Nikon AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D

Introduction

Nikon AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D was first introduced in 1993, replacing a short-lived non-D variant of the lens. Nikon recently updated this classic macro prime - Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G ED was announced in 2008 and incorporates an AF-S focusing system along with a tweaked optical and aperture ring-less design. The AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D is still widely available in most local and internet photo distributors. The lens is priced at ~US$390 for new samples (as of December 2008).

The optical construction of the lens consists of 8 elements in 7 groups and implements a floating element configuration (Nikon calls it Close Range Correction) to improve image quality at close ranges. The build quality of  the lens is decent but not spectacular - the barrel is plastic as is the aperture ring. The focusing ring is rubberized and is pretty smooth to operate. The lens is compact and light, measuring 70 x 74.5mm (2.8 x 2.9in) and weighing 440g (15.5oz), although the inner cams of the lens extend during focusing towards closeup, adding a few extra millimeters to the total length. The aperture ring is located at the base of the lens and is a little bit hard to grasp when the lens is mounted on a camera. The ring is also a little bit sticky, which can add to your grievance.

Like all AF-D type lenses, Nikon AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D does not incorporate a focusing motor. This means that auto focusing is only available on cameras that have a focusing drive pin - the pin locks into a dedicated slot at the base of the lens mount and mechanically rotates elements back and forth until the camera electronics catch the focus. Manual focusing is still obviously possible - the lens has an A/M ring with a tiny push-in knob, which locks the lens operations in manual or auto-focusing modes.

Nikon AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D supports program, aperture priority and shutter priority modes, however, the electronic aperture control is possible only when the aperture ring is locked at f/32 (using a tiny switch located right above the ring itself). The ring obviously can be controlled manually and it moves from f/2.8 to f/32 in one full f-stop increments. The minimum focusing distance of the lens is 22cm (0.66ft), giving the lens a 1:1 life-time magnification. The lens accepts 62mm screw-in type filters.

Image

 

The factory box includes Nikon AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D, front and rear lens caps, CL-S1 case,  HN-22 lens hood, manual and registration card. The lens was designed for traditional 35mm cameras, so if used on APS-C type bodies with 1.5x crop factor, the field of view of the lens will resemble that of a 90mm prime on a full frame body. Like all Nikon lenses with an aperture ring, AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D  is easily adaptable to Canon's EF/EF-S type bodies as well as Olympus' Four-Thirds cameras.

 

 

Summary
Lens Composition 8 elements in 7 groups
Angular Field ~39 degrees
Minimum Focus 22cm/0.66ft
Focusing Action AF/MF
f-stop Scale f/2.8-f/32, camera/manual
Filter Size 62mm
Lens Hood HN-22 (included)
Weight 440g/15.5oz
Dimensions 70x74.5mm/2.8x2.9"
Lens Case CL-S1 (included)

 

Field Tests

As mentioned in the intro section, Nikon AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D does not have its own dedicated focusing motor, so the focusing operations pretty much depend on your camera. Hence the slight variability in auto-focusing performance that users will experience with this lens. Generally, auto-focusing is never super-fast with AF-D lenses (unless of course the path that the lens elements travel during focusing is very short), and this lens is no exception. And typical of most macro lenses that have very short focusing distance, the lens often causes camera's AF system to hunt at macro distances, as well as in dimly lit places. Not a big deal if you have a manual focus ring, which you can nudge to help the autofocusing, however, with AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D, the focusing ring is fully disengaged when the lens is switched into autofocus mode. You need to rotate the A/M ring first, to switch it into the manual focusing mode - only then the focusing ring locks onto the lens cams and allows you to refocus the lens. A bit annoying, considering that you need to apply a bit of force to switch the A/M ring back and forth, which obviously disturbs the camera - if you are shooting off a tripod and composed your frame, you will likely end up recomposing it after fiddling with the A/M ring.

And speaking of the manual focusing. While there is plenty of path for the focusing ring to cover when going from the infinity to the closeup (~200 degrees), the DOF scale of the lens is pretty dismal. The scale has only two marks, for f/16 and f/32, so forget about using the DOF scale for presetting your lens in case you need to capture something quickly.

The lens has a variable maximum aperture, meaning that the maximum aperture changes with focusing distance - a rather unusual optical design for a macro lens. For example, the 'advertised' maximum aperture of f/2.8 is only available in the infinity to 1m focusing range. The closer you are focusing, the smaller the maximum aperture becomes and by the time you get to 22cm, the minimum focusing distance of the lens where it gives life-size macro, the minimum aperture turns to f/5. All this makes macro photography with this lens rather challenging - because of the smaller maximum apertures at closeup distances you will end up using longer shutter speeds. Two sample shots below demonstrate this concept - the first shot was taken at the focusing distance of ~1.5m, giving us the maximum working aperture of f/2.8, while the second shot was taken at ~90cm, resulting in the maximum working aperture of f/3.2.

