Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S lens
Nikon’s Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S is an excellent lens that merits a place in the kit of any photographer who owns a Z-mount camera, especially those interested in macro or portrait photography.
Delivering outstanding performance, it is remarkably versatile, easy to carry and light enough to use hand-held. It’s also one of the few medium telephoto lenses available for the Z-mount at present.
Announced simultaneously with the 50mm f/2.8 lens, the Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S lens is a higher-featured S-Line lens, which indicates better optical performance, robust weatherproof sealing, more sophisticated features and improved operability. External controls on the barrel include an L-Fn button, an A/M switch, focus limiter switch, an extra control ring and an illuminated OLED display that displays focus information.
Angled view of the Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S lens. (Source: Nikon.)
As one of Nikon’s first Z-mount macro lenses, the Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S lens has been highly anticipated as the next step in a popular line. Its appeal dates back to the earlier F-mount 105mm Micro-Nikkors, which was first released in 1983 (the AF version didn’t appear until 199 with the AF-S version – the last F-mount lens in the series – following in 2006).
The new Z-mount lens is somewhat a more complex, with an optical design containing 16 elements in 11 groups, compared with 14 elements in 12 groups in the AF-S Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR. Among them are three extra-low dispersion (ED) elements plus one relatively large rear aspherical element, which reduces field curvature. Elements with Nano Crystal and ARNEO coatings help to limit flare and ghosting, while the front element is fluorine coated to repel moisture and dust.
The optical design of the Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S lens showing the positions of the exotic glass elements. (Source: Nikon.)
With a versatile mid-telephoto focal length and fast f/2.8 maximum aperture, this lens has a minimum focusing distance of 29 cm, which provides an adequate working distance for photographing live subjects. The nine-bladed iris diaphragm closes to a circular aperture to ensure attractive bokeh.
Autofocusing is internal and driven by a stepping motor system that is fast and virtually silent with suppressed hunting and breathing. Manual focus over-ride can be achieved by simply turning the focusing ring; no camera adjustments are needed.
Variable gearing of the stepping motors ensures the lens will lock on quickly and accurately, an essential feature in macro photography. A limiter switch on the lens barrel can be used to restrict focus to the macro range (29-50 cm) and enable faster and more accurate focusing.
VR (vibration reduction) stabilisation is controlled by the camera and has to be switched on via the camera’s menu. With the [Normal} menu setting, Nikon claims approximately 4.5 stops of shake correction based upon CIPA standards.
Nikon provides a profile for its lenses that enable cameras to correct aberrations such as vignetting and rectilinear distortion automatically. Vignette controls provides three levels plus an off setting, distortion and diffraction controls are also user-selectable and the lens profile ‘plays nicely’ with Adobe Camera Raw software, our preferred raw file converter.
The front of the lens is threaded for 62 mm filters, which was also used by the previous F-mount 105mm Micro-Nikkor lens and makes it compatible with some of Nikon’s older macro accessories. Like the Nikkor Z MC 50mm f/2.8 lens, it can be used with the ES-2 film digitising adapter set, which includes two 62 mm adapter rings plus film strip and 35mm slide mount holders. But it’s not compatible with Nikon’s Z-mount teleconverters.
Who’s it For?
Naturally, this lens will appeal to photographers who enjoy shooting close-ups and who own a Z-mount camera. A clear advantage of the new lens is that while it’s been designed primarily for the ‘full-frame’ Z5, Z6 and Z7 models, it’s not too big and heavy to use on the Z50 and Z fc APS-C cameras, where its angle of view equates to 157.7mm on a 35mm frame.
If you already have the older F-mount versions of the AF-S Micro-Nikkor 105mm lens you’ll find that lens can be used on Z-mount cameras with the FTZ adapter. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense since the adapter would add 70 mm and 135 grams to the overall dimension of the older lens, which is already 116 mm long and weighs 790 grams.
The Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S lens shown on the Z7 Mark II camera. (Source: Nikon.)
You’d end up carrying 925 grams, compared with only 630 grams for the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S lens. That extra size and weight would likely be too much for less substantial cropped-sensor cameras.
The new Z-mount lens features all the latest Nikkor technology, including both ARNEO and Nano Crystal coatings to address deficiencies in air-to-glass transmission and deliver sharper, cleaner images. The front element also has a fluorine coating for repelling water and grease, making it easy to keep clean.
Built-in VR stabilisation claims up to 4.5 stops of shake correction for hand-held shooting of stills and video, another advantage that is especially important for macro work. The published MTF values appear to show this lens should deliver sharper images across a broad set of parameters, something we confirmed with our Imatest tests.
