As you may know, I’m testing the new Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED Nikkor portrait lens. One of the main questions I’ve been asked over on my Facebook page is, “how does it compare to the 105mm micro-Nikkor?”
- Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED Nikkor (see specs and pricing)
- Nikon 105mm f/2.8 AFS G VR micro-Nikkor (see specs and pricing)
It’s a fair question, as I’ve long listed the 105mm f/2.8 AFS G VR micro-Nikkor as an excellent portrait lens. For this purpose, at least to me, there are really only two discriminators: VR (stabilization) and aperture.
While Nikon’s vibration reduction (VR) system is a wonderful feature, I don’t find it to be totally necessary for portrait work. That’s because in these situations, you’re likely to be shooting wide-open or in a controlled studio setting with strobes. In both cases, you probably won’t need stabilization. The VR system on the micro-Nikkor is very useful for hand-held closeup shots where stopping down to get maximal depth of field is desirable.
The micro-Nikkor is a macro lens, and it uses a design that actually causes the aperture to shrink as you focus on close subjects. Even though the lens is rated at f/2.8, you’ll only really get that aperture when focusing from about 10′ (3m) to infinity. At minimum focus distance, the maximum aperture shrinks to f/4.8. For most portraits, this puts you around f/3 or so with the micro-Nikkor. The 105mm f/1.4E is indeed a fixed aperture, so you get f/1.4 at all focus distances. The big difference here is that it has a minimum focus distance of about 3.3 feet (1 m). If you want a macro lens, then the micro-Nikkor is the clear choice here.
The reason one would purchase the far more expensive 105mm f/1.4E really comes down to the ability to shoot this lens wide-open and get super-shallow DOF. I enlisted my trusty test subject (he will work for chocolate) and made a couple of portrait shots with each lens, wide-open. Here is where you can really see the difference of those extra f-stops:
Note the shallow depth of field and incredibly soft background (he was about one meter away from the side of the house) produced by the 105mm f/1.4 (top image). For serious portraits, that’s a look that is really hard to produce in post. The effect is more pronounced in full-length portraits, as the extra depth of field in the 105mm f/2.8 becomes more apparent in the out of focus backgrounds:
In conclusion, both lenses are sharp, well-corrected, and produce lovely portraits. The all-purpose photographer will be well-suited by having the 105mm macro lens, because it is dual-purpose. The VR system will certainly help in dim conditions, too. Wedding and portrait photographers, however, will definitely find the extra bokeh and softer backgrounds to be a major discriminator when producing professional portraits for clients.