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PostPosted: Wed Nov 09, 2011 8:48 pm 
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Woohoo, today two new Nikon lenses arrived at my doorsteps!
Both are micro-Nikkors (meaning you can achieve 1:1 magnification) for DX-bodies (only):
- The AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G
- The AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED VR
Both represent the cheapest way to put a Nikon micro-lens on your DX body and come in at an approximate street price of only 230 EUR* for the 40mm lens and 440 EUR* for the stabilized 85mm lens.
The alternatives are the Sigma AF 50mm 2.8 EX DG Macro for around 300 EUR, the Tamron SP AF 60mm 2.0 Di II LD IF Macro for around 340 EUR (both work on FX-bodies too), the Tokina AT-X Pro 35mm 2.8 DX Macro for around 340 EUR, Nikon's AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60 mm 1:2,8G ED for 460 EUR, as well as the various 90mm, 100mm or 105mm "standard" macro lenses from all manufacturers including Nikon's own AF-S Micro NIKKOR 105 mm 1:2,8G VR which represents quite a jump in price at around 730 EUR.
So you can see that
(a) Nikon can claim to offer the cheapest way to put a real 1:1 macro lens on your DX-body and
(b) there is a whole plethora of macro lenses around which may make it quite difficult to choose one. Especially as macro-lenses are said to be all very good in image quality.
Now, I'll have a look in the next weeks into the performance of this diminutive couple and see whether Nikon has pulled it off again and produced something cheap and sharp and to give you some insight into what you'll gain if you decide for the longer (and stabilized) sibling.
While I'll busily descend to my secret laboratory to get out the whips and - err - Siemens-stars and test-charts you can have a look at my Sigma AF 150mm 2.8 EX DG APO HSM IF macro Review where you'll also find a side-by-side comparison of the Sigma to the Nikon 105/2.8VR. These two lenses produce very good results and thus present the benchmark by which others will be judged.

As you'll probably know from previous reviews this thread will act as a place to discuss the results from my up-and-coming review but also to place your questions, remarks, and own experiences with these lenses. This way we'll create a thread of knowledge for all who are interested in one of these lenses. So feel free to contribute yourself!

Und für unsere deutsch-sprachigen Leser: Wenn es Fragen und Anregungen zu meinem demnächst erscheinenden Review oder eigene Erfahrungen mit den beiden Linsen gibt, hier ist der Platz, um diese gerne auch in Deutsch zu platzieren!
---
*All prices include 19% VAT

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 12, 2011 10:41 am 
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Have done my normal 1:35 magnification test-shots of the Siemens-stars plus some quick & dirty open-air shooting. Brrr, it was freezing cold today.
Just some quick feedback from my ongoing testing:
- Had some focus issues with the 85/3.5: focus throw is much too sensitive, so manual focus in live-view is near impossible. For AF I had to tune in -15 (!) micro-focus adjustment. Center seems relatively soft wide open
- The 40/2.8 looks like a little gem after my first test-shots: sharp and contrasty even wide open, focus throw is better geared albeit slower than 85/3.5, AF seems pretty much spot on.
- You really have to be prepared to take off the lens-hood when approaching 1:1 magnification with the 40/2.8: otherwise you almost hit your subject with it :roll:
I hope to cover the 1:2 - 1:3 magnification tests this weekend with my Ilford Pan F plus film test-target. I'm quite curious how well this test turns out...

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 12, 2011 11:16 pm 
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Oops, I normally don't report on light fall-off, but the 40/2.8 has quite heavy fall-off wide open. I would guess something around -0.7EV. At f/4.0 the effect is almost gone.
The 85/3.5 seems even worse at around -1EV although it seems to have a softer roll-off than the 40/2.8.
Will have to shoot some evenly lit target to test this properly...

