The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G lens was kindly provided by B&H – the largest photo reseller in the world that I use more than any other to buy my photography gear.
The highly anticipated Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S is a professional-grade lens that is specifically designed for portrait, studio and wedding photographers that need an ultra-fast, high quality lens with a large aperture of f/1.4 for low-light situations and shallow depth of field to isolate subjects from the background, without compromising image quality and sharpness. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is built to work extremely well on both FX and DX sensors, yielding very sharp results in the center frame, as shown in the following pages of this review. Nikon has incorporated the latest technology and optical formulas to this lens, including AF-S silent-wave focus motor and Nano crystal coating. Just like most Nikon professional lenses, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G has a 77mm filter thread and is also sealed against dust and tough weather conditions for outdoors field use.
In this review, I will be focusing my efforts in showing center and corner sharpness of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G lens under different conditions, both indoors and outdoors. In addition, I will do my best to provide a thorough analysis of this lens, along with image samples and comparisons against other Nikon portrait lenses such as Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G and the older Nikon 85mm f/1.4D.
1) Lens Specifications
- High performance FX-format f/1.4 medium-telephoto lens is perfect for portraits, low-light applications offering beautiful Bokeh (background blur) and outstanding picture quality.
- Use of Nano Crystal Coat further reduces ghosting and interior flare across a wide range of wavelengths for even greater image clarity.
- Internal Focus (IF) provides fast and quiet autofocus without changing the length of the lens, retaining working distance throughout the focus range.
- Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) enhances light transmission efficiency and offers superior color consistency and reduced flare.
- Optimized for edge to edge sharpness on both FX and DX-format.
- M/A Focus Mode Switch Enables quick changes between manual and autofocus operation.
- Exclusive Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) enables fast, accurate and quiet autofocus.
- Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm renders more natural Bokeh (background blur)
- Focal length: 85mm
- Maximum aperture: f/1.4
- Minimum aperture: f/16
- Lens construction: 10 elements in 9 groups (with Nano Crystal Coat)
- Angle of view: 28°30’ (18°50’ with Nikon DX format)
- Minimum focus distance: 0.85 m/2.79 ft.
- Maximum reproduction ratio: 0.12x
- No. of diaphragm blades: 9 (rounded)
- Filter-attachment size: 77mm
- Diameter x length (extension from lens mount): Approximately 86.5 x 84 mm/3.4 x 3.3 in.
- Weight: Approximately 595 g/21.0 oz.
- Supplied accessories: 7mm Snap-on Front Lens Cap LC-77, Rear Lens Cap LF-1, Bayonet Hood HB-55, Flexible Lens Pouch CL-1118
2) Lens handling
Just like all Nikon professional lenses, the new Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens is built to last a lifetime with its rugged exterior and metal internals. It is designed to withstand tough weather and is well-protected on the outside against dust and moisture. The lens performed flawlessly under various weather conditions and I even used it in light rain at a high altitude and I did not see any moisture form between optical elements. It has a total of 10 optical elements in 9 groups within the lens and weighs a total of 595 grams, making it very easy to carry and handle. As can be seen below, the lens is both wider and taller than the old Nikon 85mm f/1.4D. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G feels very solid in hands and the focus ring is conveniently located in the front of the barrel, making it easy to manually focus with a thumb and index finger while shooting images or video. Another huge step over the AF-D version is the fact that you can now simply rotate the focus ring while the lens is set in M/A focus mode to manually override autofocus, whereas you had to move the ring to “M” position before you could touch the focus ring on the 85mm f/1.4D. Thanks to Rear Focus, the lens barrel does not rotate or extend, making it an ideal candidate to be used with various filters. The lens comes with the “HB-55″ lens hood, which was specifically engineered for the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G.
Check out the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 85mm f/1.4D page to see major differences between the two lenses, including sharpness tests.
