Nikon 85mm f/1.8G AF-S Nikkor
Lab Test Results
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March 19, 2012
by Andrew Alexander
In January 2012, Nikon announced an update to their 85mm ƒ/1.8D AF in the form of the 85mm ƒ/1.8G AF-S. The lens features a new design, and upgrades the venerable AF-D focusing system to the newer AF-S system. The lens was designed to fit the 36mm x 24mm FX sensor frame, and can be used on DX-sensor-based camera bodies, providing an effective field of view of around 128mm.
The lens will be shipping in March, takes 67mm filters, and is priced at around $500.
The Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G AF-S provides excellently sharp images, though to achieve maximal sharpness you must stop down to at least ƒ/5.6. Wide-open performance is good, perhaps showing a little de-centering in the sample copy we reviewed, as the bottom of the frame was marginally sharper than the top. Images are very sharp even when used wide open, though as you might expect central performance is slightly better than the corners, so overall image sharpness appears better in the sub-frame D7000 than in the full-frame D3x, at least in apertures wider than ƒ/5.6. There are marginal improvements all the way to ƒ/5.6, where the lens is pretty much as sharp as sharp gets.
Diffraction limiting begins at ƒ/8, but you won't practically notice it until at least ƒ/11, if then. There is some loss of sharpness at ƒ/16, the lens' smallest aperture, but it's not hugely significant.
The test results for the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G AF-S with regard to chromatic aberration were very impressive - the lens is highly resistant, on both of our Nikon D7000 and D3x test bodies, across all apertures.
There is some marginal corner shading when the lens is used on the D7000 at ƒ/1.8. It's a bit more significant when the lens is used on the full-frame D3x: at ƒ/1.8, the extreme corners are almost 2/3 of a stop darker than the center. This is mitigated as the lens is stopped down: a half-stop darker at ƒ/2, and a quarter-stop darker at ƒ/2.8. At any other setting, corner shading is insignificant.
There's essentially no distortion to speak of when using the 85mm ƒ/1.8G AF-S on the D7000. On the full-frame D3x, there is a tiny touch of pincushion distortion in the corners, but not enough to get excited about.
The 85mm ƒ/1.8G 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/1.8G 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.
The 85mm ƒ/1.8G AF-S is not rated as a macro lens, and with a magnification ratio of just 0.12x we can see why. The lens has a minimum close-focusing distance of 80 cm (about two and a half feet).
Build Quality and Handling
The lens is well-built, with 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 seven 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, as well as an 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 1/2'' wide. The ring turns nicely; it is well-dampened, if just slightly stiffer than necessary. 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 will focus slightly past infinity.
The lens ships with the HB-62 lens hood, a circular-style bayonet-mounted hood that adds 1 1/2 inches to the lens' overall length when mounted. The lens reverses for storage on the lens.
Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8D AF ~$420
''Is the new 85mm ƒ/1.8 better than the old 85mm ƒ/1.8'' will be the biggest question here. The answer will depend on your needs. With its mechanical focusing method, the old 85mm focuses somewhat faster (though the focusing ring actually moves while it does so), but the argument to be made with the new lens is that the slower focusing speed reduces focus hunting. The weather sealing is a definite improvement, as well as a bayonet-mounted lens hood, and not a screw-in option. In terms of actual image performance, the older model was actually slightly sharper, providing peak sharpness results at ƒ/4 instead of ƒ/5.6; chromatic aberration was slightly better (on top of already great results), though the new lens has slightly less corner shading. Both lenses offered excellent, non-distorted images.
Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4G ~$1,700
Interestingly, image performance isn't remarkably better at the same apertures between the ƒ/1.8 and ƒ/1.4 versions of Nikon's new 85mm lenses (it's no worse, either). You're really just allowing the option of shooting at ƒ/1.4 or ƒ/1.6 when you spend the extra money on the ƒ/1.4G.
Carl Zeiss 85mm ƒ/1.4 Planar T* ~$1,000
If you can find one, and you can live without the modern convenience of autofocus, the Carl Zeiss 85mm ƒ/1.4 provides an all-metal, high-quality optic that provides more or less the same optical performance of the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8, but again, offers a slightly wider maximum aperture when you really need it.
Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 EX DG HSM ~$900
Slightly worse corner performance at the same apertures, but the Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 gets those elusive two-thirds of a stop for a lot less money; if you don't need ƒ/1.4 or ƒ/1.6 though, the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8 provides slightly better performance.
