Review: NIKKOR Z MC 50mm f/2.8

Hello, everybody! Do you like Charles Bronson? I like his movies, he broke the stereotype that leading men in movies all should be handsome and flawless. He showed how a regular-looking man could also have the same impact and give a movie something special. He inspired a lot of “flawed” heroes in our current movies and showed everyone that you do not need to look perfect to do a great job. Today, I’ll show you something that’s not perfect but it could certainly do its job with no problems at all.

Introduction:

The new NIKKOR Z MC 50mm f/2.8 was recently announced and it created a lot of interest, including mine. This is due to the fact that the AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED is already long-in-the-tooth and its replacement is overdue by several years. I wasn’t expecting to see a 50mm Micro-Nikkor, the last one that has that focal length is the first version which is the venerable (and rare) Micro-Nikkor 5cm f/3.5 of 1956. That is a big deal because 50mm should be ideal for a lot of things like product photography compared to the slightly-longer 60mm that we’re now used to.

It’s a compact lens, I was expecting this to be sold under the “S” line but it seems that marketing thought that this one ought to be a tier lower compared to the premium lenses. I don’t know the reason behind this but it is what it is. This is not an issue for me because that means there might be a chance to see another one which has better performance and weather-sealing in the near future.

It has a 10-elements-in-7-groups design which looks unfamiliar to me. As you can see from the drawing it has a single ED element, an aspherical element and the front element is coated with fluorine to help repel grime, water and other things that could stick to it.

Autofocus seems to be accurate but not as instantaneous as the older AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED, that one is really fast. I could see some focus-breathing, to be fair to it most macro-lenses I’ve tried have similar amounts of it. It’s going to be annoying when you need to frame precisely, I should know since I used to shoot a lot of close-ups before I moved to my current address where bugs aren’t as common despite having a huge park nearby.

Going back to its autofocus performance, I think the decision to make it slower but more accurate than the older lens has to do with how marketing perceived the Nikon Z lenses to be, that means that everything about these have to also accommodate videography. If your lens juts in-and-out of focus instead of doing it gracefully then your video won’t be a calm one to watch so this may be a deliberate decision.

What’s peculiar about this one is it has a 46mm filter-size which makes it annoying if you’ve already invested in 52mm or 62mm filters which are common for many Micro-Nikkors. I do not agree with this decision, I think 52mm should be a better choice in terms of practicality but there may be a good reason for this. The barrel extends a bit and any knocks to it will certainly damage the lens and a hard one will certainly prevent it from operating. I wasn’t expecting this since the older AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED has a rigid barrel. When fully-extended you’ll be able to shoot with just 0.16mm of working distance between the tip of the lens and your subject which give you 1:1 magnification which is a good thing but that moving barrel may startle nervous animals or even create small air-currents (yes, it matters). Your lighting may be affected as well and that will be an issue when you need to do focus-stacking. I am exaggerating a bit but I had to deal with that problem once when I was still shooting ultra-high-magnification photos. To be fair to this it was probably designed more for reproduction and product photography so this won’t be much of an issue.

Let’s now see some photos that I took with it using my Nikon Z6. Before I proceed I’d like to remind you that this is not a real review but merely a short article about my impressions of it during my short time playing around with this. This is also a preproduction lens I assume and I turned off all in-camera corrections because I wanted to see how it performs without any algorithms massaging the final image for me. Please remember again that this is not a review despite what the title of this article says and I may update this article once I got to use one for a longer period of time.

(Click to enlarge)

Vignetting is obvious wide-open, the extremities look about 3-stop’s darker. Stopping it down by a stop helps but you are still going to get dark corners. Things don’t look any better as you stop it down further, I’d expect to see none of it by f/5.6 but the corners still look dark at f/8, this is very disappointing. You should turn your camera-profiles ON if you want the computer to clean this up for you automatically.

(Click to enlarge)

There’s definitely some distortion, I’d expect to see none of it because macro-lenses are used for reproduction. This is very disappointing indeed as this lens class is known for reproducing subjects with high-accuracy. Leave your camera-profiles ON in order for the camera to fix this for you.

(Click to enlarge)

These aren’t real-world examples but it’s better than a blank wall since there are distractions. This is such a turn-off as I am used to seeing straight lines that remain straight from Micro-Nikkors of this class, even ones that were made in the 1960s. I don’t want the software to fix things for me, I want to see my lines straight and my corners bright right out of the camera.