3) Focus acquisition speed and accuracy
The autofocus performance of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is outstanding, definitely Nikon’s best. When the lens focuses, it virtually produces no noise, due to the Silent Wave Motor (SWM) technology in the lens. One of the challenges when working with large aperture lenses like 85mm, is being able to correctly acquire focus on the subject when shooting at maximum aperture of f/1.4. The depth of field at f/1.4 is so narrow, that any movement by you or your subject will certainly affect the focus area and cause the image to have a shifted focus. You have to be extremely careful when shooting at large apertures between f/1.4 and f/2.8 and you need to pay close attention to such things as camera to subject distance, close focus distance, etc. The biggest pain of the previous AF-D version of this lens was its autofocus system and its sporadic behavior in low-light situations. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4D certainly focuses very well when shooting during the day outside, but as soon as the amount of light decreases (indoors or after sunset), autofocus gets unreliable and you have to focus several times in order to get the correct focus. The good news with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, is that it does not have this problem – amazingly, the lens focused extremely well under all lighting conditions and I had no images with bad focus when I shot in very dim indoors environments. This difference alone is worth upgrading to the AF-S version, since I consider low-light capabilities of the 85mm to be an extremely important asset of the lens. It is very unfortunate when you take a fast lens with you to a concert or some other indoors event and you cannot get sharp images because the lens cannot acquire correct focus. I found myself defocusing and refocusing with the AF-D version a lot and it was certainly getting annoying, so I am glad that I no longer have to worry about that with the 85mm f/1.4 AF-S. Here is a good example of how well the lens focuses in low-light environments:
Click here to see the full JPEG version of the shot (80% Quality @ 2,9 MB).
As can be seen from the above image, the focus is right on the subject’s head, just like I intended. I also shot at the maximum aperture of f/1.4 indoors and did not have a single focus miss.
When it comes to autofocus speed, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is certainly slower than its predecessor though, as can be seen in the comparison page. The full rotation from close focus to infinity and vice versa takes a little longer when compared to 85mm f/1.4D (very similar behavior to Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.4D), but the difference is not huge. What is more important – the speed of how quickly the camera snaps into focus, or how reliably it snaps into focus? I believe the latter is much more important, so I certainly do not mind the slower speed.
4) Lens sharpness and contrast
Nikon has been releasing outstanding updates to lenses during the last several years, which not only beat their predecessors when it comes to sharpness and image quality, but also set new standards in optical performance. A clear example of this is Nikon 24mm f/1.4G, which is the sharpest lens I have ever held in my hands, surpassing all other old and modern Nikon lenses and getting competitors drooling over its performance. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is no exception – it performs extremely well at large apertures and produces very sharp images at the center, with corners getting extremely good at f/2.0 and beyond, something no previous 85mm lens could achieve (see sharpness tests in the second page of the review). Having said that, my conclusion is that the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is absolutely the sharpest Nikon 85mm lens, easily beating the AF-D and AI-s versions. I do not have the Canon 85mm f/1.2 lens to compare it with, but I am sure the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G will stand well against it, at least when it comes to autofocus performance and focus reliability.
Since the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G performs so well at maximum aperture of f/1.4, I would not hesitate to use it at f/1.4 all the time, unless you need to increase the depth of field to bring more of the subject into focus. I shot the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G between f/1.4 and f/2.8 and I was very pleased with the results – all images came out tack sharp, and color and contrast were truly amazing, certainly top of the class.
I highly recommend downloading and viewing the above image in full size by clicking here (80% Quality @ 2.5 MB). It is unbelievable what this lens is capable of at maximum aperture. The full image has no sharpening applied to it, so you can draw the conclusions yourself!
Here is the part everybody wants to know about – how good is bokeh on the new Nikon 85mm f/1.4G and how does it stand against the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D – the “king of bokeh”. It is obviously a matter of personal opinion, but I like the bokeh from the new Nikon 85mm f/1.4G a little better – the background looks softer and has less defined edges. Take a look at the following bokeh comparison:
Beautiful bokeh is the sole reason people buy 85mm lenses and the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-S is no disappointment – as you can see, the bokeh on the 85mm f/1.4G remains to be very good. Whether you use this lens for portraits, concerts, weddings or other types of photography, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G will do a superb job at isolating your subjects, delivering exceptionally beautiful background blur.
