Nikon 105mm f2.8 Macro Lens: Z vs F

After shooting with them side-by-side, I’ve decided to trade in my trusty Nikon AF-S 105mm ƒ/2.8 macro for the Z version. Here’s why.

Nikon NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f2.8 VR S Macro Lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Text & Photos By David Coleman
Last Revised & Updated:

One of the nice things about moving up from Nikon DSLRs to the newer Z mirrorless cameras is that you can continue to use your existing lenses. Most of them will continue to work when mounted with an FTZ mount adapter. And because there’s no optical glass in them, there’s no optical penalty for doing so.

One of the lenses that has been a real workhorse lens for me over the years is the 105mm ƒ/2.8 macro. I have the AF-S version (and had the previous version before that). And until recently, I’ve been using that with the FTZ on my Nikon Z8 quite happily.

But coming into the spring, when I use this lens even more than usual, I thought it was worth seeing if it was worth replacing it with the Z version. So I’ve been shooting with them side-by-side.

Nikon NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f2.8 VR S Macro Lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
On the left left is the Nikon NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S. On the right is the Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED. This shows the length of each with its dedicated lens hood attached. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

Shooting with the F-Mount and Z-Mount Versions

The full names for these lenses are:

There’s a lot of similarities between these lenses. They’re both 105mm focal length, have a maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8, use 62mm filters, and offer 1:1 macro magnification. They both have lens VR (and the Nikon Z8 also has IBIS). Even when you drill down further, the technical differences are subtle.

But this isn’t about differences on paper. As I increasingly lean on my Nikon Z8 over the D850, I want to make a practical choice on which lens to use going forward. Because I don’t need both of them. So I’ve been trying them out side-by-side on my Nikon Z8.

If I didn’t already own the AF-S version, I’d just go with the Z version. Simple. But the question for me is whether it’s worth the considerable upgrade price. Because even selling the AF-S on the used market will only cover a small part of that upgrade price.

If you’re using a Nikon DSLR, there’s no choice to be made. Only the AF-S version will work with F-mount DSLRs. [1]

But if you’re using a Nikon Z full-frame body, you have a choice. And that’s what I’m focusing on here. I have DSLRs (like the D850) and mirrorless (like the Z8). I have the AF-S 105mm ƒ/2.8, and I use it a lot.

As I increasingly use the Z8 as my main body, my decision is whether to stick with the AF-S with an FTZ adapter or switch to the Z 105mm.

And that’s where my focus is on here. While I’m comparing the two lenses, it’s with the specific objective of making the practical decision on which I want to use going forward on Nikon Z bodies. In other words, everything I’m talking about here is about using these lenses on a Nikon Z body (and even more specifically, the Nikon Z8).

Nikon 105mm ƒ/2.8 AF-S vs Z: Key Features

Minimum Focus Distance

With a macro lens, the minimum focus distance is a big deal. And while these are very similar, the small advantage that the Z has here can make a meaningful distance if you’re shooting close and using the maximum 1:1 magnification.

Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8 Nikon Z 105mm f/2.8
12.36 inches / 31.4 cm 11.4 inches / 29 cm

Angle of View

The angle of view of both of these is technically slightly different, but it’s so slight as to be the same in practical terms.

Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8 Nikon Z 105mm f/2.8
23° 20′ 23° 10′

Apertures

They have identical maximum and miniature apertures.

Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8 Nikon Z 105mm f/2.8
Maximum Aperture ƒ/2.8 ƒ/2.8
Minimum Aperture ƒ/32 ƒ/32

Build & Handling

The overall optical design is similar, and I’ve not noticed any particular practical advantages in everyday shooting of one designed over the other.

Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8 Nikon Z 105mm f/2.8
Optical Design 14 Elements in 12 Groups 16 Elements in 11 Groups
Diaphragm Blades 9, Rounded 9, Rounded

Size & Weight. By itself, the AF-S version is significantly smaller, mainly due to a shorter length.

Nikon NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f2.8 VR S Macro Lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
On the left left is the Nikon NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S. On the right is the Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED. This shows the length of each without the lens hoods. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

But to use it on a Nikon Z camera, you’re going to need to use the FTZ adapter as well. And that combination comes out a little longer than the Z lens itself.

