The Nikkor 105 2.5 lens is one the most famous Nikon lenses of all time. On the cover of a Time/Life book about photography from the 70s there was an image showing the iconic equipment of a photojournalist these days. A worn canvas bag, a handheld incident light meter, a few rolls of Kodak Tri-X film, a Leica M3 with a 35 mm lens – and a Nikon F with a 105 2.5 lens.
The Nikkor 105 2.5 has a long history. It was introduced 1959 and became a favourite among Nikon photographers from the start. Several more versions of the 2.5 were introduced over the years. The lens I review here is the 105 2.5 AI (read more about it here).
Physically the lens is well made as all Nikkor AI lenses, and of course all metal, except for the rubber on the focus ring (and the glass obviously). It is a little beefier and heavier than the 85 2.0 AI I reviewed here, but relative compact and light compared to todays AF lenses. The weight is 430g and it takes of course 52 mm filters, the vintage Nikkor standard.
I tried the lens on a DX camera, a Nikon D300 which gives the FOV of a 157 mm lens (1.5 crop factor x 105mm), making it a little less suited for portaits and short tele use than its intended FOV on a FF camera.
After I have tried some other AI lenses there was little doubt in my mind that the 105 would perform well. The weakest point being some light hints of CA on bright contrasty surfaces. Otherwise the resolution is impressive. Check this sample. Do you see the tourist? (click to expand to 600 pixels).
On this 100 percent crop you do. We can also see his haircut, that he is wearing jeans and holds a camera.
Some general samples. Click to expand. Overall images are crisp and contrasty.
DOF - two stops makes a difference
With a common consumer zoom you are typically at F 5.6 at 105 mm. With the prime 105 2.5 you got the option to open up two and a third stop more, disolving distracting backgrounds.
Same subject a F 2.5:
Compared to a modern pro lens
Since I expected the 105 2.5 to perform well, I decided to make some comparisions with Nikons professional 70-200VR 2.8 lens.
A sample (ISO 200, F8, 1/320s, NEF converted in ACR, USM 100/0.3/0).
105 2.5 left, 70-200VR right:
Excellent sharpness from both, the slight CA of the bright parts of the 105 makes the 70-200 a hair better in the center.
Corner: Identical sharpness.
Hard to see any difference in sharpness. A little higher contrast on the 70-200 image, possibly due to the ED-glass.
However, sharpness is not the only interesting feature of this lens, bokeh is another. The 70-200 is well known for its butter smooth bokeh and is a good comparison.
First image Nikkor 105 2.5 wide open at 2.5. Second image Nikkor 70-200VR wide open at 2.8. Click on the images to expand them.
Both lenses at F4. First Nikkor 105 2.5, then Nikkor 70-200VR.
Top performance in sharpness and bokeh in a 430 g package which can be bought on the second hand market for a fraction of the cost of a modern pro lens. But the 105 2.5 lacks of course AF, VR, and zoom… The manual focusing is probably the biggest drawback for most people. But if you can handle that, this is a fine performing classic.