The lens showcased pretty good performance in the field. Image quality remained very good on both APS-C as well as FF cameras - both image center as well as borders remained adequately sharp. There was a slight variation at f/2.8, the widest supported aperture setting - borders seemed slightly softer compared to the center, but then again this should not be a major problem in real life photography since most users will likely use some form of sharpening during post-processing.

 

ISO 400, 1/50, f/2.8 (Nikon D3) @ 1.5m
ISO 400, 1/50, f/2.8 (Nikon D3) @ 1.5m

ISO 400, 1/50, f/3.2 (Nikon D3) @ 90cm
ISO 400, 1/50, f/3.2 (Nikon D3) @ 90cm


Then there's also the issue of the minimum focusing distance, which is pretty short here. At 22cm, where the lens produces the life-size magnification, the subject of interest is going to be way too close to the front element of the lens (this is obviously not an issue with Nikon's lens only, but rather a trait of most standard macro primes). Why does this matter? For one thing, those of you shooting live subjects like insects, butterflies, etc  will find it rather hard to get the lens that close. Secondly, press the shutter button half-way to auto-focus, and you will see pretty much all your subjects disappear in a thin air - the auto-focusing is pretty noisy, with distinct 'whirling' and 'clicking', which would startle most tiny things at such close distances. Hence yYou would probably be better served by a slightly longer macro lens  that would also have a longer minimum focusing distance. On the other hand, if your macro work mostly revolves around still objects, then the short distance as well as slow maximum aperture at the minimum focusing distance should not affect you that much.

When shot with wide open apertures (I say apertures, because of the variable maximum apertures, which depends on the distance to the subject), the lens produced mostly uniformly lit out-of-focus highlights with occasional harsher lit edges here and there. Contrast transitions in near and far OOF areas were neutral, although the feeling was exasperated by seemingly lower levels of contrast at wider apertures. There was no sign of double edging around OOF objects.

 

~1:1 macro - ISO 400, 1/20, f/4.8, 60mm (Nikon D3)
~1:1 macro - ISO 400, 1/20, f/4.8, 60mm (Nikon D3)

 

Image quality at macro levels did not seem to suffer at all - there was no visible image degradation throughout the aperture range, although, it is obviously somewhat hard to visually measure border quality at such close distances due to the shallower depth of field, which blurs a good bulk of the frame.

The lens showed moderate amount of light falloff on a full frame camera. This was most noticeable at f/2.8, which is obviously expected, but vignetting continued to persists even with stopped down apertures. The amount of vignetting obviously was lower at smaller apertures and by f/5.6, vignetting was pretty much all but gone. And on an APS-C type camera, the lens showed pretty minimal vignetting even at widest aperture settings.

 

Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs APS-C
Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs APS-C

 

Handling of flare was somewhat of a mixed story. The two shots below demonstrate the impact of a strong direct light source positioned close to the picture frame - the sun in these shots was hitting the front element of the lens from the left hand side at ~50 degrees. The outcome is a generally reduced contrast across the entire frame, which persists throughout the aperture range of the lens. Not that unusual. However, at smaller apertures (the picture to the right shows the same scene taken at f/8), the lens started to show occasional ghosting and bright sun ray streaks. Not what I'd call the most graceful way to handle flare, but considering that most flare could be avoided either with the right lens hood or with an alternative frame composition, users should not over-react here.

 

Left: ISO 200, 1/2500, f/2.8 Right: ISO 200, 1/320, f/8 (Nikon D3)
Left: ISO 200, 1/2500, f/2.8 Right: ISO 200, 1/320, f/8 (Nikon D3)

 

Color handling was quite decent - color palette remained pretty neutral across the aperture range, although, as mentioned above, the lens seemed to produce slightly less contrasty images at close distances. Color fringing was under control, with no major signs of lateral or longitudinal aberration. Distortion was non-existent, or at least not visible to the naked eye, which should be a norm in good standard primes.

 

ISO 200, 1/1600, f/2.8, 60mm (100% crop)
ISO 200, 1/1600, f/2.8, 60mm (100% crop)

 

Lab Tests

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras as well as cameras from different manufacturers are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for all types of cameras.

 

Nikon APS-C: Coming soon...

 

Nikon FF: Nikon AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D showed very respectable performance on a full frame Nikon D3. Center image resolution was outstanding straight from f/2.8, peaking in the f/5.6-f/8 range. Border image quality was slightly off at the widest aperture level - still OK, but not exceptional. However, once stopped down to f/4 and beyond, image quality improved to pretty good levels. The image quality across the entire frame levels off quite nicely in the f/4-f/11 range, where the image quality is well balanced. Conclusion? Not bad, not bad at all. Very good results for such an 'old-timer' lens.

