot an 1 Euro coin and this is what to expect at the minimum focus distance:


Focus limiter on


Focus limiter off


Image stabilization

The Micro-Nikkor includes the second version of VR (Vibration Reduction) which makes this lens very useful in other types of photography. Nikon states that VR II is capable of giving an advantage of 4 stops. That means that at 105mm, it is possible to achieve sharp pictures at speeds as low as 1/6 seconds!
To test it, I shot the back of a street lamp from my window. The first column shows crops of the subject shot with VC off, and the second column shows them with VR on. Here are the results:

I took the pictures at ISO 100 and closed the aperture to its minimum possible, but unfortunately the lowest speed I got was 1/10 seconds, somewhere between 3 and 4 stops down from the typical lowest speed of 1/100 seconds for hand-held shooting without stabilization.
As can be seen here, VR worked flawlessly down to 1/10 seconds, and in this case the obtained softness was due to high diffraction; I shot this last picture at f/32.
Even knowing that I did not achieve 1/6 seconds of speed, I strongly believe that it is possible to get sharp pictures at that speed from people with steadier hands than mine and better hand-holding technique.


Summary

Build quality 10 A solid brick, very professional
Handling 8 Good handling in every type of shooting, fast AF and decent VR
Resolution 10 Stellar sharpness across the frame at all apertures, it’s very hard to think of a sharper lens
Distortion 10 Perfect here in all practical shooting
Vignetting 9 Strong at full aperture, but stopping down gets very well controlled
Chromatic aberrations 10 No fringing issues even when shooting foliage against the sun
Coma 10 Very hardly visible wide open in the extreme corners, perfect in the field
Flare 1 The lowest score possible, I can’t imagine a worse case
Bokeh 8 Creamy soft at all apertures, but gets polygonal early in the corners
Overall 87% Amazing optics in a solidly built, versatile package, for many types of shooting


Samples

Here are some samples of pictures I made with this lens. Settings: native JPEG, picture control set to Landscape mode, no post-processing applied except reducing to 600 pixel width.

105mm, f/2.8, 1/400s, ISO 200
105mm, f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 400
105mm, f/4.0, 1/1250s, ISO 1600
105mm, f/11, 1/200s, ISO 1600
105mm, f/4.0, 1/1250s, ISO 800
105mm, f/16, 1/80s, ISO 800

Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 AI-S : Review


Introduction

This is one of my favourite lenses ever, the Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 AI-S, and here will be tested with the Nikon D700 full-frame DSLR. It’s one of those lenses that may last forever and it’s a joy to shoot with. It has CRC (close-range correction) for great performance shooting at close distances. It’s very compact for a wide lens, I can put it in my jacket’s pocket and use it in a pinch everytime I need to shoot wide.
So let’s start with the size comparison with the D700:

The lens is older than me, it was introduced in 1977 and became a very popular lens then. I had been searching for a nice wide prime to use on the D700 and this was a blessing. It is relatively cheap in the used market today, but some stores are still selling them brand new for more than 500€. The AF-D version has the same optical formula and sells for about 430€, but it’s plastic.
This prime lens has 9 elements in 9 groups, with a floating element for CRC. The AF-D version has the same optical construction, but it’s may not be easy to find a good copy – opinions from other users with this AF-D version are everywhere from stellar to unusable. This lens is a masterpiece of construction like the other Nikkors back in the old days, when everything was metal with engraved markings for aperture and focus distance.
Used lens prices are everywhere in the range of 180€ to 400€, and that shows how well this lens keeps its value over the years. This is an eternal lens, as long as it’s free from fungus and doesn’t fall of a cliff, of course.


Technical Specifications

Focal length 24mm
Maximum aperture f/2.8
Minimum aperture f/22
Field of view 84 degrees (on FX)
Weight 250g
Dimensions 46 x 60mm (48 x 60mm at minimum focus distance)
Optical construction 9 elements in 9 groups
Aperture blades 7, straight
Filter diameter 52mm
Minimum focus distance 29cm (20cm from the front element)
Hood HN-1, optional
Mount AI-S, no CPU


Mechanical Characteristics

Zoom ring n/a
Focus ring Metal with rubber finish, with infinity stop
Focus throw 85 degrees
Focus motor No
Optical stabilizer No
Front element rotation while zooming n/a
Front element rotation while focusing No
Internal focusing No
Lens extension while focusing Yes, 2mm
Lens extension while zooming n/a
Maximum magnification 1:8.8


