Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/3.5G VR DX Micro: For the Masses?



Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/3.5G VR DX Micro

Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/3.5G VR DX Micro

Until recently, users of Nikon’s entry-level DSLRs have had very few choices while selecting a macro lens. Shridhar Kunte checks whether the Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/3.5G VR DX Micro is a good option.

For those who have an entry-level Nikon DSLR, the search for a macro lens can be a diffi cult decision. Cameras like the D3100 and D5100 do not have an autofocus motor and hence, cannot use AF with third-party macro lenses of Tamron and Tokina. Consequently, a number of these users have ended up buying far more expensive macro lenses that are meant for full frame cameras.
Nikon has tried to address this problem with the introduction of the Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/3.5G VR DX Micro, the company’s fi rst macro lens with an inbuilt motor that is optimised for cropped sensor bodies.

Due to a crop factor of 1.5x, the 85mm f/3.5 lens gives a field of view equivalent to 127.5mm (in 35mm terms). For shooting at 1:1 magnification, you have quite a good working distance from the front element of the lens. This distance is useful when you want to light the subject using a flash, as it ensures that your own shadow does not fall on the subject you are shooting.
The optical elements have a special coating and this is supposed to improve light transmission and offer superior colour consistency and improved fl are control. The focusing action takes place by moving the internal lens elements, which keeps the overall length of the lens constant throughout its entire focusing range. This is useful while shooting subjects that are very close to the lens.
This lens also incorporates the proprietary Nikon VR II stabilisation technology, which gives photographers the ability to shoot at shutterspeeds up to four stops slower than would otherwise be possible. However, while shooting macro images, you should not depend on VR as it is not very effective at close working distances.

I used this macro lens on the mid-level D7000 and also on the small-sized D40x. The lens balances very well on both these cameras. The good thing about using a DX-optimised lens is the fact that it is much lighter and smaller than full frame lenses of the same type. First impressions make it seem as if this is a budget macro lens, especially because of the lens’ build and construction. The front element does not rotate while focusing, making it quite easy to use accessories like a Circular Polariser or a ring flash.
The focus ring is quite wide and ideal for using manual focus. It offers just enough resistance, which is required to fine tune the focus. An angle of rotation of around 70° takes you through the entire focusing range. I was looking for a focus limiter switch on the lens, but it is absent. This is a vital feature that most macro lenses have. It allows you to decide whether the subject that needs to be focused on, is close to the lens or at a far-off distance. Since this lens does not have this feature, the lens tends to hunt for focus in some situations.
The focusing and magnification scale is cramped in a single small window. However, there is neither a depth-of-field scale, nor is there an infrared focus index.

The focusing speed is fairly quick and the AF operation is very quiet indeed, due to the use of the Silent Wave Motor technology. This is a big plus while shooting macro photos in nature.
Distortion and chromatic aberrations are very well controlled. I was a little worried to see quite a bit of light fall-off, when shooting at f/3.5, but this improves when you stop down the aperture to f/5.6 or f/8.
However, the main test of a macro lens is how sharp it is and how much detail it can resolve. The Nikkor 85mm f/3.5 lens is not outstanding, but it fares reasonably well.
The sweet spot of the lens falls somewhere around f/13, but the centre sharpness is excellent from f/16 to the widest aperture. The edge sharpness suffers at wide open but this is expected. However, considering that the third-party lenses of Tamron and Tokina cost a lot less and are sharper, this macro lens left me a little disappointed.

As compared to the company’s full frame macro lenses, the 85mm f/3.5 seem to have an attractive price tag of Rs. 35,190. The effective focal length also means that it can double up as a portrait lens too, even though at f/3.5 it is optically slow.
However, for serious macro photography, it is always recommended to slow down the process—use a tripod, focus manually and get the sharpness and depth perfectly right. So if you are a D3100/D5100 user, we will advise you to sacrifice autofocus and buy the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 or the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 lenses.
Both these lenses may not have stabilisation and will not be able to use AF on Nikon’s entry-level bodies, but they are far more economical, and sharper.

Final Ratings
VR, Silent wave AF motor, not a very fastaperture

Excellent bokeh, sharpness not as good as competition

Build Quality
Plastic construction

Full time manual focus override

Warranty & Support
Two-years warranty

Value For Money: 2/5 stars

Tags: Shridhar Kunte, Lens review, September 2011, Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/3.5G VR DX Micro, Macro Lens, non full frame