Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nikkor 28-105 3.5-4.5D - Cheap, Sharp FX Standard Zoom with Macro

If you are looking for an inexpensive standard zoom for full frame, you may be interested in the Nikkor 28-105 3.5-4.5D.  It has a lot going for it:
  • Sharp even wide open
  • Small and compact
  • Aperture is not so narrow
  • 1:2 macro function
  • Inexpensive
Is there a catch?  Hit the jump to find out and see more samples.  And if you're into Skylanders you can also see some buying suggestions (or find out what the buzz is about).

The 28-105 is very small and compact, which is a little surprising given its focal length range and aperture.  Filter size is only 62mm.  The lens is made of plastic but has a metal mount.  It is reasonably well made, and has no zoom creep.

The 28-105 has an aperture ring.  So this is one lens that will allow you to change aperture in real time in the D600's Live View Movie mode.

The lens cap is the old style Nikon lens cap with clips on the side, which my coauthor detests :).  The optional lens hood (HB-18) is plastic and is very wide.  I have a third party version but I don't usually bring it because it takes up so much space.


The 28-105 is very sharp.  Check out the test shot below with no additional sharpening.  The lens picked up the details of the skin very well.
Click for higher resolution
The 28-105 doesn't have a built-in focus motor, so autofocus speed depends on the camera body.  On the D600 it is very fast.  It was able to capture these shots of my kids on a swing on Auto Area AF with AF-C. I just held down the shutter and hoped for the best.  Even though I rarely got perfect focus, the majority of the time, the focus was acceptably sharp (good enough for 8x12 print).


One cool feature of the 28-105 is its macro mode.  True macro lenses offer a 1:1 reproduction ratio.  Many non-macro lenses claim macro capabilities but they have ratios like 1:3 or 1:4, which isn't really macro in my book.  In the case of the 28-105, it has 1:2 macro ratio, which does make a difference.

The Nikkor 28-105 3.4-4.5 has a switch between normal mode and macro mode.  In normal mode, it can zoom from 28mm to 105mm.  However, its closest focusing distance is about 1.5 feet (0.5 meter).  To focus on an object closer than that, you need to zoom it to 50mm or longer, and slide the switch to the macro mode.  In the macro mode, it can focus as close as about 3 inches.  While in macro mode you can only zoom between 50mm and 105mm.  To zoom it back to 28mm, you have to refocus it to 1.5 feet or beyond.
Nikon D600 + Nikkor 28-105 3.5-4.5D macro mode.
Click for high resolution.
With all those positives, is there a catch?  Yes.  The 28-105 has significant chromatic aberration.  Fortunately, the CA can be reduced or corrected in Lightroom 4.  Click on the samples below for full resolution cropped samples.

Corrected for CA and purple fringing

I like this lens as a casual walkaround lens because of its compact size.  Its aperture is not as wide as my other lenses but it has a very useful focal length range and I use its macro mode to capture small details.

BTW, the macro shot above is of a Skylanders figure.  In case you're not familiar with Skylanders, it's an adventure video game (action RPG, like Diablo) that works with toy figures, and it's one of the hot toys for 2012.  You collect toy figures, put them on a platform (the "Portal of Power"), and the figure enters the game as a character.  You swap figures/characters in real time* during the game to take advantage of each character's particular strengths and to access areas that are open only to characters of a particular element.  Each character has money and upgrades that are saved on that particular figure.  That figure can then be used when visiting friends, even on a different console.
*The 3DS version allows swapping only between two characters at a time.

The game itself is fun and easy enough for young kids.  It is also strangely appealing even to parents.  (I suspect it will also be interesting to photographers who are gearheads.)  My wife was the one who got interested in Skylanders after seeing a display at a store.  I like it as a way to spend time together as a family (although the game can be played with 1 player, 2 players can play cooperatively or battle each other in an arena).  I also like it as a way of teaching our son.  He gets a new character as a reward (e.g. for reading a new book) and as a punishment, a character can get time out (e.g. he can't use it for a weekend).

The original game, Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, is available for the Wii, 3DS, PS3, Xbox360, and PC.  Each version has its strengths and weaknesses.  They are all ports of each other except the 3DS which offers a different game.
- The Wii version of Spyro's Adventure has a quirk: you can use the Hidden Treasure item (from the Pirate Adventure Pack) an unlimited number of times in the Ruins to power up quickly.  Even if you have a PS3 or Xbox 360, you may be interested getting the Wii version to power up your characters then bring them over to your other console. hehe.  The downside of the Wii version is that the final boss is very difficult compared to other console versions.
- If you want to have one character of every element, then the triple packs to get are: Camo/Ignitor/Warnado and either Eruptor/Chop Chop/Bash or Zap/Hex/Dino-Rang.  Together with the starter pack (Trigger Happy/Spyro/Gill Grunt) you will have at least one of each element.  However, see below re Series 2 characters.
- The adventure packs include items that can make your characters stronger.  For example, if you use the Healing Elixir (from the Darklight Crypt adventure pack), it will heal your character every few seconds.  The effect of the item is usually limited to a certain duration (around 1 minute).  You can use an item only once per stage, and you can only use one item at a time.

