Superior Sharpness, Surprisingly Close: Nikon Z 105mm Macro Review

Nikon’s Z lenses tend to be much sharper than the older optics, an improvement that had me itching to try the system’s first macro lens. The Nikon Z 105mm Macro, formally called the Nikon Z MC 105mm f2.8 VR S, brings a true 1:1 ratio to the company’s full-frame mirrorless system. The 105mm can shoot from about a foot away. So how does the Nikon Z system’s sharpness translate when up close?

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I spent two weeks with the Nikon Z 105mm macro to see what the system’s first true macro could do. The sharpness from this lens does not disappoint, while that 105mm focal length and macro capabilities make depth of field look easy. And, it’s weather-sealed for shooting tiny snowflakes and water droplets. But, there are a few quirks that may not be for everyone.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The Nikon Z 105mm macro produces some incredibly sharp, close-up images with minimal distortion. Nikon photographers will love the stabilization and weather-sealing. But, focusing on close objects is slow, so it may not be the best choice for moving macro subjects such as bugs.

Nikon Z 105mm Macro Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A true 1:1 macro
  • Not as heavy as it looks
  • Thin custom control ring
  • Digital display
  • Great stabilization
  • Super sharp
  • Minimal aberration and distortion

Cons

  • Macro focusing often requires some hunting
  • At 1:1, the widest possible aperture is f4.5
  • Build feels a little more plasticky than other S series lenses

Gear Used

I used the Nikon Z 105mm f2.8 VR S with the Nikon Z7 II.

Innovations

The Nikon Z 105mm f2.8 VR S is the first macro Z mount with a 1:1 reproduction ratio. It brings some of the features that I’ve loved about the S series of lenses into extreme close-up territory. Nikon says the lens uses a multi-focus system and is designed to reduce chromatic aberration.

Tech Specs

Nikon lists the following specifications for the 105mm Macro:

  • Mount Type: Nikon Z Mount
  • Focal Length: 105mm
  • Maximum Aperture: f/ 2.8
  • Minimum Aperture: f/ 32
  • Format: FX
  • Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 15°20′
  • Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 23°10′
  • Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 1x
  • Lens Elements: 16
  • Lens Groups: 11
  • VR (Vibration Reduction) Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Lens shift using voice coil motors (VCMs)
  • Diaphragm Blades: 9
  • Rounded diaphragm opening
  • ARNEO Coat: Yes
  • Nano Crystal Coat: Yes
  • ED Glass Elements: 3
  • Aspherical Elements: 1
  • Fluorine Coat: Yes
  • Super Integrated Coating: Yes
  • Autofocus: Yes
  • AF Actuator: STM (stepping motor)
  • Internal Focusing: Yes
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 0.96 ft. ( 0.29m)
  • Focus Mode: Auto/Manual
  • Focus limit switch with two positions: FULL (∞ to 0.29m) and 0.5m to 0.29m
  • Filter Size: 62mm, P = 0.75mm
  • Approx. Dimensions (Diameter x Length): 3.4 in. (85 mm)  x  5.6 in. (140 mm), Distance to end of lens from camera lens mount flange, Based on CIPA guidelines
  • Approx. Weight: 22.3 oz. (630 g), Based on CIPA guidelines
  • Micro: Yes
  • Lens Type: Prime

Ergonomics

Because of the longer focal length, S-line designation, and macro capabilities, the Nikon Z 105mm macro is not a small lens. At 5.6 inches long, it’s going to take up a decent-sized slot in your camera bag. Despite the size, it’s a lighter than I expected, weighing 22.3 ounces. It’s not a lightweight lens, but it doesn’t overwhelm the front of the camera. It’s actually a little larger than the F-mount 105 macro, but lighter. Wearing this lens and a body around my neck for a few hours wasn’t terribly tiring.

The Nikon Z 105mm macro has a familiar design adopted by several of the lenses with the S designation. Closest to the mount, there’s an autofocus switch as well as a focus limiter switch, so you can use the full range from close to infinity or only the closest focal lengths.

After those switches, the lens widens out a bit where it accommodates a thin control ring. I have a tendency to accidentally bump the control ring on some of the other Z lenses out of place, so this thinner design is actually a nice change. It’s subtly textured. Small turns are all that’s needed to adjust the aperture this way. (The custom ring can also be set to control exposure compensation or ISO.)