Handling

The lens is dwarfed by the D700, but with a weight of 250g the lens is much heavier than it looks, but that’s the result of using metal everywhere in its construction. Handling the lens is a breeze – the focus ring is very large and buttery smooth (it still is, for a lens with this age), and it’s a joy to use. I don’t mind using manual focus with wide lenses since focusing is so easy with them, and with the help of the D700’s viewfinder it’s even easier. The focus ring is finished with a very rough rubber that feels so great on my fingers, and with a throw of 85 degrees there’s a lot of room for precise focus. A great thing this lens has, is that there’s a hard stop at infinity; when I shoot astrophotography I just turn the focus ring around to this hard stop and that’s it, perfect focus on the stars!
The front element doesn’t rotate while focusing, so using polarizers is no problem.
As a non-CPU lens, one has to configure the lens on the D700 as “non-CPU” so it could read whatever aperture value is choosen. The aperture is selected using the aperture ring on the lens instead of in-camera, and it doesn’t allow to select half-stops or thirds-stops. These are not issues in practice, but the aperture value must be checked from time to time since the aperture ring is not lockable.


Resolution

For the resolution test I shot the 5 Euro bill as usual. Focus was achieved using Live View to avoid auto-focus imprecisions and to compensate for possible field curvature issues.
The first column shows a crop of the image center, the corner crop is on the second column (the expected DX border) and the third column shows a crop of the extreme FX corner. Each row represents an aperture setting, from maximum to f/22 in full stops. Here are the results:

The center resolution is already on its maximum value, which I honestly wasn’t expecting from such old design, and only drops a little bit at f/16 due to diffraction and more so at f/22. As expected, the corner resolution is much softer overall at f/2.8, but DX shooters would probably be happy here (look at the second column); FX users will get much worse corners, though. By f/4 the center resolution seems to improve a bit, but what’s happened here is that at f/4 there’s more light transmission to the sensor, which does make seem that images are a little sharper, but they’re only clearer. Here, the corners improved a lot, which will please DX users, and the FX corners were greatly improved as well.
From f/5.6 to f/11 the lens deliverz stunning sharp images both at the center and corners. The sweet spot for FX is from f/8 to f/11, the values I typically choose for landscape shots.
Overall, this is very high performance for such old wide angle lens, the results are very pleasing and this makes me understand why the lens was so popular back in the days. And today it still rocks.


Distortion

Here is the brick wall shot:

The lens has a high level of barrel distortion, and FX users will also have to deal with mustache, giving a wavy shape to horizontal lines, and not only on the top and bottom of the frame, as you can see in sample 5 at the bottom of the page. The barrel distortion is also quite visible in real world shots on vertical lines – just watch the vertical columns on sample 3.
In conclusion, the lens should be used with caution in architecture photography, especially regarding horizontal lines. For landscapes I usually don’t worry about it, but I always pay attention to the horizon line in seascapes.


Vignetting

In this test, I shot a white wall at home using tungsten white balance and set exposure manually:

Vignetting is very strong at f/2.8, that’s why the resolution test was a bit darker at this setting even in the center. At f/4 there’s still considerable vignetting, but it isn’t noticeable stopping down once more. With this lens I’d only worry about vignetting at f/2.8, but personally I rarely use that setting – only for closeups, and vignetting usually gives a nice touch.


Chromatic aberrations

For this test I shot a car from above on a bright sunny day early in the afternoon:

I am amazed at how great this lens is controlling CAs. Even at f/2.8 I could not see any traces of fringing whatever tests I did. It’s perfect.


Coma

Coma was tested using a LED source, at home in a dark room.
I put the light source at the center (first column), corner and extreme corner of the frame (second and third columns, respectively), at maximum aperture and stopped down.

In this matter, the lens disappoints. That’s typical for old designs, and still is for the majority of wide angle lenses, and unfortunately this distortion is very noticeable in astrophotography. Forget it if you were considering this lens for that application and you’re a pixel-peeper. I’ve been using it for that purpose and I try to abstract myself from viewing the borders at 100%.


Flare

I shot a building in construction with the sun sneaking from a window, to see if I could see any flare traces. I started to shoot directly against the sun, then placed the sun at the corner and finally made some shots with the sun just outside the frame.

