Nikon Nikkor Z MC 50mm F/2.8 Macro / Standard Lens Review

Nikon Nikkor Z MC 50mm F/2.8 Macro / Standard Lens Review

2000 1125 James Tocchio

The Nikon Nikkor Z MC 50mm F/2.8 is that rarest of things: a real value. It’s both a natural standard lens and a powerful macro lens with a true 1:1 reproduction ratio, and for Nikon Z series digital photographers who shoot film, too, it’s an indispensable tool for digitizing film when paired with Nikon’s ES-2 film digitizing adapter. It’s also affordable, small, lightweight, and weather-sealed.

Compared to Nikon’s only other Z series macro lens, the Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S which I reviewed earlier this year, this 50mm Macro is a real bargain. But it’s also a compromise. Thus, we are left to ponder. To buy, or not to buy? That is the question.

Unlike Hamlet, I won’t soliloquize. Let’s get to the review.

Specification of the Nikon Nikkor Z MC 50mm F/2.8

Build Quality, Ergonomics, Functions

Mounted to my Nikon Z5, the Nikon Nikkor Z MC 50mm F/2.8 feels balanced and easy to handle. There’s a super-sized focusing ring for manual focus, and two switches on the side of the barrel. The topmost switch toggles between Auto and Manual focus modes, and the bottom switch is a focus range limiter which allows the lens to focus either throughout its entire focus range or in close-focusing distances only (a useful mode when we’re shooting exclusively macro for any length of time).

The large focusing ring activates the focus-by-wire electronic manual focus when the focus switch is toggled to Manual mode. This is natural, but there’s also an additional bonus. When we have the lens set to Auto focus we can set the manual focus ring to control other camera parameters, such as exposure compensation or ISO, which is a nice touch.

The Z MC 50mm F/2.8 is not a part of Nikon’s high-end S series lens lineup for their Z series cameras. This means that it lacks some of the niceties which make the S series lenses so, well, nice. It’s made mostly out of plastic, not metal, and it doesn’t contain the special ARNEO and Nano coatings found on some of the lens elements of the S series lenses. Nor does it pack vibration reduction and internal focusing, nor such luxuries as OLED info displays and special function buttons.

But these omissions also bring benefit. A more restrained optical assembly, external focusing, and compromises in the areas of pure performance mean that the 50mm Nikkor is smaller and lighter than most of Nikon’s lens lineup. This lightness lends itself well to a lens which is supposed to fill the role of both a specialized macro lens and a standard everyday lens. The Z MC 50mm ostensibly replaces two lenses in our camera kit with one. If we substitute the Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm F/1.8 S and the Nikon Nikkor Z MC 105mm F/2.8 VR S for the Z MC 50mm, we’re saving 27.8 ounces (1.73 lbs) in weight and approximately $880.

Image Quality and Performance

Savings in weight and money don’t mean much if we’re left with a poor lens that makes sub-par images. While the Nikon Nikkor Z MC 50mm F/2.8 doesn’t make images as nice as those made by some dedicated 50mm lenses nor Nikon’s macro 105mm, it more than holds its own.

Shot wide open at normal focusing distance, the lens is extremely sharp in the center of the frame. While there’s softness at the edges, this actually creates a pleasing effect in portraiture and everyday shooting. There’s also significant vignetting at maximum aperture, but both of these issues resolve significantly with the lens stopped down to f/4, and by f/5.6 the lens is uniformly sharp and bright at the edges. Peak sharpness is achieved at f/8, after which diffraction begins to creep.

Black peppercorns at 1:1.

Chromatic aberration is non-existent, distortion is so low as to be a non-issue (and it’s correctable in Lightroom), flares and ghosts don’t really occur, and images, generally speaking, are gorgeous.

When focusing close at 1:1 reproduction ratios, to make true macro photos, the lens’ aperture actually decreases to a maximum of f/5.6. This phenomenon has been typical of macro lenses through the decades. As we focus closer and closer, the aperture must close smaller and smaller. The only appreciable impact that this has on our image-making is that we must ensure we have ample light when shooting macro. This is far easier today than it was a decade ago, or certainly in the days of film, since digital sensors have become so sensitive in recent years. But it can still be an issue when we’re shooting low-light macro or photographing a moving subject.

When making true 1:1 macro photos, our working distance is about two inches. This means that the point of focus will be just two inches in front of the front element of the camera lens. Thus, it may be tricky to take photos of skittish flying insects or hairy spiders, but this is a trade we must make to have a standard 50mm walk-around lens contained within our dedicated macro. It should also be noted that we can achieve further working distances by decreasing the reproduction ratio (the ratios and their working distances are helpfully engraved on the extending macro lens barrel).

Where the lens most obviously stumbles is in auto-focusing at close working distances. While the lens snaps to focus very quickly and almost silently when shooting at normal, standard working distances (ie. taking photos of people, landscapes, snapshots, etc.), it does have a tendency to slide and hunt when shooting extreme close ups.

