Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens Review | Beautiful Macro Results On A Budget
This lens review is about a full-frame mirrorless (Nikon FX) lens, but it’s also about so much more! Nikon is creating one of the most unique offerings to full-frame and APSC sensor camera users, and I think it deserves special attention. So, in this Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8 review, I’m going to explain why I think they are brilliant for creating this lens, and others like it: Nikon is making full-frame lenses that are perfectly suited for both FX and DX users!
Simply put, this Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8 Macro (Micro NIKKOR) is a compact, affordable, relatively unassuming-looking lens, and that is why I like it so much. Currently priced at just $596, it is by far the most affordable name-brand 1:1 reproduction (1x magnification) macro lens on the market.
Not only that, but it is part of a growing trend within the overall collection of Nikkor Z-mount mirrorless lenses: compact, affordable, high-performance full-frame lenses that are perfectly suited for both their FX and DX cameras. This is a huge advantage to any photographer who may start with DX but eventually want to upgrade to FX! It’s also a beautiful solution for photographers who want to own both types of cameras and be able to use as many of their lenses as possible on both/all their cameras.
With that in mind, let’s dive into this Nikon Z 50mm f/2.8 review. I’ll explain what I love about it, where it may fall short for certain types of macro photography, and which exact types of photographers ought to consider this little gem of a lens.
Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8 Macro Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 50mm (47°) on full-frame, 75mm (28°)
- LENS MOUNT(S): Nikon Z mirrorless, full-frame and APSC
- APERTURE & RANGE: f/2.8-22, 9-blade rounded diaphragm
- STABILIZATION: No
- AUTOFOCUS: STM motor, silent
- MANUAL FOCUS: electronically controlled, dedicated focus ring, AF/MF switch
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 10 elements in 7 groups,
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: metal mount, plastic barrel, weather-sealed body
- MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 1:1 (1x) reproduction, 6.3″ (16 cm) closest focusing
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: 46mm, small threaded hood included
- SIZE: 2.9 x 2.6″ (74.5 x 66 mm)
- WEIGHT: 9.2 oz (260 g)
- PRICE: $596
(B&H | Amazon | Adorama)
Why Nikon’s Z-mount Mirrorless System Is The Best For Beginners And Serious Photographers On A Budget
Before we get into the main parts of this review, I want to explain why I’m recommending the Nikon Z-mount so highly to certain photographers. The basic reasoning is this: traditionally, the camera mounts that offered two different sensor sizes had an inherent problem: if you bought a camera with the smaller size sensor, (APSC, a 1.5x crop factor) then you either had to buy APSC lenses, (not compatible with full-frame) …or you had to buy full-frame lenses which were often “overkill” for that crop-sensor camera body.
It was also complicated if you want to own both types of cameras. Sometimes the DX camera was a backup, and other times it was just an everyday “walk-around” camera. Either way, the same problem presents itself: Each DX lens you buy can’t be used on FX, and each FX lens you buy will usually dwarf most DX bodies, both in size/weight and price tag.
What if there were better choices? What if you had a lot of full-frame options that were affordable and portable enough that they made sense to APSC crop-sensor users, too? This is Nikon’s thinking, it appears. In addition to this compact, affordable 1:1 macro lens, they have also been making other unique, useful FX lenses that pair quite well with both a DX and FX camera.
Above, you can see an assortment of options including both DX and FX lenses. Could you guess which was which, if the labels had been blurred? You’d likely be surprised to find that the smallest lens pictured above is full-frame, and the largest one is DX! (Also, that largest lens is incredibly compact, too.)
This is the beauty of what we’re seeing from Nikon: FX lenses that are so compact, (and affordable) they also make great DX lenses. Depending on the type of photography you do, and your budget, you could get away with being a DX user who owns either zero or just one DX lens, and fill the rest of your needs with FX lenses.
