Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

14th May 2012 | 12:00

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

The best life-size macro lenses for Nikon DSLRs tested

Macro lenses explained

Macro badges are often slapped on lenses that offer a magnification factor of 0.5x or less. However, true macro lenses (or 'Micro', as Nikon calls them) deliver 1.0x, or 1:1, magnification. This means that if you photograph a small object at the lens' closest focus distance setting, it will be the same size as the image projected onto the camera's sensor.

A 1.0x magnification factor might not sound impressive, but bear in mind that this is on the sensor itself. When the digital image is viewed on a computer screen or turned into a photo print, there's the potential for enormous enlargement - levels of detail are revealed that are practically invisible to the naked eye.

To get full 1.0x magnification, you'll need a macro prime lens rather than a 'macro' zoom lens. Even then, some prime lenses bearing the macro designation don't give full 1.0x magnification.

Best macro lens for Nikons

All of the lenses we've included in this test fit the 1.0x criteria, but there are still some major differences between them.

Range finder

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

The only variations in this group are the Nikon 85mm f/3.5G AF-S DX ED VR Micro, which is two-thirds of a stop slower, at f/3.5, and the Tamron 60mm f/2 SP AF Di II Macro, which is one stop faster, at f/2.

A more crucial factor is what focal length is going to be most useful to you. Nikon cameras with APS-C-format sensors have a 1.5x focal length multiplier, or crop factor. The Nikon 40mm f/2.8G AF-S DX Micro would therefore have an effective focal length of 60mm, which is also useful for general shooting with a fairly standard effective focal length.

Lenses of 60mm equate to 90mm in terms of angle of view, so are good for portraits, whereas 105mm lenses give a telephoto reach equivalent to 157.5mm. You might think these could be good for action shots, but the focusing systems of macro lenses are often low-geared to enable the precise adjustments required for close-ups. That means autofocus can be too slow to keep pace with fast-moving action.

Focal factor

Best macro lens for Nikons

Focal length is an important factor to consider for macro photography. If you're shooting small bugs, for example, a greater focal length is preferable because the minimum focus distance will be longer. With a 105mm lens it will be about 35cm, but with a 40mm it's only about 16cm. This makes it hard to get close enough to tiny creatures without scaring them.

In fact, it's worse than it sounds because the focus distance is measured from the sensor, or 'focal plane', at the back of the camera. Take the depth of the camera body and the lens length into account, and the lens' front element can get very close to your subject. Shorter focal lengths are better for confined spaces and lower magnifications.

The quietness of the autofocus system can also play an important role when you're trying to photograph timid wildlife. All of the Nikon lenses on test, as well as the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro, feature very quiet, ring-type ultrasonic autofocus.

Best macro lens for Nikons

This also has the advantage of full-time manual override in Single AF mode, so you can tweak the focus setting without switching back and forth between auto and manual focus options.

This is vital in macro photography because the depth of field is extremely small at the closest focus setting, which gives maximum magnification. At an aperture of f/5.6 it's just a millimetre or two, and even if you reduce the aperture to f/16, it will still only be 4mm.

Sometimes, in macro shooting it's easiest to just use manual focusing, to avoid the autofocus hunting through its entire range when making adjustments. The smoothness and precision of the lens' manual focus ring then becomes very important, though it's sometimes easier to make fine adjustments to the position of the camera instead.

Nikon 40mm f/2.8G AF-S DX Micro

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

Nikon 40mm f/2.8G AF-S DX Micro - £235/$280

The most compact lens in the group, the Nikon 40mm is even smaller and lighter than the Nikon 18-55mm VR supplied with cameras such as the Nikon D3100. Conveniently for kit lens owners, it also has the same 52mm filter thread, as does the Nikon 85mm f/3.5G AF-S DX ED VR Micro.

The front element doesn't rotate during focusing with the 40mm, which it does on the 18-55mm, although it still extends as you focus from infinity down to the minimum focus distance.

