Nikkor Z MC 50mm f/2.8 macro lens

      Photo Review 8.9


      In summary

      The small size, light weight and weather-resistant sealing of this lens make it a useful choice for travel and everyday photography. Its standard focal length can be used for everyday snapshots as well as photographing subjects like street scenes, portraits and close-ups of food and flowers.

      Our tests performed at the middle of the focus range (and outside the macro range) indicate very good performance for both resolution and edge-to-edge sharpness.

      Full review

      Announced on 2 June, the Nikkor Z MC 50mm f/2.8 is the first-ever 50mm macro lens the company has released, regardless of lens mount. This lens, which covers a ‘standard’ angle of view, and its sibling the Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S telephoto (which we hope to review soon), join the expanding Z series line-up bringing the total to 21 at time of publication. Weighing only 260 grams, its bright f/2.8 maximum aperture enables it to be used in different lighting conditions and provides depth-of-field control for selective focusing.

      Angled view of the Nikkor Z MC 50mm f/2.8 lens. (Source: Nikon.)

      While Nikon hasn’t released an F-mount macro lens since July 2011 – a decade ago, the choice of the ‘standard’ 50mm focal length for the new Z-mount lens is noteworthy. Nikon’s previous F-mount macro lenses offered focal lengths of 40mm (DX mount), 45mm (with perspective control), 55mm (manual focus only) and 60 mm, none of them exactly ‘standard’.

      The Z MC 50mm f/2.8 lens covers a 47-degree angle of view and offers 1:1 magnification at a working distance of 16 cm.  When used on a cropped-sensor camera like the Z 50 or Z fc, the coverage is equivalent to a 75mm lens in 35mm format, which can make it worth considering for owners of these cameras.

      The optical design of this lens contains 10 elements in seven groups and includes one aspherical and one extra-low dispersion element, their positions shown in the diagram below. A fluorine coating is applied to the front element to resist dirt and smudges, making the lens easy to keep free of grime.

      The optical diagram for the Nikkor Z MC 50mm f/2.8 lens, showing the positions of the exotic elements. (Source: Nikon.)

      It’s worth noting the amount of light reaching the sensor decreases as focus distance decreases and the effective maximum aperture changes accordingly. This shows on the camera info display as well as in the Exif metadata in the image file.

      The f/2.8 setting is only available at camera-to-subject distances greater than approximately three metres. It opens to f/3 for distances between one and three metres but for close-ups the maximum aperture is f/5.6 at 1:1 reproduction or between f/3.5 and f/4 at one-third and half life size.

      Autofocusing is driven by stepping motors (STM), which operate quickly and silently with suppressed hunting. The front-focusing design minimises the size and weight of the lens for easy and comfortable carrying.

      While it lacks stabilisation, this shouldn’t be an issue with Nikon’s full-frame Z-mount bodies, although neither of the Z-mount cropped sensor models (Z50 and Z fc) is stabilised. The dust and drip resistant construction is a bonus, regardless of which camera body is used, as it provides some protection against light rain and dust when shooting in outdoor conditions.

      The Z MC 50mm f/2.8 lens is supplied with the usual front and end caps plus a small – and very rudimentary – lens hood, which screws into the threading around the front element of the lens, which can also accept 46 mm filters. The lens cap can be fitted while the hood is in place. The lens also comes with a soft carrying pouch.

      Who’s it For?
      The small size, light weight and weather-resistant sealing of this lens make it a useful choice for travel and everyday photography. Its standard focal length can be used for everyday snapshots as well as photographing subjects like street scenes, portraits and close-ups of food and flowers.

      Its macro capabilities are also useful for photographing coins, stamps and jewellery and other small items for which insurance records may be required. Examples are shown in the Samples section of this review.

      When used as a macro lens, the relatively short working distance (16 cm at minimum focus) won’t provide much scope for photographing live insects. However this lens is compatible with the ES-2 film digitising adapter set, which could be useful feature for those who would like to digitise images on 35mm film.