The most popular Nikon DX “kit” lens, the 16-50mm, is portable and affordable enough that it could be purchased without any regrets later on if FX becomes an option. Alternatively, a photographer could embrace a 26mm or 28mm f/2.8 prime lens, the latter of which costs even less than the DX lens! ($306 for the 16-50mm, VS $276 for the 28mm f/2.8; not the special edition version pictured above.)
Above you can see a comparison of some of Nikon’s ultra-compact primes, from the “pancake” style Nikon 26mm f/2.8 ($496) to the lens I’m reviewing today, the 50mm f/2.8 Micro/Macro.
For comparison, above you can see the ultra-compact 40mm f/2, the Micro-NIKKOR 50mm f/2.8, and the S-series (professional flagship) Nikon 50mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.2. The Nikon 50mm f/1.2 S is a bit of a beast, indeed, but the rest of the lenses compared above are still almost tiny by comparison.
This is why I honestly believe that Nikon is the best choice for photographers who are curious about both DX and FX. Maybe you’re a photographer who is on a budget at first, but you’ll think about upgrading to full-frame later. Maybe, you’re a serious photographer who started with full-frame, and you’re looking for a compact, affordable camera to either have as a backup or use in less professional settings. Either way, I would personally love to have a Nikon Zfc with either the 26mm or 28mm, plus a Nikon Z5 or Z6 II, and of course, a versatile 50mm prime such as this one, or the even more compact 40mm f/2. To finish things off, I’m excited that Nikon appears to have a compact & lightweight 70-180mm f/2.8 on their roadmap!
Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8 Macro Review | Who Should Buy It?
As you can imagine based on everything I just said about DX and FX Nikons going together so well, I think the Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8 is a great macro lens for all types of photographers. Whether you are a beginner who wants a just try macro photography a little bit, or you are a serious hobbyist or working pro who needs a compact macro lens, this 50mm could be perfect for you. This is regardless of if you’re pairing it with a DX or FX body, of course.
What types of photography would this 50mm macro lens be perfect for? Let’s get to that now…
Macro Photography | Nature, Still Life, Fine Art Photography
This goes without saying: If you want to do macro photography of any kind, achieving 1:1 macro reproduction (1x magnification) is what you want. It is important to note that a lot of lenses may have “macro” in the name, but they may only reach 1:2 reproduction or less. This isn’t technically true “macro”, it is just a lens that can focus quite close.
This lens gets you so up close to your subjects that you’ll actually have to worry about bumping into their surroundings with your camera or your hands. (More on that later!) All in all, this is a perfect lens to get started with. Personally, I have very fond memories of doing backyard garden macro photography, when I first picked up a digital camera,
The nice thing about a 50mm lens is that it also doubles for a lot of other types of photography, too. With the f/2.8 aperture, and sharpness galore, this 50mm prime makes a perfect portrait lens.
This 50mm prime could also act as a great backup for a professional portrait or wedding who literally pays their bills with a different 50mm prime; if a particular focal length is mission-critical to your work, it’s smart to have a backup!
Candid & Street Photography
Honestly, this third category could be almost anything. You might be looking for an everyday candid lens, or you might be looking for a serious landscape photography lens. Either way, if you’re not primarily into macro photography, but you’d still like to have 1:1 macro in your toolkit while you mostly do other things, this is a great choice.
As with something like professional wedding photography, this may not be your main lens, but still, it’s super convenient to have such a useful, normal focal length. That way, if you’re snapping a macro pic and some other fleeting moment catches your eye, you might not have to scramble to change lenses.
Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8 Macro Review | Pros & Cons
The good news is, there aren’t any “flaws” per se with the Nikon Z 50mm f/2.8. It’s a great lens, the image quality is impressive, the physical quality is professional, and the value is perfect for photographers using both FX and DX Nikon camera bodies.
The drawbacks have to do with the inherent nature of doing macro photography of any kind and aren’t unique to this particular lens. Simply put, all macro lenses that offer 1:1 reproduction present a serious challenge for depth of field. Plus, any 50mm macro lens will face a problematic working distance.
