Multi Copter Photography and Photogrammetry

Multicopter Photography and Photogrammetry

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Late this year I bought a Phantom 3A (Advanced). The prices went down and these platforms are so affordable now that it makes sense to test it out.

The main applications for my work are multifolded:

  1. Special shootings for paying clients,
  2. regatta event shots from above,
  3. very early morning misty landscape stills and
  4. large scale or near range photogrammetric mapping for research purposes with applications in forest biomass mapping and archaeology as well as biotop-typ delineation and fine scale analysis of vegetation structure and slope stability analysis.

Clearly 1-3 and 4 will very nicely cooperate. Its just wonderful to experience how photography and research can come together here, makes me wonder sometimes how I managed to get into that cool spot where I get payed to fly a remote controlled camera … :-)

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Being not new to copter flying, I found the Phantom 3 to be really easy to fly. Once you mastered the documentation and some basic theory about controlling a quadro-copter its really a simple excercise to control these devices. This is mainly due to the perfect GPS controlled position hold of the Phantom. It just stays where you put it (in opposite to gliders) and this makes it also kind of boring to fly a copter. The DJI GO app that is used on a mobile device to check the telemetry data and to control the lifeview provides a nice overview about position, viewing angle and overall status of your copter. You can also modify shooting parameters, change the camera viewing direction and check speed, height and remaining flight time, battery status and the number of satellites. Other apps support fully automatic mapping modes with variable overlap configurations (Data Mapper or Drone Deploy).
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P3 installed on a LowePro backpack fully functional with installed props and ready to fly in a minute.

Some DJI Phantom 3 A Specs:

  1. Image Data capturing in 12MP Adobe DNG RAWs, gimbal stabilized! & damped. 2. HDR with 5 exposures each 0.7EV under/over-ex-> RAW DNG HDR computation. 3. Sony EXMOR 1/2.3“, 12.4MP, 94°lens (20mm focal length equiv. tilt.), ISO100-3200, 8-1/8000s, single shot, multiple shot, exposure series (3/5), DNG RAW format, video: FHD upto60p, 2.7k upto30p, 4. Memory: MicroSD up to 64GB cat10.
  2. Control: GPS/GLONASS controlled position hold, visual Realtime-Position-Tracking (VPS – Vision Positioning System) up to 3m flight alt. (P4pro: 10m). RTH (Return to Home Funktion), Battery Low RTH, Security-RTH, software controlled flight altitude (override possible): 120m, autostart/-landing, beginner modi, (OrbitModi/anti- collision (infrared/ultrasonic)/ActiveTracking/terrain follow: P4/pro/Mavic), P-GPS – GPS controled stabilising (+/-10cm position), P-OPTI (optical position control & stabilizing), P-ATTI modi (flight altitude only (barom.) – copter could start to drift).
  3. Flight parameters: weight: 1280g, climb: 5m/s, descend: 3m/s, Vmax: 16m/s (ATTI) – 60km/h, flight altitude max: 6000 m (airspace above 100 m needs a clearance (approval), RC max distance: 5km, flight time: 23 min (30min: P4pro), RadioControl: 2,4khz RC with iPad/iPhone (build in DJI Lightbridge System), realtime lifeview control per DJI GO App.

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Nikon AFS 400mm f2.8G VR Testing

Update: some nice bokeh shots with this lens (had half an hour yesterday with wonderful sun light to do some tests – its easy to send every for/background into a creamy bokeh fog with a 400mm f2.8 system. However the lens isnt a dedicated macro device – hence it will be important to see how the lens performs in the mid to far range shots and with full reflecting highlights. Especially the resolving power with very distant objects is usually a problem – even with these top-of-the-line tele lenses. My first impressions indicate that the 400mm f2.8 works fabulous with the TC14E II and also very good with the TC20E III but the AFS 300mm f2.8 mk1 wasn’t bad with the TC14E II either. The weak part was the resolving power focusing more distant things with more than 300m distance.

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First tests with the new 400mm lens – the f2.8 AFS VR version – pretty much a dream tele lens and optical performance is just as what you would expect. First lens align tests seem to be spot on. The lens snaps to focus – clearly faster than my old 300mm f2.8 AFS Mk1. Some bokeh tests will follow.