Moving further out on the lens, the optic houses a digital display for the focal distance scale. The display button next to the mini screen turns it on, then flips through the different options. There’s the focal distance and aperture, but also a reproduction ratio scale, so you can see if you are using the 1:1 limit or something further away. Underneath the display button is the lens’ single custom Fn button.

The focus ring is large and grippy. It’s easy to grab and work with in manual focus mode. At the end of the lens, it almost looks like there’s a third ring. There’s not; Nikon just added some textured grip towards the end of the lens barrel. This is a great spot to hold and easily screw filters on and off.

The front of the lens accepts 62mm filters. There’s a small plastic lip around the front glass.

Build Quality

The Nikon Z 105mm f2.8 VR S has a bit of a different feel to it compared to some of the other S lenses. The plastic by the buttons feels different, while the material closest to the mount feels like the familiar material of other S lenses. Towards the mount, it feels a bit more like metal, while the remainder of the barrel feels more like plastic. This, however, is likely the reason why the lens is lighter than it looks. So while it feels like the materials are a little cheaper than some of the priciest S optics, the trade-off is a lighter lens. It doesn’t feel bad, and I’d probably prefer the lighter weight over the tougher material in a lens this size.

Despite the feel, I didn’t have any issues shooting with this lens in the snow. Then, when the snow started melting off the roofs, I did some macro splash photography, and the lens was unfazed when hit by the moisture. Fellow Phoblographer Feroz Kahn took this lens out in opposite conditions — a windy desert — and didn’t have any issues with sand getting onto the sensor or inside the lens.

Autofocus

The Nikon Z 105mm macro can focus as close as .96 feet away. That’s good enough for a true 1:1 ratio. And, true to form, I was able to get quite close to snowflakes, water droplets, and jewelry.

While the lens can focus close, it takes its time getting there. Often, the lens felt like it was going through the entire focal range before locking on my subject. It does a lot of focus hunting. When Feroz Khan compared this lens to the F-mount 105mm, he wasn’t 100 percent convinced that there was a significant performance improvement on the mirrorless version. 

Using the focus limiter switch helps some. But, if you are focusing right at that 1:1, it takes a few seconds to lock in, even with the focus limited to the closest range. This is long enough that I think I would have been frustrated if I were trying to take pictures of bugs instead of stationary snowflakes.

Thankfully, the autofocus is quicker when focusing on subjects farther away. There won’t be a long, awkward pause if you are using this as a 105mm portrait prime, for example. I was also still able to get most of the shots of my toddler in focus, even though he rarely sits still.

The autofocus also had some difficulty focusing on a solid black coffee mug (unsurprising based on my previous experience with the Z bodies). The autofocus needs to be placed on the edge of dark objects that don’t have a lot of contrast to them.

The autofocus motor also has a slight hum to it. It’s soft enough that I would still use this lens for weddings. But, it could be picked up when recording video.

Ease of Use

As the VR in the name suggests, the Nikon Z 105mm macro is stabilized. I could still get a sharp shot at 1/30, though I needed to push that higher for the closest subjects. (And skipping my morning coffee probably would have helped.) That’s quite impressive for such a long focal length and for such close subjects.

Like other S lenses, the Nikon Z 105mm macro has a few extra features that take a little exploration to learn. But, the level of difficulty isn’t high at all. The most difficult thing about this lens is learning how to custom set the control ring and Fn button, which is a pretty straightforward menu item on the camera body.

I’ve had difficulty with some of Nikon’s Z lenses because I have a tendency to accidentally bump that custom control ring. I like the slightly different design of this 105mm. The control ring is much smaller, so you’re less likely to inadvertently turn it when you grab the lens. Overall, the lens is a joy to use.

Image Quality

The lenses are my favorite thing about the Nikon Z system. And, like the Z line’s other high-end optics, the Nikon 105mm macro delivers impressive images. The photos are sharp right up to the edges and chromatic aberration is well controlled. If there’s anything to complain about, it’s that the bokeh has a very slight decagon shape. But, it’s a lens that’s worthy of pixel peeping.

