Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Nikkor AF 105mm f/2 DC

I've been planning to do this review for a million years, and I kept postponing it, because I was torn in regard to the 'Final Verdict' part. In fact, I changed my mind a couple of times about it in the past year or so that this article was on hold. It has the elements of controversy - scandal! - so read on.

+ best bokeh on a Nikkor lens? Arguably so
+ excellent image quality overall. No flaws to speak of
+ very high construction quality, it can take a beating

- expensive. Very expensive, considering its age and applications
- heavy (mechanical quality comes at a price)
- the defocus control feature requires familiarization. It's easy to mess things up by doing something wrong.

This one is taken with a Nikkor AF-D 50mm f/1.8 which is cheaper by several hundred dollars. Is there a difference in bokeh? Yes (at least I can see it on this specific one). Is it really worth the price difference? That's an other story

 Intended Users
Great for:
  • advanced users who take many portrait photos
  • candid portraiture outdoors
  • weddings, but only if you're not the primary (let alone the only) photographer

Not for:
  • anything other than portraits. Yes, you can use it for other stuff, but it is simply not worth its price tag
  • low-light portraiture. f/2 is fast, but with the same money you can get the 85mm f/1.4, which is 1 stop faster.
  • studio use. No point for a lens made for creamy bokeh if you plan to use it at f/8 with an ugly blue backdrop.

Final Verdict
OK, so we've reached the 'Final Verdict' part. This is hard, so very hard. Let me get it out of my system: I love this lens. It's one of those lenses - like the AF 180mm f/2.8 - that are simply superlative. It's like Nikon made this lens simply because... it could. The bokeh is simply otherworldly, you have to see it to believe it - provided you know how to achieve the results.

Having said that, it's also expensive. Very expensive. The 135mm version is even more expensive, but even the 105mm one costs (used) as much as the AF-D 85mm f/1.4. The micro-Nikkor AF-S VR105mm f/2.8 is also somewhere there. So, is a screw-type autofocus lens without VR and with "only" f/2 maximum aperture worth the money? I'll sadly have to say: no. Not if you're not making portraits for a living, or at the very least if not 70-80% of your photos are portraits. Even then, you'd need to ask yourself if you would be better served by the AF-D 85mm f/1.4 (or, in terms of value, if the four times cheaper AF-D 85mm f/1.8 is the same thing for most of your needs). Considering also that the defocus control does take a certain degree of skill to master, frustration can be around the corner. This is a great lens. But for specific people and specific circumstances.

Ultimately, the problem is that you pay (and you pay well) for something that probably won't even show in 90% of your shots. In fact, I couldn't find any great example among my photos to post here and show how this lens is better than, say, the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 - although, to be fair, I've only shot couple of hundred photos with it (I do not own one, I only rented a copy couple of times).

AF 105mm f/2 DC vs AF-D 85mm f/1.4

In a nutshell, for those agonizing over this:

AF 105mm f/2 DC is better in:
- having bokeh control
- bokeh quality - marginally, very marginally. And this is very subjective.
- performance wide-open. To be expected, considering it's an f/2 vs f/1.4 situation.

AF-D 85mm f/1.4 is better in:
- low light capability
- subject isolation
- shorter focal length might be useful in some circumstances.

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