Since I’ve turned all corrections OFF what we’re seeing here is actually distortion. Look at the edge of the table, you will see it curve somewhat instead of being straight. This is surprising to me as Micro-Nikkors and macro-lenses in general tend to have near-zero amounts of distortion. What’s even more surprising is it appears to be of the pincushion-type, I was expecting it to have more of the barrel-type variety because it’s a 50mm lens.

This looks a bit washed-out because I was shooting with all corrections turned OFF. A 50mm macro-lens is perfect for taking product shots because you won’t get exaggerated amounts of foreshortening. Pay attention to the ledge, notice how it curves a bit?

And here’s another one. I don’t think this a fluke because I’ve managed to reproduce it again. Look at the blurry plank to the left of the photo and observe how it bows inward with roughly the same profile as the straight lines at the lower part of the photo.

VIgnetting is obvious when you’re shooting something with an even-colored backdrop.

The coating appears effective in controlling flare and I do not see any blobs at all but that doesn’t mean you won’t see any flare at all as evident in this photo but what you’ll see is subdued and shouldn’t cause any issues.

I intentionally shot this with missed-focus in order to see any ugly purple or green artifacts, I didn’t find any or at least I didn’t see anything noticeable enough for me to mention.

Here’s another misfocused shot, I couldn’t find anything worth mentioning, this is as good as it gets.

This shot is focused, I’ve finally managed to get this to show some purple and green artifacts but they’re merely traces and you won’t even see them. They also appear before-or-beyond the focused area and only at areas with really high-contrast. I think this is normal, what’s unacceptable is when you could see them very near the focused area.

Shooting a shiny object will certainly reveal if a lens has poor aberration-correction and this one performed perfectly. I have never seen anything like this from a macro-lens of this class. Do note that the depth-of-field is rather shallow, it’s a bit difficult to frame or focus manually at this distance which is something that many macro-shooters knew very well. This lens has a focus-by-wire setup so focusing this manually won’t give you the same satisfaction and responsiveness as something with a real manual helicoid but it’s something that I could tolerate.

I think I shot this at f/8, The details look great and the resolution is impressive. With many older Macro-Nikkors you will get a sharp photo wide-open with nice resolution but you’ll have to stop the iris down to f/5.6 for the lens to perform at its peak (at the center), this one exhibits amazing sharpness and resolving power even wide-open, it looks like it can deliver near-peak image quality wide-open which is impressive.

This is how good the resolution is wide-open, you could even count the fibers if you’re inclined to do so. It has smooth focus-transition so things roll gently from what’s sharp to what’s blurry.

It’s mandatory for macro-lenses to have smooth bokeh characteristics so this one won’t disappoint you, too. Everything is smooth with no outlines and clumpy artifacts that are hallmark of cheap lenses. It has a 9-bladed iris, all of its blades are curved which helps keep things look round and smooth.

The foreground blur characteristics look just as stunning, look at how nice the face of the toy is isolated in this photo. I love how it renders, this is an exquisite lens.

It render the blurry parts with a painterly-look, this is great if you’re doing product photography.

Sharpness is excellent, this is near-perfect if you ask me, it’s certainly the best macro-lens that Nikon made in this class in terms of optical performance. Contrast and saturation looks excellent despite me dumbing-down all enhancements in the RAW files.

Colors look brilliant even without any enhancements. The colors were rendered faithfully so they won’t look cartoonish or exaggerated in any way, at least with all the in-camera settings turned off.

This is an amazing lens in terms of sharpness and resolution, you’ll get amazing photos even at wide-open apertures. If I were to nitpick this the only thing I’ll mention is the amount of distortion present which is something that caught me by surprise because I’m used to seeing none of that even with Micro-Nikkors that were made around 60 years ago. This is not a deal-breaker for me, just leave all software corrections on so your editing program can correct it automatically. I haven’t shot any videos with it since I am not interested in that aspect but it should perform rather well. If you want to buy an amazing macro-lens for your Nikon Z camera then this one is for you so long as you are aware of its quirks and with that said I do not think that it is a true replacement to the venerable AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED because the older lens still has a few things that I’d consider to be superior to this one specially with autofocus performance or how well the older lens handles distortion (it has near-zero amounts). The issue of the weird filter-size is also another thing that I couldn’t get-over with. Despite all that I think that it’s a breakthrough in terms of optical design, this should give you plenty of creative opportunities and it won’t disappoint the demanding macro-photographer so long as they are conscious enough to leave the in-camera corrections on when importing the RAW files. If you could afford one get it and just enjoy making beautiful things with it and I hope that my article will help give you a better idea as to what to expect from the latest surprise from Nikon.

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