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 60mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 60mm

 

The lens showed decent handling of chromatic aberration on a full frame Nikon D3. CA in the center was quite minimal, never exceeding ~0.3px across the tested aperture range, while CA around borders reached ~0.8px at f/2.8, slowly dropping towards  ~0.4px around f/11.

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 60mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 60mm

 

Here are 100% crops, taken with a full frame Nikon D3, comparing image borders at f/2.8 to f/8.

 

Image borders @ 60mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 60mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Canon APS-C: The lens showed quite decent performance characteristics on an APS-C sized Canon Digital Rebel XTi. Center image performance was excellent from f/4 through f/11, with f/2.8 showing very minor drop in quality compared to the rest of the aperture range. Border quality showed somewhat similar characteristics - performance in the f/5.6-f/11 range was simply outstanding, while quality at f/4 was marginally worse. Border image quality was weakest at f/2.8, where results were rather average. The lens showed its peak performance across the entire frame around f/5.6-f/11, where it can deliver outstanding 16in prints. Conclusion? Decent results, but not necessarily unique among moderaltely fast standard primes or macros as a matter of fact.

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 60mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 60mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 60mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 60mm

 

Chromatic aberration on an APS-C camera was under control, with center CA not exceeding ~0.25px, and border CA hovering ~0.9px in the f/2.8-f/5.6 range and dropping to ~0.5px by f/11.

 

Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 60mm
Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 60mm

 

Here are 100% crops, taken with an APS-C type Canon Digital Rebel XTi, comparing image borders at f/2.8 to f/8.

 

Image borders @ 60mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 60mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Canon FF: The lens showcased very strong performance on a full frame Canon 5D. Center image resolution was outstanding, straight from f/2.8, all the way through f/11. Border image quality suffered somewhat at f/2.8, where results were somewhat  average, however, once stopped down to f/4 and beyond, image quality around corners improved quite nicely and remained on a consistently high level through f/11, producing the most balanced across the frame results in the f/5.6-f/11 range. Conclusion? Solid overall performance, despite some minor drop off in quality at f/2.8 around borders. Very nice...

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 60mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 60mm

 

Nikon AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D showed pretty minimal amount of barrel distortion - at ~0.43%, distortion should not be noticeable in most shots.

 

Distortion (FF) @ 60mm
Distortion (FF) @ 60mm

 

CA on a full frame Canon 5D was quite manageable. Center CA did not exceed ~0.4px across the tested aperture range, while border CA never exceeded ~0.8px, and generally stayed at much lower levels once the lens was stopped down to f/4 and beyond.

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 60mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 60mm

Here are 100% crops, taken with a full frame Canon 5D, comparing image borders at f/2.8 to f/8.

 

Image borders @ 60mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 60mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

Alternatives

As mentioned earlier, Nikon has recently refreshed its classic AF-D 60mm macro lens. The new Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G ED incorporates an improved auto-focusing motor as well as adds ED glass elements and nano-crystal coating to improve its optical performance. At only ~US$50 over the AF-D version reviewed here, users might as well opt for the new variant. Two other macro lenses in Nikon's modern arsenal have longer focal lengths - Nikon AF-S VR Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G ED IF and Nikon AF Micro Nikkor 200mm f/4D ED IF. Both lenses could be your viable and reliable macro gear, obviously depending on your needs. Two interesting alternatives that are worth considering (assuming you can live with a manual focus lens) are Carl Zeiss Makro Planar T* 100mm f/2 ZF and the now discontinued, Voigtlander APO Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 SL Macro. Speaking of manual focus lenses. While examining Carl Zeiss and Voigtlander lenses, don't forget to take a look at Nikon's own Micro Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 AiS and Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AiS or its Ai predecessors. Finally, among the modern 3rd party macro lenses, take a look at Tamron's excellent SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro and Tokina's AT-X AF Pro D 100mm f/2.8 Macro. For a side by side comparison of a number of macro lenses, take a look at the Macro Challenge.

 

Recommendation

Nikon AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D is a pretty solid, but not a unique in its class lens. The resolving capabilities of the lens are quite outstanding on both APS-C as well as FF cameras (give or take - border performance at f/2.8 is slightly off, but still acceptable). The lens also shows good handling of distortion and color fringing, although leaves some room for improvement when it comes down to handling light falloff. The lens obviously is designed to serve as a dedicated macro and  here comes the caveat - the notorious variable maximum aperture is not what one would typically welcome in a macro lens. Also, if you're hoping to mostly use the lens for regular photography, then you'd probably be better off with a regular prime - you can find 50mm-60mm primes that are faster then AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D and are priced for less. Bottom line, the lens is a good choice for those who have a reason to buy it.