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The lensAlign target with the long ruler installed – approx. 20m distance – this equals 50times focal length. At f2.8 this gives a depth of field of 40cm and the lens is pretty spot-on on the 0-Mark of the ruler. No chromatic aberration  at all … . Damn cool lens – only point to think of right now is the how-to-story of “hand-holding” this lens, its just bigger than anything I used before.

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Some bokeh shots:

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The AquaTech Elite Sport Housing

The AquaTech Elite sport housing – submerged and split level imaging concepts

Initial text upload: 15.11.2015 – by Sören Hese

1st update: 20.11.2015

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Some comments about the AquaTech Elite sport housing that I acquired early in 2015.

This was on my list since some years but I never had the budget to do this. The situation hasnt changed much in that respect – especially since the Dollar/Euro ratio hasnt moved into the right direction to order lots of gear in the US.  After checking the market for diving houses it was obvious that I do not need a diving setup. These DSLR housings for diving are much bigger and heavier and rated for more water depth than “sports housings”. The latter are more for the near surface water sports (sailing, surfing, swimming, canoeing and so on). To go for the Aquatech housing was primarily defined by the supported lens selection. The 14-24 mm from Nikon was only supported by Aquatech as far as I was able to see online.

I used the gear for approx. 15 regatta sailing events now and also tested it for waves for 4 weeks and doing numerous shots in lakes. I can already conclude that its what you expect from a professional package and/or its elevated price point and its totally reliable.

To get a maximum of image sharpness and dynamic range I wanted my Nikon D800/D810 + Nikkor 14-24mm  combination in a housing concept – here you clearly end up with an ELITE sport housing from AquaTech.

After all its very hard to develop new perspectives in the domain of yacht and regatta photography – the split level approach isn’t new but it hasnt been used too much so far and there are lots of ways to develop new imaging ideas in this domain – from below water shots or split level shots and images that include the water as abstract art are often more appealing than shooting the yacht with the usual extreme tele lens setup. Help for reasoning is however that the housing can also be used to do more of the wave/water photography that I envisioned often when traveling the northern coasts in summer.

#Construction & Components:

So what is it? The AquaTech housings are not really designed for diving – the depth guarantee is for 10 meters. Thats not much if you are into diving. The AT housings are for waves, surfing and sailing. They are made for this transitional domain between the elements – between air and water – thats where the more graphical and more interesting stuff happens as light hasn’t been absorbed and water can play its sculpturing thing (sorry all you underwater photographer … although I found it pretty exciting to shoot in these clean lakes with lots of vegetation shadowing everything and creating a wild underwater vegetation land/sub-aquatic-scape ).

Construction is pretty much heavy duty with massive polyurethan housing construction, stainless steel controls, 10 mm acryl back-plate, durable aluminium tubes and 5 mm aryl domes, solid metal locking fasteners, interchangeable anodized metal lens ports with a knurled grip surface that makes it easy to tighten everything when mounting the ports. The grip surface is so knurled that you easily scratch everything you touch with the lens port. Overall „fit and finish“ of the housing with its snap fasteners and its big enough screws is just perfect. The setup screws together and is sealed with O-rings everywhere. Weight of the housing is 1.6 kg and the PD135 f.e. adds another 600 gr. Together with the pistol grip/pole extension and other accessories installed you easily reach 3 kg. The DSLR is mounted within the housing with an Arca Style plate that snug-fits precisely into the dove tailed Arca mount that is installed in the housing. The DSLR just moves exactly into place that way and the mechanical trigger of the housing sits exactly above the DSLR trigger. 

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Figure: Arca style plate setup that keeps the camera within the housing precisely in place.

Key for the functioning is an acryl dome element that is avail for a number of popular lenses. The dome construction is superb but it has one slighty anoying drawback. The sunstar of your lens is slightly distorted and not as accurate as when shot without the dome. If you like to use the sun star reflection as part of your visual concept sometimes – than this has to be taken into account. Overall sharpness and chroma aberration of  your lens isnt changed much imo. At least I couldnt find any difference in spatial resolution with the Nikon D800 NEF files after processing in LR. There seem to be some internal color reflections but its a minor issue and not at all comparable with the well known Nikkor 14-24 color reflection/flare issue at 14mm.