Bokeh

With macro capabilities and a 105mm focal length, you don’t need an f1.8 to wow. Get in close, shoot wide, and you’ve got big background bokeh balls. Even when narrowing the aperture to get more of the small subject in focus, you still get some nice, soft backgrounds because of that 1:1 capability.

That said, this lens isn’t f2.8 at the closest focal distances. If you’re shooting at that 1:1, the widest aperture is f4.5. Many macro shots need that extra depth of field anyway, but it may disappoint photographers who expect the f2.8 in the name to be across the entire range.

Points of light don’t have a hard edge or a soap bubble look to them. There is the slightest hint of that nine-blade aperture in the shape of the bokeh, which if you look closely is slightly decagon rather than perfectly round. As expected, the bokeh on the edges takes on a more cat-eye shape, which you can reduce if you narrow the aperture a bit.

Sharpness

The sharpness here is worthy of the S in the lens’ title. Even at the edges and corners, subjects are impressively sharp. Several of Nikon’s Z lenses have really wowed me with sharpness, but when you add in macro capabilities, you can draw out a lot of great detail. Even pixel peepers will be pleased here. 

Lens Character

The Nikon 105mm macro is more of a modern pixel peeper pleaser than a classic character builder. Much of the beauty and character here is from that longer focal length and the beautiful backgrounds you can create by getting in close. 

Along that same theme, chromatic aberration is very well controlled. I didn’t spot colored fringing in my shots. It’s a significant improvement over the F-mount equivalent, which we noted in our first impressions of the lens. The 105 is also great at keeping straight lines straight, without obvious barrel or pincushion distortion. Flare is slight and easy to control.

Color Rendering

The color coming from this lens is dead on for what I expected. There’s a lot of great contrast. I was happy with my JPEGs and didn’t feel the need to edit every single shot. The lack of chromatic aberration and well-controlled flare also helps keep those colors intact. It still has those classic Nikon colors, which can often skew a little towards green. But, it fits right in with the other S lenses. Nikonians won’t notice any wild color changes with this lens.

Extra Image Samples

From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

Edited

Note: The speckled bokeh here is from water on the front of the lens, not a lens error.

Unedited

Conclusions

Likes

  • This is a true macro lens, with a 1:1 reproduction ratio.
  • It’s slightly larger than the F-mount, but it’s actually lighter.
  • The thinner custom control ring is less likely to get bumped.
  • The digital display swaps through focal distance, aperture, and the reproduction ratio.
  • The stabilization is a big plus for such a large macro lens.
  • Images are super sharp, even at the corners.
  • This lens does a great job reducing chromatic aberration: I couldn’t find any.

Dislikes

  • This lens hunts when shooting up close, even with the focus limiter.
  • The f2.8 isn’t available at the closest shooting distance, where it’s limited to f4.5.
  • Part of the lens barrel feels great, part of it feels a little more plasticky. It’s worth the lighter weight, but also worth a mention.

When you add the sharpness of the Z mount to a lens that can focus up close, you get stunning detail. The Nikon Z 105mm macro does a great job reducing chromatic aberration, and delivering a sharper image with less fringing than the comparable F-mount. Even though the f2.8 isn’t available at the closest focal distances, this lens can still produce some great bokeh and soft backgrounds.

While the lens produces some fantastic images, the autofocus has a tendency to hunt when shooting macro. With tiny moving subjects, you’ll need to pre-focus with this lens. Thankfully, there isn’t a significant delay when working with subjects a bit farther from the lens, as with portraits. The lighter build also feels slightly plasticky on some parts of the barrel, but it’s forgivable since the lens isn’t terribly heavy as a result.

The sharp images with minimal chromatic aberration will make this a very tempting lens for Z photographers who don’t yet own a macro lens. Photographers with the F-mount equivalent may have more trouble determining if minimal chromatic aberration and sharp edges are worth $1,000. Autofocus hunting may bother photographers working with tiny moving subjects. But, if I were a Z system shooter, this lens would be on my wish list for its ability to go from wedding details to portraits, both with excellent detail.

I’m giving the Nikon Z 105mm macro four out of five stars. Want one? Check it out on Adorama and Amazon.

Hillary Grigonis

Hillary K. Grigonis is a photographer and tech writer based in Michigan. She shoots weddings and portraits at Hillary K Photography. A mother of three, she enjoys hiking, camping, crafting, and reading.