Shot directly against the sun.
Shot with the sun placed at one corner of the frame.
Shot with the sun just outside the frame.

The lens has a good resistance to flare and ghosting which keeps contrast intact. The problem is that if the sun is in the frame or in the proximity, the internal reflections of light will be easily visible in the pictures, as tiny as those reflections may be. It can be annoying; there were times I thought that the sun was already at a safe distance from the frame, and the lens still catched a small group of reflections. That can be easily solved in post-processing if those reflections are over a homogen background, but may be distracting and impossible to eliminate in textures. Just take a look at the last test image – these are the reflections I’m talking about (look at the second window hole at the left).
In conclusion, it is necessary to frame at a safe distance from the sun, and I advise to get the optional HN-1 or use another device to block reflections definitely.


Bokeh

This is a wide focal lens with 7 straight blades, thus bokeh has to be the last thing you think about when buying this lens.
I took a defocused picture at the widest aperture of the city lights and got crops of the center, corner and extreme corners. The test was repeated for the subsequent two stops.

The lens produces a fairly acceptable bokeh after all at f/2.8, although it has onion artifacts and accentuated edges. In real world shots they’re not very distracting, though. Stopping down soon reveals polygonal shapes as a result of a small number of aperture blades of straight type. That’s in line with every ordinary wide angle lenses. For good bokeh there are better choices such as the 24mm f/1.4 options (Samyang comes to mind).


Macro/Close-up

Although the lens is an old design, it has CRC which allows it to focus as close as 20 centimeters from the front element, resulting in a maximum magnification ratio of 1:8.8. It’s not bad, but I’ve seen much better from other wide angle lenses – the Voigländer Color-Skopar 20mm f/3.5 SL II Aspherical, which I also tested, is just one example, but it’s a modern design and a very different one.
I shot an 1 Euro coin and this is what to expect at the minimum focus distance:


Summary

Build quality 10 All-metal and very professional, there’s nothing to complain about
Handling 8 Fantastic manual focus lens with very rough focus ring, the only downside is having to select aperture on the lens in full stops
Resolution 9 Superb resolution for a wide angle lens, only soft in the corners wide-open and a little at f/4
Distortion 5 Complex barrel and mustache distortion, not suitable for architecture
Vignetting 8 Very strong wide-open, but not noticeable afterwards
Chromatic aberrations 10 This lens reaches perfection here, as did the Voigtländer
Coma 5 Poor, very noticeable in the borders in astrophotography
Flare 8 Doesn’t suffer much and contrast is always on top, but easy to catch a few tiny reflections of light if you’re not careful
Bokeh 4 Acceptable wide-open, but that’s about it
Overall 74% A very sharp wide angle prime lens that is very small and very tough, still one of the best ever that money can buy


Samples

Here are some samples of pictures I made with this lens. Settings: native JPEG, picture control set to Landscape mode, no post-processing applied except reducing to 600 pixel width.

24mm, f/2.8, 1/2500s, ISO 200
24mm, f/8.0, 1/250s, ISO 200
24mm, f/4.0, 1/320s, ISO 200
24mm, f/11, 1/200s, ISO 200
24mm, f/8.0, 1/250s, ISO 200
24mm, f/4.0, 1/1000s, ISO 200

Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G : Review


Introduction

This time I’m bringing to you my review of the Nikkor AF 50mm f/1.8 G lens for the Nikon mount, tested with the Nikon D700 full-frame DSLR. A 50mm lens is always a useful lens on full-frame for many purposes, from candid shots in low light to street photography, closeups and portraits. It is also a popular choice for the novice DX shooter as a first buy, since normal primes are usually cheap, not only for portraiture but also to get something more from their photos than those taken with the kit lenses.
The old 50mm f/1.8 D was a very good lens, and very cheap, but users with entry-level DSLRs could not auto-focus with this lens, meaning that this update was overdue.
After having enjoyed shooting for a couple years with the Nikkor AF-S 35mm f/1.8 G when I had a DX camera, I expected at least the same performance from this new 50mm on FX. This review will show what this lens is capable of in its native format.
For starters, see how the lens looks with a D700:

The lens was introduced in 2011 as a long overdue update for users with entry-level cameras that don’t have an AF drive, giving these users a much cheaper alternative to the f/1.4 G version. It was also about time to finally put an AF-S motor in the lens, since the entire lens lineup had been updated since many years ago. This normal prime lens includes 7 elements in 6 groups, of which one is of aspherical type to take care of optical distortions. It’s an all-plastic lens, including the filter thread, except the mount which is metal, but the plastic has a good quality and is rugged like the other G lenses. Being a G lens means that it doesn’t have an aperture ring anymore.
Having a street price of about 199€, it costs, looks and feels as the 35mm f/1.8 G, which for me it was a very good lens.


