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Nikon Owner Issue 22

The Macro Marvel

by Simon Stafford
This issue's article features images by Ian Gowland and Ian Hutchinson.

VR105 & HB-38

Simon Stafford reports on the world's first macro lens equipped with the VR system - the AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED, which appeared with fanfare and before you could say Shazam!

The AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED with Nano Crystal Coat is the latest edition to a long line of illustrious lenses produced by Nikon with this focal length. Its specification suggests it might be the perfect all-round lens for general purpose, as well as close-up and macro photography. Simon Stafford takes a close look.

Introduction

The original version of the AF Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 was introduced during 1990, and apart from being updated three years later to the "D" specification, which enables communication of focus distance information to compatible camera bodies, the lens remained unchanged for sixteen years - testament to the qualities of the design, particularly its outstanding optical performance.

Its successor, the AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED with Nano Crystal Coat, launched earlier this year, represents an entirely new lens in just about every respect except the focal length and maximum aperture value.

Nomenclature

Before I get to the hands-on part of this review let me start by extracting a few sections of its full title to help define its principal features:

AF-S (Autofocus - Silent wave) - the lens has a built-in focusing motor that converts linear wave energy into a rotational force to drive the focusing action near silently at high speed, and with great precision for improved focus accuracy.

VR (Vibration Reduction) - the lens incorporates a number of motion sensors that detect vibration of the lens, such as that induced by hand-holding the camera (camera shake). A series of motors shift a specific group of lens elements in response to signals received from these motion sensors to counter the effect of this movement, which is particularly useful when you want to shoot at a shutter speed below one you would normally use for hand-held photography. It is important to understand that VR can only reduce the effect of camera vibration; obviously, it has no affect on subject movement (i.e. using a slow shutter speed for a subject that is static has no consequence but if the subject is moving it is likely it will appear blurred).

Nano-Crystal Coat - is an anti-reflection coating that is applied to the surface of a lens element, designed to reduce the effects of ghost and flare. Developed originally by Nikon for use in the optics of their semi-conductor manufacturing devices it virtually eliminates internal reflections over a wide range of wavelengths. The lens coating is made up of multiple layers that comprise ultra-fine crystallized particles of nanometer size (one nanometer equals one millionth of a millimeter) and has an extremely low refractive index.

Red Rose

Specification

This lens weighs in at a fairly hefty 790 g (27.9 oz). The marked focal length is 105mm, which offers a diagonal angle of view of 23° 20' (19.4° horizontal, 13° vertical) at the infinity distance setting. The lens has a minimum focus distance of 0.314 m (1 ft), at which point it can achieve a life-size reproduction ratio. On Nikon digital SLR cameras with a DX-format sensor the marked focal length is equivalent to 157.5mm, approximately, with a diagonal angle of view 15° 20' (12.8° horizontal, 8.6° vertical). At the closest focus distance the lens offers a working distance, the distance between the front of the lens and the subject, of approximately 15 cm (6 inches).

It has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 (minimum aperture is f/32), and comprises 14 elements in 12 groups (one element is made of Extra-low dispersion ED glass and another has the Nano Crystal coating). The aperture diaphragm has nine blades, which gives the iris a near circular profile that helps improve the appearance of out-of-focus areas. Unlike its predecessor that accepts 52mm filters, Nikon has, thankfully, opted for a 62mm filter thread, which is common to all other current AF Micro-Nikkor lenses. The filter ring does not rotate with the focus action, which is internal, so the orientation of filters such as a polarizer, or graduated type is not affected. Likewise, the lens can be used with the Nikon SB-R200 flash heads attached to the SX-1 lens adapter ring without altering the direction of the light. As a G-type Nikkor lens it lacks a conventional aperture ring (see camera compatibility list below). The lens appears to be well-sealed against the ingress of moisture and dust, including the fitting of a rubber gasket at rear of lens to form a seal between the lens and camera.

It is supplied with an appropriately deep, scallop-edged lens hood, the HB-38. Given the proximity of the front lens element to the front filter ring I would suggest that use of the hood is essential not only to shield the lens from extraneous light but also to provide physical protection, particularly at close focus distance, when there is an increased risk of the front element colliding with the subject. The other accessories included are a soft lens pouch, the CL-1020, plus front and back caps.

To obtain full compatibility the lens must be used on one of the following cameras: D2-series, D1-series, D200, D100, D80, D70-series, D50, D40, F6, F5, F100, F80, F75, and F65. Autofocus is supported by the F4-series, F90-series, and F70 but VR does not function with these models and, since the lens lacks a conventional aperture ring, the only two exposure modes available with these models are Program and Shutter-speed priority. If you use the lens with any other Nikon camera model neither AF nor VR will function, plus therange of exposure modes may be restricted; the lens is unusable with cameras such as the F3-series, FM2-series, and FM3A, because it is not possible to select an aperture value.

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