We Review Nikon’s Z 105mm Macro: Did Nikon Make the Safe Choice?

We Review Nikon’s Z 105mm Macro: Did Nikon Make the Safe Choice?

Announced back in June, Nikon’s first macro lenses for the Z mount appeared to be typical successors to their F mount predecessors, covering 50mm and 100mm focal lengths. The Z 105mm, as before, is a more premium choice, offering a few more features and a more choice designation. I’ve finally gotten my hands on one, and after some thorough testing, I’m ready to share my thoughts on this recent entry to the Z lineup. Whether you’re a macro specialist or Z photographer, you’ll want to check out this review.

I’ve used Nikon’s previous macro champion, the AF-S 105mm f/2.8, for years. With my shift to the Z system, I was curious to see what Nikon would bring to the table in an update to this lens, and when you first read the spec sheet, the answer seems to be not much. Compared to the F mount version, this lens has the same focal length, aperture, maximum magnification, and VR capability (although the Z’s may be rated for more compensation). It trims a bit of weight but still manages to add a nice-looking, but marginally useful OLED screen.

The spec sheet isn’t everything, however, especially with a prime lens like this. In testing, if this lens offers significantly less chromatic aberration over the 105mm, that’d be a great benefit, as this was my biggest complaint about the F mount lens. While I didn’t have any specific sharpness issues with the previous lens, virtually every Z mount lens has offered strong performance compared to the F mount version, and I’d expect this one to do the same.

Before I go into testing performance, I want to explain why I feel that this lens should be so closely compared to the F mount version. As shown, these lenses are very similar in specs, with the F mount’s price being a bit better (especially on the used market). Furthermore, the availability of the Z 105mm has been very poor, to the point of Nikon issuing an apology for shipping delays, and the lens still being out of stock at major retailers. As a result, I feel that this lens has to offer a compelling reason to upgrade or purchase over the F mount 105mm.

Performance

I’ve now photographed several subjects with the Z 105mm, including the classic macro subjects like flowers and insects, several product photoshoots, and a few portrait and event sessions. Interestingly, at release, this was one of just a few options for shooting above 100mm in Z mount, making this lens a potential option for a wider range of photographers than a traditional macro-focused lens.

In use, I’ve compared this lens to both my 105mm F mount and Laowa’s 100mm macro lens (which is available in Z mount, as well as other mirrorless mounts). Testing was performed with the lens handheld as well as tripod mounted, with an emphasis on real-world use, compared to strict test chart evaluation.

With all that out of the way, let’s get to the results. Unsurprisingly, the lens is very sharp. Even from f/2.8, the lens is sharp across the frame at both infinity and 1:1. At high magnifications, the lens is very sharp and retains sharpness down to a diffraction-limited aperture. Vignetting is low and easily handled by the built-in corrections, without an appreciable increase in noise. Chromatic aberration is very minimal. When focused closer, it doesn’t appear to be any worse. In comparison to the F mount version, it is better in this regard.

One big point on macro lenses is the characteristics of the out-of-focus areas. At high magnifications, a significant portion of the frame may be out of focus, and a distracting background can make or break the shot. In this regard, the Z 105 performs quite well. Out-of-focus areas are smooth and undistracting, even when stopping the lens down. At f/2.8, however, point sources still aren’t perfectly round. The lens does have a bit of optical vignetting, where point sources of light towards the edge of the frame can take on a “cat’s eye,” but this is common to many large aperture lenses and doesn’t read as distracting to me.

When it comes to features, this lens is typical for the higher-end options in the Z system. VR is controlled through the camera body, a configurable ring on the lens can be set to control aperture, and focus is by-wire. A non-rotating ring at the front of the large focus ring provides a convenient place to grip the lens. Disappointingly, the filter threads are plastic. That’s a bit concerning on a $1,000 lens, especially as macro use may necessitate ring flashes or other significant uses of the filter threads. The lens’s switches allow for AF/M selection and switching focus between the full range and .5 m to .3 m. It also includes an L-FN button for a user-defined operation. The glass includes a full range of high-end options, including ARNEO, fluorine, nano crystal, and super integrated coating.

Conclusion

On its own, this lens is a very strong performer. The lens is very sharp; easy to use, thanks to VR and quick, accurate autofocus; and versatile, with excellent performance throughout the focus range. It’s also a reasonably good value, coming in right around the price of the F mount version. If you’re a dedicated Z photographer looking for a 100mm-ish lens for portraits, macro, product photography, or a short telephoto option, this lens is a great choice. 

Things get a bit more tricky when judging this lens as a dedicated macro photographer. If you’re a dedicated Nikon macro shooter, you probably already have an F mount 105mm, 200mm, or a third-party option. Thanks to the lack of AF-D compatibility, upgrading from the 200mm means gaining AF and native mount functions but losing working distance. If you’re coming from the F mount 105mm, you’re gaining a slight bit of optical performance and can get rid of the FTZ adapter, but this might cost you, depending on what you get for your F mount lens. For both, you have to weigh these features against each other, as well as consider the cost of selling and buying.

Overall, this lens is an example of what most of the Z lenses are: a quality option that accomplishes a lot, without taking risks. From the no-nonsense design to the safe spec sheet, it’s a comfortable option. Depending on what you want from a lens, other lenses like Laowa’s and Canon’s 100mm offer more magnification, while those looking for a fast 100mm have other, faster, non-macro options. If you’re a Z shooter looking for that jack of all trades option, this lens is a good choice, assuming you can find one.

What I Liked

  • Strong, consistent lens performance
  • Great compatibilities with the Z ecosystem's features, like focus stacking, VR operation, and autofocus
  • Good value compared to the previous 105mm when adjusted for inflation

What Could Be Improved

  • Doesn't introduce any must-upgrade features over F mount 105mm
  • Incompatible with TCs
  • Plastic filter rings seem like a cheap choice

You can purchase the lens here.

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4 Comments
Leon Kolenda's picture

Looking Forward to gettng mine, was shipped today, after 4 Months. Main Usage will be Product/Still-Life Studio work on a Z7II.

Jim Cutler's picture

You'll love it Leon. Been using it every day for a couple months now for the same purpose. Focus is fast but slightly slower than my other Z lenses, but boy are the images great.

Alex Coleman's picture

Congrats! It'll be a great lens for those scenarios.

Timothy Gasper's picture

It's extremely hard to make a jacked-up 105mm lens. Hell...any prime lens for that matter. I have a Nikkor 105mm f2 DC which is fantastic. Decades ago I used a 105mm f2.5 which was also extremely good. They're just great lenses. Have to look into this one now. Just when I thought I was done buying more equipment.