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Changing Perspective

AquaTech Elite Gehäuse eingetrudelt. Nach 4 Wochen Wartezeit ists jetzt doch mal geliefert worden, aber das Teil wird wohl in Batches produziert und da sind solche Lieferzeiten wohl normal. Mit dem AquaTech Elite Gehäuse kam auch ein Setup mit Plexiglas Dome, um das 14-24 Nikkor einzusetzen. Erstmal hab ich nur das 10.5 mm getestet und soweit bin ich total happy. Die Steuerung der Kamera durch das Gehäuse funktioniert problemlos, das Gehäuse ist massiv gebaut und der Plexiglas Dome erzeugt keine nennenswerte Degradation in der Bildqualität. Hier mal eine Auswahl erster Testbilder – mtk.

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The Nikkor AFS 24-70 mm f2.8G – fast all-rounder

Standard zoom range at its best …  – best bokeh: the Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8G
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The Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f2.8G ED
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The 24-70 wasnt on my priority purchase list for quite some time. Its focal range was just not too important for my type of regular shootings. But since I started doing circus and artistic performance events  and also occasionally dancing events – I found the 24-70 range to be a „must have” here. The 24-50 mm range is where you need to go quickly when you work directly in front of the stage. In combination with a second body and  85 f1.4 or the 70-200 f2.8 this provides lots of flexibility.
There are various comments in the net about the Nikon 24-70 and to sum the critics up: „no VR” and “edge sharpness is missing on the D800“ are the most common complaints. There is also indication that the front tubus is damaged easily when lens drops without a hood.

The 24-70 isn’t a small lens but it packs a lot of performance into the typical range of the 24-35-50-( not really 85).
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Nikon V1 Slomos – Sessan-Cup 2014

The old Nikon 1 V1 of the one-inch sensor series that Nikon called just the „1“ was likely one of the strangest newcomers for the Nikon camera system for a while when it surfaced in 2011. The camera had/s the leading AF performance for the small sensor compact type of cameras. It also shoots raw in very fast series although unfortunately not for long as the buffer fills up just very quickly. AND: the V1 is available for under 300€ right now (May 2014) and this is a reasonable price to get into this system.
But likely the best: it can use every F-mount lens build in the last decades.

The 1 systems has been underspecified by Nikon in order to avoid any overlap with the Nikon DSLR lineup (some believe). It has so many nice features that it makes me always scratch my head when I find out that I cannot use these features the way I would like to as the interface is just crippled at exactly that aspect. Thinking of the missing cable release for the 1, missing connectors for cable releases, missing buffer for the 4K film crowd, missing manual setup possibilities of the 30/60fps modi etc. Its just so stupid because SOME OF IT is a firmware thing. The camera is just not meant to be used by serious pros – but than why did Nikon build a camera for soccer moms and put some pro specs and a price (when it was released) on it that no-one was willing to pay (for)?

One very interesting aspect of the Nikon V1 is the strong crop factor with FX lenses in combination with high speed full res RAW shooting. The V1 shoots 30 fps for a buffer time of one second or 30fps in 0.5 second (this equals 60fps but it only last for 0,5 seconds). As the camera stores these shots as NEF (RAW) files in 10MP resolution it is usable as 4K footage. From 4K you can easily stabilize the film in post processing and you can get to comparable steady 1080p footage. The V1 has a 2,7x crop factor with FX lenses using the FT1 adapter – together with a quick AF system a 70-200 lens becomes a 200-500 f2.8 mm lens!

