[ Our "User Reports" are observations by the user of an actual production unit in what can be considered normal use by a "serious user". We avoid the term "review", since the product is not put through the rigorous repeatable test systems and conditions of a product review. We do make pains to ensure, by offering as detailed a report as possible, that these are no less informative than a formal review. ]
Rumors of this lens came out late in 2005 when photos and specifications of the lens were leaked. These specifications were quickly discounted as fakes by armchair experts, many of whom believed that it was implausible simply because it was unthinkable or impossible that Nikon would come up with a "flower" lens with Vibration Reduction and Nano Crystal Coating. Early this year, Nikon did the impossible and came out with the 105mm f/2.8G VR Micro-Nikkor, making this probably the most advanced macro lens today in any of the 35mm lens lineups.
The 105/2.8 VR is a big lens, much bulkier than the previous, non-VR, version of the 105/2.8 AF lens. Nearly a third of the length of the lens is dominated by the rubberized plastic focus ring. A plastic panel on the left side of the lens holds three plastic mode switches. The rest of the body is made of tough, cast metal alloy. The lens mount is also metal and has a rubber gasket to seal the mount from the environment when attached to a camera body. The 62mm lens thread is also in metal. The top of the lens has a clear window for a distance/magnification scale.
In the box, the lens comes with the excellent Nikon front and rear lens caps made of similarly durable plastic, and a lens hood. The included lens hood is a large HB-38 bayonet-type hood. It is made of tough plastic and reverses onto the lens for storage.
The first thing one has to get over with the Nikon 105/2.8VR is the size and weight. It is considerably bigger and heavier than other 105mm lenses, and literally eclipses its equivalents. With its big lens hood attached, the 105/2.8VR blocks the pop-up flash on the D50, causing undesired shadows (take the lens hood off or reverse it when shooting with the pop-up flash). Its bulk also blocks the AF assist lamp on the D50, even without the lens hood attached.
The Nikon 105/2.8VR is an AF-S lens with Silent Wave Motors. The focus ring's considerable diameter makes it easy to handle. The focus ring spins smoothly and precisely. Autofocus action is silent and fast, though it will occassionally hunt when focusing up close (this may be due to the lens shortening its focal length as it closes in focusing distance). It has an M/A mode that allows manual focus override while in autofocus mode. A focus limit switch lets you toggle from the full focusing range to a limited range (from infinity to 0.5 meters). It also has Internal Focusing, so the front element does not rotate, making it easier to use with circular polarizers and other filters.
The Vibration Reduction system engages and disengages with a slightly audible click when you half-press to focus, or when focus lock is activated either through AF-Lock. The VR action shows up clearly when shooting handheld. The image through the optical viewfinder visibly stabilizes as it counters camera shake. [More details on the VR system are in a separate section below.]
This is a G-type lens, so it does not have an aperture ring, and the aperture is instead set on the camera body.
The lens has a quoted closest focusing distance of 1 ft (0.314 meters). It also effectively changes focal length as it focuses closer. The maximum aperture changes as the focusing distance changes. Many new users of IF macro lenses are surprised to find that you cannot get the maximum f/2.8 aperture at less than 3 meters focusing distance. The maximum aperture goes down to as little as f/4.8 at the closest focusing distance.
|Distance (meters)||Magnification (1:x)||Max Aperture|
|around 1.5||nearly 10||f/3|
Impressively, the Nikon 105/2.8 VR shows center and corner sharpness through the entire aperture range. The sweet spot is said to be between f/5.6 to f/11, but inspecting 100% crops did not reveal much loss of sharpness at the larger apertures. This probably has a good deal to do with the ED glass element and Nano Crystal coating showing its worth, but it is also probable that the lens outresolves the 6-megapixel APS-C sensor on the test body (a Nikon D50), so any decrease in sharpness is not as apparent.
