Nikon DX Micro 85mm f3.5G VR review - Verdict
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Nikon’s Micro-Nikkor 85/3.5 is a very competent macro lens: it’s the cheapest stabilized macro-lens you can buy and it delivers very good performance with sharp images center to corner albeit with somewhat reduced contrast when wide open.

When it comes to shooting close-ups the performance is also very good from f5.6 onwards, but you should not worry too much about that: with larger magnifications you normally have to stop down to get a decent depth of field.

Working distance at 1:1 is 14cm which may not be far enough for nervous critters but at least gives you enough room for proper lighting. And with 85mm focal length the lens has a clear advantage over the 40mm with subject isolation from the background be it in close-up situations or when you use this lens as a short tele-lens.

Nikkor AF-S DX MICRO 85mm f3.5G VR

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

The 40mm Micro Nikkor is an appealing alternative due to its lower price, but this results in a number of key disadvantages compared to the 85mm. Most obviously its shorter focal length means you need to get closer to your subject to achieve the same magnification – and at 1:1 it’ll need to be just 3cm from the front of the lens compared to 14cm on the 85mm. This makes it very hard to get your subject properly lit on the 40mm and the background-isolation also suffers.

Another key difference is the absence of VR image-stabilization so you will need to use quicker shutter-speeds than with the 85/3.5G VR. But that may not matter if you’re normally working from a tripod.

Comparing image quality between both lenses is a mixed bag: At normal shooting distances the 40/2.8G delivers better quality esp. with higher contrast than the 85/3.5G but at closer working-distances the 85mm lens pulls ahead. So this one is hard to decide.

But price, size and weight speak for the 40/2.8G plus it has a 2/3 of a stop larger aperture. So you really have to think very carefully what you want from a macro-lens. If you can live without VR and are happy with the close focusing distances at 1:1, it represents a bargain.

See my Nikon 40mm Micro Nikkor review for more information.

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

The larger and more expensive Nikon 105mm Micro Nikkor looks and feels like a full-frame version of the 85mm: it shares a similar design, similar performance, image stabilization, and an almost identical working distance at 1:1 of 15cm.

But there are clear differences beyond the compatibility with full-frame bodies: the 105mm is almost double the price, double the weight, much larger in size, has a 2/3 of a stop larger aperture and nano-coating.

If you compare image quality the 105mm has a better contrast wide-open at normal working distances plus better corners up to (and including) f5.6 and performs on a par with the 85mm at close-up ranges perhaps with a slight advantage for the 85mm in the corners. So in the end you have to decide whether to pay almost double for the privileges of a full-frame image circle, a larger aperture, and better contrast.

See my Nikon 105mm Micro Nikkor review for more details.

Nikon 85mm Micro-Nikkor final verdict

To sum it all up, the AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED is a very good macro lens although it suffers from weak contrast at normal working distances wide open, so is best used stopped down to f/5.6. The VR image-stabilization works well even at larger magnifications and the price is reasonable.

Overall the minor downsides mark it down from our Highly Recommended rating, but it still easily earns a Recommended. It’s a great choice for owners of DX-format DSLRs who are into macro-photography and want a step-up from the budget 40mm without the expense – not to mention size and weight – of the 105mm.


Good points
Image quality is very good if you stop down a bit.
Very good close-up performance.
Image stabilization.
Quiet, quick and reliable AF operation.
Reasonable price.

Bad points
Covers only DX image circle.
Low contrast wide open.


If you have any questions or comments regarding the review head over here. A selection of my shots with this lens can be found here.
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