Nikkor AF 20mm f/2.8 D : Review

Introduction

After a very long hiatus here’s my newest lens review, of the Nikkor AF 20mm f/2.8 D!
Many things have happened in my life recently, both personally and professionally, and because of the lack of time for “geeky” things such as testing and writing lens reviews, I have been spending most of my free time with my family – and obviously – taking photos of them. My favorite subjects have been my son and my wife 🙂

This was a big change in my “photography life”. Suddenly I wasn’t getting up early and spending an entire day outside taking landscape photos anymore, or simply walking around doing street photography or shooting insects… Now my priorities were two: portraits of my family and losing weight, well, not me but my photography gear.
I started the slimming program by dropping the heavy f/2.8 zooms and slowly substituting them with primes. At that time I also had a zoom lens which I liked a lot, the Nikkor AF-S 16-35mm f/4 G ED VR, which I regret not having the time to write a review of, and that had to go too. It wasn’t as heavy as the others, but it was nevertheless a long lens (and a speciality one which I used exclusively for landscapes). The slimming process went far: I still had the Nikon D700, one cheap zoom and two primes, but I added one new system to my kit: Micro Four Thirds, in my case an Olympus E-M10, two primes and the wonderful Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO zoom lens. I spent several months shooting and filming with the Olympus, and the Nikon was sitting at home unused most of the time.
But everytime I decided to shoot with the D700, mostly portraits, it was magic. I simply could not abandon the full-frame format. Then I thought that it didn’t make much sense to keep shooting with the 12-40mm, since it was a lens that wasn’t very well balanced with the E-M10, and sold it for a new Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8. Great lens, loved the rendering and AF speed, very compact and well built.

But I loved the look of full-frame… After some time I took the radical decision of selling all the Olympus gear and spent the money on the mighty Nikkor AF-S 58mm f/1.4 G lens. And what a treat is was! This is another lens I regret not writing a review of. It’s magic. I made so many beautiful portraits of my family with this lens, that I’m certainly we’ll admire them in the years to come. And now I don’t have this lens anymore, and why? Because I have migrated to a Sony A7s full-frame mirrorless camera, that’s why, and unfortunately there wasn’t any adapters that could AF with the 58mm, at least reliably. What a shame, I had to replace it somehow…

… but enough with the story and let’s get back to the Nikkor 20mm review!

This is a lens I never thought of buying when I had my D700, but now that I had a very small camera I needed small lenses, either native or adapted. Due to the lack of cheap ultra wide angle lenses for the Sony system, I had to look elsewhere for an adapted lens, and I saw the 20mm as a lens I was curious to try. So there it was at home, and even with the adapter it makes a nice combo with the Sony A7s:

This lens was announced in 1994 and is still being produced today, despite the release of the new Nikkor AF-S 20mm f/1.8 G and the now “ancient” aperture ring. It’s still the smallest ultra wide lens for the Nikon mount an can be bought cheaply today on the used market for about 300€.

Technical Specifications

Focal length 20mm
Maximum aperture f/2.8
Minimum aperture f/22
Field of view 94 degrees (on FX)
Weight 270g
Dimensions 43 x 69mm (46 x 69mm at minimum focus distance)
Optical construction 12 elements in 9 groups
Aperture blades 7, straight
Filter diameter 62mm
Minimum focus distance 25cm
Hood HB-4, optional
Mount F

Mechanical Characteristics

Zoom ring n/a
Focus ring Plastic with rubber finish, with infinity stop
Focus throw 93 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, 3mm
Lens extension while zooming n/a
Maximum magnification 1:8.3

Handling

The lens is very well built, and despite being all plastic on the outside it gives a very solid, dense feeling due to its weight and compactness. Since it’s so small even with the adapter, handling it with the Sony A7s is very easy and manual focus is nice for an AF lens. There’s a generous focus throw and, being an ultra wide lens, focusing is very easy. A nice bonus is the hard stop at infinity, just like the old AI lenses!
The front element doesn’t rotate while focusing, so using polarizers is not a problem.