As expected with any fixed f/1.4 lens, there is a considerable amount of vignetting present when shooting wide open @ f/1.4, but it is almost completely gone by f/2.8. Here is an extreme example of vignetting at f/1.4 and f/2.0 compared to AF-D:
The first row is Nikon 85mm f/1.4G shot at f/1.4 (left) and f/2.0 (right), while the second row is Nikon 85mm f/1.4D shot with the same settings. Both seem very similar at large apertures, but the 85mm f/1.4G seems to be showing heavier vignetting wide open. At f/2.8 vignetting starts disappearing and it is completely gone at f/4.0 on both lenses. The vignetting issues can be quickly corrected in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, so it is not a big problem.
7) Ghosting, Flare and Chromatic Aberration
The Nano-Coating glass inside the lens definitely reduces ghosting and flare. Here is an extreme example with the sun in the top left corner:
Flares and ghosts show up in images, depending on the angle and position of the bright light source. I would keep the lens hood on at all times, to prevent accidental flares from showing up in images. Also, if you use a crappy filter, you might get some nasty flare even with the hood on when pointing at a bright light source, so make sure to use only the high-quality multi-coated “MRC” filters from B+W, Hoya or Tiffen for digital cameras. It is also worth noting that the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G does a very good job at handling coma flare at large apertures, which has always been a problem on 85mm lenses.
When it comes to CA/color fringing, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G also demonstrated astonishing results, beating the 85mm f/1.4D in comparison:
The image on the left is Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, whereas the image on the right is Nikon 85mm f/1.4D. As you can see, the fringing on the 85mm f/1.4D is much more pronounced and the full image shows that the corners are especially bad for the f/1.4D.
Distortion is almost non-existent, with a slight amount of barrel distortion present when shooting at longer distances. The closer you stand, the less barrel distortion you will see. It is really nothing to worry about and the problem can be easily fixed in Photoshop using the Lens Correction Filter.
Example of distortion at close focus:
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – Sharpness tests. Select the next page below.
Some technical junk:
- White Balance: Auto
- ISO: 200
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Lens was mounted on Nikon D3s FX Camera and Gitzo tripod
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect. After each successful focus acquisition, focus was switched to manual to prevent camera refocusing
- Mirror Lock-Up mode with Exposure Delay set to “On” and remote cable release to completely eliminate camera shake
- Long exposure NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW & JPEG
- Lightroom settings: Default settings, but exposure had to be slightly adjusted for some images
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
- Testing was performed at f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6 and f/8.0 apertures
- Nothing was moved during testing
9) Sharpness Test – Nikon 85mm Center Frame
When shot wide open at f/1.4, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is just a tad softer than f/8.0 in the center, which is incredible.
10) Sharpness Test – Nikon 85mm Corner Frame
The f/1.4 image came out a little dark because of vignetting and I specifically did not adjust its brightness, so that you could see the real situation. As expected, the corners wide open @ f/1.4 are a little soft compared to the center, but at f/2.8 and beyond the corners look tack sharp. I did not expect this lens to work this well in the corners and as you will see in the next page, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G stands a world above the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D when it comes to corner sharpness.
Compared to Nikon 85mm f/1.4D
Before I show you the sharpness comparisons between the two lenses, I would first like to point out the major differences. Here is what I compiled in the order of importance:
- The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G focuses more accurately than 85mm f/1.4D, especially in low-light environments (despite having slower autofocus).
- The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is sharper in the corners when shooting at maximum aperture of f/1.4.
- The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G gets as sharp in the corners as in the center when stopped down to f/2.8, whereas the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D never gets sharp in the corners, even at f/8.0.
- The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G has much less CA/fringing and works better against ghosting and flares than the 85mm f/1.4D. It also handles corner coma better.
- The manual focus override in M/A mode on the AF-S is a world better than the clumsy switch on the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D that needs to be changed every time you switch from manual focus to autofocus and vice-versa.
- Because the metal hood is attached to the filter thread of the AF-D lens, the lens cap would never sit right on the front of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D, whereas the new 85mm f/1.4G does not have this problem – the hood has been replaced with a plastic bayonet hood that does not use the filter thread, so the lens cap could be put on and taken out very easily.
- The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is about 35 grams heavier and slightly taller than the 85mm f/1.4D.
- The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is quieter than the 85mm f/1.4D due to Silent Wave Motor.
