The lens that I’ve been using the longest as a photographer is the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro – the F-mount lens, that is. Nikon has been selling it since 2006, and in that time it’s gained a lofty reputation (not just among macro photographers, either). Today, I’m reviewing it in full.
About the Nikon AF-S VR 105mm f/2.8G ED Macro
There’s a long history of 105mm f/2.8 macro lenses in Nikon’s lineup, starting with the Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AI-S in the 1980s. The lens I’m covering today is Nikon’s fourth 105mm f/2.8, and it’s been the most current version for years, up until the most recent Z-series 105mm f/2.8 S Macro was announced in 2021 for Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless system.
The full name of this lens is the Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED. That’s quite a mouthful! Nikon has since simplified its naming schema, but here’s what each abbreviation means:
- AF-S: Autofocus with silent-wave motor. Because of this motor, this lens will autofocus on any Nikon camera today, from entry-level DSLRs to the Nikon Z mirrorless system (assuming you use the FTZ adapter or a similar adapter with autofocus)
- VR: Vibration reduction. This is Nikon’s first VR macro lens. VR makes less and less of a difference as you focus closely, but I still find it helpful in stabilizing the view through your viewfinder and making it easier to compose.
- Micro-Nikkor: Nikon’s name for their macro photography lenses. This lens’s official specs say it can reach 1:1 magnification (AKA 1x or life-sized magnification), but in practice it can go even further to about 1.1x.
- G: No aperture ring on the lens.
- IF: Internal focus. At the time this lens was released, most macro lenses would focus externally instead, meaning that the barrel of the lens extended as you focused closer and closer. Internal focus means better weather sealing and simpler handling, and in some cases, more working distance (the distance between the front of the lens and your subject in macro photography).
- ED: Extra-low dispersion glass, a common Nikon feature to help minimize chromatic aberrations.
See more in our article on Nikon lens terminology. For simplicity, throughout this review, I’m going to refer to this lens as the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro.
One thing that makes the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro stand out is its high degree of compatibility, since it can autofocus on Nikon DSLRs and mirrorless alike. By comparison, many F-mount macro lenses from third party companies like Tokina or Tamron have compatibility issues with the FTZ adapters. And the newest Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 is a mirrorless-only macro lens. So, photographers who shoot cross-platform between Nikon DSLR and mirrorless should strongly consider the 105mm f/2.8G version.
In fact, that’s why I’ve kept it for so long for my own photography. I shot with Nikon DSLRs for years and now use a mirrorless camera most of the time. Out of all my F-mount glass, the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro is the only lens that I’ve kept in my bag for shooting mirrorless; everything else I use is a native Nikon Z lens.
Why did I choose to stick with this lens – and this lens only – from all the DSLR lenses I’ve used? Is it really that good? The truth is that the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro is not a perfect lens, as you’ll see throughout this review. But its imperfections are of little to no concern for the subjects that I shoot. Perhaps there’s also some nostalgia involved, since I’ve used it for so long and took many of my favorite pictures with this lens. There’s just nothing that makes me want to switch it out for something more modern.
With that, let’s take a look at the optical design of the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro.
Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro Lens Construction Diagram
This macro lens has 14 elements in 12 groups, which is a lot more than macro lens designs of the past. Here’s a diagram showing the lens’s construction:
There is one ED glass element, but it has no other special elements. That’s not surprising for a lens from 2006, but nowadays, you may be used to seeing more exotic glass in a lens like this. For instance, the Nikon Z-mount 105mm macro has four special elements: one aspherical and three ED glass.
Nevertheless, what matters is not the number of special elements in a lens but the way it performs in practice. (Well, what really matters is the photographer’s creative process, but I’ll leave that discussion for our articles on composition.)
For decades, macro lenses in general – not just from Nikon – have had a good reputation for sharpness and image quality even at non-macro focusing distances. Is that also true of the 105mm f/2.8G Macro? You’ll see more in the “Image Quality” section later in this review, but the frank answer is that it has some image quality flaws compared to newer macro lenses, even though it’s not terrible in any respect.
Now let’s take a more detailed look at this lens’s specifications.
Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro Lens Specifications
- Mount Type: Nikon F Mount
- Focal Length: 105mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/2.8 at infinity; f/4.8 at 1:1
- Minimum Aperture: f/32 at infinity; f/57 at 1:1
- Aperture Blades: 9, rounded
- Filter Size: 62mm
- Lens Elements: 14
- Lens Groups: 12
- Special Elements: 1 ED glass element
- Fluorine Coated Front Element: No
- Electronic Diaphragm: No
- Vibration Reduction: Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Focus Motor: Stepping motor
- Minimum Focus Distance: 12.4 inches (31.4 cm)
- Maximum Magnification: 1× (AKA 1:1 or life-sized)
- Mount Material: Metal
- Weather/Dust Sealing: Yes
- Dimensions (Length × Diameter): 116 × 83 mm / 4.6 × 3.3 inches
- Weight: 720 g / 1.58 lbs
- MSRP: $900, but discontinued. About $500 used. Check current price on eBay
The Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro is a quintessential macro lens, and nothing in this list of specs is especially surprising or out of place. One thing to note, however, is the maximum aperture value, which narrows as you focus toward 1:1 magnification. This phenomenon isn’t unique to this lens; it’s a property of all lenses when focusing at very close distances. The effect is sometimes called the bellows factor or effective aperture. Still, it doesn’t really change how you should use the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro; just be aware that the viewfinder will get a bit dimmer at 1:1 focusing distances.
On the next page of this review, I’ll cover the construction and real-world handling of the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro lens. Click the menu below to go to “Build Quality and Handling.”