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

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

Nikkor AF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 D : Review

Introduction

Here is my review of the Nikkor AF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 D zoom lens for the Nikon mount, tested with the Nikon D700 full-frame DSLR. This is a practical zoom lens for walking around that has a useful wide to mid telephoto coverage, which is great for street shooting, from wide scenes to portraits.
Take a look at how the lens combines with the D700:

This lens was introduced in 1999 and was sold as a kit lens or as upgrade to the kit lens supplied with the Nikon F100. The lens includes 16 elements in 12 groups, one of those elements being of aspherical type to reduce optical distortions. It’s an all-plastic made lens, at least on the outside (including the filter thread), except for the mount which is metal, but the plastic is high quality although is not rugged as the newer G lenses, being very smooth (too much) instead. The lens features an aperture ring with a lock at the f/22 position, making it compatible with the older manual SLRs.
It can be found today in the used market as a bargain; the prices range from about 90€ to 175€. I got mine as a temporary solution when I got into FX while I was waiting for other cheap lightweight options, and since then I’m having trouble finding a better affordable alternative. It has been worth every penny and much more! I’m looking forward to see how the upcoming Nikkor AF-S 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 G does and how much it costs, because maybe this could be a good replacement.

Technical Specifications

Focal length 28 – 105mm
Maximum aperture f/3.5 – f/4.5
Minimum aperture f/22 – f/29
Field of view 74 – 23 degrees (on FX)
Weight 455g
Dimensions 84 x 72mm (120 x 72mm extended)
Optical construction 16 elements in 12 groups (1 aspherical element)
Aperture blades 9
Filter diameter 62mm
Minimal focus distance 124.5cm (4.5cm from the front element)
Hood HB-18, rounded and very enlarged up front
Mount Nikon F

Mechanical Characteristics

Zoom ring Plastic with rubber finish
Focus ring Plastic with rubber finish, with infinity stop
Focus throw 30 degrees (with focus limiter), 74 degress (without)
Focus motor No
Optical stabilizer No
Front element rotation while zooming Yes, 185 degrees
Front element rotation while focusing No
Internal focusing Yes
Lens extension while focusing No
Lens extension while zooming Yes, up to 37mm
Maximum magnification 1:2, at 105mm

Handling

The Nikkor is a small and lightweight lens for FX standards, particularly when compared with modern G lenses with internal focus motor, like the Nikkor AF-S 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 G zoom lens. The lens looks nice, except when the ugly hood is attached – it’s an absurdly huge hood, rounded and very enlarged up front, like a funnel. I never use the hood, but if I needed one I’d look for other third-party alternatives.
Using the lens may be disappointing at times, especially when trying to frame the subject with precision. The Nikkor is all-plastic made at least on the outside, including the filter thread (except the mount which is metal), and both the zoom and focus rings have a rubber finish for enhanced grip. The problem is that the zoom ring isn’t damped, in fact it’s the worst zoom lens I ever used (I thought the Nikkor AF 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 G was the worst). Zooming is all but smooth and feels like rubbing plastic on plastic, and the ring gets stuck all the time, making precise framing very hard. Also, zooming is very non-linear; the change in magnification seen in the viewfinder doesn’t act linearly as the zoom ring is turned around. To make things even worse, the front element rotates a lot while zooming, being an absolute nightmare when shooting with a polarizer.
On the other hand, the focus ring is much smoother and never gets stuck, but it’s pretty much useless for manual focusing due to the very short throw. There’s a switch on the lens that limits the minimal focus distance to 0.5 meters, which makes focusing quick (but not lightning quick) on the D700 when the limiter is activated. To turn off the limiter, one has to zoom in at least to 50mm, but once the switch is moved there’s no way back to wider focal lengths, unless the user focuses some object between 0.5 meters and infinity. It’s a bit cumbersome at first but one gets used to it.
The 28-105mm has a very good close focus capability, reaching a maximum magnification ratio of 1:2 at 105mm. Mind you, this feature isn’t perfect though; the center resolution is very good, but the corners never reach the same level because of the huge field curvature at that setting.
So, regarding handling, this lens feels very cheap but it’s not that bad for a walkaround lens. I prefer to use a lightweight lens like this on the streets instead of a 24-120mm f/4 VR, for example. Besides, you may be positively surprised with the image quality if you manage to find a good copy.

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. Here are the results:

28mm

At 28mm the center resolution is already excellent right from f/3.5 and only starts to get worse at f/16 due to diffraction. The corner and border resolution never reach the same level, but is more than acceptable and stays constant until f/22 where resolution drops significantly. The edge-to-edge resolution is good but could be better especially when stopped down, as happens with most lenses, but instead remains constant trough the aperture range.

70mm

By 70mm the resolution in the center remains on an excellent level and corners follow very closely. Only the extreme corner performance is noticeably worse, being a little soft until f/8, but at f/11 there’s a sudden jump in quality. This isn’t very noticeable outside the studio, but if you need excellent resolution in the entire frame then f/11 is the aperture to choose here.

105mm

At 105mm the lens continues to deliver great resolution figures straight from the maximum aperture of f/4.5, and only the extreme corners are visibly softer. The resolution characteristic here is identical to the one at 70mm. Some owners of this lens say that the lens is very good at all focal lengths except at 105mm. Au contraire, my copy is worse at the wider end; for my type of shooting I wish it had better resolution here than at 105mm.
Like I said before, at the macro setting at 105mm, the center resolution is great (like as seen above at 105mm), but the corners are always much worse and don’t improve much, even when closing the diafragm to the minimum of f/29. But it’s nice when your subject fills the center of the frame, anyway.