When you're close-focusing, the lens extension is a problem - at its closest setting, the front of the lens is a mere 3.5cm from the subject. This will often cast whatever you're shooting into shadow unless the main light source is at the side or you're using ring flash.

Autofocus isn't particularly fast for a ring-type ultrasonic system, but is aided by a focus limit switch that can lock the range at 0.2m to infinity. Due partly to the compactness of the lens, the manual focus ring is small, and it lacks smoothness both in autofocus override and full manual mode. On the plus side, sharpness, contrast and image quality are very good.

Sharpness

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

From f/2.8 to f/11, sharpness edges ahead of even the Sigma 105mm, and is still excellent at f/16.

Lab test
Sharpness at f/2.8: 2471
Sharpness at f/8: 2559
Sharpness at f/16: 2025

Fringing

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

Fringing is slightly higher than average for a macro prime lens, but only towards the corners of the frame.

Lab test
Fringing at f/2.8: 0.33
Fringing at f/8: 0.45
Fringing at f/16: 0.57

Distortion

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

There's very marginal pin-cushion distortion, but it's barely noticeable in images and not really an issue.

Lab test
Distortion: 0.12

Image quality verdict

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

The baby Nikon delivers excellent image quality, but the short focal length of 40mm makes it impractical for many common macro scenarios.

Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP AF Di Macro

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP AF Di Macro - £345/$450

A favourite with serious macro photographers over the last eight years, the Tamron 90mm has stood the test of time. Compatible with both full-frame and APS-C-format cameras, it's reasonably compact and only about half the weight of the two 105mm lenses in the group. The front element is recessed within the lens barrel, making the supplied hood something you'll never need.

Unlike most lenses on test, the Tamron lacks internal focusing and almost doubles in overall length at the closest focus setting of 29cm. Even so, there's much less of a problem with casting subjects you're photographing into shadow than with the Nikon 40mm f/2.8G AF-S DX Micro.

With an electric autofocus motor there's no full-time manual override, but a push-pull mechanism on the focus ring makes it quick and easy to switch between focus modes.

Excellent optical quality is the main reason for this lens' success. Autofocus is sluggish but the extra-long travel of the silky smooth focus ring makes it a joy to use for manual focusing. There's also a focus limit switch on both sides of the 40cm mark.

Sharpness

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

The compact yet competent Tamron delivers great sharpness and contrast, even at its largest aperture of f/2.8.

Lab test
Sharpness at f/2.8: 2214
Sharpness at f/8: 2241
Sharpness at f/16: 2079

Fringing

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

There's a little colour fringing at the extreme corners of the frame but it's not generally noticeable in images.

Lab test
Fringing at f/2.8: 0.43
Fringing at f/8: 0.19
Fringing at f/16: 0.16

Distortion

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

The lens is low on distortion - there's a hint of pin-cushion but you have to look quite hard to see it.

Lab test
Distortion: 0.14

Image quality verdict

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

Tamron's 90mm boasts an overall image quality that would be good at any price, and is even more appealing considering the lens' low cost.

Read the full Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP AF Di Macro review

Tamron 60mm f/2 SP AF Di II Macro

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

Tamron 60mm f/2 SP AF Di II Macro - £350/$460

Given the success of Tamron's full-frame 90mm macro lens, it's natural that the brand should try to replicate the winning recipe in a 60mm lens for DX cameras. On bodies such as the Nikon D3100 and Nikon D7000 you get an effective 90mm focal length in a smaller package. A key difference is that this 60mm lens has internal focusing, so its length doesn't increase as focus distance decreases.

The 90mm f/2.8 SP AF Di Macro's push-pull focus ring design is replaced here with an AF/MF switch. The autofocus motor is still a basic electric type, so there's no manual override and the switch is more fiddly and time-consuming to use than the push-pull arrangement. Build quality is nothing special, though this is the 'fastest' lens on test, with a maximum aperture of f/2.

