As I mentioned at the start of the review, almost all macro lenses are pretty good optically. There are still some minor flaws to be seen in most of them, of course, but they’re all good. However, Nikon has managed to create a lens that consistently impressed me at every turn. The optical quality of the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 S VR is simply spectacular. Let’s get into details.
Let’s cut to the chase: the MC 105mm f/2.8 is an incredibly sharp optic, and it starts with exceptional resolution from wide open from corner to corner. The lens is already nearly as sharp as you can perceive right from wide open, with only a slight bit of a dip in the corners. Stopping down to f/4 brings a very slight improvement in the corners, and the lens’s maximum resolution is achieved at f/5.6, where the corners are perfect. However, these improvements between apertures are very, small, and I had to do controlled tripod mounted tests zoomed in to the pixel level before I was even able to notice a difference. In real-world use, it just shows up as tack sharp corner to corner, even wide open. Even on higher resolution cameras, just pick the aperture you want for depth of field and shoot. Things do soften a bit due to diffraction once you start approaching f/16 and beyond, but you can’t cheat physics in that regard.
You may be thinking that at least the corners will get softer when focused near 1:1, right? Well, no. The lens stays just as sharp in the macro range as it does for general photography. Overall, it’s one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever used.
As you’ll see in the remaining entries, this section is really the only one where I’ll have anything remotely negative to say about the lens. And that is, the quality of out of focus areas is only ‘good’, rather than outstanding. For macro shooting, the bokeh from the MC 105mm f/2.8 is gorgeous, with beautiful soft transitions and pure creamy blur, as you’ll see in many of the macro samples provided in this article.
At portrait and slightly further distances, however, the bokeh gains a bit more character. As you can see in the shot above, the out of focus areas show some higher contrast. Due to the mechanical vignetting at the edges the bokeh shows a bit of a swirly nature. This can result in a unique look or a bit of extra roughness compared to lenses with a creamier bokeh profile, but it’s worth noting that from a technical standpoint, this is still a good performance. Specular highlights are evenly illuminated, wtih no hard edging. It’s just not quite as soft and creamy as some other lenses. See the 100% crop below, taken from the shot above to see a close-up view of the bokeh.
Color, Contrast and Chromatic Aberration
One area where the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 S excels is with regards to color and contrast. The lens displays strong, deep contrast at any aperture, which makes subjects pop. Color is beautiful and rich, with an absolutely gorgeous tonal rolloff. These are on display in the shot below.
The 105mm f/2.8 also puts in an outstanding job with regards to chromatic aberration. Here, the lens is almost apochromatic, with negligible lateral chromatic aberration and almost no longitudinal CA as well. If shooting wide open on high contrast black and white text, you might see a very slight, very low saturation color cast before and after the focus point, but it’s extremely minimal.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
It’s more good news here. The lens shows a very minor amount of barrel distortion that is not really field relevant. Even vignetting is relatively well controlled, with only a moderate amount visible at f/2.8, that quickly becomes negligible stopped down just to f/4.
The lens puts in a good, but not perfect performance with regards to flare control. For the few times you might be shooting into the sun with this lens, you will see some contrast loss if shooting wide open, with some faint ghosts. Stopped down, the lens shows essentially no loss of contrast with the sun in frame, but does show some small rainbow colored ghosts, such as can be seen in the image below. It’s still a good overall performance here, but not quite among the best performers in this regard.
Overall, the optics of the Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S are exceptional. The lens is razor sharp from wide open, shows gorgeous color and contrast, negligible distortion, minimal vignetting, outstanding control of chromatic aberration, and generally good bokeh.