Nikon has produced an excellent update to the long-lived 85mm ƒ/1.8D: while autofocus performance isn't quite as fast in the 85mm ƒ/1.8G, the majority of photographers using this lens probably won't be using it in applications that demand superfast focusing, anyway. That said, unless you need the AF-S focusing or enhanced weather sealing, don't rule out the older AF-D version of the lens, as it provides slightly better results for sharpness and chromatic aberration, at a slightly lower price, too.
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/1.8G AF-S Nikkor
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Nikon 85mm f/1.8G AF-S Nikkor User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by NickTrop (5 reviews)Image quality and overall sharpness, wide-open sharpness, size, bokeh, weight, costBuild quality could be better
One of the sharpest prime lenses Nikon has ever produced. Sharp even at f1.8. Very nice bokeh as one would expect. This is a worthy successor to the venerable "D" version of this lens. A new classic 85 portrait lens in F mount. Reasonable price, especially compared to the 1.4 version, build-quality could be better but is adequate. Size and weight is also good, a definite advantage over shooting portraits with 1.4's, longer tele's, or zoom lenses -- you might actually toss this one in your bag rather than leave it home.reviewed June 8th, 2018 (purchased for $400)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by sjkip (25 reviews)Extremely sharp, lightweight, nicely priced.Not terribly sharp wide open; no VR
I rented this lens to see if I should buy one for use on my D610 in museums. I don't take portraits or indoor action, nor do I shoot mid-range landscapes unless I'm using a zoom like my 24-85 VR or 70-300 VR. But for the advertised uses, I can only agree with everyone else that it would be the one to buy.reviewed April 21st, 2015
For museums, however, it's not all that great. The 85mm focal length means I had to move way back from the subject, always watching for people behind me. The results were good, though not better than from my from 24-85. Uniformly, both lenses wide open gave similar resolution at 85mm.
After shooting 70 pairs of museum pictures, I ran comparison tests on my breakfast table. As I closed down the aperture, I obtained the sharpness everyone else talks about. But without VR, it wouldn't be practical to hand-hold shots with the D610 and this lens in low light, stopped down even to f/4 or so.
Of course, you can do it. But pushing even the D610 above about ISO 1600 is going to introduce noise. I prefer ISO 1000.
During my kitchen tests, I observed that my 50mm f/1.8D sharpens up at the same apertures that this one requires. Since the 50 fits conveniently in my pocket, and the 24-85 delivers excellent museum pictures at ISO 1000, I decided not to buy this lens, because I know I wouldn't use it much.
So while I highly recommend the lens for those who apply it to the purposes for which it was designed...portraits, indoor action and mid-range telephoto...it adds nothing to what most FX shooters probably already have in their bag...or should have.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Squizz (2 reviews)Jaw dropping colour and clarity, inexpensive.None
Sharpness is well covered by the technical review - in use this is not a lens you need to pixel peep to see if it's better. The pictures just hop off the page and tell you. How would I describe the effect in one word "clarity".reviewed February 1st, 2015 (purchased for $500)
"Clarity" is made up of sharpness, lack of CA, contrast, nice bokeh, all these at wide apertures allowing subject isolation without compromise.
Just a cracking little lens.
And it's cheap and light. Yes, if you run a truck over it, it will break - so what? Unless you are a pro or don't treat you gear well, it's made plenty well enough.
For what it's worth, DXO rate this as the best 85mm for Nikon (D810), bar none - marginally better even than the (expensive and heavy) 1.4. They also say it's the 4th best lens of any focal length for Nikon. (In both cases limited, of course, to the large number of lenses they have tested). I've not used the ones they compared it, but my experience has nothing to contradict their view.
Used on a D7100.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by rrwilliams64 (9 reviews)Image quality, bokeh, tack sharpnon
95% of the Nikon f/1.4G at less than half the cost. This is THE lens i reach for when doing portraits. It's sharp wide open, doesn't need stopping down. I also owned the 85 1.8D and I believe Nikon's new coatings ("SIC", Super Integrated Coating) renders colors even better than on the previous iteration.. My favorite lens...reviewed March 5th, 2014 (purchased for $396)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Tord (27 reviews)Sharpness, price, and low weightA bit too plastic, maybe
I have just a few lenses for my D600, and this is just the best of them all, no doubt about it. I love the 28/1.8G, and the 50/1.4G, but the 85 get more use than the others together!reviewed April 3rd, 2013 (purchased for $600)
Superbly sharp, from full open, and just the right weight for use on the D600.