      Autofocusing should be quiet enough for the lens to be used for shooting video clips and the electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism in the lens barrel will ensure rapid exposure transitions in changing brightness levels. The lens also sports a focus limiter switch to minimise hunting when shooting in its macro range.

      Used on a DX Nikon Z camera like the Z50, the magnification ratio would still be 1:1, but because of the crop factor, the percentage of the image frame occupied by the subject will be 50% larger than on a full frame camera. The lack of built-in stabilisation in the DX models would mean greater potential for blurring due to camera shake, which could be a deal-breaker for users of those cameras.

      If you need a standard prime lens and lens speed is more important than macro capability, the similarly-priced Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens is 1.3 stops faster but almost twice the weight. The other alternative, the Z 50mm f/1.2 S, is 2.3 stops faster but three times the price and weighs more than one kilogram.

      Build and Ergonomics
      In essence, the Nikkor Z MC 50mm f/2.8 lens is a consumer-level lens and its build quality is generally good at that level. It is also relatively small at just 66 mm and light (260 grams), which means it can fit easily into a camera bag and the weatherproof construction is good news for outdoor photographers.

      The outer barrel has a diameter of 75 mm, while the inner barrel extends by 22 mm when the lens is focused at the minimum focusing distance. The tiny lens hood – 50 mm in diameter and 6 mm deep – screws into filter thread at the front of the inner barrel marginally increasing its overall length.

      This view of the Nikkor Z MC 50mm f/2.8 lens on the Nikon Z7 camera shows the indicators on the extending inner barrel of the lens and also AF/MF switch and focus limiter switch on the outer barrel.

      The outer surface of the inner barrel carries three marked scales for distance and reproduction ratio. Distance measurements are provided in feet and metres with 0.53 feet / 0.16 metres corresponding to a 1:1 reproduction ratio, 0.56 feet / 0.17 metres to 1:1.4 and 0.63 feet / 0.19 metres to a 1:2 ratio (half life size).

      A 26 mm wide control ring with a ridged rubber grip band is located on the outer barrel just behind its leading edge. It’s user-programmable but by default is set to adjust focus when manual focus mode is selected.

      Behind the control ring is a 30 mm wide section of the lens, which steps inwards roughly a third of the way along. Slider controls for the AF/MF switch and focus distance limiter (FULL/ 0.16~0.3m) are located around the left hand side of the remaining section of the barrel, with branding and the raised white index mounting dot on the top of the outer barrel. A further ‘Nikon’ brand mark is located around the right hand side of the lens barrel.

      The barrel ends in a solid metal mounting plate, surrounded by a thin rubber gasket that prevents dust and moisture from getting in. Eleven gold-plated contact points inside the lens mount carry signals between the lens and the camera it’s fitted on.

      Although we were able to conduct our regular tests as usual we were hampered with respect to the test shots we could take because of two factors. Sydney was in the middle of an extended lockdown due to COVID-19, which meant we were unable to roam from our immediate home base. Late July is also mid-winter in Australia, which meant there were no insects or small animals about for us to photograph so we had to make do with such subjects as we could find.

      We’ve tweaked our Imatest testing a little especially for testing lenses by adding a target in the centre of the panel so we can obtain true ‘centre’ values. This means our lens performance graphs from now on will track measurements from three positions: centre, mid-range (roughly half-way out from the centre) and edge (roughly three quarters of the way out from the centre). We think this should give a more comprehensive and realistic picture of lens performance.

      Imatest showed the review lens comfortably exceeded expectations for the 45-megapixel sensor on the Z7 camera in the centre of the frame and just exceeded expectations with the mid-range tests. Interestingly, the results from the edge tests were only just below expectations with the best figures, which occurred at f/4.5. This represents very good performance, as shown in graph of the test results across the aperture range below.

      Lateral chromatic aberration was well down 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 in any of our raw file test shots and in-camera corrections completely removed it from JPEGs.