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2011 9:25 pm 
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Phew: 168 test-shots from 1:35 (=normal testing distance) of the standard printed 33x47 cm test-target (Siemens-stars) down to 1:2.6 of the same test-target captured on 24x36 mm ISO 50 black&white negative film Ilford Pan F plus. See a shot of the film-target here:

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Macro Test Target 32541 by Thomas, on Flickr
This shot of the film-target was done with the Nikon Micro Nikkor AF-S 105/2.8G VR @ f11 and around 1:2 magnification. The original negative film was shot with a Olympus OM-2N with F-Zuiko 50/1.8 at f5.6. One of the shots on that film-roll taken at f11 turned out to be optimally sharp and is now my test-target for all macro-shots.

As the film is a negative film you need to turn the curves upside-down when developing the RAW photo, otherwise the background of that image would be black! So quite some processing is necessary to make those shots comparable. But I'm doing this only after a shot is qualified as sharp and well exposed. In the end there are 4-5 crops (wide-open down to f/11) from the center plus the border for each lens plus the Nikon 105/2.8 VR for comparison. And that at 1:35 and 1:2.6 makes around 50 final shots that make it to the article(s) to show you sharpness and contrast with a repeatable test-target.

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 19, 2011 11:29 pm 
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Making some progress with my testing, already started the write-up.
Confirmed the light fall-off with some interesting insights from the histograms.
Waiting for clear weather to collect some "infinity-shots" from the outside to give you an impression on how these lenses perform in the wild.
Unfortunately I'll not have a D700 to test the image-circle for magnifications of say 1:4 and above as some lenses get an increasingly larger circle when focusing closer.
Also did some macro test-shots with another good Nikon lens that goes down to 1:4 but is not designed as a macro lens: Uh-Oh, even at f11 or f16 it is hard to get any decent corner-performance. So the specialist lenses obviously rule at those magnifications!

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2011 8:38 pm 
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The final weekend for testing arrived and I'm pretty much through with my test-shots. Concluded the series with some close-ups of a 4 cm high wizard-figure from one of those table-top games. That was extremely challenging to shoot comparable across all three lenses (40+85+105) as I had to change the distance to get the same magnification. Then position the figure at the exact same angle, focus on the same parts of the figure, and have the same lighting. next comes processing from RAW to the same white-balance and correcting for slight exposure differences.
Here's one of those shots:

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Wizard 01427 by Thomas, on Flickr
Shot with the AF-S 105/2.8G VR at f8.0. Full resolution available, just click through the image and use the action "View all sizes".

As a short resume I'd say as much: the DX 40/2.8G and the DX 85/3.5G VR (and the 105/2.8G VR) are all very competent lenses. So you can pretty much make your mind up based on the features and the price. You only need to keep one thing in mind: To get 1:1 magnification with the 40mm lens you need to get as close as 3 cm (!) to your subject.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 10:19 pm 
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Phew, this was quite a difficult comparison, especially when it comes to the verdict: all of the lenses (40/85/105) have their strengths and weaknesses, so weighing them all up, concentrating on the really important aspects was not easy.
Gordon will now be reviewing all of my findings and certainly will come back with some suggestions for improvements and some of those incredible English spelling- and grammar-bugs that I like to think of as innovative "features" 8)
So hold your horses if you want to buy a new macro lens until all is revealed in due time in my up-and-coming reviews...

And if you have any questions or experiences to share regarding those lenses feel free to chime in here!
---
And the lenses go back tomorrow :cry:

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2012 2:54 am 
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excellent review Thomas. I could only imagine the effort that goes into the all these reviews.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2012 4:58 pm 
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Thanks, maxjj!
Well, normally fixed focal lenses are normally not too much hustle, but in this case the extra effort for showing real-life (near) macro performance with a target that gives you comparable results over various tests was quite some challenge. And comparing three lenses is always more work than testing a zoom at three positions.
But the absolute horror is testing something like the 28-300mm at 8 (!) different focal lengths and on two bodies (D300 and D700). That was really krass!

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