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Review by Markus Stamm, published June 2010
Special thanks to Lothar Oppel for providing the lens!
When Nikon introduced the latest addition to its line of dedicated DX lenses, the Micro Nikkor 85/3.5 VR, one often heard question was: why would I want to choose this lens over the already existing Micro Nikkor AF-S 60/2.8? Many prefer to use their macro tele primes as portrait lenses, too, however with its rather moderate maximum aperture the new Micro Nikkor 85 VR does not look like an attractive choice for this kind of dual use.
Nonetheless, at least on paper there are a few good reasons to select this lens over the AF-S 60, at least for its intended primary usage, macro photography. First of all, being a dedicated DX lens, it's rather compact and light-weight. In comparison to 60mm macro lenses it offers a larger and as such more comfortable working distance. And last but not least, there's the added bonus of optical stabilization.
The build quality of the lens is very decent thanks to an outer barrel made out of high quality plastic and in line with other current offerings from Nikon in the medium price segment. It feels a little more solid than some of the consumer zooms, but doesn't quite reach the level of similar lenses, the Micro Nikkor AF-S 60 for example. The broad, rubberized focus ring is slightly damped, but offers a rather short throw for a macro lens.
The Micro Nikkor 85 VR offers a maximum magnification of up to 1:1 at its closes focus distance. Thanks to a true IF design, the physical length of the lens remains constant at all focus settings. Typical for most macro lenses, the effective aperture decreases towards the minimum focus distance. The lens reports this corrected value to the camera.
The front element does not rotate so using a polarizer is no problem.
Being an AF-S lens, the Micro Nikkor 85 VR is compatible and provides AF with all current Nikon DSLRs, including the motor-free entry level DX cameras. There is no focus limiter which may be annoying at times if the camera decides to hunt through the focus range.
Nikon includes its latest generation optical stabilization system (VR II) with a claimed efficiency of up to 4 f-stops. In our field tests it felt more like 3 stops and this applies to normal focus distances only. In close up scenarios the VR is a lot less effective. However, in macro territory the primary issue to face and overcome is the photographer's own slight forward/backward movement as well as the subject's possible movement in a slight breeze and no optical stabilization could help against this anyway.
|Equiv. focal length||127.5 mm (full format equivalent)|
|Equiv. max. f-stops||f/5.3 (full format equivalent, in terms of depth-of-field - not speed)|
|Optical construction||14 elements in 10 groups incl. 1 ED element|
|Number of aperture blades||9 (rounded)|
|min. focus distance||0.286 m (max. magnification ratio 1:1)|
|Dimensions||73 mm x 98.5 mm|
|Filter size||52 mm (non-rotating)|
|Hood||HB-37, barrel shaped, bayonet mount (supplied)|
|Other features||Vibration Reduction (VR II). Constant physical length (true IF design). Silent-wave AF motor.|