Whereas Tamron's 90mm lens is extremely sharp at its maximum aperture, the 60mm is by far the poorest in the group. It redeems itself with good resolution in the f/8 to f/16 range, which is more appropriate for macro shooting. However, the focus ring is horribly stiff and jerky, making fine adjustments tricky when you're focusing manually.

Sharpness

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

There's a major lack of sharpness when you shoot at f/2 and f/2.8. The lens doesn't get into its stride until f/5.6.

Lab test
Sharpness at f/2.8: 532
Sharpness at f/8: 2346
Sharpness at f/16: 2027

Fringing

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Noticeable colour fringing can be problematic outside the centre of the frame, and is quite poor in the corners.

Lab test
Fringing at f/2.8: 0.79
Fringing at f/8: 0.28
Fringing at f/16: 0.3

Distortion

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Visible barrel distortion is a flaw, the Tamron delivering lab figures almost as bad as those from the Nikon 85mm.

Lab test
Distortion: -0.55

Image quality verdict

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Disappointing in almost every respect, the Tamron 60mm has the worst all-round image quality of the lenses in our test.

Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro - £370/$500

Put this lens on a Nikon D3100, Nikon D5100 or any previous Nikon bodies of this class and your first reaction will probably be that the autofocus is broken. That's because the lens doesn't have a built-in motor so, for autofocus, relies on the screw drive that's only featured in high-end bodies such as the Nikon D7000, Nikon D300s and Nikon D700.

While this can be frustrating for general photography, it isn't a major downside for macro shooting, where you'd normally use manual focusing anyway. On the upside, the focus ring itself is very smooth and has a long travel that enables precise adjustments.

The focus limit switch is handy too, limiting the range either side of about 50cm. But again, this is only really useful on bodies that can drive autofocus. Without internal focusing the lens also doubles in length at its shortest focus distance.

Sharpness lags behind that of the similarly priced Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP AF Di Macro when you're shooting at the largest aperture of f/2.8. There's less of a difference between f/8 and f/16, though. Contrast is a little less inspiring from this Sigma lens, too.

Sharpness

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

There's a lack of sharpness when shooting at the maximum aperture, but things improve at f/5.6 and beyond.

Lab test
Sharpness at f/2.8: 1791
Sharpness at f/8: 2320
Sharpness at f/16: 2002

Fringing

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Chromatic aberration is controlled very well. There's no real evidence of colour fringing within test images.

Lab test
Fringing at f/2.8: 0.17
Fringing at f/8: 0.12
Fringing at f/16: 0.13

Distortion

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

It's not the best in the group, but with only slight pin-cushion distortion it's not too far behind the leaders.

Lab test
Distortion: 0.17

Image quality verdict

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

This lens works quite well as a macro optic, but the lack of sharpness and contrast at large apertures is less than ideal for close-up shots.

Nikon 60mm f/2.8G AF-S ED Micro

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

Nikon 60mm f/2.8G AF-S ED Micro - £395/$550

While the Nikon 40mm can only be used on DX bodies, its 60mm brother is equally suitable for full-frame cameras. Indeed, it has exactly the same focal length on an FX body as the 'effective' focal length of the 40mm on a DX body.

Further similarities include ring-type ultrasonic autofocus and a rubber weather seal on the mounting plate, as featured in all the Nikons in the group. However, only this lens and the 40mm lack Vibration Reduction (VR).

Unlike the Nikon 40mm, this lens has internal focusing, so maintains its modest length right through to its closest focus distance of 18.5cm. Even so, the front of the lens comes a bit too close for comfort to the subject, at a distance of just 4.5cm.

Autofocus is faster on this lens than with the Nikon 40mm, which is perhaps why Nikon has omitted a focus limit switch. Manual focusing is slightly jerky, and lacks the precision of some of the other lenses on test. Sharpness is also disappointing compared with the other lenses, especially at apertures around f/16, which are often favoured for macro shooting.

Sharpness

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

It's quite disappointing at small apertures around f/16, which is a real drawback for macro shooting.

Lab test
Sharpness at f/2.8: 2049
Sharpness at f/8: 2271
Sharpness at f/16: 1703

Fringing

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Chromatic aberration is basically a non-issue, even when there are very high-contrast edges in a scene.