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So practically this would be a nice setup for slomo footage of sailing action scenes. There are however some restrictions: the high speed modi cannot be used with a remote trigger (why?) and these modi do not work with anything else than in P-Modus. So you are flying with autopilot in a way. Even more a problem you are also flying in Auto-ISO mode. Than there is this buffer-issue. You might argue that 1 second with 30fps is enough, but I think it is not. To move the level a wee bit higher on the market and to put competing manufactures under stress we would need a buffer of at least 3 seconds. 4K footage is the next quality level that all DSLR manufacturer have to deal with and being first would clearly open up access to a new user community for Nikon. The amount of memory shouldnt be a problem or too much a cost factor and I would also argue that size isnt a problem. The Nikon 1 is too small imo – its just smaller than is practically useful.
And finally the 1 cameras cannot be synced with triggering a DSLR. So either you shoot with your DSLR rig or you look through your 1 systems EVF. You cannot make both systems communicate: focus at the same time pull the trigger at the same time. Shooting high res D800 shallow depths of field RAWs of the action and pushing 120 10MP NEFs onto a card using the 1 system simultaneously? This would be a game changer for all action/sports shooters. Alternatives are right now very expensive (RED camera system with a hardly hand holdable tele setup  or a NEX-FS700 kind of system). Other options: the new Sony 7s or a Panasonic Lumix GH4: but again to get to 500 mm tele lens equivalent with quick AFS functionality you will have a hard time to find this setup with these cameras.

Than the cost factor: the V1 was really expensive when it hit the market and the only performance where it received an „outstanding“ was AF performance. Not enough allthough AF performance is very high on my list.

So summarising the design descisions: too expensive, specs are partly crippled, firmware functionality has been not designed for power users. The Nikon 1 could be clearly a very different beast but Nikon tried to avoid overlap with DSLR performance and doing that it created a strange mixture of capabilities with that device in user-needs-nowhere-land.

The recently announced Nikon 1 V3 isnt making much of a change (but HD with 120fps might be cool). Same concept with same basic limitations and even more expensive and with some design decisions nobody can really understand (new battery type, smaller&slower card specs, EVF is add-on, nearly no change in buffer land, same crippled remote driving capabilities as far as I can see from the online handbook, no 4k mod).
Why dont they just give us a 4K camera with clever specs and rock the market?! The „1“ System would sell like hot cake and even for the price they ask right now. The HD120fps modus looks promising, but here the proof is in the eating – is it sharp enough?  is it working without stabilization? on a boat?

So here are some preliminary results from first test drives with the V1. I used the Sessan-Cup (an international regatta race) as a test race to create some footage from the 30fps modus. The slomos looked acceptable within the saturday beamer show but when you have a wee bit more time to check the footage you clearly can identify some problems. 30fps is basically not enough “fps“ to slow down water movements. To receive smooth water slomos faster than 60fps  is a must and this shows – interpolation just cannot replace 60-120 fps here. Same applies to boat rig structures.

Look at the water movements and at the rig supporting shrouds in seconds 00:19 and 00:22 – interpolation clearly fails to create smooth transitions here and Twixter – (a special frame interpolation software plug-in for AE and supposed to be one of the better solutions for frame rate conversions) isn’t really any better in that respect from what I can tell with initial testing using a demo version.

The workflow is straight forward:
1. Import of the raw NEF Files from the V1 to Lightroom,
2. basic correction, sharpening and de-fringing,
3. export to uncompressed JPEGs into one folder,
4. import to Adobe After Effects,
5. Motion Tracking using Warp Stabilization with „Position“ Option, stabilize & cut,
6. AE composition setup set to 400% length & 30fps,
7. Time stretch to 400% and frame interpolation set to overblend,
8. rendering the full resolution footage out in 1080p/24. H264 mov HDTV

That is basically it.

As Tom Hogan put it recently in his article “The Cost of 4K“: going 4K and beeing an “early adopter is costly”.  And it clearly isn’t always needed but when you have to stabilize the footage in post processing than capturing action in 4K is actually like  shooting in 1080p because in the end this is what remains after stabilization. This is also the reason why I do not believe that HD120fps is a solution. This remains to be tested however especially when the V3 descents from its current price point. Than I will definitly give it a try.

mtk, Sören

The Sharpness & Darkness Queen – the Nikkor AFS 14-24 mm f2.8G

Nikon AFS 14-24 mm f2.8G: This lens is the end of the (endless) search for the perfect wide angle lens. Its as simple as that. Get this one and stop (and forget) all the testing : ).  Since photography went digital a sharp wide angle has been like the mythical unicorn – it just wasnt there anywhere. The 14-24 is the magical solution for all that wanted this full frame edge-sharp wide angle lens. The wide open performance without any degradation in  sharpness etc.

