This review is for the FX format NIKKOR AF-S 85mm f/1.4G - N - IF lens.
This lens features:
-G- Gelded - no external aperture ring. This is a plus if you are only using this lens on a new AF Nikon body. It is a MAJOR drawback if you wanted to use this lens on a manual-focus Nikon or if you wanted to use this lens for cinematography. I used to own an ARRI 35mm motion picture camera with a Nikon F-Mount. This lens would be useless on that camera - and this is a shame for the optics are so sharp.
-AF-S- Silent Wave Motor - AF-S NIKKOR lenses feature Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor, which represents a significant advance in AF lens technology.
-N- Nano Crystal Coat - An anti-reflective coating developed by Nikon that virtually eliminates internal lens element reflections across a wide range of wavelengths. This relatively new coating system is simply the best innovation in lens tech in the history of lenses (in my opinion). The coating works wonders in reducing flares, increasing sharpness, and if you are a big BOKEH fan, it greatly reduces COMA - (saggital coma flare). Coma is the hard or blocky artifacts found around light sources in images shot with large apertures. If you want soft bokeh with color that flows smoothly from light source to light source - any of the Nikon lenses with the -N- symbol on them are the ones you want in your arsenal.
-IF-Internal Focusing - a lens in which only the internal lens group shifts during focusing. These lenses will be designated with the abbreviation IF on the lens barrel. This is useful for the size of the lens is the size of the lens, unlike non IF lenses which depending on the focal length extend or contract. When using a DSLR for video this becomes a very important feature because if you are using rails and a matte box a non-IF lens is a nightmare to deal with.
Super Integrated Coating - Nikon Super Integrated Coating is Nikon's term for its multi-layer coating of the optical elements in NIKKOR lenses. This coating helps with color representation and reducing color aberrations.
-M/A- Manual/Auto Focus Mode - Select NIKKOR lenses have a focusing mode which allows switching from automatic to manual focusing with virtually no lag time by simply turning the focusing ring on the lens. You can turn the focus ring and turn it in AF mode to get instant manual focusing without damaging the motor drive/gears in the lens. This is a feature specific to AF-S lenses.
SPECS RUNDOWN -
The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G lens features a ∅77mm front-element/barrel - common among AF-S Nikkor Lenses. In the photo above the 85mm is in the center with a Nikon AF-S (non G, non N) 17-35mm f/2.8 to the left and a Nikon AF-S (non G, non N) 80-200 f/2.8 on the right. All three lenses have ∅77mm front elements/filter threads.
Retail Price - $1,699.00 US original list - $1,599.00 US current list
Manufacturing Location - Japan
Product Number - 2195
Included in the box -
LC-77 snap-on front element cap for ∅77 lens
LF-1 screw-on rear element cap
CL-118 soft case
HB-55 bayonet hood (plastic) or HN-31 screw-on hood (metal).
Elements - 10 elements in 9 groups
Diaphragm - f/1.4 to f/16 - 9 rounded blades
Focal Length -
85mm for 35mm - FX (full-frame) cameras.
When used on a DX Nikon (APS-C censor), it gives an angle of view similar to that of a 130mm lens a camera with a full-frame (FX) 35mm sensor.
Angle of View -
28.5° on FX and 35mm.
18.8° on DX (APS-C).
Close Focus - 2.6 feet (79cm)
Size - 3.4 inch diameter by 3.3 inch length - (86.5mm x 84mm)
Weight - 20.845 oz (591.1g)
Below - One of the key features of this lens which makes it perfectly suited for portrait work is the extremely large aperture with curved blades. The shape of these blades works to keep the aperture diaphragm circular at any f-stop. This is the key to producing pleasant bokeh (out of focus areas) in your images.
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS LENS -
It's small compared to many of the other Nikkor lenses I own. Only my 50mm f/1.4 is smaller and lighter. Because it is a newer design it's sleek, simple, and very comfortable on the camera. Because I shoot with full-size Nikon bodies - the lens feels balanced and perfectly suited for my cameras.