Lab test
Fringing at f/2.8: 0.17
Fringing at f/8: 0.14
Fringing at f/16: 0.18

Distortion

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

There's practically no distortion at all, with the Nikon 60mm achieving the best test score in the group.

Lab test
Distortion: 0.02

Image quality verdict

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Excellent in terms of colour fringing and distortion, the Achilles' heel is its sharpness at small apertures, which is vital for macro shooting.

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

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

Nikon 85mm f/3.5G AF-S DX ED VR Micro - £415/$500

Downsized lenses for DX rather than full-frame cameras are generally smaller and lighter. Sure enough, this lens is only half the weight of the big, full-frame Nikon 105mm f/2.8G AF-S IF-ED VR Micro, but it's still slightly larger than the full-frame Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP AF Di Macro.

Part of this is due to the VR (Vibration Reduction) system fitted to the Nikon, which is a mark II edition that gives a four-stop benefit - at least, it does at medium to long focus distances. For macro shots, there's practically no advantage.

Like the Nikon 60mm f/2.8G AF-S ED Micro for full-frame cameras, this DX optic has no focus limit switch, but the ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system is fast. As usual, there's full-time manual override. Also, as with all Nikon lenses on test (apart from the 40mm), focusing is internal, so the front element doesn't extend at closer focusing distances.

Sharpness is impressive even at the widest aperture, although that's only f/3.5 - this lens is two-thirds of a stop slower than most others in the group. Darkened image corners are noticeable at the maximum aperture. There's also a bit of barrel distortion.

Sharpness

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Sharpness is good throughout the aperture range, but the maximum aperture is smaller than usual.

Lab test
Sharpness at f/2.8: 2233
Sharpness at f/8: 2372
Sharpness at f/16: 2098

Fringing

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

As with the Nikon 60mm lens there's practically no visible colour fringing, even towards the corners of the frame.

Lab test
Fringing at f/2.8: 0.17
Fringing at f/8: 0.2
Fringing at f/16: 0.16

Distortion

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Barrel distortion is noticeable, and in this respect the lens returned the worst score in the group.

Lab test
Distortion: -0.56

Image quality verdict

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Good for sharpness and absence of colour fringing, the Nikon 85mm is let down by a poor level of distortion and noticeable vignetting.

Nikon 105mm f/2.8G AF-S IF-ED VR Micro

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

Nikon 105mm f/2.8G AF-S IF-ED VR Micro - £610/$900

Compared with the other Nikon lenses on test, the Nikon 105mm VR offers a real step up in terms of build quality. It's bigger, heavier and has a much more robust, professional feel to it. Advances over its popular predecessor include four-stop Vibration Reduction and completely internal focusing, so its overall length remains fixed.

Like the Nikon 60mm f/2.8G AF-S ED Micro, which is also compatible with both full-frame and DX bodies, the 105mm features Nikon's new nano crystal coating on the rear element. This helps to reduce flare by minimising internal reflections within the lens.

An improvement over the 60mm lens, this one features a focus limit switch, although you can't select only the shorter end of the range. It enables either full focus travel or just the range between 50cm and infinity.

Autofocus speed is super-fast and the manual focus ring is very smooth, which it isn't for the cheaper Nikons in the group. This is true with both fully manual focusing and manual focus override of autofocus. The only slight disappointment with the lens is that the sharpness at f/16 could be a little better.

Sharpness

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Offers great sharpness and contrast even at the maximum aperture of f/2.8, but performance dips at f/16.

Lab test
Sharpness at f/2.8: 2400
Sharpness at f/8: 2313
Sharpness at f/16: 1910

Fringing

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

There's some noticeable colour fringing at the corners of the frame, throughout the whole aperture range.

Lab test
Fringing at f/2.8: 0.65
Fringing at f/8: 0.5
Fringing at f/16: 0.59

Distortion

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

The lens does show some barrel distortion, but it's not very apparent compared with that from other lenses.