In short:

+ Sharp wide open in the center and in the far corners,

+ sharp at 14 mm,
+ sharp at 20 mm and
+ nearly as sharp at 24 mm though it wee bit softer in the edge than at 20 mm,
+ creates nice sun stars closed down,
+ has (on the D800) only minimal CAs at 14 mm (that can be easily corrected in post),
+ focus is fast and silent,
+ build is absolute top notch (the lens virtually melts with a D3 – there are no mount tolerances),
+ manual focus is super smooth without any glide coupling offsets.

 

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Front element is protuding and exposed to some degree at 14 mm setting.

 

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With the heavy duty Single Digit Nikons the 14-24 just pairs perfectly and weight balance is nice.

 

The lens is heavy but sits in your hand like a tool that asks to be used with precision and knowledge – somehow just stimulating.
The lens has low coma at f2.8 –  so,  for night time photography this is just the dream of “shooting a wideangle without need to close the aperture” coming true because the f2.8 shots at iso1600 wide open are in no way a compromise. So far my experiences with all wide angles were always a mixed bag. The fixed focal lenses with 20 mm and less did not deliver (Nikon 20 mm f2.8 AIS, 18 mm, 14 mm and the Voigtländer 20 mm f3.5 or the Sigma alternatives were not much better). Some praised the new Zeiss ZF 15 mm and the legend – the older Zeiss ZF 21 mm f2.8 but they sell for the same or higher price, no AF and only one focal length, other alternative at least for the night time photogs: Rokinon (also known as Samyang). Rokinons are very affordable priced and are nicely coma corrected. A great start would be the 14 mm Rokinon.
On the plus side for the 14-24: it also works nicely with an IR converted camera. There is no hotspot with this lens.
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If you have to use a wide angel lens wide open, than the 14-24 is the tool that will deliver.  The edges will even improve sligthly if you close the lens down to f4 and f5.6 though hardly in a range that is very much relevant.
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Only “problem” with the lens is its big front glass – you pay for the uncompromised engineering of this construction unaffected by accountancy or management restrictions. This is a product of a 100% performance oriented and engineering dominated design decisions.
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Minor moanings:
– the lens cap is a problem – I just dont like that solution – it just shouldnt be slip on, they could have easily created a locking mechanism that
snuck fits on the sun shade.
– And for some a problem: no easy filter solution – you have to get the big special 1424 designs – expensive and huge glas plates.
– The lens can also show some strange flare  when you directly shoot into the sun. It creates rainbow like reflections that are hard to remove.
So overall the best around for the available light freakes, indoor interior, astro photographers, star trail and polar light /aurora photography or for night time shots of urban scenes, light house shots at night and so on – you get the message. If you only need a coma free lens for astro shots I would suggest the 14 mm Rokinon, but if the lens is to be used also for other applications than the 1424 will deliver. I sold my old Tokina 124 DX lens and will also leave the Nikkor 28 mm f2.0. That feeling of wide open top performance makes me even rethink if I shouldnt sell my Nikkor 20 mm. … mmh the 20 is sooo small its just a very different horse ähem pony maybe.
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Some shots from this year:

 

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Pretty much the perfect lens for fireworks at 24 mm but occasional you will likely grab the 24-70 for these events.

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Full frame 14 mm shot at f22 – sun in the corner with strong flare.

 

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Subset from the full frame shot above – the color halos are nasty, but you can avoid them easily when you change the direction of the lens a wee bit. Therefore here I really just wanted to show how it could look like if you do not take care but it is avoidable.

 

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Lens Power for the Flower

The Nikon AF-S VR Micro Nikkor 105 mm f2.8G ED

Since a while I was monitoring the macro lens market for a good new lens for macro flower work . So far the Micro Nikkor 60 mm AF-D f2.8 wasnt that bad at all for most of what I did. It was a compact sharp lens in the mm-range of the old famous Nikon 55 mm f.2.8 AIS Macro. There was however one area where the 60 mm was definitly not getting it right: bokeh (or I should say out of focus area rendering). The 60 mm was also a bit on the short side mm-wise. You tend to get too close to objects/subjects with this lens. The new Micro Nikkor beasts are much much better in that Bokeh-domain and the AF-S Micro Nikkor 105 mm f2.8G ED VR is the more useful of the two “N” Micro Nikkors (the other is the 60 mm AFS f2.8G). “More useful” because for most of the things you will likely need more shooting distance. I am also waiting for the update of the 200 mm Version. This one would be the one to go for if you are very much into insects and other shy subjects.

