Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review: Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro Lens

Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro & Nikon D3300
Nikon has three inexpensive motorized prime lenses for their DX line of cameras: the Nikkor 35mm AF-S DX f/1.8G, the Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro, and the Nikkor 50mm AF-S DX f/1.8G. The 35mm lens has (in full frame terms) an equivalent focal length of 50mm, the 40mm lens has an equivalent focal length of 60mm, and the 50mm lens has an equivalent focal length of 85mm.

The 35mm lens and the 50mm lens have received plenty of attention. Many photographers who use Nikon DX cameras have purchased both lenses for their DSLRs. But the 40mm lens is often overlooked. Is it a "happy medium" option? Let's take a closer look.

The Lens
Purple Thistle Blossom Macro - Stallion Springs, California
The Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro is actually two lenses in one. It is a standard prime lens and it is a macro lens. This combination is a bit unusual. Typically macro lenses are telephoto. While the 40mm lens is slightly telephoto when accounting for the DX crop factor, it is close enough to a standard "as-the-eyes-see" focal length that it should be thought of as a standard lens.

The lens is somewhat small and lightweight. At 2.7" x 2.5" and 8.3 ounces, it is very similar to other Nikkor prime lenses. It is the smallest and lightest Nikkor macro lens. There's a lot of plastic, but the lens doesn't feel cheap or fragile. There are nine elements in seven groups. It has seven semi-rounded diaphragm blades.

As one would expect, this lens is tack sharp, corner-to-corner (it is just a hair softer in the corners compared to the center, but it is sharp across the entire frame). It is one of the sharpest Nikkor DX lenses available--there are a few that are slightly sharper, but they are also significantly more expensive. Peak sharpness is found at f5.6.
Triangles, Lines, Squares & Circle - Los Angeles, California
I could not find any examples of chromatic aberrations. This might be because Nikon's newest generation of cameras automatically removes any chromatic aberrations in-camera.

Distortion is almost nonexistent on the 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro. Straight lines are straight.

There is a small amount of vignetting when the aperture is larger than f4. It's an insignificant amount and nothing at all to worry about.

The maximum aperture is f2.8, which is good-but-not-great. There are prime lenses with larger apertures, but performance on those lenses are typically so-so when the aperture is larger than f2.8. In other words, you gain some light but at a small cost to image quality. Would a larger maximum aperture be nice? Yes, but it is certainly not essential.
Striped Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
When using the lens as a macro, as you focus closer the maximum aperture gradually increases to f4.2 at its closest focus distance. This isn't a big deal because as you focus closer, the depth-of-field decreases--you won't likely be using the maximum aperture when doing macro work.

Diffraction begins to show up around f13, although it's not really noticeable until f16. That's actually pretty good, and there are plenty of lenses that are worse. The smallest aperture is f22.

Bokeh looks nice and smooth. Highlights show up as soft circles. Lens flare is well controlled (I had trouble finding lens flare even when shooting directly into the sun). Sunstars have 14 points and look great.
Wind Turbines - Tehachapi, California
Auto-focus on the 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro is quick and accurate, although (being a macro lens) there is a large range for the lens to move through if you are going from near-to-far or far-to-near. To help with this Nikon included an inhibitor switch which limits the closest focus distance by a couple of inches, reducing the range that auto-focus might have to move through. The Silent Wave Motor is indeed quiet, although not quite quiet enough for video (unless you are using an external microphone).

Manual focus is easily accomplished by grabbing the rubber ring and turning, which Nikon calls Manual Focus Override. Or you can place the lens in manual focus mode with the flip of a switch and turn the rubber ring. Both methods accomplish the same thing. The focus ring is smooth, although near the closest focus distance manual focus can be a little touchy.

The closest focus distance on this lens is about two inches from the end of the lens. That's really close, and perhaps too close. It is close enough to be a true 1:1 macro lens, but there are a couple of obstacles that such a close focus distance creates. The first obstacle is depth-of-field, which becomes very narrow, so you'll need to use a small aperture. The second obstacle is that you are so close that the lens may cast a shadow on the subject (depending on the lighting), and if the subject is a living creature it might not appreciate having a lens so close.
Evening At Tunnel View - Yosemite National Park, California
One thing that is missing is image stabilization (Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction). Nikon didn't include that on this lens, so you'll need a tripod for shutter speeds below 1/60th of a second.

The 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro is a great "every day" lens--attach it to your camera and go. It is a fantastic standard prime lens. Of the three lenses mentioned at the top of this review, this lens is the sharpest and has the least distortion. The slightly telephoto focal length is good for pretty much any type of photography. You will not be disappointed using it as your go-to lens.

The 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro is a descent macro lens. It is plenty sharp enough, but it does have some limitations that some may find less than ideal. Really, this is not a macro lens, this is a standard prime lens that just happens to also be macro capable. So if you think of the macro aspect as a bonus, you won't be disappointed. If you're purchasing this lens specifically for macro work, you might not be completely happy with it.

No Trespassing - Tehachapi, California

The lens has an MSRP of $280, making it the priciest of Nikon's inexpensive prime lenses. Sometimes you can find it discounted a little--I paid $265 for mine (including shipping and tax). If you were to purchase both the 35mm and 50mm prime lenses mentioned at the top, you'd spend about $400. This lens does a good job of falling in between those two focal lengths, and you would save significant money purchasing this lens instead of the other two. Besides, the 40mm lens is the only one capable of macro.

If you own a Nikon DX camera you have some good lens options that aren't too expensive. None of the them are perfect, but they're all plenty good. This lens might be the best of the bunch.

The Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro lens is a great option for those using Nikon DX DSLRs. It is sharp, versatile and not too tough on the bank account.

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