I’m a big fan of fast primes. A 50mm ƒ/1.4 and a 24mm ƒ/1.4 are probably the lenses that have spent the most time on my camera over the years. A 105mm ƒ/2.8 is also right up there, but that’s mainly for macro work.
The lens I’m focusing on here is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm ƒ/1.4G. It’s a short telephoto prime designed for Nikon’s FX full-frame F-mount DSLRs. (It will work fine on DX cameras that are compatible with G lenses). And it’s not to be confused with the 85mm ƒ/1.8G, which is sold at a significantly lower price.
It’s a surprisingly compact lens. So while it’s probably more popular with portrait and wedding photographers, it’s also quite viable as a lens to include in a travel photography kit. And that’s the approach I’ve been using it with.
And for that, there’s a lot of overlap in terms of the types of things that appeal to portrait and wedding photographers. The combination of the fast maximum aperture and slightly longer focal length means that there’s an even shallower depth of field than on a 50mm ƒ/1.4, meaning you can pick out specific focus points even more dramatically. And that same fast maximum aperture makes it a great lens for low-light situations.
So here’s my take on this lens, along with a few sample photos I’ve taken with it.
Build & Handling
It’s a suprisingly compact lens but solidly built, as you’d expect from Nikon’s pro-level lenses. Being a G lens, there’s no aperture ring on the lens itself; all the aperture controls are handled through the camera.
There’s a manual focus ring. And the only other control on the lens itself is the usual M/A / A switch for designating manual or automatic focus.
Most of the time I’m shooting with this lens, I’m shooting with it wide open or close to it. After all, I want to take advantage of the large maximum aperture goodness, whether it’s for the shallow depth of field or the low-light gains.
Like many large-aperture lenses, it’s pretty soft when used wide open. At f/1.4 you can end up with quite a ghostly look at subjects at infinity, like this (click on the image for a larger version):
You can see a marked improvement in sharpness by around f/2.8. The before image was at f/1.4, while the after one was at f/2.8.
I found it much improved when the subject was closer to the camera.
At that size it’s not easy to see the issue, so here’s a crop from those center of those same photos. Again, the before is f/1.4 and the after f/2.8.
The extra contrast you see in the second image is natural from the lens, not the result of any post-processing.
There is the usual vignetting at the larger apertures. It’s mostly gone by about f/3.5. In this example, the before is at f/1.4 and the after is f/3.5.
You can get some pretty strong chromatic aberration along high contrast edges when it’s wide open. Using this same shot as an example (shot at f/1.4):
Here’s a crop from the middle of the frame:
As you can see, there’s some pretty strong purple fringing along the columns. In other shots I also got green fringing. And that’s from the center of the frame, not the edges, where chromatic aberration is more common. It’s easy enough to remove in post-processing using something like Lightroom or DxO, but it’s definitely there and needs to be addressed at some point in the workflow.
I didn’t run into any unusual amounts of lens flare. If you try to get some you can, like the shot below, but in general shooting scenarios it’s not really a problem.
I’ve posted a larger selection of sample images separately. But here are a few to give a sense of the results.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G Lens Specs
- Focal Length 85mm
- Comparable 35mm Equivalent on DX Format Focal Length: 127.5 mm
- Aperture Maximum: f/1.4
- Minimum: f/16
- Camera Mount Type Nikon F
- Format Compatibility Nikon FX/35mm Film
- Nikon DX
- Angle of View 28° 30′
- DX Picture Angle: 18° 50′
- Minimum Focus Distance 3.0′ (91.44 cm)
- Magnification 0.12x
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:8
- Elements/Groups 10/9
- Diaphragm Blades 9
- Image Stabilization No
- Autofocus Yes
- Tripod Collar No
- Filter Thread Front:77 mm
- Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.4 x 3.3″ (8.64 x 8.38 cm)
- Weight 20.99 oz (595 g)
- Packaging Info
- Package Weight 2.05 lb
- Box Dimensions (LxWxH) 8.4 x 5.0 x 5.0
Nikon has a number of other lenses around the 85mm focal length, including:
- Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G. This retails for around a third of the price of the ƒ/1.4 (and you can get some even lower prices used). It’s a good lens, but it there is quite a difference in terms of build and performance between the two. But if you’re baulking at the price of the 1.4 and are willing to compromise a little, the ƒ/1.8 is well work a look.
- Nikon AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm ƒ/3.5G ED VR. This is designed for Nikon DX bodies. It also has macro and built-in vibration reduction. And, of course, it’s quite a bit slower.
- Nikon Z 85mm ƒ/1.8 S. If you’re shooting on a Nikon mirrorless camera, there’s now a native Z 85mm lens. It’s a little slower than the ƒ/1.8, but it features excellent optics and is priced very competitively. (You can also use the AF-S version on a Z body with the FTZ adapter).
With a fast maximum aperture combined with a short telephoto, the Nikon AF-S 85mm ƒ/1.4G offers wonderful opportunities for isolating a subject from its background and shooting in low light.
It’s not perfect–there’s some pretty heavy chromatic aberration wide open, for example. And it can be quite soft at the largest apertures.
But, to my mind, it’s virtues far outweigh any negatives, and, as with all my lens choices, I try to play to its strengths in isolating details from the background (or foreground) and in low-light. For broader shots where sharpness is a primary concern, I’m more likely to reach for a different lens.
Price & Availability of the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G Lens
Nikon has set the MSRP of this lens at $1599, but it has been out for a while now, and you can often find it for significantly less than that, both new and used.
This lens has been out for quite some time now–since 2010–so they’re pretty easy to find on the used market. Some good places to look include:
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