Amazing piece of optics, if one consider its price! The 85/1.4G is maybe slightly better at f1.8, but costs many times more.
An aperture ring had been nice, but for its price it has no competition, period!
10 out of 10 points and recommended by bobbibrown (4 reviews)IQ, weight,pricenone
For this price it is a non-brainer. Sharp, even wide open and in the extreme corners. Focus is not super-fast, but it is really fast enough. D800? No problems with this lens. I own the 85/1.4G as well, and this lens feels like a 85/1.4G light. Great lens!reviewed June 28th, 2012 (purchased for $500)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Prime Minister (43 reviews)Sharpness, contrast, bokeh, price, silentNone
I've always been a huge fan of the older AF-D model, but it was only really usable from f/2.8. What a nice surprise this new AF-S version is! More then adequate sharpness and contrast n the center of the frame at f/1.8 and at smaller apertures it only gets better.reviewed June 28th, 2012 (purchased for $500)
Sharpness, contrast and bokeh are wonderful, almost no CA, the autofocus is reasonably fast and I found it to be very accurate too. Vignetting is kept well under control. I found no problems with under or over exposure.
The build quality is very modern; big-size, lots of plastic, whimsy AF-S motors and no aperture ring. I wonder how long it will last. It does have an ass gasket to prevent dust and moisture getting into the camera and lens. The rear element does not move, nice detail.
Personally, after trying this lens, I wouldn't bother with the f/1.4 offerings from Sigma or Nikon or the older AF-D versions. This lens is as good and often even better and costs less. Just buy one if you need a prime in this range. You won't regret it.
Update: There is of course the relatively unknown Sigma 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro lens. And it is sharp!
9 out of 10 points and recommended by chemprofguy (2 reviews)very sharp, lightweight, great bokeh, internal focusinglack of VR
I am using this lens on a D7000. This is a very sharp lens - even wide open. Very easy to carry and use. I love the ability to isolate subjects with this focal length and background blur. Focuses well in low light. Overall, one of Nikon's best lenses in this price range. My lens hood is solidly made - and needed when you are shooting towards the sun.reviewed June 15th, 2012 (purchased for $500)
Shooting outside, images seem overexposed and I often need to adjust exposure compensation down a stop or two.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Yucel (15 reviews)Size, Price, Sharpness, SpeedFilter Size, Could focus faster...
Love the lens... Great sharpness and contrast...reviewed April 4th, 2012
See sample Hollywood style portrait here:
1/2 the price of the 1.4G, 25% more than the 1.8D.
Not the tank the 1.4D is, but half the price, sharper. Lighter. Focus is about same speed, but a touch more accurate, important at wide apertures. A keeper.
Takes 67mm filters... odd ball size... so not same as the pro 77mm standard size.
Still, hard not to love it.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by NeoCon (4 reviews)sharpness at wider aperaturesautofocus could be better
I have recently found that I needed a fast tele lens. Was cropping too much using my 50mm. THis lens gave me a 70% magnification. What I did not expect was the image quality at wider aperatures. It is something to behold. Glad I decided to get this model, rather than the older D version.reviewed March 28th, 2012 (purchased for $499)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by hekob (6 reviews)sharpness and contrast wide open, manual focus ring feelflimsy lens hood
I recently received this lens having pre-ordered in January. I am amazed at the sharpness and contrast wide open. Having shot the D version, this lens is a solid step up, besting the D from 1.8-2.8. Focus speed and construction are comparable to the 50mm 1.8 G lens. For portrait shots, I find F2.8 to be optimum because of the thin depth of field at f1.8. The lens has no trouble tracking sports action. In bright daylight I must set exposure compensation to -1.0 on my D5100. Color saturation is incredible considering the absence of ED glass. Nikon should be ashamed at the cheap construction of the lens hood however. It looks as if it would never survive a modest knock, and mine arrived from the factory with what appeared to be an oily discoloration on the inside of the hood surface. Ah, China!!! Given the available options, this is a lens that performs higher than it's price tag. It's a must have in this focal length.reviewed March 1st, 2012 (purchased for $500)