Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm F2.8G ED Review (FX)

Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm F2.8G ED

Introduction:
Nikon has been making micro (macro) lenses for 55 years now, with the first one coming in the form of the 55mm F3.5 for their rangefinder cameras back in 1956. In 1961 they introduced the first SLR micro, the 55mm F3.5, which was updated several times. In 1979 the 55mm F2.8 AI-S was introduced, which is still in production today. Nikon introduced the AF Micro Nikkor 60mm F2.8 in 1989, which was updated to the AF-D model in 1993. In 2008, they replaced the aging AF-D lens with the Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm F2.8G ED. Many photographers might overlook these shorter micro lenses due to the focal length, which makes it less than ideal for bug photography. Insect photography is not the only reason to use a macro, and there are other applications that photographers could find for this lens. It is unfortunate that some overlook this lens, because it has reputation as being one of the sharpest macro lenses on the market today, and it has that reputation for a very good reason.

Feature wise the lens is equipped with all the modern technologies that Nikon has to offer, such as a SWM (Silent Wave Motor) for quiet focusing, along with aspherical elements and ED glass for superior optical performance. The lens also features dust and water resistant seals, which means it is great for working outdoors with higher end Nikon DSLRs. One of the most interesting features of the AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm F2.8G ED is the addition of a nano crystal coated element, making it the cheapest lens in the Nikkor lineup to have this feature.


Build and Mechanical Quality:
The build quality of the lens is right up there with other high performance Nikkor lenses, and has a well made polycarbonate shell covering a metal body. Using plastic on the outer part of the lens body means that it is still nice to hold in cool weather conditions, while metal lens bodies will draw all the heat out of your hands. As noted in the introduction the lens features dust and moisture resistance, with this being most notable in the rubber gasket around the brass lens mount. Nikon does not claim that the lens is water proof, so don't expect it to survive a heavy rainstorm or a short dive in a creek.

From a mechanical and ergonomic standpoint this lens is very good. The lens weighs 425g, so it isn't overly heavy, and balances well on cameras like the D300 or D700 without the grip. The lens is still comfortable to use with entry level cameras like the D3100, or mid-range bodies such as the D7000, although it is a little front heavy on the former. The manual focusing ring is very smooth and allows for easy manual focusing.

The 60mm f2.8G ED uses an internal focusing (IF) design and does not extend when focusing at 1:1 like the previous 60mm F2.8D. The lens is only F2.8 at focusing ranges of 1m or more. Once you focus on a subject closer than that the effective aperture gets smaller, being F3 at 0.05m, all the way down to F4.8 at 1:1 (0.185m). At 1:1 you need to be approximately 5cm from your subject.


Auto Focus Speed and Accuracy:
Thanks to the AF-S focusing motor this lens can focus extremely fast, even in dim lighting conditions. Using a cross type (center) focus point(s) insures that you achieve the most accurate and fastest focusing on all cameras. Once you start moving in the macro focusing range speed drops off (due to the smaller effective maximum aperture). In extremely low lighting conditions, or when using non-cross type AF points the lens can hunt for focus. At 1:1 you are likely better served by manual focusing, under said conditions.

Nikon 60mm F2.8G mounted on the D700

Image Quality:
One word can describe the image quality that you get from the AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm F2.8G ED, sharp! Before you start adding sharpening in post processing (RAW) you can see the remarkable sharpness of this lens, even when shooting at F2.8. Images are contrasty and the colour is captured extremely well. I've read reports that this lens suffers from chromatic aberrations (CA), but I haven't noticed it in the shots that I have taken with it. I have mostly been shooting in the macro range with the lens, so I'm often stopping the lens down to F8 or more, at which point CA is not an issue anymore. At F2.8 there is noticeable vignetting (dark corners), but that goes away as you stop the lens down, or shoot in the macro range. Below are samples showing the vignetting, and then lack of it once stopped down. You'll also notice a difference in contrast once the lens is stopped down.

Visible Vignetting + Smooth Bokeh at F2.8

Vignetting is gone when stopped down

The bokeh (out of focus areas) in the frame are smooth a pleasant to view, from F2.8, all the way down to the maximum aperture. The lens produces brilliant colour, that is realistic, while also vivid in the sense that colour pops out at you. As noted in the introduction, this lens features a nano crystal coated element, which help in resisting flare. I did a few test shots with the sun in the frame, and this lens handles it extremely well. Frankly, I just didn't see any flare at all, although under some conditions I'm sure it could show up, as other testers have seen flare. 

Sample Images:
Sample images all taken with the Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm F2.8G ED mounted on the Nikon D700 (FX) DSLR. Click on images for larger view.

 60mm @F3.3

60mm @F5.6

60mm @F8

60mm @F11

60mm @F16

60mm @F22

Final Thoughts and Conclusion:
The Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm F2.8G ED is one of the sharpest macro lenses on the market today, in terms of resolution and in real life applications as well. There is only one glaring short coming to this lens that I can think of, and that is the minimum focusing distance being only 5cm from the subject. The previous 60mm F2.8D has a longer minimum focusing distance, but it did not have an internal focusing (IF) design and the front element of the lens protruded from the lens body at minimum focusing distance. Having such a design would have made the lens less resistant to dust and moisture, which might be one of the reasons Nikon opted to use an IF design.

Although this lens is very good, if you want to shoot insects on a budget you might be better off looking at the Tokina 105mm F2.8 macro or Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro. I found the 60mm F2.8G Nikkor performed best when shooting still life or products. Keep in mind that the perspective of a 60mm lens is very different from that of a 90mm or longer macro, so that needs to be considered as well.

Pros:
- Lowest Cost Micro Nikkor for FX cameras
- Nano Crystal Coating reduces flare
- Well Made, with dust and moisture seals
- Very sharp, even wide open at F2.8
- Smooth and creamy bokeh
- Excellent for still life and product photography

Cons:
- Tamron 90mm F2.8 and Tokina 105mm F2.8 Macro Lenses are cheaper
- Short Minimum focusing distance (front element must be 5cm from subject)
- Not suited for insect photography

Video Overview