Technical Specifications

Focal length 50mm
Maximum aperture f/1.8
Minimum aperture f/16
Field of view 47 degrees (on FX)
Weight 185g
Dimensions 54 x 70mm
Optical construction 7 elements in 6 groups (1 aspherical element)
Aperture blades 7, rounded
Filter diameter 58mm
Minimal focus distance 91cm (37cm from the front element)
Hood HB-47, rounded
Mount Nikon F


Mechanical Characteristics

Zoom ring n/a
Focus ring Plastic with rubber finish, no infinity stop
Focus throw 110 degrees
Focus motor Yes
Optical stabilizer No
Front element rotation while zooming n/a
Front element rotation while focusing No
Internal focusing Yes
Lens extension while focusing No
Lens extension while zooming n/a
Maximum magnification 1:6.5


Handling

The Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 G lens is larger than the previous D version due to the inclusion of an AF motor, although it’s only 30 grams heavier, but looks big on a D3100. It balances and handles nicely on any camera, though, fitting everyone’s hands better than the D version.
The Nikkor is all-plastic made, but the mount is metal. The focus ring is plastic with a rubber finish for more grip but it’s not damped, it’s not smooth and feels like it’s not continuous, but instead feels like there are many tiny bumps while turning it. It doesn’t have an hard infinity stop, therefore one has to focus manually using Live View if we’re taking the lens out for astrophotography. Contrary to other motorized lenses, the focus ring stops turning around a little past infinity, while in those other lenses the focus ring never stops turning around. Thus, the focus ring must not be forced beyond infinity or below minimum focus distance, with the risk of breaking the AF mechanism. Fortunately, I rarely use the focus ring – only in Live View in the dark. The M/A-M switch on the lens means that at the M/A setting the lens allows manual focus override, which can be very useful at times, especially when working with large apertures, to make sure than the lens is focused on the exact spot we want. The throw of about 110 degrees is good for manual focusing.
The front element doesn’t rotate while focusing, so using polarizers is fine.
Speaking about focus speed, the lens focuses fast even in low light and never hesitates. The SWM motor is silent but it’s not amongst the best AF-S motors, there are much faster versions and more silent than this one. It has a problem, though: although the lens seems to focus faster than the f/1.4 G version, the f/1.8 G misses the target like once in every 10 shots when I use apertures greater than f/2.8. And I’m talking about long distance shots. This problem happens even at noon with contrasty subjects. When I use smaller apertures I don’t get any problems. My older trusty 50mm f/1.8 D always focused fast and with precision, but noisier of course. I just played with the f/1.4 G lens for several minutes and don’t know if the misfocusing issue was there too, but the few pictures I took with it were all in focus.
I use the lens mainly on the streets, it’s a snappy shooter and my only complain is the occasional misfocus.


Resolution

For the resolution test I shot the 5 Euro bill as usual. Focus was achieved using Live View to avoid auto-focus imprecisions and to compensate for possible field curvature issues.
The first column shows a crop of the image center, the corner crop is on the second column (the expected DX border) and the third column shows a crop of the extreme FX corner. Each row represents an aperture setting, from maximum to f/16 in full stops. Here are the results:

The center resolution is already great right from the maximum aperture and only drops a little at f/16 due to diffraction. From f/1.8 to f/2, the corner and border resolution is too soft, but there is a tremendous jump in edge-to-edge quality when closing the aperture to f/2.8. By f/4 the resolution is almost on its maximum, which happens at f/5.6, and then it stays on a top level until f/16, where it drops again due to diffraction. Overall, for corner-to-corner sharpness f/2.8 can be used without any problems. This performance is pretty much in line with the Nikkor AF-S 35mm f/1.8 G that I happily owned in the past. Regarding resolution, it’s like one stop better than the previous D version. The sharpness I get with the G lens at f/2.8 is about the same I had at f/4 with the D.