FOCUS - I have been a fan of the AF-S lenses since they were introduced. Practically silent (but not completely) and extremely fast - considerably faster than the previous AF-D lenses - they are professional grade tools that work hard to keep your subject in focus quickly.
A problem with ANY lens at a large aperture - f/2.8, f/2.0, f/1.8, f/1.4, f/1.2 - is the tendency for focus to drop off the farther you move away from the center of the image. The outside edges of many high-quality fast lenses can be a source of frustration if focus is critical across the entire image.
This is the first super fast lens (at f/1.4) that appears to hold focus throughout the entire frame throughout the entire range of apertures. And that is an amazing thing.
DISTORTION - COLOR - COMA - This lens has very little barrel distortion. It handles color rendition beautifully - something that Nikkor lenses are well-known for. You will be hard pressed to find 30 and 40 year old Nikkor lenses with hazed, ambered, or inconsistent color rendition. Lens coating and high-quality optics are Nikon trademarks. As I discussed above, the Nano-Coating technology used on this lens is designed to cut down on flares and coma aberrations. I have owned dozens of professional Nikon (Nikkor) lenses over the past 20 years and I own several of the best lenses they've ever made now - this lens simply blows them all away in regards to the image quality. It is also the FIRST Nano Nikon lens and Gelded Nikon lens I've purchased.
ABOVE - Zeph relaxes on top of his kitty condo. Shot with my Nikon D4s - 85mm f/1.4G - @ f/1.4 - ISO 1000 - 1/320 sec.
WHAT I DON'T LOVE ABOUT THIS LENS -G Lens - Gelded lens - Last time I checked - when you "geld" a horse you're cutting its testicles off. I've made no attempts to hide my distaste for lenses that do not have aperture rings. My degree is in cinematography and as I have mentioned before - there is no auto-focus or aperture adjustment controls on a motion picture camera. This means that as sharp and beautiful as the images from this lens are - if I wanted to use this lens for both cinematography and photography I'd be limited to whatever video capabilities my Nikon DSLR body offers.
I WISH Nikon would reconsider adding aperture rings back to their lenses. This lens WOULD be one I'd reach for consistently for film and video work if it only had an aperture ring.
Lens Hood - I've come to appreciate the functionality of Nikon's tulip shaped hoods and unfortunately the two hoods available for this lens are not tulip style. Another frustrating issue is that there are several tulip style hoods made for other ∅77mm Nikon lenses and because of very slight differences in the size of the shaft (the outside diameter of the lens) none fit. The hood for my 17-35mm is too narrow and won't fit and the hood for my 80-200mm lens is too large.
Body Materials - This lens has a plastic body. It's the ONLY plastic body Nikkor lens I own. And admittedly when you look at the 6lbs of my 300mm f/2.8 - the slightly less than 1.5lbs is rather nice. I am USED to heavy lenses at this point and the weight of a lens simply isn't a factor for me. I've got plenty of support equipment to manage if I am having an issue with weight. When you consider that my main go-to lens - the 80-200mm f/2.8 - weighs just slightly more than 3.5lbs - I'd be ok with this lens weighing another full pound to have it made out of metal.
That being said it is not cheap plastic. It's high-quality ABS plastic and the finishing and fit of everything is typical first-class. Nikon's cheapest lenses are a completely different grade of everything but this is one of their top-shelf lenses and as such it still feels like it can handle a lot of abuse.
ABOVE - My black Maine Coon, Fafoutis, chills on the bed with my tablet on the nightstand behind him. Shot with my Nikon D4s - 85mm f/1.4G - @ f/1.4 - ISO 1600 - 1/200 sec.
THE REVIEW -
I have been contemplating a dedicated auto-focus portrait lens for my arsenal for a while. I recently parted with my 35 year-old - and still venerable - Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AI-s manual lens. Many consider the 105 f/2.5 to be one of the finest portrait lenses ever made and I have shot countless portraits with it.