[ 1/60s f/4 105mm ISO800 flash bounced handheld ]
Likewise, color and contrast are also consistently well rendered through the range of apertures. The only flaws in this gem are flaring and chromatic aberration, which shows up in high contrast scenes from maximum aperture (f/2.8) and is minimized by f/5.6. This is, however, typical of many large aperture lenses at maximum aperture.
Bokeh is one of the best traits of this lens, pretty much up there with some of the best Nikkor lenses, like the 85/1.4 AF-D. Out of focus areas are smooth, and the 9-bladed diaphragm helps to render out of focus point lights as circles rather than harsh geometric shapes.
[ Nikon D50 and Nikon 105mm f/2.8G AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor ]
[ 1/250s f/8 105mm ISO400 handheld ]
[ Nikon D50 and Nikon 105mm f/2.8G AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor ]
[ 1/320s f/8 105mm ISO400 handheld ]
Vibration Reduction (VR)
The "party piece" of the Nikon 105/2.8 VR is the Vibration Reduction II system, which stabilizes lens elements to correct for camera shake in various situations. VR-II is the latest iteration of Nikon's Vibration Reduction technology, and the system on the Nikon 105/2.8 VR is similar to the system on the megazoom Nikon 18-200mm VR. Unlike the VR-II on the 18-200, however, the VR-II on the 105/2.8 VR can only be turned "On" or "Off" and does not have a "Normal-Active" switch. It does interpret any sweeping horizontal movement as panning, and in this case will correct only for vertical movement. VR-II can also be used when the camera is mounted on a monopod or when in free movement on a tripod. On a stable, locked down platform or tripod, VR needs to be switched off, else the VR system will in some cases cause unnecessary shake and actually introduce blur.
The VR-II system allows stable, shake free shooting at up to 4 stops slower than normal shutter speeds. In practice, you could get sharp photos up to a ridiculously marginal shutter speed of 1/20s, and this is on a 105mm lens (the rule of thumb would have it at a minimum of 1/100s or 1/125s to avoid camera shake). The maximum effectiveness decreases as you get into closer focusing distance, but it is already a big help when shooting headshots and distant subjects handheld. In the macro range the effectiveness of VR can go down to as little as 1 stop worth of advantage. That one extra stop still means you can shoot at slower shutter speeds than normal but get acceptable results, or better, when combined with good handholding technique and AF-C focusing mode (this last one to correct for the forward and back movement that throws off macros and for which VR cannot correct). So for macros, in a pinch, when it is not possible to use a tripod, VR is a nice feature to have in your pocket.
* Battery Life
To get an idea of the impact that the VR system has on battery life, we tested a fully charged EN-EL3 battery with a Nikon D50. We had autofocus on and set at AF-A, Single AF mode, with the AF Assist lamp turned on. Image review was off but images were reviewed from time to time in what would be representative of normal use. This got us a total of only 218 shots on a single charge. We could probably have gotten in more shots if the AF Assist lamp had been disabled, since it is being blocked by the lens, hence it was not being useful anyway. Still, there is reason enough to consider getting extra batteries or a battery grip to supply the VR system with the needed power for a long shooting day.
The Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro is a G lens, and works with a limited number of later model Nikon F mount film bodies that are able to use Nikkor G lenses, but is compatible with all Nikon digital SLR bodies.
With all the badges it wears (AF-S, SWM, ED, N, VR), you could easily dismiss the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR as an overhyped "flower" lens. But there is more substance to it than even the hype suggests. The lens makes it easy to get sharpness on the subject and a smooth backdrop as a bonus. As a macro lens, it is unique in providing vibration reduction for those hard-to-get unstable shooting situations. As a portrait and tele lens, it is one of the few f/2.8 lenses that you can get with VR for the price.
Is it worth the premium? It all depends on how serious you are with your "flower" lenses.
For more concise technical reviews, check out:
Ghislain Simard reviews the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 G IF-ED AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor
Bjørn Rørslett reviews the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 G IF-ED AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor
[ Sample photos were shot with the lens being reviewed, attached to a Nikon D50 digital SLR. Photos of the product were shot with a Sony V3. ]