Resolution

For the resolution test I shot two different targets, one sitting around 1 meter from the lens, and the other at “infinity”.
In both results, the first column shows a crop of the image center, and the second 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, first at the close target:

The center resolution is already on its maximum value, which I was kind of expecting from my experience with other old lenses, and only drops at f/22 due to diffraction. The corners, though, are a completely different matter; they start rather bad at f/2.8 and aggravated with huge vignetting, and resolution doesn’t improve much at f/4. Only at f/5.6 one starts to see sharp corners on full frame, but the very best apertures are f/8 and f/11 for homogeneous resolution corner to corner. Once again this is in line with the resolution characteristics with other old wide angle lenses, such as the 24mm and 28mm f/2.8 lenses.
When the target is located far away, the result is a little different:

The main difference is what happens at f/2.8 in the center. It’s very soft, and the corners are equally bad. But by f/4 there’s a big jump in quality in the center, despite the corners still being a little soft. Afterwards the behavior resembles what happened with the close target, but resolution in the corners is still rather soft even at f/5.6. Then, from f/8 and until f/16 the corners become very sharp and overall resolution only drops at f/22 because of diffraction.
Overall, this is still a great performance for an ultra wide angle lens and the resolution results are great for landscape photography when stopping down the aperture is the norm.

Distortion

Not a brick wall, but this image allows to see the distortion characteristics of the lens:

The lens has very visible barrel distortion along with a mustache type characteristic, producing a very wavy shape to horizontal lines, and because of that should be used with care in architecture photography, especially regarding horizontal lines. For landscapes this is not very important unless there are things like horizon line on seascapes, and in this case the distortion characteristic might be hard to fix, but using the appropriate profile for this lens in post-processing does the trick with one click.

Vignetting

Vignetting is very strong at f/2.8 and affects the entire frame, making the center lose about 1/3 stops of light, but the corners get really dark. At f/4, falloff improves drastically but the corners are still very dark. Vignetting never goes away afterwards until f/16, and only at f/22 there’s finally an improvement. However, vignetting is very easy to correct in post-processing and shouldn’t present a real issue in most circumstances.

Chromatic aberrations

I couldn’t force the appearance of CAs whatever I did. Even at f/2.8 I could not see any traces of fringing, it’s really great.

Coma

Coma was tested using a LED source, at home in a dark room.
The three columns in the following image show the result at the center, APS-C corner and full-frame corner, respectivelly:

As expected for a relatively fast ultra wide angle lens, coma is very high in the corners at full aperture. This is normal and difficult to correct during manufacturing, and is impossible to fix in post-processing. In this matter, the lens disappoints for applications like astrophotography where negligible coma distortion is crucial.

Flare

For the flare test, I started shooting directly against the sun, then placed the sun at the corner and finally made 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 lens has a very good resistance to veiling flare which is important to keep contrast high. 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. This characteristic is normal for old wide angle lenses, and the more the angle the worse ghosting becomes.
In conclusion, the best thing to do is leaving the sun at a safe distance from the frame.

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.
This test is based on a defocused picture of the city lights and getting crops from the center and corner at three different apertures.

The lens produces a reasonable bokeh wide open, not in this test because of the very visible accentuated edges, but when the background has lower contrast areas. In real life shots, bokeh is not very distracting, though. Stopping down immediately shows polygonal shapes which are the result of the straight type diafragm blades. However, this is in line with every ordinary wide angle lenses I tested.

Macro/Close-up

This lens employs CRC (Close-Range Correction) technology by means of floating elements that help correcting optical problems when focusing very close. As a result, this lens has a very sharp center wide open at the minimum focus distance. This allows to focus as close as 25 centimeters from the front plane, resulting in a maximum magnification ratio of 1:8.3. It’s not bad, but I’ve seen much better from other (modern) wide angle lenses.
I shot a Sony battery and this is the entire frame at the minimum focus distance:

Summary

Build quality 7 All-plastic on the outside but very solid, dense feeling
Handling 7 Easy manual focusing and aperture selection with the ring
Resolution 8 Very good resolution for an ultra wide angle lens, but wide open good only at short distances
Distortion 5 Complex barrel and mustache distortion, not suitable for architecture
Vignetting 4 Very strong wide-open, and always there afterwards
Chromatic aberrations 10 Perfect, no issues here
Coma 7 Very noticeable in the borders wide open, well controlled afterwards
Flare 7 Contrast is always high but ghosts are too easy to catch with the sun nearby
Bokeh 4 Just acceptable wide-open
Overall 65% A sharp and very compact ultra wide angle prime lens, still a great buy today especially on the used market for mirrorless cameras

Samples

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

20mm, f/8.0, 1/125s, ISO 100 – Click here for original
20mm, f/8.0, 1/200s, ISO 100 – Click here for original
20mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 200 – Click here for original
20mm, f/11, 1/60s, ISO 1600 – Click here for original
20mm, f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO 200 – Click here for original
20mm, f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO 320 – Click here for original
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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

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