      Focusing was also fast and generally accurate in most of the conditions we tested – including in the macro settings – as long as the correct AF point or area was selected. It’s worth noting the depth of focus is very shallow at wide aperture settings, including the f/5.6 default at 1:1 reproduction.

      Even when the lens is stopped down to f/11, the depth of focus isn’t wide enough to render the entire object (which is 50 mm high and 70 mm deep) in focus.

      Autofocusing was not entirely silent, although it was very quiet. Whether the low level of focusing noises could be picked up by the internal microphones is debatable but it could be worth using an external microphone if you want to capture ambient sounds while shooting movies, especially when using the macro range.

      We were unable to quantify focus ‘breathing’ at close focusing distances because macro prime lenses shift their field of view slightly when they are refocused. In addition, we couldn’t measure accurately just how much the focus shifted but it seems to remain constant enough for the lens to be used for focus stacking, as shown in the example below.

      A stacked image created from
      five frames captured with small shifts of the focus point between the tip of the elephant’s trunk and its rear end.

      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 distortion to be effectively negligible but slight vignetting could be seen in raw files taken at f/2.8. It had largely disappeared by f/4.

      Despite the very shallow lens hood, the review lens was relatively flare-free, even when the camera was pointed directly at the sun. It also produced attractive 18-pointed sunstars when 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 a mixed bag that depended upon shot composition and lighting. With macro shots it was mostly smooth and attractive but for normal close-ups we found strong highlight outlining in shots of backlit subjects, even with relatively wide apertures.  Evenly-lit backgrounds were usually smooth and the shallow focus at wider apertures ensured a nice blending of tones.


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      Picture angle: 47 degrees (DX format: 31 degrees 30 minutes)
      Minimum aperture: f/22
      Lens construction: 10 elements in 7 groups (including 1 ED & 1 aspherical  elements)
      Lens mounts: Nikon Z mount
      Diaphragm Blades: 9 (circular aperture)
      Weather resistance: Dust- and drip-resistant
      Focus drive: Stepping motor (STM)
      Stabilisation: No
      Minimum focus: 16 cm
      Maximum magnification: 1:1 ratio (‘life size’)
      Filter size: 46 mm
      Dimensions (Diameter x L): 74.5 x 66 mm
      Weight: 260 grams
      Standard Accessories: LC-46B Lens Cap (front cap), LF-N1 Lens Cap (rear cap), HN-41 Lens Hood, CL-C1 Lens Case
      Distributor: Nikon Australia,1300 366 499



      Based upon JPEG images captured with the Nikon Z7 camera.



      Recorded with the review lens on the Nikon Z7 camera body.

      Vignetting at f/2.8.

      Rectilinear distortion.

      1:1 reproduction; ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/5.

      1:1 reproduction; ISO 100, 1/80 second at f/11.

      1:1 reproduction; ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/6.3.

      1:1 reproduction; ISO 100, 1/80 second at f/7.1.

      Backlit close-up with choppy bokeh; ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/4.5.

      Close-up for insurance record:  ISO 100, 1/8 second at f/9. Camera was tripod mounted.

      Strong contre-jour lighting; ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/9.

      Sunstars at f/22, ISO 100, 1/30 second.

      Sunstars and a small flare artefact at f/22, ISO 100, 1/200 second.

      Backlit subject; ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/7.1.

      Crop from the above image at 100% magnification showing the absence of coloured fringing.

      Backlit subject; ISO 100, 1/80 second at f/11.

      Crop from the above image at 100% magnification showing the absence of coloured fringing.

      ISO 100, 1/25 second at f/9.

      ISO 100, 1/40 second at f/14.

      ISO 100, 1/3 second at f/11.

      ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/11.

      ISO 100, 1/20 second at f/13.

      ISO 100, 1/30 second at f/6.3.

      ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/8.

      ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/5.6.

      159: ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/9.



      RRP: AU$1099; US$649.95

      • Build: 8.9
      • Handling: 8.9
      • Image quality: 9.2
      • Autofocusing: 8.9
      • Versatility: 8.8