- The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is about $500 more expensive than the 85mm f/1.4D.
- The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G focuses slower than 85mm f/1.4D and yields more vignetting at f/1.4.
With the exception of the last line, everything above says that the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is much better than the 85mm f/1.4D. Let’s take a look at the sharpness of both lenses to see the actual difference both in the center and in the corner frames.
So, how slow is autofocus when compared to the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D? Take a look at the following video that I took earlier today:
11a) Nikon 85mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 85mm f/1.4D Center Frame
I cannot see much difference between these, so I can safely conclude that the center performance of both lenses is extremely good.
11b) Nikon 85mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 85mm f/1.4D Corner Frame
What a huge difference! The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is worlds better than the old AF-D version in the corners. The image at f/1.4 on 85mm f/1.4D looks very soft and blurry, whereas the 85mm f/1.4G is only affected with some extra vignetting.
Wow, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D looks crappy at f/2.8 compared to f/1.4G…
Just like I have said above, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D never gets sharp in the corners, whereas the new 85mm f/1.4G is very sharp in the corners, almost as sharp as in the center!
Compared to Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II
How does the legendary 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II compare to the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G at f/2.8 and above?
12a) Nikon 85mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II Center Frame
As can be seen from the above images, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G beats the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II when stopped down to f/2.8 in the center. What about f/8.0?
At f/8.0, both lenses look very sharp and there is no difference in performance that I can see.
12b) Nikon 85mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II Corner Frame
Once again, stopped down to f/2.8, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G looks sharper than the wide-open Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II in the corners. Let’s see f/8.0:
Similar to the center frame, both lenses perform equally well when stopped down to f/8.0.
Summary and Image Samples
Photographers buy the Nikon 85mm lenses for their beautiful bokeh rendering, colors and sharpness when shooting portraits at large apertures. As you have seen in this review, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G exceeds expectations by beating both the old AF-D version of the lens and the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G at 85mm. It truly is one hell of a lens for portrait photography and the fact that it focuses dead-on at f/1.4 in pretty much any light makes this lens a remarkable tool for professional photographers that work in challenging conditions and need the highest performance they can get from a prime lens. With the exception of AF speed, it beats the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D in every way and the fact that it actually delivers tack sharp images with accurate focus, easily compensates for the AF speed. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is certainly an ideal candidate for any kind of portrait photography, where subjects are beautifully isolated from the backgrounds and maximum sharpness of the subject is preserved. Like any other f/1.4 lens, you have to be very careful with focusing, as any movement could cause focus to shift due to depth of field, but the good news is that the lens focuses well and spot on no matter what subject you point it to. I shot in some challenging situations with lots of bright backlight and the lens focused correctly every single time, making photography sessions a joy and delivering outstanding results to our clients.
So, do I have anything to complain about on this lens? Absolutely! :) When Nikon filed several patents for the 85mm lens, one of the designs incorporated VR (Vibration Reduction) technology. I was very excited about this and really hoped that Nikon would release a VR version of this lens, but sadly, Nikon took a different route and went with a standard lens design without incorporating VR (or ED glass) into the lens. This was a disappointment for the community, since VR would be extremely useful at this focal length. In addition, had Nikon incorporated VR, it would have been once again a “pioneer”, since no other lens manufacturer has a prime portrait lens with image stabilization. I’m sure Nikon would see a lot more people switching over from other brands just because of this kind of lens. And yes, believe it or not, some people like me and Lola use the 85mm lens religiously and we truly wish it had VR on it. Given that Nikon chose to stay with the traditional way of manufacturing prime lenses, it looks like we won’t see a VR version any time soon, which is sad.
But look at the bright side, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is still an outstanding lens. It is a major update to the 85mm line and I am very glad that I no longer have to deal with the clumsy focus ring of the 85mm f/1.4D and I can easily override focus while shooting images or video without having to move anything on the lens. Ergonomics are excellent, sharpness, colors and contrast are top of the class and the lens is very easy to use and operate. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is a wonderful lens for portraits and deserves a spot in every wedding and event photographer’s bag!
Click here to download the full version of the file in JPEG format @ 2.5 MB.
14) Where to buy and availability
15) More image samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.