Lab test
Distortion: -0.2

Image quality verdict

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

The Nikon 105mm delivers extremely pleasing results but isn't quite as excellent as the equivalent Sigma 105mm lens.

Read the full Nikon 105mm f/2.8G AF-S IF-ED VR Micro review

Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro - £650/$800

Sigma's latest 105mm macro lens feels every inch a professional lens. It's weighty - the only lens in the group to tip the scales at more than a kilo - but packs plenty of advanced features, including Sigma's four-stop Optical Stabilization, super-fast ring-type ultrasonic autofocus and internal focusing.

Tracking fast-moving objects is no problem for the autofocus system. And to make full use of this, the Optical Stabilization uses a dual-mode system that includes horizontal panning.

The focus limit switch goes one better than that on Nikon's 105mm lens, with three positions: full focus range, 31-45cm close-focusing and 45cm to infinity for general shooting.

Our camera autofocused quickly and with good resistance to hunting, even under dull light. There's not quite so much travel in the focus ring as with the similar Nikon 105mm f/2.8G AF-S IF-ED VR Micro, but fine adjustments are easy to make. The ring's operation is smooth and precise.

Optical quality is spectacular, with sharp images rich in contrast and saturation even at the top aperture. It's the sharpest lens here for close-focusing at f/16.

Sharpness

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Excellent sharpness from f/2.8 down to f/16 makes this a superb lens for both general shooting and macro work.

Lab test
Sharpness at f/2.8: 2308
Sharpness at f/8: 2413
Sharpness at f/16: 2241

Fringing

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Colour fringing is only occasionally noticeable at the very corners of the frame, and even then it's minimal.

Lab test
Fringing at f/2.8: 0.32
Fringing at f/8: 0.24
Fringing at f/16: 0.25

Distortion

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

Lab tests reveal the tiniest bit of barrel distortion but it's practically impossible to see in images.

Lab test
Distortion: -0.09

Image quality verdict

The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.The focal lengths of the lenses in our roundup range from 40mm to 105mm. Unlike some antiquated optics, all modern macro lenses are dual-purpose designs. They're good for close-ups but also as high-quality prime lenses with a fairly 'fast' maximum aperture, typically f/2.8, which is great for portraits or shooting in low light.Best macro lens for Nikons

With superb results for everything from full macro close-ups to general long-distance shooting, the Sigma is a real star performer.

Read the full Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro review

Verdict: best macro lens for Nikons

Best macro lens for Nikons: 8 tested

Launched last year, the optically stabilised Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro is a wishlist come true for macro photographers. It has fully internal focusing, so there's no extension of the lens barrel at short focus distances.

The HSM (Hyper-Sonic Motor) autofocus is practically silent, very fast and extremely accurate. Manual focusing is wonderfully smooth and precise too, which is something that can't always be said for ring-type ultrasonic focus systems.

The focus rings in the Nikon 40mm, 60mm and (to a lesser extent) 85mm lenses are all a bit stiff and jerky. This makes very fine focus adjustments much easier to make on the Sigma. However, the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G AF-S IF-ED VR Micro has a smoother focus ring.

The Sigma 105mm's handling is supremely good, and its optical stabiliser works well in general shooting.

However, image quality is what matters most. There's not much to distinguish the Sigma and Nikon 105mm lenses, but the Sigma wins with class-leading sharpness at small apertures, ideal for macro shooting. It also has less colour fringing and distortion.

The only disappointment with the Sigma 105mm is that it's so expensive. It really does justify its price tag, but there are bargains to be had at the low end of the price range.

The Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP AF Di Macro has earned a great reputation as a macro lens and, with superb image quality and refined manual focusing for close-up shooting, it's unbeatable value at the price.

However, while the Sigma 105mm and Tamron 90mm lenses are two of the best in the group, the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro and Tamron 60mm f/2 SP AF Di II Macro are the least impressive.

Final verdict

If you're serious about your macro photography, the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro is the ultimate lens for the job.

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