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The 105VR is a big lens – compared to the old AIS 105mm f2.8 design (in the middle). This lens is huge but imo it sits nicely in your hand and focusing the large rubber ring with this diameter is very smooth and gives lots of control for drawing the out of focus areas.

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The 105VR compared to the old AIS 105mm f2.8 design mounted on a D2x.

The 105VR (lets keep it short) uses every technique abbreviation available to Nikon: VR (Vibration Reduction), N (Nano Coating), AFS (Ring type ultra sonic focusing with manual override – and this lens is a real “Lord of the Rings” and doesnt use a micro motor), it comes with rubber sealings, metal body construction and nine rounded blades that form a perfect circle when the aperture is closed. AFS isnt very useful in the near range and usually I leave it off but mine has a constant back focusing. The build quality is excellent with a robust metal body and the pro heavy duty build approach of other lenses in this range. The lens hood is made of plastic but also seems to be very robust and durable. The lens was originally made in Japan (Toshagi lens plant) but is now manufactured in China. I had both versions in my hands and I couldn find a significant difference – although I have to say that I kept the “made in Japan” version (stupid habit but I prefer Nikon stuff “Made in Japan”).

So whats so special with this lens? – its how the background is blurred!  Its all about the out of focus highlights and thats where the lens shines. It gives butter-smooth out of focus color transitions with remarkably soft character. The only other macro competition imo is the Zeiss 100 mm f2 ZF2-mount version and the Voigtländer APO Lanthar 125 mm f2.5 . The Voigtländer is not available anymore and used market prices are at about 250-350% of the original price of the lens. The reason for this hefty price tag is that the Voigtländer 125 is the only macro lens in that range that is nearly lens aberration free. Its THE perfect corrected lens and for those into shooting jewelry and related objects this can be a very important aspect. The Zeiss is probably a bit sharper compared with the Nikkor but the Zeiss comes without AF-S and this can be important for other (non-macro) applications of the lens (its irrelevant for macro work though). The Zeiss also shows some CA and for the price imo you do not get what you pay for. Others might think different here. If you like the Zeiss rendering the website of Digilloyd http://zeissguide.com/ is a good read for you.

Its a bit different with the Voigtländer but this lens is just not available on the market anymore. Most of the happy owners do not sell their 125. Of the other third party lenses the Tamron 180 mm should be mentioned but its not exactly in the mm-range of the 105. Also Sigma does some nice lenses for macro work but with the Sigmas sample variation you should always order 5 lenses and keep the best one :). So I usually stay away from Sigma.

Figure: The 105VR creates nearly perfectly rounded OOF highlights due to its rounded aperture blades (see figure below), whereas the old AIS 105mm f2.8 design (above) gives the usual shapes here.

Drawbacks of the Nikkor 105VR:

1. it doesnt work with your ancient bellows (namely PB-4 – PB-6) as its a G-Type of lens! If you want to go beyond 1:1 sizes this lens could be combined with a TC (tele converter) – not too much of a good idea.

2. it changes the focal length with focusing – this can be a problem if you are framing very tight – the framing changes if your focus point shifts. Its kind of annoying. AND this is a NoGo if you do focus stacking with lots of frames!

There is a lot of information online about the Nikkor. To list a few of the important reviews: here is what should be on your list if you want more information about the lens:

– Thom Hogans Review of the 105VR

Nikon Glass Review of the 105VR

Simpho Review of the 105VR

– Björn Roersletts mini_review of the 105VR

– the Photozone APS-C test report of the 105VR

and if you ever wondered how this lens is build  you might want to check this site:

http://www.nikon-fotografie.de/vbulletin/nf-f-service-ecke/148643-af-s-105-2-8-vr-micro-nach-sturz-af-defekt.html

A large gallery of flower shots with the 105VR is avail. here:

http://soeren.zenfolio.com/105vr