The working distance for this lens is about 13 cm and the lens hood is 6 cm deep. This means users should be wary of shading subjects when shooting at close distances with artificial lighting or strong and directional natural light.
Build and Ergonomics
Like most of Nikon’s consumer cameras and lenses, the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S lens is made in the company’s factory in Thailand. Although it’s not exactly small (which isn’t surprising given the 105mm focal length) it is surprisingly light, and its build quality is generally excellent.
The light weight has been achieved through an unspecified ‘change’ to ‘the material of the lens body’ and use of an aluminium alloy mount. Fortunately, it feels solid and handles smoothly and the weatherproof sealing puts it into the ‘pro’ quality bracket.
On the outer rim at the front of the lens barrel is the usual bayonet mounting for the supplied cylindrical lens hood, which comes with a locking button. There’s a narrow (13 mm wide) rubber band just behind the hood mount which appears to have no function beyond providing a grip. This can be handy when twisting the lens on and off the mount but that’s about its limit.
Just behind it, the 45 mm wide focusing ring provides the principal adjustment surface. It is almost entirely clad in thick rubber ridging. Further back lies the main controls panel containing the OLED data display plus the display button and programmable L-Fn (lens function) button, with the ‘S’ branding icon of the lens just below it.
We have mixed feelings about the value of the OLED data panel because, even though it lights up when the camera is powered-up, we never remembered to look at it, since the Z7 camera we used for this review provides excellent on-screen displays in its EVF. The data panel switches off after about 10 seconds and you must press the nearby display button to switch it back on if you need it.
If you want to use it, this little screen can provide some useful information. Pressing the button below it toggles through the reproduction ratio, aperture and focus distance settings when the camera is in A or M mode. Pressing and holding down the button lets users choose the units (metric or Imperial) for distance settings and adjust the screen’s brightness.
A 12 mm wide programmable control ring is located just aft of this section of the lens. It can be set to adjust a single function, such as aperture or exposure compensation, assigned via the Custom controls settings in camera’s menu.
The lens barrel slopes steeply inwards just behind the control ring to a 20 mm wide section of the barrel, which carries the sliders for the focus mode (A or M settings) and the focus limiter switch (FULL or 0.5m-0.29m), which is a bit restricted for a telephoto lens. We’d like to have seen an additional setting covering a range like 1.5m to 2.5m for portrait photographers.
A narrow rubber gasket surrounds the lens mounting plate to keep out moisture and dust. The lens ends in a solid chromed fitting with gold-plated CPU contacts for transferring data between the lens and the camera.
The lens is supplied with a deep cylindrical lens hood, which includes a locking button. A soft carrying pouch is also provided.
The lens was tested on the Nikon Z7 camera, which was supplied by the local distributor. Imatest showed the review lens to be a superb performer capable of comfortably exceeding expectations for the 45-megapixel sensor on the Z7 camera from the centre of the frame through to the periphery.
High resolution was consistent from the widest aperture setting through to around f/8 where diffraction began to take effect. The graph below shows the test results across the aperture range from f/2.8 to f/32.
Lateral chromatic aberration was close to the lower edge of in the ‘negligible’ band the upper edge of which is defined by the red line in the graph of our test results below. We found no evidence coloured fringing along high-contrast edges or around bright highlights in any of our raw file test shots or in JPEGs recorded with all aberration corrections disabled.
We decided to check the lens performance by photographing a distant building with some workers in a cradle on its exterior using lens apertures between f/2.8 and f/32 in one-stop increments. Cropped sections of these files at 100% magnification are reproduced below.
The reference image showing the area included in the entire frame.
Cropped image at f/2.8.
Cropped image at f/4.
Cropped image at f/5.6.
Cropped image at f/8.
Cropped image at f/11.
Cropped image at f/16.
Cropped image at f/22.
Cropped image at f/32.
The largest files (by a small margin) were obtained at f/8, the aperture at which our Imatest tests showed diffraction kicked in. Interestingly, images captured at f/2.8 were the same size, with the intervening images only a few kilobytes lower. These results confirm the results of our Imatest analyses.
