Nikon 85mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor
(From Nikon lens literature) High performance fast maximum aperture Nikkor telephoto lens. Internal focusing for fast AF operation. Rounded diaphragm makes out of focus elements appear more natural. Fast ƒ/1.4 aperture is helpful in shooting indoor sports or stage productions.
May 4, 2008
by Andrew Alexander
On the Nikon platform, the 85mm ƒ/1.4 has the well-earned reputation as the portrait lens, owing to its combination of focal length and wide maximum aperture size. 58-85mm is traditionally regarded as the ideal focal length for portraits, as it renders the perspective of the human eye very faithfully in the captured image. Nikon has produced lenses in the 85mm range for many years, and in 1995 produced an autofocus version of their already popular 85mm ƒ/1.4 manual focus lens.
We need to get a few caveats out of the way before embarking on our review of the 85mm ƒ/1.4. As it is a full-frame lens, we were eager to get results of the lens from both the sub-frame and full-frame Nikon platforms we use for testing: the D200 and the D3. Unfortunately, we didn't have a whole lot of time with the lens in the lab and our D3 was out of the office, which meant we had to get a little creative in how we got our full-frame results. In a show of goodwill and teamwork that made us all a little teary in the lab, we used a lens adapter to mount the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4 onto a Canon EOS-5D.
So while it's not textbook, the results are actually quite accurate. Those who are prone to doubting may wish to take the results with a grain of salt. Comparing the sub-frame results with the full-frame results though, I think you'll see that there are trends which are fairly consistent between the two.
Back to the lens, the 85mm ƒ/1.4 isn't a terribly complicated optic - 9 elements in 8 groups, with nine curved diaphragm blades making up the aperture. It takes 77mm filters, comes standard with a circular lens hood, and (at the time of writing) is available for around $1,000.
Even doing casual research into the performance of this lens, one is impressed upon with its legendary sharpness. However, in our testing, optimal performance for corner to corner sharpness is only achieved when the lens is stopped down to ƒ/5.6. Pronounced corner softness can be observed at ƒ/1.4 through ƒ/2.8 on our subframe D200, and in our full-frame testing, the effect is particularly significant even stopped down to ƒ/4. The maximum aperture of ƒ/1.4 undoubtedly required some concessions on the part of the designers, and given that the vast majority of people who purchase the lens use it for portrait work, the extra corner softness may actually work with the thin depth-of-field inherent in large-aperture shooting to enhance subject isolation.
On the D200 and set to ƒ/1.4, this sample of the 85mm produced a sharp image, but not as sharp as some of the newer Nikkor lenses we have reviewed. This can hardly be surprisingly; the design and technology used in this lens is over 13 years old. That said, it's still quite sharp, at just under 2 blur units in the central region and 3 in the corners. Stopping down to ƒ/2 renders a dramatic improvement, with an impressive sweet spot of sharpness in the central region. By ƒ/2.8 this sweet spot improves to fill almost the entire frame, and by ƒ/4 only traces of corner softness remain. Diffraction limiting sets in by ƒ/11, but the effect is minimal as the lens is stable at 1.5 blur units at both ƒ/11 and ƒ/16.
Mounted on the 5D, the extent of corner softness can be more readily examined: this is really a case where a subframe camera body takes advantage of the best parts of the lens elements. Set to both ƒ/1.4 and ƒ/2, there is a minor sweet spot of sharpness near the center of the image but softness is extremely pronounced towards the corners. Again, this can actually be quite useful in portrait photography, but if your needs require absolute sharpness with the lens used wide open, be aware of this trend. On the full-frame mount, absolute corner-to-corner sharpness isn't visible until ƒ/8 or even ƒ/11 (depending on how picky you are). In practical usage however, ƒ/4 produces extremely sharp images with a generous central sweet spot, and by ƒ/5.6 there are just small pockets of corner softness.
(It's worth taking a look at the sample images to see how sharpness manifests in these images, but keep in mind for the shots taken at ƒ/1.4 that the depth-of-field is so thin at this aperture that only the bottles in our still life are in relative focus.)
In summary, the 85mm ƒ/1.4 produces consistently sharp images when stopped down significantly; shot wide open, expect to see some corner softness, which may or may not work to enhance your image.
The 85mm ƒ/1.4 showed excellent resistance to chromatic aberration, with the worst results consistently less than 2/100ths of a percent of frame height across all apertures. On the full-frame 5D we registered 3/100ths of a percent of frame height in the worst case, but this is still extremely good performance.
