The Nikon 105 with Defocus Control is Dreamy

The Nikon 105 f2.0 DC lens is one of the most inter­est­ing lenses that I’ve ever tried. I just tested one from The Cam­era Store. This lens is super-solidly con­structed, mostly of metal, and feels great both in your hand and on the cam­era. It has a built in lens hood which I found con­ve­nient but the high­light of this lens is the defo­cus con­trol which brings its cool­ness fac­tor to eleven.  What’s cool about this DC (Defo­cus Con­trol) lens, is that you can defo­cus the fore­ground or the back­ground to accen­tu­ate the bokeh (zone of blurriness/creaminess/dreaminess) in the fore­ground or the back­ground. It takes a lit­tle bit of play and the results are sub­tle, but if you are into this type of sub­tlety and you are pre­pared to pay more than a grand, you won’t be dis­ap­pointed. This lens is in a class all by itself.

Nikon AF DC105mm f/2.0 D Lens

Nikon AF DC 105mm f/2.0 D Lens

 

Let me say imme­di­ately that this spe­cialty lens is not for every­one. It is made in my esti­ma­tion for por­trait, land­scape or fine art pho­tog­ra­phers that love to play with selec­tive focus and who want to be in supreme con­trol of their bokeh. If this last sen­tence was con­fus­ing then you are prob­a­bly not ready for this lens. But if you already love bokeh and want to play in the bokeh-olympics, this might be the finest tool available.

But Doesn’t Nikon Have Another 105mm Lens That Also Does Macro?

Yes they do and that lens is another fab­u­lous por­trait lens that does true macro. The Nikon AF-S 105 mm F2.8 Micro is a lens that I’ve owned for a num­ber of years and it’s about 300. cheaper than the DC lens. It’s razor sharp, has Vibra­tion Reduc­tion (VR) and does true 1:1 Macro. If you like to do por­traits as well as Macro work, get this lens instead.

But if you don’t do that much Macro and want a fab­u­lously unique tool that is great for por­traits and bokeh-play, the DC may be the bet­ter choice for an expe­ri­enced pho­tog­ra­pher. The DC lens is also an f/2 lens. The f/2 is brighter in the viewfinder and always deliv­ers more bokeh than f/2.8 all things being equal.

In terms of head to head sharp­ness and aut­o­fo­cus speed, I found the aut­o­fo­cus a bit faster on the Micro (Macro — Nikon calls their Macro lenses Micro just to be spe­cial) lens and I found the sharp­ness to be a hint sharper. The 105 DC lens is also razor sharp (but has no VR) and has very fast  aut­o­fo­cus, but head to head with the 105 Micro, it loses by the small­est of mar­gins to my eye. Please be aware that I only tested this lens on 2 shoots in cold­ish Mon­treal weather which unfor­tu­nately lim­ited my play.

How does it work?

The instruc­tion leaflet that comes with the lens is near use­less. You’ll want to play with this sucker for a while. But basi­cally, to get good bokeh effects you need a large aper­ture so you’ll choose an aper­ture like f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4, or f/5.6. Once you set that aper­ture, you’ll focus on your sub­ject. Then you’ll decide if you want to defo­cus what’s in front of the sub­ject, what’s behind the sub­ject, or not defo­cus at all. The defo­cus­ing sim­ply soft­ens the back­ground or fore­ground more than it would be with other lenses. The effect is sub­tle and not every­one will even notice it espe­cially novice pho­tog­ra­phers. Per­son­ally though, I love this lens and I made a mis­take when I pur­chased the f/2.8 Macro lens. I don’t do that much macro and would have got­ten more use and joy from the bokeh play offered by this lens.

From L to R - Zero defocus, defocused foreground, defocused background - Click to enlarge

From L to R — Zero defo­cus, defo­cused fore­ground, defo­cused back­ground — Click to enlarge

 

The images above were shot against a giant Christ­mas tree. The mid­dle image makes the fore­ground lights around the neck have an inter­est­ing glow due to the defo­cused fore­ground, but the eyes lost sharp­ness. In gen­eral I found that defo­cus­ing the fore­ground looked weird most of the time. To my eye the nor­mal set­ting and the defo­cused back­ground set­tings are the best look­ing in this set and in gen­eral. The non defo­cused images looked superb actu­ally. But a lens like this is usu­ally bought for the abil­ity to defo­cus it.

Left image had no defocus. Middle Image had background defocused to f/4 but aperture was f/2.0. The image at right was shot with the 105 Macro lens at f/2.8 its widest aperture - Click to enlarge.

Left image had no defo­cus. Mid­dle Image had back­ground defo­cused to f/4 but aper­ture was f/2.0. The image at right was shot with the 105 Macro lens at f/2.8 its widest aper­ture — Click to enlarge.

 

The rea­son to get the Nikon 105mm DC lens is for the (De)focus play that it offers and nor­mally you’ll set the defo­cus to the same aper­ture you are shoot­ing on. But you don’t have to fol­low that rule and when you break it, it throws the back­ground or fore­ground into an even softer or dreamier state. In the set of images above, the left image shows beau­ti­ful f/2.0 bokeh with a very sharp head­stone and no defo­cus was used. The mid­dle image was shot at f/2.0 but the rear defo­cus was set to f/4 which thinned out the zone of sharp­ness in the fore­ground in this case and soft­ened the back­ground to an even dreamier state com­pared to the pre­vi­ous shot. For com­par­i­son pur­poses the shot at right was shot with the 105 Macro lens that has no defo­cus con­trol. It still shows excel­lent sharp­ness in the head­stone and lovely bokeh in the back­ground, but it is lim­ited to f/2.8 with­out defo­cus con­trol, and so it can’t be as dreamy as the DC 105mm.

 

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Mount Royal Ceme­tery in Mon­treal. Rear Defo­cus used on the Nikon 105mm DC — Click to enlarge

 

In sum­mary, if you are just start­ing out in pho­tog­ra­phy and you want an awe­some fast por­trait lens that also offers macro, the 105mm f/2.8 with VR is prob­a­bly a bet­ter choice for you and it’s 300 dol­lars cheaper.  If you just love bokeh and exper­i­men­ta­tion and are a more expe­ri­enced pho­tog­ra­pher that rarely uses Macro, you might well want to try the Nikon 105mm f2.0 DC lens.  It’s a one of a kind lens that will retain and go up in value in the future due to its unique­ness. I plan on adding it to my arse­nal in the very near future.

Comments

  1. Vadim says:

    I found this review a bit shal­low and mis­lead­ing, espe­cially when talk­ing about the 105mm f2.8 Micro lens.
    It’s just not a nor­mal por­trait lens. I believe it was never posi­tioned as a por­trait lens.
    It still can be used for por­traits when the supe­rior sharp­ness is required like in B&W face size por­traits.
    I own the pre­vi­ous 105D f2 and typ­i­cally peo­ple were upset by the level of skin imper­fec­tions this lens deliv­ers.
    For the same rea­son it’s great for macro work.

    Speak­ing of 105 f2 DC it’s a great lens indeed.
    Makes much more sense to use it for por­traits with FX cam­eras rather than DX.
    Strangely, the big­ger sis­ter 135 f2 DC was not men­tioned in the review at all.

    Just my 2 cents.

  2. Lindsey B. says:

    Nice review Marko and you have def­i­nitely intrigued me with this lens. I will have to rent it one week­end soon.

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