Just recently, I was able to test out the Venus Optics 105mm f/2 STF lens. After having it and using it here and there for a few months, I came to the conclusion that it would not be a bad addition to my photo bag. There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this lens considering I've never really had a prime telephoto lens before.
I'm not much of a portrait photographer myself, but having Venus Optics 105mm f/2 STF lens and shooting with people became a lot of fun and taught me more about portraiture. I have shot plenty of portraits in the past, back when I was in college and thought the only way you could make money with photography was if you got hired by a modeling agency to shoot models in a studio. So with that thought in mind, I began working with people and realized it wasn't as easy as it seemed. After a few college projects, I began to stray back towards landscapes and then to the aerials but I always tried to stay in touch with my creative side by shooting portraits. A year out of school and this lens in hand, I feel like it's time to get a lens like this just for portraits because I enjoyed it so much.
I speak of it as if it is only a portrait lens but I am sure there are many other uses for the lens, portraits are just something I used it for. Before anyone critiques my photos like crazy, I mainly shoot real estate and aerials so this portrait stuff is just for fun on the side. I found that this lens was really great for just that and out of the few people I shot, I think I was able to grab a few decent photos on the way. I would like to better my portrait skills and I think having a lens specifically for portraits would encourage me to do that more. Anyways, here is my review on the Venus Optics 105mm f/2 STF.
Model: John Stessel
Model: Jenny Rich
I have to say that the one thing I wasn't really expecting was for Venus Optics to blow me away with the quality of the image compared to other Nikon lenses. I expected their lens to be sharp, but not nearly as sharp as some of my other lenses with the Nikon name on them. After my first shoot, I was very impressed with the amount of detail I saw in my photos when they were completely in focus. Aside from image quality, the build quality also feels great; the lens has a super smooth focus ring and some good weight to it.
Depth of Field
This lens is supposed to be known for its bokeh and that statement is held true from what I shot. When I shoot portraits, I love to have a very shallow depth of field and this lens really allowed me to do that. You can see in some of the images in the article how nice the background looks.
It is hard to beat the f/2 when it comes to fixed lenses like this. I know that Nikon makes the 85mm f/1.8 and f/1.4, but that is a far shorter focal length than the 105mm. Nikon also makes a 105mm f/2.8 and f/1.4 but these are at a much higher price point. Having the option to shoot at f/2 was helpful in low-light situations and was great for the awesome bokeh the lens was able to produce. A lot of the time I was shooting at f/2.8–f/4 just to be sure that more was in focus when I was shooting portraits.
At $599 ($699 retail but B&H is currently offering $100 off instant savings), this lens will give you your money's worth. Most Nikon 105mm f/2 lenses will range from about $1,000 used and up to $2,200 new. The Nikon 85mm lenses will cost anywhere from $500–$1,600 depending on which one you buy. Last but not least, the Nikon 70-200mm will range from $1,000–$2,600 depending on which version you get.
I think that buying a lens is always a big investment and that if you are going to buy something better than what you already have, you should do it because it will benefit you and your work. That being said, all the lenses listed above are great, but it is a matter of preference and depends what you will be using the lens for. I can say for myself that because I am not much of a portrait photographer, but really enjoyed this lens specifically for that, I would get one just to start messing around a bit in that area to see what I can create.
Model: Zack McDermott
Model: Brittany Russo
My biggest problem with this lens was when I would upload all of my photos into Lightroom to review them, I couldn't see my aperture settings. When I go through my portraits, I like when everything is super sharp, so when I can't see what went wrong during the shoot and be able to identify what was off with the photo, it is hard to fix it the next time I shoot unless I can remember the settings I was shooting at.
I am not big on t-stops quite yet, but this lens does allow you to set that on top of your f-stop. There is a separate ring to set this which I did not really play around with. For some, this may be a really helpful feature, for others it may be unnecessary, but at this price point and the quality of images I was getting, the t-stops were not something that bothered me.
If you are looking for a light, easy to carry lens, this is not one for you. However, if you can handle the weight and you want to take some awesome portraits, this could be the lens for you. Weight wasn't much of an issue for me but I know that if you are carrying your camera around all day, it can become a hassle, but in all honesty I really like the way the lens feels.
Another negative for some, especially people who need to take the shot quick and make sure it is in focus. I am a big autofocus guy myself and can usually rely on my D750 to immediately grab focus and catch the picture. With this lens, one of the hardest things to get used to was the focusing on it, especially in darker situations. Once I was able to get the hang of it, I realized that this was part of the whole process shooting with this lens. Setting up the photos just right, assuring that the image is in focus, and then taking the photo. In a way, it reminded me of when I was learning to shoot with a film camera, only here I can still hit that playback button and make sure the picture was sharp. After a while using this lens on shoots where I wasn't rushed, I learned to actually enjoy the manual focus and saw it as a very rewarding challenge.
I am in love with this lens and even though I didn't get to use it in every possible scenario I wanted, I think overall I got some great photos with it. I can definitely see myself owning one of these in the near future as they are cheaper than most of the Nikon versions and really, really sharp. This lens was able to drive me to do more portrait work which is not something I do too much of anymore; It is great to fall in love with new pieces of gear that motivate you to shoot more. I have to give this lens the thumbs up if anyone is out there searching for a 105mm with manual focus.
The Venus Optics 105mm f/2 STF lens can be ordered now from B&H for $599 ($699 retail minus $100 instant savings).