We’ll get into this a bit more later, however, suffice it to say, it’s hard to find fault with this lens.
Image quality with a macro lens is all about sharpness. If it’s not sharp, nothing else matters. Thankfully, this lens resolves biting detail levels, even wide-open at f/2.8 It does this both close-up at 1:1, as well as with normal distances and far subjects closer to infinity.
The other aspects of image quality are impressive, too. Background blur, or bokeh, is just gorgeous, as you can see from the samples. Colors and contrast are clear and crisp; in fact, many of the images in this review received zero processing whatsoever! This is thanks to Nikon’s cooperation with Adobe; now Lightroom recognizes when I set the in-camera Picture Control to “Vivid” or “Landscape”, as I often do for macro and general nature photography.
Technical aspects of image quality, such as vignetting, distortion, and chromatic aberration are relatively minimal, and nothing to complain about.
If I had to complain about anything, it would simply be an aspect of macro photography that no macro lens can overcome: When you’re working at 1:1 reproduction, depth of field becomes extremely difficult to achieve.
Also, the other main “con” inherent with any 50mm macro lens is this: Because the lens is a normal focal length, as opposed to 100mm or 200mm, its 1:1 reproduction requires you to get very, very close to your subjects. In many cases, you will cast your own shadow onto your subject. Also, you’ll probably be bumping into the ground or foliage, or whatever is around your subject, too.
This isn’t a flaw of this 50mm lens, it’s an inherent aspect of any normal lens that offers macro capability. For this reason, serious macro photographers might opt for a longer focal length macro lens such as a 105mm.
For certain living subjects, this can be a deal-breaker, because they simply don’t let you get that close to them! Some insects, though, seem content to let their camouflage do its thing until you quite literally touch them…
Design & Durability
Physically, and mechanically, this lens is rather professionally built. It may have some plastic parts, aside from the metal mount, but it offers weather sealing and a generally sturdy feeling construction.
The only aspect of design that seems like it might be less durable is the externally moving focus optics. They protrude quite a bit when getting to macro focal lengths, and if you just happen to bump your lens into things a lot, you might damage the internal gearing. Obviously, we don’t recommend buying ANY lens into things, so, this should be a moot point if you take good care of the lens.
One aspect of this mechanical design that you might be concerned about is the autofocus itself. Since the lens does physically protrude when focusing closer, it’s not exactly the snappiest autofocus of the various ~50mm primes in Nikon’s lineup. If you’re used to the snappy, accurate AF of the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 S, for example, you might consider this to be borderline “sluggish”.
Having said that, it doesn’t seem to miss focus too often, so as long as you’re not photographing high-speed action with this lens, you should do alright.
Manual Focus Performance
Macro photography is one genre where a significant number of photographers will be using manual focus. As mentioned above, this lens has a physically protruding focus mechanism, however, there is still an electronic focus ring.
Thankfully, manual focusing is still very precise, with fine increments that make it “easy” to nail focus in static conditions. I use quotes because nailing focus at 1:1 reproduction is never easy, with any lens, of course.
Ergonomics & Portability
This is where the lens really shines, in my opinion. It’s about the size of a normal, compact 50mm f/1.8 prime lens, so it won’t take up too much extra space in your camera bag. If you’re looking for such a lens, and especially one that handles generally well enough to double as a normal lens in a pinch, look no further!
Features & Customizations
Although I do wish this lens featured a fully internal focus system, I appreciate the rest of the functionality it offers. Having an AF/MF switch on the lens is something I’ve always liked, and have missed on many third-party and even some name-brand lenses lately.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this Nikon Z 50mm f/2.8 Macro lens review, with a price tag of $596, this is one of the most affordable 1:1 macro lenses on the market. In fact, if you don’t count all-manual lenses or DSLR (adapted) options, it may very well be the 1st or 2nd most affordable 1:1 macro lens on the market.
That should be enough to convince you of its value, but of course, the fact that it’s 50mm, the most common prime focal length ever, adds a bit more to the value.
The only way you could get more “bang for your buck” would be if you go with an all-manual third-party option, and give up autofocus in exchange for a (possibly) even greater magnification ratio. More on that next…
Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8 Macro Review | Compared To The Competition
Again, you just can’t beat the 1:1 reproduction macro capability, especially not with another name-brand lens.
This 50mm, plus the other FX lenses that are well-suited for both FX and DX cameras, puts Nikon in a truly unique position, indeed. The only lens that comes close to competing with the Nikon 50mm f/2.8 macro, in terms of price and portability, is the Fuji XF 30mm f/2.8 R LM Macro, which does offer 1:1 reproduction for $599.
However, Fujifilm does not make a full-frame system that you could eventually upgrade to; you would be committing to their APSC system. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as their flagship APSC cameras currently rival many full-frame cameras in quite a few ways. Personally, though, 50mm is a bare minimum for me when doing macro photography.
Other than that, there’s not much competition for this particular lens. Every other macro lens is at least 100mm, and often more than double the price. Nikon’s own 105mm f/2.8 Macro usually runs $1,046, although it is currently going for $946. It is a much bigger, more advanced professional lens, of course, with a dedicated control ring, LCD display, and a customizable Fn button. The 105mm focal length will give you much more working distance for those elusive, timid subjects, and I do highly recommend it for serious macro photographers who really dedicate themselves to this “micro” world in particular. Having said that, it’s definitely a huge step up in your budget.
Honestly, the most direct competition for this 50mm isn’t macro lenses at all. It’s the 35mm, 50mm, and other similar lenses that offer “decent” macro capabilities, such as 1:2 or 1:3 reproduction. If you don’t do much macro photography and merely want to get “kind of close” to some subjects, then you might be more interested in, say, the Nikon Z 40mm f/2 ($306).
Oppositely, if you’re absolutely in love with macro and are only going to be using your lens for static subjects, and you plan to use a tripod for all of your photography, then you could consider a third-party, all-manual option from Venus (Laowa) such as their 90mm and 100mm macro lenses, or their crop-sensor 65mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro. Yes, that’s right, those macro lenses reach 2X magnification or 2:1 reproduction!
Their prices are attractive, (all under $500) but you’ll have to give up all electronic control and lens information. (In addition to being 100% manual focus, you’ll have to set your aperture on the lens too, and your images’ EXIF won’t record which lens you used or what aperture you set…)
All in all, I like the Nikon 50mm f/2.8 because that’s exactly what it is: a compact, “normal” 50mm lens that offers autofocus and a great aperture for not just macro but also general photography, portraits, etc.
Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8 Macro Review | Conclusion
All in all, there simply aren’t many other lenses quite like the Nikon Z 50mm f/2.8 macro. Nikon is doing what they do best, which is to make a very attractive offer to a wide range of photographers who may be looking to enter the world of mirrorless cameras on a budget, yet have more than enough room to “grow” both creatively and technically.
Truly serious photographers may find that for certain subjects, they prefer a 105mm macro lens instead. Then again, if you’re starting off with a Nikon DX mirrorless camera, this 50mm becomes equivalent to 75mm, which is pretty decent. And as a 50mm, it makes a universally useful walk-around lens, even if you one day upgrade to a more expensive flagship macro lens.
Therefore, I highly recommend checking out the Nikon Z 50mm f/2.8, and the Nikon DX & FX system overall. If you’re looking for a camera system that spans the range from beginner-friendly to professionally capable, you’re in the right place!
Check Pricing & Availability
The Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8 Micro NIKKOR is currently available for $596 and often retails for $646 without any rebates or instant savings applied. You can find it at all major retailers; we recommend only buying from legitimate dealers, not third-party drop-shippers!