It’s worth noting the maximum aperture of the lens is reduced at close focusing distances. The table below shows the changes.
|Maximum aperture||Distance from camera|
|f/2.8||1.5 metres to infinity|
|f/3.0||70 cm to 1.5 metres|
|f/3.2||50 cm to 70 cm|
|f/3.3||40 cm to 50 cm|
|f/3.5||35 cm to 40 cm|
|f/3.8||33 cm to 35 cm|
|f/4.0||32 cm to 33 cm|
|f/4.2||31 cm to 32 cm|
|f/4.5||29 cm to 31 cm|
Focusing was also fast and generally accurate in all the conditions we tested – including in the macro settings – as long as the correct AF point or area was selected. Setting the priority to ‘focus’ rather than ‘release’ is a good way to ensure shots won’t be taken unless the selected area in the frame is sharp and make it easy to obtain maximum magnification without wasting shots.
The depth of focus is very shallow with wide aperture settings at 1:1 reproduction or thereabouts, as shown in the Samples section of this review. We detected no unwanted autofocusing noises while using this lens, which means it’s quiet enough to use for video recordings.
Macro prime lenses tend to shift their field of view slightly when they are refocused but we found no changes in magnification when we took a series of shots across a Scrabble board using different points of focus with the aim of stacking them. The first and last images in the five frame sequence are shown below, along with the final stacked image.
The first frame in the sequence, focused on the C tile in the corner of the board. ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/3.2.
The final frame in the sequence, this time focused on the C tile towards the centre of the board. ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/3.
The final image produced by stacking five frames.
Interestingly, we obtained a result that was as good – if not a little better – with a one-second exposure at f/36 with the camera’s internal diffraction corrections enabled. Naturally the camera was tripod mounted. This demonstrates the ability to adapt one’s shooting technique to different situation in order to achieve acceptably sharp focus across a relatively wide distance range when shooting close-ups with this lens.
172: A one-second exposure at f/36 with the focus on the N tile, roughly one third of the distance from the closest point in the subject.
Aberrations like vignetting and distortion are corrected automatically in JPEGs so we had to assess raw files to determine whether they were significant. We found moderate vignetting in raw files taken at f/2.8, although stopping down reduced it quickly and it was hard to see by f/4. Rectilinear distortion is rare in telephoto lenses and we found it to be effectively negligible in raw files.
The deep lens hood helped to keep the review lens relatively flare-free, even when the camera was pointed directly at the sun. We were able to produce attractive, artefact-free, 18-pointed sunstars when the lens was stopped down to apertures of f/11 or smaller, although one of our test shots at f/22 included a small flare artefact.
Bokeh was generally smooth and attractive, even with the lens stopped down to f/8. Evenly-lit backgrounds were particularly smooth and the shallow focus at wider apertures ensured a nice blending of tones.
Readers should note that this review was carried out during Sydney’s hard lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This accounts for the limited range of subjects covered in the Samples collection.
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Picture angle: 23 degrees 10 minutes (DX format – 15 degrees 20 minutes)
Minimum aperture: f/32
Lens construction: 16 elements in 11 groups (including 3 ED and 1 aspherical elements plus elements with Nano Crystal and ARNEO coats)
Lens mounts: Nikon Z mount
Diaphragm Blades: 9 (circular aperture)
Weather resistance: Dust- and drip-resistant sealing
Focus drive: Dual-Motor Multi-Focus STM (stepping motor) system
Stabilisation: Yes, using voice coil motors (VCMs); 4.5 stops of shake correction
Minimum focus: 29 cm
Maximum magnification: 1:1 ratio
Filter size: 62 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 85 x 140 mm
Weight: 630 grams
Standard Accessories: LC-62B Lens Cap (front cap), LF-N1 Lens Cap (rear cap), HB-99 Lens Hood, CL-C2 Lens Case
Distributor: Nikon Australia; 1300 366 499
Based upon JPEG images captured with the Nikon Z7 camera.
Based upon 14-bit NEF.RAW files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Adobe Camera Raw.
Recorded with the review lens on the Nikon Z7 camera body.
Vignetting at f/2.8.
ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/7.1.
The same subject photographed with ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/11.
ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/4.5.
Taken only a couple of seconds after the shot above after the bee had landed. ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/4.5.
ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/3.8.
ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/8.
ISO 100, 1/80 second at f/7.1.
Backlit close-up; ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/5.
ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/3.3.
ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/3.
ISO 100, 1/15 second at f/8.
Sunstars and flare artefact at f/32, ISO 100, 1/60 second.
Woven fabric; ISO 100, 1/20 second at f/8. Camera was tripod mounted.
176: Backlit subject; ISO 100, 1 second at f/36. Camera was tripod mounted.
RRP: AU$1699; US$999.95
- Build: 8.9
- Handling: 9.0
- Image quality: 9.0
- Autofocusing: 8.9
- Versatility: 9.0