Distortion

Here is the brick wall shot:

There is a small amount of barrel distortion, but less than I got with the 35mm f/1.8 G. Fortunately this small distortion has a simple characteristic and can be easily corrected in post-processing. Of course, I always expect 50mm lenses to have no distortion and this may be worrying for some. In this regard, the 50mm f/1.8 D was perfect.


Vignetting

In this test, I shot a white wall at home using tungsten white balance and set exposure manually:

Vignetting is very strong from f/1.8 to f/2 but is hardly visible by f/2.8. Using the lens wide-open will bring vignetting but the effect might be desireable after all. It can be corrected in post-processing without much effort.


Chromatic aberrations

For this test I shot a car from above on a bright sunny day early in the afternoon:

There is some blue fringing at the edges of the windows until f/2, but only a couple pixels wide. In real shooting I never worry about this, even if I’m shooting metallic objects in bright light. If the reader had played with the 35mm f/1.8 G before, I can tell you that this 50mm is worlds better. This is top performance from any lens. I can’t compare it to the 50mm f/1.8 D because I don’t remember shooting with it wide-open, as it was too soft.


Coma

Coma was tested using a LED source, at home in a dark room.
I put the light source at the center (first column), corner and extreme corner of the frame (second and third columns, respectively), at maximum aperture and stopped down.

The lens has some coma, but it isn’t worrying. I use this lens on astrophotography shots and coma is hardly noticeable. I rate the lens as simply OK regarding coma.


Flare

I shot a building in construction with the sun sneaking from a window, to see if I could see any flare traces. I started to shoot directly against the sun, then placed the sun at the corner and finally made some shots with the sun just outside the frame.

Shot directly against the sun.
Shot with the sun placed at one corner of the frame.
Shot with the sun just outside the frame.

The lens has a good resistance to flare and ghosting, keeping contrast on a high level. The worst case is when the sun is placed at one corner, where multiple reflections of light might be seen towards the other. Shooting against the sun doesn’t produce halos and don’t degrade contrast. When placing the sun just outside the frame is always a good idea to use the supplied lens hood; in this case, the flare visible on the example could easily be avoided with the hood.
In conclusion, this is a good performance which was expected for a normal prime lens.


Bokeh

The lens has 7 blades, which means that it’s almost impossible to render perfect circles. They’re rounded, so it can’t be worse than the awful bokeh that the 50mm f/1.8 D renders.
I took a defocused picture at the widest aperture of the city lights and got crops of the center, corner and extreme corners. The test was repeated for the subsequent two stops.

The lens produces a surprisingly pleasing bokeh, with out of focus highlights that are smooth on the inside and nice edges that hardly can be called distracting. The only downsides are the fact that there are only 7 blades, and the cats-eye distortion on the corners of the frame due to vignetting. This is a quantum leap compared to the bokeh of the 50mm f/1.8 D!


Macro/Close-up

The Nikkor was able to focus as close as 37 centimeters from the front element, resulting in a maximum magnification ratio of only 1:6.5. It’s exactly the same minimum distance as I had when I used the previous D version lens.
I shot an 1 Euro coin and this is what to expect at the minimum focus distance:


Summary

Build quality 5 Almost entirely plastic-made but doesn’t feel too cheap
Handling 6 Fast lens that feels nice in your hand, may misfocus for no reason, manual focusing should be much better
Resolution 9 Amazing resolution, although soft in the corners wide-open
Distortion 7 Unexpected barrel distortion for a 50mm lens, but manageable
Vignetting 8 Strong wide-open, but almost disappears stopped down
Chromatic aberrations 9 Almost invisible in most conditions
Coma 8 Far from perfect, but not problematic in practice
Flare 6 Keeps good contrast, and the hood can help in some situations
Bokeh 7 Always very smooth without accentuated edges, but gets polygonal stopped down
Overall 74% A very sharp prime lens with nice handling and a welcome update for novice users


Samples

Here are some samples of pictures I made with this lens. Settings: native JPEG, picture control set to Landscape mode, no post-processing applied except reducing to 600 pixel width.

50mm, f/1.8, 1/4000s, ISO 200
50mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 200
50mm, f/4.0, 1/1250s, ISO 200
50mm, f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 200
50mm, f/2.0, 1/2500s, ISO 200
50mm, f/1.8, 1/4000s, ISO 200