On the subframe D200, the 85mm ƒ/1.4 presented very little corner shading - wide open at ƒ/1.4 the corners were a half-stop darker than the center, and by ƒ/2, corner shading was minimal (less than a quarter-stop). On a full-frame body however, corner shading is more of a factor. Falloff in the corners when shot wide open was over a full stop (you only need to look at our samples images shot on the Canon 5D to get a sense of the dramatic difference seen here). This corner shading gradually lightens in a linear fashion as you stop down - 3/4 of a stop at ƒ/2, 1/2-stop at ƒ/2.8, and a quarter-stop at ƒ/4. By ƒ/5.6 on full-frame, corner shading is negligible.
On the subframe D200, distortion is negligible. Distortion on a full-frame body is only slightly more evident - at 0.1% barrel distortion in the corners, one could categorize it as statistically insignificant.
This D-class Nikkor doesn't use Nikon's AF-S technology, using the mechanical screw of the camera body to focus. Focus speed is dependent on the torque available from the body, so it can slower than many of its newer lenses to autofocus. On our D200, it took about a second to rack through its focal range. Our research suggests that the torque speed of pro-level Nikon bodies is faster, meaning improved focus speed on those bodies.
The 85mm ƒ/1.4 isn't a good macro lens - it provides a relatively decent minimum close-focusing distance of 85cm (3 feet) but a low magnification ratio of only 0.11x.
Build Quality and Handling
The phrase ''built like a tank'' applies when discussing the 85mm ƒ/1.4. It feels like it's made of solid metal, and tips the scales at almost 20 ounces (~560 grams). On a D200 with battery grip attached, this makes for a solid and well-balanced package, but I found with just the D200 alone, the 85mm ƒ/1.4 made the camera feel slightly front-heavy.
The lens provides excellent fit and finish, with a metal lens mount and metal 77mm filter ring. The exterior of the lens is a deeply texturized metallic finish which is easy to hand-hold. A recessed and windowed distance scale is present, marked in feet and meters, and a depth-of-field scale is marked with an infrared index. The lens is old enough to sport an aperture ring. The lens uses 9 curved diaphragm blades to creature the aperture, which create very uniform results for bokeh.
The focus ring of the 85mm ƒ/1.4 is a one-inch-wide band sporting raised rectangular sections. A quarter-twist of the focus ring takes you through the entire focus range, limited by hard stops at either end. Manual focusing is selected with an older-style push-and-turn button system, which I actually didn't like very much at all: for detail work, I like to autofocus and then switch to manual focus so that I can ''lock-in'' my focus point. It's quite easy to nudge the focus ring as you switch it to manual focus with this system. Of course, the solution is to just use the manual focus selector on the camera body instead.
The lens hood isn't great, and is often singled out as one of the poorest aspects of the overall package. It's a screw-in design, which makes it awkward to attach, and cannot be reversed on the lens for ease of transportation. However, in keeping with the design aesthetic the lens hood is all-metal, which will offer outstanding protection for the front element. It will also be useful for controlling flare, which this lens is unfortunately prone to produce if you put the sun or a strong light source anywhere near the front element.
Nobody really makes a lens to match the application of this lens - 85mm, and as fast as ƒ/1.4 - but there are a few options that roughly approximate its usage.
Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8D AF Nikkor ~$380
Between the 85mm and 50mm lenses, the debate over whether the extra 2/3 of a stop is worth the premium price has probably been going on since before the advent of the internet. Unfortunately we can't support the argument either way based on test data, as we haven't yet tested the 85mm ƒ/1.8. However, the 85mm ƒ/1.4 offers more than just the extra speed: depth-of-field is remarkably thinner, and the build quality is much higher.
Sigma 70mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG Macro ~$380
The Sigma 70mm isn't as fast as the Nikon, nor as telephoto, but is perfectly suitable for portrait applications. Even wide open at ƒ/2.8, the lens is almost tack-sharp on both sub- and full-frame bodies. CA is well-controlled and neither distortion nor corner shading are problems.
Tamron 90mm ƒ/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 SP AF ~$380
The Tamron comparable isn't as fast as the 85mm, however it is tack-sharp by ƒ/4-ƒ/11 on either sub- or full-frame. CA is well-controlled and neither distortion nor corner shading are problems.
The 85mm ƒ/1.4D has been a class-leader for many years, and for many portrait photographers, ''the'' go-to lens. It doesn't take much to get outstanding images out of this lens, and if you want to shoot images with razor-thin depth-of-field, or in extremely low-light conditions, this is one of the few ƒ/1.4 options left. But as Nikon introduces technological innovations in its line of pro zoom lenses, die-hard prime lens shooters must be starting to get itchy for some innovation as well. In the final analysis this is the kind of lens that you already know if you're going to buy and just need the reassurance of a test review to help you part with your money. Sign the cheque or swipe the card - the lens is worth it.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Nikon 85mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor User Reviews
10 out of 10 points and recommended by pc998 (6 reviews)Excellent sharpness and built like a tankNo macro
Elegance lens design with metal outer and inner barrel. Everything was made in Japan including the hood. Very usuable at F1.4 with excellent sharpness at F2.8 and onward. I've skipped the so called 50mm standard lens coz I think 85mm is a better focal length for use with FX sensor as a general purpose walk-around standard kit lens. The lack of SWM and VR might be good if you want to use it for decades. There were incidents reporting that the SWM broke down in just a few years.reviewed May 27th, 2012
Among the other alternatives (85 1.4G, 85 1.8G and 85 1.8D), it has the highest score in terms of price/performance ratio. An excellent match with my D700.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by radityopradipto (5 reviews)sharp wide open, well controlled CAno Nikon SWM and still AF-D lens, corner not as sharp, weather sealing
After the release of the younger 85 1.4 AF-S, this lens is still one of Nikon's best lens ever. Soft on the corner, but why bother? Most of the time you'll use it wide open to isolate your subject.reviewed November 14th, 2010 (purchased for $1,050)
Missing SWM for quite focusing, this lens focuses faster than the 85 1.4 AF-S. Noise is still acceptable even though you might want to do manual focusing on events
Get this lens if you:
- are looking for wide open performance
- want the best creamiest bokeh possible on Nikon
- love heavy and robust build quality
Great for portrait and street shooting!
8 out of 10 points and not recommended by colinjames (8 reviews)Tank Murdock, bokeh, Sharp from 2.8+too soft, blooming, loca's
With all the excitement of new fast 85mm lenses coming out I decided to review some old shots I took with this lens on my D700 and D300. They make me glad I sold it. Looking forward to the Sigma or 85G when I get back in the country...reviewed November 10th, 2010 (purchased for $900)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by mark (2 reviews)High quality f/1.4 telephoto, sharpness, contrast and bokeh bokeh bokeh
This is an excellent lens on DX and FX. Whatever the criticisms about this lens, I find that my 'keeper' rate is higher for this lens than just about any other.reviewed February 10th, 2010 (purchased for $1,000)
Comment to SLR Gear- on a D700, a 2 year ago purchased (new) lens gave sharper performance wide open than you indicate. IMHO, you should take down the full frame test performed with this lens adapted to a 5D and retest the lens with a Nikon FX DSLR.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by mtravella (6 reviews)High quality opticM/A switch
It is not an AFS lens, other than that perfect.reviewed January 10th, 2010 (purchased for $1,200)
0 out of 10 points and recommended by RadiantLite (16 reviews)Built quality, bokeh, sharpnessSlow AF
Nikkor AF 85mm f/1.4D has been hailed as legendary lens for Nikon DSLR or film camera. I think it is because of its unique characteristic but also its age. This lens has been around for thirteen years.reviewed June 13th, 2009 (purchased for $1,050)
Image Quality and characteristic
Mounted in Nikon full frame camera D700, the lens is sharp at maximum aperture of f/1.4D, which is excellent. Stopped down to f/2.8, the lens become very sharp. But extreme sharpness is not what this lens is made for. It is primarily made for its ability in low light condition, and its ability to create a beautiful out of focus effect in background or foreground.
Because of those characteristic and its fixed focal length, this lens is ideal for portrait. It is also good for candid portraiture such as in wedding. For Nikon pro wedding shooters, this lens is one of must have lens.
Unfortunately, this lens suffers a bit from purple fringing in high contrast area (see sample pic below), it is also susceptible to flare, but not as bad as other lenses.
Auto Focus operation
Because Nikon 85mm f/1.4D does not have built-in motor focus like modern lenses (AF-S) lens, it relies on camera body to focus. It speed will also depend on the camera body. The more higher-end model such as Nikon D700, D3 or D3X will focus faster than the entry-level camera.
When mounted in Nikon D700, the lens focus very fast. Unfortunately entry level user such as Nikon D40, D40X and D60 only can use manual focus because the camera body doesn't have the capability to focus AF lenses. This lens also create some noise when focusing because lack of Silent Wave Motor.
In sport games such as basketball, the lens has difficulty in continuous tracking. It fails to lock on the object properly resulting in many blur image. I don't recommend it for sports.
Built quality of this lens is awesome, it is average in size and weight and very nice to handle. The focus ring is smooth. Closest focusing is 85cm, make it not very ideal for macro / close-up photography.
It will come with "metal" lens hood. Unfortunately the lens hood it screw in type and you can't reverse it for more compact storage. In spite of that, the lens hood is fully metal, so it is better than regular plastic type and a lot more durable.
Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D vso 85mm f/1.8D
Compare to f/1.8D version, This lens is 2.5 times more expensive, the cheaper lens is not as sharp as f/1.4D in its maximum aperture of f/1.8. At f/2.8, the sharpness is almost equal. The build quality is also a lot worse than the f/1.4D. But the 85mm f/1.8 is more compact and portable.
You might want to get this lens because of several reasons:
You frequently shoot at extremely low light condition which f/1.4D is often needed
You are concern about artistic, especially smooth background blur.
You might not want this lens if you are looking for the sharpest lens from edge to edge of the image. (The lens is designed to be sharp in the center "focus" and soft in the corner).
Don't buy this lens for indoor sports, it is better to get either f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens or lighting equipment.
Please check out http://www.radiantlite.com/2009/01/sigma-70-200mm-f28-ex-dg-macro-hsm-ii.html for sample photos and more reviews.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by bfischer (15 reviews)excellent performance at wide stops, small, light, smooth bokehlongitudinal CA, purple fringing, screw-in hood
Excellent wide open performance for a spherical design. Very good color and sharpness, slight veiling effect in bright light at f/1.4.reviewed May 7th, 2009 (purchased for $1,300)
Purple fringing can be troublesome at point light sources and wide stops (depends on focusing). Also longitudinal CA can compromise image quality in certain situations.
Really shines on FX. Highly recommended.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by italy74 (8 reviews)Fast focusing also in low lightNone
It's unbelievable how this lens is able to find light where there isn't and how precisely it focuses also in manual mode. Definitely a must where light is never enough.reviewed April 23rd, 2007 (purchased for $1,755)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by marokero (7 reviews)very nice bokeh, bright, sharp, contrasty, rugged constructionnot AF-S
I love this lens for all the reasons in my list of pros, as well as what people have already said. It's the lens I reach for when in low light environments, awesome for portraits, but equally as good for landscpe creativity. I bought this lens cheap from a friend who was switching to Canon - he now regrets that switch :p Anyway, the lens was like new, immaculate glass and AF operation, just a few scuffles on the outside. Being spoiled by all AF-S lenses in my kit, I wished this lens was also AF-S but the image quality makes me forget all that. Here are a few examples of the wonderful bokeh of this lens:reviewed December 15th, 2006 (purchased for $700)
Being a mechanical lens (not AF-S that is), the 85 f/1.4 depends on the built-in motor of the camera it's mounted to. I used to have problems with this lens on my D100, as the motor wasn't as fast and snappy as it is on the D2x or the D200. On an F5 body this lens is faster still! Nowadays I switch back and forth between this 85 and my 105 VR, but in low light locales, f/1.4 beats f/2.8 + VR :)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by anabasis (9 reviews)BOKEH, IQ, speedno AFS, screw on hood
This is the legendary Nikkor portrait lenses. The lens comes with a screw on hood, excellent metal construction and is a solid performer.reviewed December 10th, 2006 (purchased for $1,049)
Image quality at middle distances is fantastic. The BOKEH is to die for, especially wide open, and the 9-bladed iris helps when the lens is stopped down. I prefer to shoot this lens from wide open to perhaps f8 as diffraction at the smaller apertures degrades quality. I like the sharpness and contrast of the lens and it is a top rated performer and a good sports lens for indoor events where the wide aperture makes formerly impossible shots within reach.
The lens is of an older design however, and could certainly use several upgrades for better performace (while keeping the same image quality). For starters, the screw on hood is difficult to put on the lens, and I am not happy with how I can damage the lens by bumping it against something, as I am prone to doing. With a bayonet lens, the hood flies off and is easily retrievable, with a screw on hood, there is likelihood of thread damage.
The AF is also a bit dated. While the lens has internal focusing, the use of the “screwdriver” technology makes focus slower, which is a real issue in sports shooting. Also problematic is that there is a ring to select manual or auto focus, and you must switch the ring to engage the MF focusing ring. I would like to see this lens in an AFS form while retaining the IF feature. This would not only speed up focusing tremendously, but also allow for on the fly manual focus over-ride.