Nikon NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f2.8 VR S Macro Lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
On the left left is the Nikon NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S. On the right is the Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED. This shows the length difference when the AF-S version has the FTZ adapter attached. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

The AF-S version is also heavier—noticeably so. It also feels more solid.

Nikon NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f2.8 VR S Macro Lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
The Nikon NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S is on the left left. On the right is the Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8 Nikon Z 105mm f/2.8
Diameter 3.27″ / 83mm 3.3″ / 85mm
Length 4.57″ / 116mm 5.5″ / 140mm
Weight 1.58 lb / 720g 1.4 lb / 630 g

Manual Focus Ring. This is one of the more important differences to me, and it’s somewhere the Z version has a significant advantage.

The Z version has much smoother manual focus. Macro work is one area where I find I use manual focusing far more often than in most other types of shooting. And the smoother focus means truer and finer control of small changes.

Lens Control Ring. The lens control ring is something that Nikon has been adding to some of their newer lenses. It’s basically a utility ring that you can assign custom controls to. Things like aperture control or exposure compensation. And it can be very handy to have.

As much as I’d like to use it for exposure compensation, there’s a catch with that which I’ve written about before. But I also find it very useful to have it assigned to aperture control. Sure, you can still use the camera’s own dials to control the aperture, but if you’re used to the old-style lenses that had aperture rings, this can be a nice way to change the aperture.

The Z lens has a control ring; the AF-S doesn’t.

Focusing Speed & Reliability

One thing I find a bit frustrating with the AF-S version is the way it sometimes gets stuck in searching mode for autofocus. It’s something I run into often because of the way I use it–handheld, and often with moving subjects.

I’m finding the Z version better in this respect. Definitely not perfect. But better. I’m using the 3D tracking AF, and it’s doing a great job even under difficult focusing conditions, although like the AF-S, it tends to struggle to find subjects when they’re close. Limiting the focusing range with the switch on the side of the lens helps but doesn’t completely solve it.

Bokeh

Both cameras have 9-blade rounded blades, giving nice round and quite smooth bokeh.

(I’ll post some real-world examples here shortly.)

Wrap Up

The reality is these are both great lenses. And it’s also true that you can probably get the same end product out of both lenses.

But I’m finding the Z to be a much better fit for the Z8. It makes the taking of the photo that little bit easier, and smoother. And it has an ever-so-slightly smaller minimum focus distance. And the more reliable autofocus is something that matters to me.

I get that it’s kind of obvious that the Z version might work better on the Z8. It’s much newer. And of course a lens designed specifically for Z-mount cameras is probably going to be better on Z-mount cameras. But for me, it’s about whether it’s better enough to warrant spending several hundred dollars more in upgrading to the newer version. Because even after selling the AF-S version on the used market, it only covers less than 20% of the cost of the Z version.

If I was rarely using this lens, it probably wouldn’t be worth it. And if I didn’t have either and was just dabbling, you can get some great deals on used copies of the AF-S version (Nikon has stopped making all F-mount lenses, so news stocks are on their way out, but you can still find gray market versions.)

But I use it a lot. I use it for my DC cherry blossom site, for product shots I post on this site, and for flower macros during the spring and summer, which I do just for fun.

All of which adds up to this: I’m moving to the Z version.

  1. Well, there are other options, but I’m referring here specifically to Nikon-branded lenses. Sigma also makes a version which is worth a look. There’s also a Nikon AF-S 105mm ƒ/1.4E, which is a different kind of lens. It’s not a macro, and it’s designed more for portraiture and wedding photography.[]
Profile photo of David Coleman | Have Camera Will Travel | Washington DC-based Professional Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a professional photographer based in Washington, DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and many places in between. I've been shooting for 30+ years, and my photos and time-lapse videos have appeared in a bunch of different publications, from major newspapers to magazines and books, billboards, TV shows, professional sports stadiums, museums, and even massive architectural scrims covering world-famous buildings while they're being renovated. You can see some of my travel photography here and here.

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