I have used a variety of lenses for portrait work truthfully. If given enough space to get far enough away from the subject I've used my 300mm f/2.8 and 80-200 f/2.8 the most regularly. If I am in a constricted space I reach for the 50mm f/1.4 - but this lens produces harsh bokeh and because of the aperture size and focal-length you have to be very careful with it regarding focus. If you are within a few feet of the subject focus depth is centimeters.
I decided to rent 4 lenses from my local camera rental house - Samy's camera in Santa Barbara - and give each a go to see which ones I really wanted to consider owning. All of these lenses retail for over $1,000 used and over $1,400 new.
BTW - this is an excellent option if you want to try a lens without having to fork out a small fortune to buy it. Renting and trying lenses out has saved me untold amounts of money in lens purchases for lenses I pretty much didn't like right out the box.
I tried -
Nikon 85mm f/1.4D - This lens has an aperture ring but does not have the Silent Wave Motor - which means focus is slower and more noisy - and it does not have the Nano Coated optics - which really is the most notable difference.
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G-N - The lens in this review that I did end up purchasing. Superior optics and simply the best results - hands down.
Nikon 105mm f/2.0 DC - This is a VERY interesting lens. The DC stands for De-focus Control. This lens basically has two aperture rings. One for setting the actual aperture and one for setting where the focus drop-off will occur - in front of or behind the image. Designed as a dedicated portrait lens which allows you to control the amount of bokeh in the image and control its placement - I found this lens to be very crisp but one that took some setup and playing with. If you didn't adjust your bokeh setting after moving the lens (say to change shooting positions) you'd end up with a soft image. I decided that this lens is best for studio work - on a tripod and a large viewing monitor so you can really hammer out the focus settings. It uses the older - noisy D focus engine and has a weirdly dysfunctional build-in hood. I really didn't like the hood. It'd have preferred no hood at all.
Nikon 135mm f/2.0 DC - This is exactly the same as the 105mm reviewed briefly above - just a longer focal length of 135mm. It did take nicer looking photos and suffered from the same clunky design, crappy attached hood, and sensitive focus setting.
I really wanted to love the DC lenses - and I get what they are about and why they were made. And with the right settings they produce stunningly beautiful photos. The issue with them is that for a photo-journalist style shooter like myself they are too moody and too sensitive for carry and click shooting. These truly are the first Nikon lenses I'd say are strictly studio lenses.
I could have gone with the current AF or AF-S Nikon 105 f/2.8 macro lenses - the auto-focus descendants of my manual focus 105mm f/2.5 - but I just didn't seem to feel excited about them. Been there done that really.
I was interested in the super fast 85mm 1.4 AF and AF-S lenses - although I have to say I almost passed over renting the AF-S 85mm f/1.4G-N model because I can't use it for cinematography on any other camera than a Nikon. That's a BIG DEAL to me.
In the end it was the beautifully clear and sharp - gorgeous images that lens produced that won me over. And now I'm glad I got it.
ABOVE - My sweet little Mackerel Tabby Aisa chills on the back of the sofa. Look at the bokeh in these photos. It's simply beautiful.
THE FINAL WORD -
I am loving this lens more everyday. It's going to be great for what it was purchased for - shooting portraits. I do wish it had an aperture ring - but that aside I think it's overall the best quality (as in output quality) Nikon lens I've ever shot with.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely. If you want to do portraits - of all the Nikon (Nikkor) professional lenses I've shot with - this is THE ONE.
ABOVE - My ghost cat - the one I know is there but if you visit my place you'll never see her. My beautiful Siamese Nona - she's the one that rules the house, BTW. Even my Bengal gives her a wide passage. She's the Queen.
Look at how smooth the drop-off is behind her. It's so soft and gradual. This lens is truly a work of optical art.