But we do have options. First, we can switch the lens to close focus mode via the toggle on the lens barrel. Flicking this switch from FULL to close focus mode will tell the lens to only attempt to achieve focus on close-up subjects (from 0.3 to 0.16m distant). Second, we can switch the lens to manual focus mode, set our distance manually via the focus ring, and hover the camera closer to or further from our subject in order to achieve focus. These two built-in solutions are instantly accessible via physical switches, which beats fumbling through menus, and the use of either or both mitigated any poor AF performance that I encountered throughout my time with the lens.

Compared to the Nikon Nikkor Z MC 105mm F/2.8 VR S

I’ve already touched upon the many ways that the Nikkor Z MC 50mm F/2.8 is different from the 105mm. Briefly, I’ll repeat.

The first and most obvious difference is that the 50mm lens is a 50mm lens. That means it’s smaller than the 105mm, shoots more “normal” photos, and will probably be more useful to everyday and casual photographers. It would be possible, and indeed possibly preferable for many people, to buy and mount the Z MC 50mm and use it as an all-around lens that can also take true 1:1 macro photos. People have been doing this since the original Nikon F and the pre-AI Nikon 50mm Micro Nikkor.

The Z MC 50mm is smaller and lighter than the 105mm by a wide margin.

It costs about $400 less than the 105mm.

The macro photos it makes will be just as good for the vast majority of non-professional photo nerds.

The Z 50mm MC is not part of Nikon’s S lens series. Thus, the 50mm’s optical formula, coatings, and build are of a supposedly lower standard. Will the lack of Nano Crystals and ARNEO coatings be missed if we choose to buy the 50mm? Probably not. But maybe so. It depends on the pixel peeping habits of the user.

The Z 50mm MC’s focusing is external, which could allow dust and contaminants to enter the 50mm lens over time.

Finally, the 50mm lacks the OLED display screen of the 105mm.

Still, it’s hard not to choose the Z 50mm MC when we see what it can do and how much it costs compared to the 105mm. With those savings, we could buy the amazing ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter, which fits to the front of the Z 50mm MC and allows us to digitally “scan” 35mm film negatives and mounted slide. For me, a film shooter, that’s a very attractive product, and one that cannot be used with the larger Z 105mm MC.

There exist a number of alternative, non-Nikon, macro lenses for Nikon’s Z Mount system from in numerous focal lengths from Venus Optics, Voigtlander, and TTArtisan, to name a few. These lenses, however, are all manual focus lenses. For this reason, I hesitate to dive too deeply in comparing these to Nikon’s AF lenses since the core functionality differences are so great.

Final Thoughts

The Nikon Nikkor Z MC 50mm F/2.8 is essentially two great lenses in one. It works beautifully as a standard 50mm lens and again as a dedicated 1:1 true macro lens. Additionally, it’s the smallest and lightest 50mm lens in the Z Series system. For users who are looking to minimize their weight and cost, it’s a wonderful prime lens to add to the collection.

However it’s also a compromise, and users who value pure performance over all else will likely find themselves wishing they’d spent the extra money on a dedicated 50mm and the 105mm macro from Nikon’s S line.

I think of the Nikon Nikkor Z MC 50mm F/2.8 as the perfect starting point in a photographer’s macro journey. It’s a lens that will pleasantly surprise its owner with years and years of amazing photos, both standard photos and macro photos. To be fair, it may be the only macro lens a person ever needs.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Richard Lioman July 5, 2023 at 7:37 am

    Great review, James, and thank you for assisting me in my journey to find the best solution as I enter the exciting world of Macro photography. I’ve been using my IPhone 14 for some amazing macro photos. I have a Nikkor 105mm 2.8 AF for a d5600 however the weight is becoming a hassle for my arthritis. Recently purchased a Z5 with a 50mm 1.8 z lens. Perhaps I’ll try the macro lens and sell the other. Thank you again. Rick

    • Hi Rick, thanks for reading! Another option to consider is to buy the F to Z adapter and use your existing macro lens on the new camera. That won’t solve the weight problem, of course, but it’s worth considering. Let me know how you get on!

  • Merlin Marquardt July 5, 2023 at 3:32 pm

    All wonderful.

  • I have this lens. When I was in the Sony DSLR system years ago, I had a Minolta 50mm 2.8 macro and really liked that for all the reasons you mention above. The Canon older version wasn’t nearly as compelling when I tried it out. I was so glad to see this Nikon lens existed when I got a Z5 body. For me, it’s just a super versatile walk around lens, and great for close up shooting of still life. It’s versatile for indoors shooting as well in lower light and smaller spaces, including people shots. I’ve considered whether a 40/f2 might offer something more in terms of being a little wider and faster, and of course price. But I think the 50 f2.8 macro wins as a long term investment.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio