Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S Nikkor
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October 24, 2010
by Andrew Alexander
The Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4G AF-S was announced in August of 2010. The D version of the same version being a bit long in the tooth - it was released in 1995 - the lens has been viewed by many as being long overdue for an upgrade.
The lens features a large ƒ/1.4 aperture, and was designed to fit the 35mm film frame or FX imaging sensor. Mounted on a DX-sensor body, the lens produces an effective field of view of approximately 127mm. The lens features an AF-S motor, which enables it to be used on camera bodies which do not have a focusing motor.
The lens comes with a round hood, takes 77mm filters, and is available for approximately $1,700.
The Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4G produced some interesting results for sharpness when used wide open. Stopped down, it is capable of providing tack-sharp results.
When mounted on the sub-frame D300s, the 85mm ƒ/1.4G when used at its maximum aperture of ƒ/1.4 provided images with a slight bulge in the central portion of the frame. Specifically, the corners show just under 2 blur units, and the central section shows just over 2 blur units. We've seen this "sombrero effect" before, but it's not something we expected to see in a $1,700 lens. Mounted on the full-frame D3x, the effect is somewhat magnified, with the corners reaching three blur units.
Stopping down changes the nature of the images produced by the lens entirely. At ƒ/2 on the D300s, the sombrero effect disappears, and the image is just under two blur units across the frame; on the D3x, the corners are slightly softer, approaching three blur units. At ƒ/2.8 and smaller, the results between the D300s and the D3x become almost the same. At ƒ/2.8, the image hovers around 1.5 blur units; at ƒ/4 and smaller, the image produced is practically tack-sharp across the frame.
Diffraction limiting appears to set in at ƒ/8, but the impact on image sharpness is negligible - it's still just over one blur unit. Even fully stopped-down at ƒ/16, the lens produced images at just under two blur units across the frame.
In short, excellent performance when stopped down, but when used wide open (where one imagines this lens will spend a lot of time), softer and less even results than one would expect from a lens of this caliber.
We're not surprised to see excellent results for the lens in its tolerance to chromatic aberration - both the D300s and the D3x reduce CA automatically. However this feature is notable for removing chromatic aberration which results in areas of high contrast, typically in the corners of the frame - known as lateral chromatic aberration. The 85mm ƒ/1.4G suffers, as do most ''fast'' lenses, from problems with longitudinal chromatic aberration, where fringes of red and green are found near the plane of focus when the lens is used at wider apertures.
We've included two sample images in this review which highlight this issue:
The lens only adds a slight amount of vignetting when attached to the sub-frame D300s - just over 1/4 EV in the corners when set to ƒ/1.4. On the full-frame D3x, it's a bit more significant: the corners are almost 3/4 of a stop darker than the center at ƒ/1.4. Stopped down, it's less significant: at ƒ/2 the corners are less than a half-stop darker, and at ƒ/2.8, the corners are under a quarter-stop darker.
On the sub-frame D300s, distortion isn't really a factor; a trace amount of barrel distortion, in the corners. This is exaggerated a bit on the D3x, where we note just +0.2% barrel distortion (again, in the corners).
The 85mm ƒ/1.4G uses an AF-S designation and is relatively fast to autofocus, racking through its close-focus to infinity distance and back, in just over one second. However, it's worth noting that the implementation of the AF-S standard is not similar to that of Nikon's higher-end lenses. Where lenses such as the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 AF-S will snap to focus with blisteringly fast speed, the 85mm ƒ/1.4G AF-S is comparatively sluggish. The filter ring of the lens does not rotate while focusing, and the lens is also very quiet during focus operations; as well, full-time manual focusing is available, by just turning the focus ring at any time.
Magnification is just 0.12x, making the 85mm ƒ/1.4G a poor macro lens. Minimum close-focusing distance isn't that bad, at just 85 cm (just under three feet).
Build Quality and Handling
The lens is well-built, with a magnesium body, durable plastic components and a metal lens mount. A rubber gasket shrouds the lens mount, protecting the lens from dust and moisture. The lens barrel is composed of a black semi-roughed finish, and the rubber focus ring shows a ridged pattern that is easy to grip. The lens features nine rounded diaphragm blades to make up the aperture, said to produce pleasing out-of-focus results.
The lens bears a distance scale that is recessed and windowed, its markings set in feet and meters. A depth-of-field scale is also present with an indicator for ƒ/16 (however, no infrared index). A switch on the side of the lens allows the user to disable autofocus operations on the lens (marked as "M/A | M").
The focus ring is 3/4'' wide. The ring turns nicely; it is well-dampened, if just slightly stiffer than necessary. There will be no accidental adjustment to manual focus, though this is not to say that the ring is by any means difficult to turn. It just lacks the silky smoothness of higher-end lenses. There are no hard stops at either close-focus or infinity, though there is a slight increase in resistance to let you know you've reached a limit.
The lens ships with the HB-55 lens hood, a circular-style bayonet-mounted hood that adds 1 7/8 inches to the lens' overall length when mounted. The lens reverses for storage on the lens.
Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4D AF ~$1,100
The biggest comparison will be with the previous version of the lens. It's almost an apples-to-oranges comparison: the D version of the lens had a very different sharpness profile, almost tailor-made for portrait work at ƒ/1.4, where the central region of the frame was moderately sharp, and the corners were soft, perfect for subject isolation. The new version adopts a different profile at ƒ/1.4, where corner sharpness is indeed much improved, but there is the odd 'sombrero effect'. Vignetting is slightly improved, but otherwise, CA and distortion are about the same. The addition of the AF-S motor makes the lens usable on consumer bodies, and much easier to use (the older AF/MF button switch isn't loved by many) but the AF-S motor is much slower.
Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8D AF ~$400
If you don't need the extra 2/3 stop of speed, the ƒ/1.8D version of the lens is a viable alternative: it's more or less as sharp as the new 85mm ƒ/1.4G when set to ƒ/2, and frankly, it's got better edge-to-edge sharpness. All other characteristics - chromatic aberration, distortion, corner shading - are similar. The 85mm ƒ/1.8D doesn't have the AF-S motor; it doesn't even have an AF/MF switch.
Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 EX DG HSM ~$900
I'm pleased to say we just got this lens in the lab, and we'll have the test results shortly.
Carl Zeiss 85mm ƒ/1.4 Planar T* 1.4/85 ~$1,300
We haven't yet tested this lens (it's on our list, believe me) but if you can live without autofocus, then this lens is definitely a lens worth considering.
So this is a tough one.
There is a lot to like in the new Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4G. The addition of nano-crystal coating will help to contend with flare issues that were something of an issue with the previous 'D' version of the lens. The new AF-S motor makes focusing a snap: if you want to override autofocus results, just turn the focus ring. Much easier than the manual-auto focus switch on the 'D' version.
Edge-to-edge sharpness is radically improved in the G version of the 85mm ƒ/1.4, when compared to the D version. However, the $1,700-question: is this an improvement? The 85mm ƒ/1.4D was for many, the go-to portrait lens, and in part, this was because of the corner softness produced by the lens at ƒ/1.4. The new version of the lens removes this factor, and unfortunately, doesn't produce super-sharp results at ƒ/1.4 for the trouble. Rather, we see 2-3 blur units across the frame (on the D3x) with a slight 'sombrero' effect. Lastly, longitudinal chromatic aberration is (still) a factor when the lens is used at large apertures, producing red fringing in front of the focal plane, and green fringing behind it.
Don't get us wrong. When stopped down to ƒ/4, the 85mm ƒ/1.4G produces very sharp results. But this is a lens that people will be buying to shoot at ƒ/1.4, not ƒ/4. Otherwise, why not just buy the much less expensive 85mm ƒ/1.8D, which is also tack-sharp at ƒ/4?
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/1.4G AF-S Nikkor User Reviews
5 out of 10 points and recommended by slrgear_ronnie (1 reviews)NANA
I am looking for this lens...those links don't work anymore "jtorral "reviewed October 21st, 2015
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10 out of 10 points and recommended by avolmar (2 reviews)Superb Bokeh, Tack Sharp if AF hitVery narrow field of depth
As I am wedding photographer (visit my site: https://www.photoproject.ch) I am using this lens very often! Is it absolutely my favorite lens for couple photoshooting and also at ceremony in church.reviewed August 3rd, 2015 (purchased for $1,800)
Sometimes is it tricky to get sharp pictures, since a careful work is important because very narrow depth of field.
I like this lens very much!
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Airy (15 reviews)Exquisite IQ, good night performerSome LoCA wide open
Sharpness wide open is more than decent, but I'd typically stop down to f/2.2 for "dreamy" portraits because some DOF must be... but you'll always get sharp eyes.reviewed April 26th, 2015
Night shots are very clean (low flare or bleeding) ; there is only some coma in the corners, looking like flies (two distinct small wings, no smear).
In any case the bokeh is extremely smooth. Watch out for LoCA wide open (even though modern software can correct that). Be sure to check AF calibration ; it is easy to be off and that will be seen immediately.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by timtomgo (3 reviews)contrasty, razor sharp, very fast AF considering the kind of lensexpensive, not 1.2 :p
There is nothing bad to say about. If there is a weakness it could be its relative lack of sharpness at 1.4 in the center COMPARED to the sigma and the canon. This is mostly because of CA's, once removed in post processing you almost wouldn't see the difference honnestly. The green CA can require some more attention. But again none of other manufacturers managed to hold this level of sharpness all across the frame.reviewed April 5th, 2013 (purchased for $1,667)
AF speed and accuracy allows it to use it for everything, this is a HUGE plus for me compare to the canon (awfully slow, just renounced to use it)
The plastiky appearance is actually not that bad and is definitely not fragile.
its younger sibbling the 1.8G is however a super cool cheap lens. i recommand it especially for indoor/studio shooters. it doesn't handle flare (at all). i would go for it if there was some benefit in AF speed like the canon (there is none and maybe even a tad slower) and i wasn't an outside shooter where the 1.4G handles every kind of lights through the lens without loosing contrast or showing flare. this is much appreciated. the 1.4 aperture also allows some more low lights situation and artistic fantasies.
i tried the sigma which was impressive, if the focus accuracy was more reliable i would have keep it.
All in all, this nikon is almost perfect, but also instead the 1.8G, an investment, and will keep a high value in the time.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by CraigH (10 reviews)Very sharp, beautiful micro contrast, magnesium internal parts, external polycarbonate, Nano coatingWould prefer an aperture ring
This might be the highest quality optics for an 85mm lens available. It's as sharp as sharp gets wide open and edge to edge. If this sombrero effect is visible, it is not by these eyes nor any other reviewer. This optic is best of class and worth the price for someone who wants the very best.reviewed May 30th, 2012 (purchased for $1,700)
It has replaced my AF-D version to become my work-horse for location portraiture or any other purpose requiring this focal length. In the studio, it shares top spot with an old Nikkor 105 f/2.5 AI lens on a D700.
Forgetting sharpness for a moment, this lens also shines with a special quality that is hard to quantify or even truly qualify. I call it micro contrast. Some just call it high resolution image quality. Whatever it is, this glass has it in spades. You load of the RAW file and begin to work then realize so little is needed. The image is stunning as it sits. I look close at the color and luminosity transitions and am amazed that glass can get it so right.
As is usual, it's not the camera or the lens but the photographer that creates a compelling image. In the case of this Nikon 85 f/1.4 G, you've got something which really helps to contribute, making it easier if you do your part.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Steve Bingham (2 reviews)Resolution! Bokeh quality, Construction, lack of glare, quiet.No VR - but that might account for the superior non-glare!
I have owned and tested the Nikon 14-24, 24-70, 70-200, 105 VR macro, and f2.8 300. This 85mm f1.4 G might well be the highest resolving lens I have ever owned - at distances of 6' and longer. The 105 VR had superior resolution at NEAR distances but fell far short of the 85 f1.4G at longer distances. Doing a simple infinity resolution test the 85 f1.4G wins. The problem is that most testing sites rarely test at longer distances! Testing done with D7000. Prior tests done with D700 and D3s.reviewed September 3rd, 2011 (purchased for $1,800)
This lens is also incredibly glare free - another quality not often tested for!
In short, this lens sets a new standard for Nikon for medium to longer distances (6'-infinity)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by ZinhaEq (2 reviews)sharpness, lack of vignetting, distortion and chromatic aberrations, focus accuracylooks a bit plastic, a bit of LoCA (but nothing)
This lens is amazing. Never had any chance to own the D version, but it beats me why some people don't need corner sharpness that the G version gives. Is every single portrait photographer taking portraits wide open with the subject in center? Well, I don't and it is very critical for me to have enough sharpness in corners (which D can't deliver). Also, I must say that focusing is a thing that many complain about with this lens. It might not be an improvement over D in speed, but it is in accuracy. I must say I still don't get people who find focusing on this lens slow. Why they even go try a prime lens. They should go along with 70-200mm then. I guess this lens should offer a VR (not that I need it anyway) just to look something more in comparison to its predecessor. I would also add that if you don't need corner sharpness for portraits, just go and buy yourself the D version of this lens. Oh, and the G version is great for landscapes when stopped down. It even beats the new 70-200mm, which I also have pleasure to own along with this lens.reviewed July 19th, 2011 (purchased for $1,850)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by MGB (1 reviews)Accurate AF, excellent tracking, sharp wide open, nano goodness, bokehIt's not 1.2 ? ;-)
This is an excellent lens period. The changes are subtle compared to the D version, but add them up and it's a different lens. I sold the D version to buy this, so the purchase price was heavily subsidized by the old lens.reviewed January 5th, 2011 (purchased for $1,590)
I don't understand why others are comparing it to Canon's 1.2 (where at 1.4 it's technically stopped down a bit), or Nikon's 1.8D (that doesn't go to 1.4), or to Nikon's 70-200 II (that is meant for sprorts and sucks at less than 2.8), or to other brands that are similarly priced as this lens is but lack autofocus. This is a different lens than any of them and is used differently than any of them. And if you don't think the price is fair, then you don't really need this lens. The 1.8D will suit your needs just fine. Just saying.
The AF speed going from extremes isn't as fast as the D, BUT if your shooting style doesn't require this, then the AF will be plenty fast for you. I think with the new 1.4 G lenses, Nikon struck a better balance in AF speed and accuracy vs say the 70-200 II (not that the 70-200 isn't accurate, very much so, but there is a bit more room for focus error using 2.8 lenses vs 1.4 - at similar focal lengths).
The D is suited more for portrait work, where as the G is a better all rounder 1.4. The G is sharper at infinity at 1.4 than the D is.
The G renders the image warmer than the D. Which I find better since it matches the look of my other G lenses. Makes batch editing easier/faster.
The build is tank like. It's not the same as the D of course, but it's not an 18-55 either. It's heavy, for it's size. There is a lot of glass in there. It feels like the 24 1.4, maybe a tick lighter. No complaints. It's not the metal of old, but feels solid.
The difference is like the change from the 70-200 I to 70-200 II. Subtle in many places, and subtle in improved image quality. John and Jane Doe may not see the difference, but if you're reading this, you are the type that will see and feel the difference.
Lastly, it's quiet. Think AF during video. Even with external mic. The G is quiet.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by mrcontinental (7 reviews)A professional caliber updated prime lensPrice?
First review here and felt compelled to say something after reading the sites review. I only read the reviews AFTER I have shot with or purchased my lenses because sometimes the reviewers get way out of hand in their assessments.reviewed December 7th, 2010 (purchased for $1,595)
This lens is a joy to use, especially at f1.4. I have actually gotten wonderful street shots after dark even with the limited DOF at 85mm because the lens is that sharp. It is close to my 200mm f2 and 300mm f2.8 in sharpness but smaller and lighter and can be carried everywhere. I don't shoot brick walls or test charts so I can't comment on this particular segment of photography which is quite popular online so all I can say is that for regular work in low light and action it is brilliant. And where people got that idea that $1600 dollars should get you perfection I'll never know. Happy shooting.
5 out of 10 points and not recommended by 3systemuser (19 reviews)good AF , very sharp at f4 and up in the center, almost complete lack of CA.poor build quality for the price , soft until f2.8 , very soft at f1.4, never gets tack-sharp
it is a plain overpriced lens, it is just as good as the old 85f1.8D as Dave says here.reviewed November 15th, 2010 (purchased for $1,200)
only pros I found are : its fast and accurate AF and its good flare performance.
I returned this one and I decided to use my Zeiss 85f1.4ZF2 instead.
if it is not sharp below f2.8 , what is the point of having this super expensive prime or choosing it over the very very sharp almost flawless 70-200f2.8VR2?
for me it is an useless prime, prieod.
I compared this lens to my old canon 85f1.2Lmk2 and Minolta 85f1.4G and both of these 2 outperformed my Nikkor 85f1.4G.
I think this was the worst recently released Nikkor and maybe I would get the Sigma 85f1.4HSM as it becomes availabe in F mount soon.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by micahmedia (3 reviews)sharpexpensive
Reviews for this lens are all over the place. I demo-ed one of these and it didn't knock my socks off compared to my 1.8. It is absolutely sharper...but not $1500 sharper. And it's a substantial lens in terms of size. Weather sealing and AFS are welcome additions. But not for the money involved.reviewed November 2nd, 2010
A word of caution about some of the reviews going around: adapting rear focus lenses for use on other bodies will get varying results that don't always reflect the quality of the optic involved. Rear focus designs like this are designed in such a way that the static front groups have to be fairly precisely positioned in relation to the plane of the sensor/film. Third party adapters are a) suboptimal and b) not consistently sized. One can luck out and get a good one, but it's a crap shoot.
As far as comparisons to the 1.2 canon: all three Nikkors (1.8D,1.4D,1.4G) have much nicer bokeh at full body portrait lengths. It's not as extremely different as 50mm lenses, but it's noticeable. All of these lenses get a bit ringed at further subject distances. This newest 1.4G is no exception. It is, however, best in class.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by claus (5 reviews)Very sharp and contrastyExpensive, but there's no free lunch. Worth every cent.
This lens rocks. Period.reviewed October 28th, 2010 (purchased for $1,690)
Because I know that the reviewer is strongly Canon biased I suggest SLRGear to reconsider their staff for reviewing.
There is a high risk to lost their credibility.
[Editor: It has no bearing on our review comments, but for the record I actually happen to be a Nikon shooter, and am very happy with my equipment.]
8 out of 10 points and recommended by genotypewriter (12 reviews)general image qualitybuild, center sharpness, coma
85 1.4G compared against the 85 1.2L II, both on a Canon 5D Mk II:reviewed October 6th, 2010
* Far distance corner sharpness
* Far distance center sharpness
* Bokeh (general and highlights)
* Close distance center sharpness, rear and front bokeh
* Close distance corner sharpness, rear and front bokeh
* Relative illumination between the two lenses and vignetting, close-up and infinity
It's a very good lens but the build quality makes you wonder. A simple tap on the lens leave the entire plastic casing and the glass within vibrating. Quite similar to the 24 1.4G in that regard. It'll make great pictures but I wouldn't get one as a long term photographic investment.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by bobbibrown (4 reviews)sharp starting @1.4, very nice bokeh, contrast, color rendition, af-sLoCA
It is just a amazing piece of glass. Works perfect on my Nikon D3x and D3. Really high recommanded!!reviewed October 3rd, 2010 (purchased for $1,600)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by jtorral (9 reviews)afs, build, image quality, contratsG makes it unusable on older film cameras
I just received my 85 a week or so ago and have been happy as heck with it and the D3s.reviewed September 12th, 2010 (purchased for $1,699)
I have a growing collection of 85G images on NI. shoild you care to take a look, here are 3 different links to the 85 over there.
Link 1 is a quick view
Link 2 is a slide show like flickr
Link 3 is the gallery view where you can add and remove search filters.