Praise for Primes: Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Micro

I couldn't do this with an 85mm f/1.4, but then again, I don't actually do this very often. By the way, if this lens delivered this kind of bokeh on portraits, I'd be satisfied, but depth-of-field changes with lens-to-subject and subject-to-background distances.

If you look up “ambivalence” in the dictionary, you might see a picture of me staring at my Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Micro lens.

I bought this a few years ago during one of those periods when I was lusting for the more expensive 85mm f/1.4. I did tons of research and convinced myself that the 105 would serve my needs as a portrait lens, for less money, and give me macro (close focus) capability in the bargain.

It is a wonderful lens, but here I am years later, still lusting after the 85mm f/1.4. As a portrait lens, the Micro lens has three deficiencies compared to the 85. First, it can be TOO SHARP. I know that sounds absurd, but for most of my portraits I want the eyes sharp and everything else slightly softer. Shooting the 105 wide open, I get sharp eyes, very detailed pores, and easily countable nose hairs. Second, it offers pleasant bokeh, but not the “cream machine” look for which the 85 is famous. Third, it’s a little long for most of the situations in which I shoot portraits: I have to stand all the way across my small studio to produce a head and shoulders portrait.

It has its own look and I work with it, but it doesn’t do what the 85 does. I still enjoy the lens, because the macro capability is a lot of fun and it’s a very capable telephoto lens on my DX-sensor cameras. But I suspect I will eventually buy an 85 anyway, and I don’t do enough macro photography to justify both lenses. Instead of saving up for what I really wanted, I settled (too strong a word, as it is a fine lens) for something I could afford at the time. I got a jack of several trades that is indeed a master of one (macro), but not the one for which I bought it.

I’m a little less ambivalent when I see some of the images I’ve made with this lens, but I suspect I might be selling it in 2012 to help me buy the 85 f/1.4.  Before it comes to that, I’ll spend a week or two using it as my only lens to see if I can kindle a romance…

For a certain type of portrait, the super-sharp 105 works fine...

...But most of my subjects would prefer images with a smoother overall look. The 105 renders skin tones nicely, and I can always soften focus in software, but it's still not quite the look I'm after.

Up close, this lens does what few other lenses can do.

There's nothing objectionable about the bokeh, but nothing particularly dreamy about it either.

While it's true that any number of fine lenses could capture this shot, few would let you turn around and photograph a flower in close detail.

Maybe I need to explore macro more carefully before I decide to sell the lens.

I've used the lens successfully for performances, but it's no faster than my 70-200 and a lot less versatile in this environment.

Thus concludes this series of posts about my four prime lenses. A photographer’s vision is more important than any piece of equipment, but a lens is the key piece of gear for realizing one’s vision – far more important than the camera body. Today’s zoom lenses offer optical excellence undreamt of when I bought my first camera in 1972, but there are still many advantages to single-focal-length lenses, which are generally faster, more simply designed, and easier to handle. I offer the same advice today that I gave to new photographers when I worked at a camera store in 1980: get a working camera and then invest in the best lenses you can afford. These are the tools that will help you create your own style.


Here I am with my 23-year-old 85 f/1.8. We wish you a healthy and prosperous new year, and many happy photo ops!

1 Comment

Filed under Camera Gear, Nature Photography, Portraiture

One response to “Praise for Primes: Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Micro

  1. Pingback: The 105 f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor Will Not Be My Walk-Around Lens | Camera Club Confidential

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