Regarding resolution, this Nikkor is a solid performer and produces stunning pictures on the D700. It could be a little better at 28mm at the edges, of course, but that’s about it.

Distortion

Here are the brick wall shots:

28mm

70mm

105mm

At the widest focal length, the lens produces a considerable amount of barrel distortion. This can be almost entirely corrected in post-processing, and I say “almost” because even then the pictures still have a residual mustache distortion. It’s not problematic though, unless you need perfectly distortion-free images. At the other focal lengths there’s nothing to complain about because distortion disappears completely.

Vignetting

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

28mm

At 28mm, vignetting is strong wide-open and down to f/4. By f/5.6 the light losses are average but improve greatly afterwards.

70mm

At 70mm, there is just a bit of vignetting at f/4.5 but vanishes stopping down, resulting in very uniform light distribution across the frame.

105mm

At 105mm, the lens vignettes wide-open down to f/5.6, but from f/8 there aren’t traces of it anymore.

The lens suffers from vignetting more at 28mm, at the f/3.5 and f/4 settings. Nothing that can’t be solved in post-processing, though. At other apertures and focal lengths this isn’t an issue.

Chromatic aberrations

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

28mm

105mm

As happens with older lenses without special low dispersion elements, there’s a noticeable amount of purple friging in high contrast areas at the maximum aperture at all focal lengths. It’s not visible when looking at the entire image on my monitor, but viewing at 100% may reveal fringing reaching several pixels wide. Stopping down brings the problem to a negligible effect, which may still be noticeable in careful pixel-peeping. Overall it’s still a good performance from any lens.

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.

28mm

105mm

The lens suffers from heavy coma, putting it on par with other old lenses, especially at the wider end. Obviously it’s not a good candidate to take out for astrophotography.

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.

The lens has a weak resistance to flare and ghosting that interferes on the overall image contrast. When shooting against the sun there’s a huge halo around it that occupies almost the entire image. Placing the sun at one corner reveals the multiple internal reflections, which are very visible in the entire frame towards the opposite corner. Even when the sun is already outside the frame, there’s almost a 100% probability of still having problems. Unfortunately, since the supplied lens hood is so large at the front, it only reduces the problem a bit when the sun is just outside the frame, and that’s another reason I don’t use it at all (besides the ugly look).
In conclusion, this is the worst case I’ve dealed with so far. But since normally people never shoot against the sun or at the proximity, in practice this isn’t an issue.

Bokeh

The lens has 9 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.

28mm

105mm

The bokeh from this lens is almost perfectly circular in the entire frame, in fact so far it’s the most constant characteristic I’ve seen. There’s only a little distortion in the extreme corners, but there’s no cats-eye distortion or any worse drastic effects. On the down side, the bokeh is never smooth on the inside and the edges are very pronuntiated, especially at the widest focus length.
Overall, the lens has a better than average bokeh characteristic, and produces very nice out of focus renderings in all situations without interfering negatively with the subject.

Macro/Close-up

With the focus limiter activated, the Nikkor was capable to focus as close as 44 centimeters from the sensor plane, or 32 centimeters from the front element, resulting in a maximum magnification ratio of 1:5.2 at 105mm. When the focus limiter is switched off, the focus distance drops down to 16.5 centimeters from the sensor plane or 4.5 centimeters from the front element, to a maximum magnification ratio of 1:2 at 105mm.
I shot an 1 Euro coin and this is what to expect at the minimum focus distance:

28mm

105mm

105mm, focus limiter off

Summary

Build quality 4 Almost entirely plastic-made and feels cheap
Handling 5 An useful zoom lens with decent AF speed and features, but zooming is disappointing in many aspects
Resolution 8 Great resolution overall, but could be improved a little at 28mm
Distortion 8 Noticeable barrel distortion at 28mm, but disappears afterwards
Vignetting 8 A little strong at biggest apertures, but good looking otherwise
Chromatic aberrations 8 Only visible at maximum aperture at all focal lengths while pixel-peeping
Coma 5 A lot of coma especially at 28mm, but always present at other focal lengths
Flare 3 Very weak resistance against flare, and the hood doesn’t help here
Bokeh 7 Circular but very nervous with accentuated edges at 28mm, but improves at 105mm
Overall 67% A very sharp and handy lens in FX that bears other good optical characteristics, but there’s an equal number of downsides too

A final remark

On a very subjective opinion, the final score doesn’t reflect how great and handy this lens can be on the street if one takes some basic precautions. As long as you shoot with the lens stopped down on sunny days and never shoot against the sun, the lens can produce fantastic images with good color (a bit on the conservative way), good bokeh and relatively low distortion.
Thus, for anyone starting with FX with limited funds, this lens is the one to start with. There are many other alternatives with similar focal range, but the 28-105mm is hard to beat in resolution, regardless of price. In fact, I’ve seen much worse from third-party lenses with constant f/2.8 aperture.
In few words, this is a cheap lens that produces fantastic results, as long as you take the precautions refered above and can live with the many mechanical limitations.

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/4.5, 1/160s, ISO 200
105mm, f/4.5, 1/125s, ISO 200
28mm, f/5.6, 1/1000s, ISO 200
38mm, f/8.0, 1/500s, ISO 200
28mm, f/11, 1/320s, ISO 200
90mm, f/8.0, 1/500s, ISO 200