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Nikon 105/2.8G VR; shot on the D810 with the 24-70/2.8G

From the first time I ever picked up a camera it seems like I have always been living at the close focus stop. My biggest complaint about most lenses is the close focus, that is what led me to upgrade most of my lenses from their af-d versions to their af-s counterparts. 20mm, 28mm, even my 85mm have all been modernized to get that little bit closer.

The 105/2.8 is a classic lens, I have been smitten with it for years. For a long time it and a 35mm was my standard carry. I used it for everything; well everything except portraiture.

Shot on the D610 with the 180/2.8D

Enter, the 105G. I bought the 105mm 2.8G on a whim; at the time I was totally satisfied with the older version. It was my go to lens for everything other than portraiture. The 2.8 max aperture and its heptagonal bokeh when stopped down made it a poor choice in those situations. However it was built well and had excellent sharpness.

So why did I buy the 105G then?

Well it was really 3 main things, the autofocus is massively improved. I have no issue with the mechanical focus system of Nikons AF-D lenses, but the AF-S in this lens is much, much faster. It also locks on with noticeably more accuracy. It is so reliable in fact that I frequently use autofocus with my macro photography, something I seldom ever did with the 105D. 

Shot on the D90 with the 105/2.8D

Secondly, Nikon has fixed the heptagonal bokeh by incorporating a 9 bladed rounded aperture assembly. it is able to stop down from f/2.8 all the way to f/32 and stays (nearly) perfectly rounded. That keeps point light sources rounded at any aperture.

This upgrade results in backgrounds that are much less distracting. The above image was shot with the older AF-D lens, you can see the effect the straight blade had on the bokeh clearly. 

Shot on the D610 with the 105/2.8G

This is the worst the 105G has ever done, this was shot at f/16 and the flare you are seeing is a result of a strobe firing almost directly down the lens barrel. This is an excellent result considering how far stopped down the lens is. 

Amazingly this image lost very little contrast even with so much light spilling into the optics.  If only my 300/f4 PF was this good.

So what was the third improvement?

The VR system. By incorporating VR into a relatively fast aperture macro, Nikon has made possibly the most versatile lens you could ever ask for. 

The VR system has allowed the 105G to usurp my 85/1.8Gs position for live music photography. I am able to get away with 3-4 stops lower shutter speed or ISO in a given situation. 

Shot on a D750 with the 105G

Those 3-4 stops are unbelievably valuable. I really don't care to shoot above ISO 1600 on any of my cameras, not due to noise; noise has been a mainstay in photography from the beginning, but more so to protect my dynamic range. So rather than have to up the ISO to 6400, I can use VR and in most situations be perfectly comfortable at 1600. 

Even a 1.4 lens cannot deliver the same effect. You would give up critical depth of field and still only recover 2 stops comparatively. The 105G allows me to keep my DOF while using a comfortable ISO. 

Shot on the D610 with the 105G

"Is it Sharp Enough?"

Everyone seems so hung up on sharpness these days, this is the most common question I hear whenever I recommend a lens to anyone. They nod at everything I say but then tell me how particular they are about sharpness. 

Frankly I don't see what the big deal is, if you print any of your work you will quickly realize how much you have been over thinking the whole "sharpness thing". But the short answer is, yes it is.

100% Crop of above

This was shot handheld at 1/90th, ISO 400, and at macro distance. it is pin sharp to my eyes.  Chalk it up as a win for the VR system, I could never have pulled this off with the 105D.  At macro distances I would need to be around 1/320th to feel remotely comfortable. 

All macro lenses are sharp, at least all the ones I have used. They tend to be a touch weaker at infinity, however this has never posed a problem for my landscape work.

Shot on the D750 with the 105G

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Shooting at f/2.8 really accentuates the color tones of the leaves in this image, making it appear as if the trees are on fire. 

I love shooting colorful subjects with this lens, the nano coating Nikon applies really lends itself to reds and oranges, coincidentally that very color palate is what makes for excellent portraits.

Shot on the D750 and 105G

Remember the round aperture blades? They have produced beautiful bokeh circles. This was shot at F/8 and they are perfectly circular. The skin tones are excellent, the colors are rich and the subjects are plenty sharp. 

I find that for portraits I prefer the 105G to my 85G *if* I am using artificial lighting. If I am reliant on natural lighting then I much prefer the 85/1.8G, mostly because if I am not in control of the lighting, I probably have little control on the location, and by opening up the lens to F/1.8 I can obliterate most messy backgrounds well enough.

Shot on the D610 and 105G

At this point I think it may be prudent to discuss the reasons you might opt for a different lens in this focal range.  

The 105D

The older version of this lens is a perfectly valid choice, if you do not shoot portraits, or if you already have a good portrait lens it would be an excellent choice. It is smaller, lighter, much less expensive, and will likely be around longer than any of us will. Assuming the heptagonal bokeh is not an issue for you it is a fantastic optic. It is easily as sharp as the new one, and the colors it produces can be made just as vibrant with a little saturation tweaking. 

However if you shoot a lot of hand held images you will definitely be better served with the 105G.

Any 85mm

Nikon makes 2 stunning 85mm lenses at the moment, the 85mm 1.8G and the 85mm 1.4G. They are both absolutely this lens' equal in terms of sharpness, however the colors of the 85mm 1.8G are not as rich as either of the other two options. 

If you are not interested in macro photography or you have no interest in the VR system employed by the 105G then either 85mm would be a great buy. In fact Nikons new 105mm 1.4E would be an excellent option to consider as well. 

None of these lenses focus as fast as the 105mm 2.8G and importantly none of them focus anywhere near as close either. the 85mm's all peter out at about 3FT, while the 105G gets right down to a couple inches from the front of the lens.

The 60G

The 60/2.8g Micro is a oustanding little lens, it is sharper than the 105G and to my eyes has even better colors and depth. However what the 60G offers in image quality it gives up in working distance. When you are shooting macro images a key aspect is lighting; you need to be able to light your subject effectively. The 60G needs to be about twice as close to your subject matter to reach the same magnification. This severely limits your lighting options.

I own the 60G, I love the little lens. It does a lot of things very very well, but it is not as good of a macro lens, nor is it a great portrait lens. For those reasons I consider it a companion to, rather than a substitute for the 105G.

Shot on the D750 and 105G

The above and below images are of milk in a saucer with a touch of food coloring added in. 

Macro photography can open up an entirely new world for a budding photographer, or reinvigorate a photographer going through a creative block.  It allows you to find the wonder in the small world around you.

The 105G is my favorite lens, In fact when I did my 365 challenge last year (2016) 52% of the images I captured were out of the 105G, out of a selection of 16 lenses I continue to default to the 105G whenever possible.  It offers a beautiful mix of features, versatility, build quality, and image quality that just makes it hard to put down. I rarely leave the house without it. 

Shot on the D750 and 105G

The 105G is my favorite lens, in fact when I did my 365 challenge last year (2016) 52% of the images I captured were out of the 105G. Out of a selection of 16 lenses I continue to default to the 105G whenever possible.  It offers a beautiful mix of features, versatility, build quality, and image quality that just makes it hard to put down. I rarely leave the house without it. 


Shot on the D610 and 105G

Shot on the D610 and 105G

Shot on the D750 and 105G

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