The sequel to the original Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is Skylanders Giants, which was released just this past Sunday.
  • Each element has one giant and one new small character.  The new characters cannot be used in Spyro's Adventure.
  • The original characters can also be used in Giants, and their upgrades and money carry over.  Plus they can level up to 15 (instead of 10) in Giants.  However, see below re Series 2 characters.
  • If you're still playing Spyro's Adventure, consider getting the Series 2 version of a character if possible.  The Series 2 characters have an extra power (the "Wow pow") in Giants.  Sometimes the wow pow is a cool attack.  Sometimes it's lame.  You just have to check with each character.  The other benefit of a Series 2 character is that it can change upgrade paths in Giants (but only when you get to your base, not in real time or in the middle of a level).  If you've decided the Series 2 version is better then you should get the Series 2 now because the most important benefit is that you can use the Series 2 figures in both Spyro's Adventure and Giants.  We use the Series 2 character in Spyro's Adventure so that we won't have to waste time upgrading them all over again for Giants.
  • Even if you already have a portal, consider buying the Giants starter pack instead of the portal owners pack. The new portals are wired so you save batteries, plus you get 2 extra figures.  Not bad for the extra $15.  The new wired portals can be used with Spyro's Adventure as well.
  • Triple packs are a little cheaper than buying the characters individually (it's about a $5 less than buying 3 characters).  If you plan on getting triple packs, think carefully before buying the single characters that are currently available.  For example, Flashwing and Sprocket are touted as rare characters.  Indeed they are currently not so easy to find.  However, they will be included in triple packs in the near future.  If you plan to get those triple packs, then you shouldn't worry about getting them now.  FYI each triple pack has only one of the new characters, and has two reposed Series 2 characters (or in the case of the Shroomboom triple battle pack, has a cannon item).
  • Think carefully before getting the Giants' Legendary characters.  Toys R Us has a Legendary Triple Pack (Ignitor, Slam Bam,  Jet Vac) that has slightly more powerful versions of the characters.  However, according to the box, the Giants' Legendary  characters can't be used in Spyro's Adventure unlike the regular Series 2 versions of the same characters.
  • Light Core: Each element has one Light Core version of one character.  All of them have non-Light Core counterparts.   Light Core characters light up (there's actually some sort of LED inside) and when you use them in the game, it creates an explosion that attacks a large area of the screen (each Light Core character can do this once per level).  The disadvantage of the Light Core version is that unlike the Series 2 version of the same character, they don't have a wow pow and they can't switch upgrade paths.  Officially, Light Core is not supported in Spyro's Adventure.  However, the Light Core versions of original characters (e.g. Prism Break, Eruptor) appear to work in Spyro's Adventure.  See this video: .
  • If you have a Nintendo 3DS, FYI the game plays quite differently from the other versions.  Some say it's not as nice as the other versions but at least it offers new adventures for the characters, so in my opinion it's a worthwhile extra purchase.  You can use the same characters but you can only use two at a time.
  • Frito-Lays has a promo that offers mini versions of 4 skylanders, called Sidekicks.  These sidekicks don't do anything functional in the game.  They just tag along with your character.  But they are cute and are collectible.  Note: for Giants, there will be 4 new sidekicks that are mini versions of 4 of the giants.


  1. Nice article. I myself have the lens and it has been packed away since my film days (before D2X), but as I have upgraded to D800 I am starting to use it again and I think that for the time being I will keep it and use it from time to time.

    1. Thanks Torben. It's good to know that you're getting some use out of it even with the D800. Interestingly enough, I originally got it for a film camera as well. I was learning how to shoot with film and was looking for a cheap full frame lens. I was just surprised at how sharp it turned out to be especially given the low cost. It's great that it has held up to usage with a modern high resolution DSLR (except for the chromatic aberration).

      Thanks again.

      Best regards,

  2. Very timely post for me. Just picked up a D700 (yesterday actually) and am looking for an inexpensive mid zoom to start with. (i plan to rent better lenses for now as projects arise). I had posted on flickr and dpreview about several older lenses, and this one came up a few times. I'm intrigued by the macro mode, as I had the 18-200 Nikon with my D200, this can help me explore the "other" end of the zoom spectrum. Don't quite understand the hood design with this one though...

  3. Hi Chris congratulations on the D700!!! I think this is a great lens to start with. Enjoy your lens and your new camera!

    Best regards,

    1. Here's a bit of an update. I missed out on the 28-105, but ran across a 28-200 AFD at a local camera shop. I like the build and size of the lens, and optics are decent. However, the close focus distance is multiple feet! I've been running into focusing limits all day trying it out. If it focused a little closer, I'd be sold on it. But as it is, having to BACK UP and zoom in starts to limit shutter speed for sharp images.

      I fear the hunt may continue.

    2. Hi Chris. You make a good point about the minimum focusing distance. It can really affect a lens' usability. Hang in there, I'm sure you'll find a suitable lens soon enough!

      Best regards,

    3. Finally got my hands on a 28-105 from a local shop, and gotta say it's a very solid lens recommendation.

    4. Congratulations Chris! Yes, it is a pretty good lens, isn't it. In a few days I will be posting some shots when I went to Disneyland recently with just this lens.

      Best regards,

  4. Thanks for your review of this lens! It helped me to seal a deal. I just bought a mint nikon F100 with this lens for a couple hundred bucks. Can't wait to see the results.

    1. Wow DLB you got a great deal! The f100 OR the lens by itself would be worth a couple of hundred. Nice!

  5. Mic, I stumbled across this post, and I can't agree more regarding the 28-105. I've had mine since I bought the n90s decades ago, and it shined on my d600.

    I posted about this lens on my blog, showing similar shots taken 12 Years apart. I hope you don't mind me sharing the link:

    Cheers, Dave

    1. Thanks for sharing your post Dave! Yes this lens is great even on a modern high res camera like the d600.


Thanks for your comment. It will be published as soon as we get a chance to review it, sorry for that, but we get lots of spam with malicious links.