This lens is obviously a portrait lens, and gives top-shelf images when used properly. However the design needs some updating to make it truly spectacular, especially in indoor sports shooting.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by redgetanj (5 reviews)build quality, low-light capabilities, and the best bokeh one can achieveprice
This lens is highly regarded amongst Nikon users as one of the best portrait lenses ever made. Having 9 diaphragm blades helps it produce one of the best bokehs not only for this range. It produces wonderful color saturation and image quality even at f/1.4. By f/2, quality is excellent. Build quality is solid like old nikkor lenses. Focus ring is very smooth to operate and autofocus is fast as one would expect from a f/1. 4 prime lens.reviewed November 25th, 2006
I highly recommend this lens expecially if you shoot alot of photos of people.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by ultrafast (8 reviews)f/1.4, wonderful "bokeh", sharp, excellent color renditionexpensive and heavy, no AF-S
The PROs say it all. This is a lens with all the aspects of good construction one would expect from a pro nikkor. The images are simply stunning. The blurred out backgrounds (bokeh) at wide apertures are fantastic for drawing attention to the subject and making a nice smooth compliment. Amazingly, there is no incentive to stop this lens down, as it is tack sharp even at f/1.4 and by f/2.8 it is probably my sharpest lens.reviewed November 23rd, 2006 (purchased for $875)
Great for low light sports like basketball too, though only on a D2 series body, since the more powerful AF motor is necessary for a good focusing speed on the non AF-S lens.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by aurora (2 reviews)amazing build quality, ultra fast, ultra sharpfocus ring not as smooth as it could be
This lens is so rewarding to use that it is often hard to be convinced to use anything else in my bag. As another poster has noted, it is of such high calibre that clients consistently pick images from this lens over others taken with even the most modern zoom alternatives.reviewed November 22nd, 2005
Bright, fast, solid, exquisitely sharp, and contrasty all only begin to describe this lens' attributes. Images taken with it have a quality look and distinct signature that cannot be matched by any other lens I own. Users rave about the lens' bokeh, which is indeed excellent. It's blazingly fast maximum aperture of 1.4 provides a world of creative possibilities for everything from portraits to landscapes to sports to event work.
The only way this lens could be improved would be to add AFS, to promote quiet focusing as opposed to improving focus speed, and to utilize the more modern lens hood mounting system. The screw mount for the hood can be a pain when using filters, otherwise the hood stays on most of the time.
Many lenses come and go during a photographer's tenure. But this one will remain a lifetime investment once purchased.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by JAM (2 reviews)Fast, great bokeh, wonderful contrastNeeds silent wave motor for faster focusing
This is my workhorse portrait lens in the studio. One of Nikon's best lenses - I only wish they would update it with a silent wave focusing motor.reviewed November 16th, 2005 (purchased for $795)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by ljsegil (3 reviews)
Absolutley beautiful images when focused properly. When used wide open the DOF is so shallow that it is possible to focus on the subject's nose and be soft on they eyes. Therefore sometimes better handled with manual as opposed to autofocus. Sharpness is outstanding at any wide aperture. Everyone has heard raves about the bokeh, but it is absolutely true; the creamy backgrounds just make your portrait that much better. I have never tried to use the lens for purposes other than portraiture, but for this it is unsurpassed.reviewed October 24th, 2005
9 out of 10 points and recommended by chimpp (5 reviews)Sharpness, bokeh, ruggedness, fast apertureAF speed, screw-on hood, focal length a bit too long for 1.5-crop sensors.
Sharper than any other lens I own, including the 50mm 1.8D and the 70-200VR. My most detailed and sharpest images (where you can see the pores on the skin) were done wide open.reviewed October 21st, 2005 (purchased for $750)
If you don't know what bokeh is, try using this lens at f/1.4. A downside of using such a wide aperture with its inherent shallow depth-of-field is that you have to know exactly what you're focusing on or else you might get the hair or ears in focus and not the face, for example.
Very good feel to the rubber grip around the focus ring, too bad I can't manually focus this using the D70's tiny viewfinder.
The screw-on hood requires several rotations to be seated snugly, and it fits into the filter thread. You can't screw the hood on the lens in reverse for storage.
Autofocus is slow. Don't expect to use this for fast-action shots or quick candids. I used this in a dark wedding reception on one D70 and the second D70 had the 18-70 kit lens. The kit lens focused just fine but the autofocus kept hunting on the 85 f/1.4 and was nearly useless unless I switched to MF.
This lens is built for three-quarter portraits and headshots, where it really shines. Lens wide open, you can easily render a wall totally blurred half a meter behind the subject. Because of its telephoto nature, doing portraits of two or more people may require you to back up really, really far.
It's well worth the money I paid and I've since stopped using the imposing 70-200VR for portraits. It's also brought about a newfound interest in primes, especially for portraiture. My clients overwhelmingly choose pictures taken with this lens over those taken with other lenses during events.
Disclaimers: I haven't used this lens for sports and I've never used the 85mm f1.8D.