Nikon has been on the roll in the past few years, releasing one amazing lens after another. We have seen a refresh of the f/1.8 prime lens line with some amazing optics, but those craving for more have been patiently waiting for a modern replacement of such lenses as the Nikon 105mm f/2 DC and Nikon 135mm f/2 DC, absolutely amazing and beautiful lenses in every way, capable of rendering stunning bokeh for portraiture. Well, the waiting for the first lens replacement is finally over, because today Nikon gave us something truly groundbreaking – the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED. While the de-focus control feature on the previous 105mm f/2 lens allowed one to modify the bokeh rendering of the lens, it would end up changing the field of view and it was a bit hard to get used to utilizing that feature effectively for many photographers. Plus, the maximum aperture of f/2 put it in competition with the superb Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (review soon to be updated), as the latter is a faster lens and has superb rendering capabilities wide open. For these and other reasons, many photographers having been choosing the 85mm f/1.4G over the 105mm f/2 DC for portraiture, while the 135mm f/2 DC remained untouched. Now that the 105mm f/1.4E is out, let’s talk about what is so amazing about this gem and why we can mark today as an important milestone in the history of lens making.
Update: Our in-depth Nikon 105mm f/1.4E Review has now been posted.
First of all, the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED is world’s first 105mm lens with such a wide aperture of f/1.4. We have seen a number of f/1.4 telephoto lenses, but typically very few above 100mm focal length. It is technically challenging to optically design f/1.4 telephoto lenses without making lenses outrageously big and expensive. And yet Nikon engineers somehow found a way to make it happen – at 94.5mm x 106mm size and 985 grams of total weight, it is surely quite a bit heavier and a bit bulkier than the 105mm DC, but not by an unacceptable and impractical margin. It will be perfectly hand-holdable to take those yummy portraits! From the technical standpoint, this lens is beefed up with all the latest and greatest Nikon has to offer. Finally, we are now getting Nikon to make lenses with electronic diaphragms – the “E” letter designation after f/1.4 means that the lens will no longer use the mechanical lever on the back of the lens to set the lens aperture, but instead will be driven by the internal aperture adjustment mechanism. This is great news, because it means that you can expect the lens to yield consistent brightness when taking pictures stopped down, as there won’t be any room for error, even when shooting in fast continuous bursts. Like all other modern Nikkor lenses, the 105mm f/1.4E ED comes with Nano Crystal Coating to reduce ghosting and flare and yield those beautiful colors. The front lens is protected with fluorine coating to resist dust and water particles, making the lens easy to clean.
The Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED has a total of 3 Extra-low Dispersion (ED) lens elements to correct lens aberrations, which means that the lens should be very sharp at all apertures, even wide open. Take a look at the below MTF chart of the 105mm f/1.4E (left), compared to the MTF chart of the 105mm f/2 DC (right):
Keep in mind that the MTF charts for the two lenses are for their wide open performance, so you are looking at the 105mm f/1.4E ED at f/1.4, versus 105mm f/2 DC at f/2. If you had a chance to read our article on reading MTF charts, you can probably tell how impressive the MTF chart on the 105mm f/1.4E ED looks. The lens has superb contrast – even better than on the 105mm f/2 DC, with superb center to mid-frame performance and slightly weaker performance towards the edges of the frame. Sharpness-wise, it has amazing resolving power wide open and only slightly worse performance in the extreme edges of the frame, which are not important for a portrait lens anyway.
What about comparing the 105mm f/1.4E optically to the legendary 85mm f/1.4G? Let’s take a look (Left: 105mm f/1.4E, Right: 85mm f/1.4G):
Personally, I have never met a person who was displeased with the sharpness of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, as it shines at every aperture. Even if it is a tiny bit softer wide open, the sharpness does not really matter, as the creamy bokeh it yields makes up for the difference. Still, you can see that the new 105mm f/1.4G will be better than the 85mm f/1.4G both in terms of contrast and sharpness, which is not something I expected to see. And considering how relatively close and similar in shape the straight and dotted lines are (sagittal vs meridional), we can expect absolutely amazing bokeh!
Speaking of bokeh, take a look at the below sample images provided by Nikon:
As you can see, the lens will be a visual stunner in every way. An instant classic, a dream of a lens. Despite its high price tag of $2199, I will probably pre-order it, as it will be worth the investment. I sold off many of my Nikkor lenses that I have not been using, but the two lenses I will never sell are the 85mm f/1.4G and 85mm f/1.8G, as both are the workhorse lenses for both myself and my wife. John and I have been using these lenses for filming our video tutorials as well and they never disappoint – whether we film in low-light indoor or outdoor conditions. After I sold my 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II (it was way too heavy for me), which I absolutely loved for its amazing sharpness and versatility, I have been missing the longer focal lengths and the ability to further isolate subjects from the background.
The only downside is lack of image stabilization / VR. Considering that VR takes a bit more space within the lens and can potentially affect bokeh, I can see why Nikon decided to exclude it from the lens. However, it would have been nice to have a stabilized 105mm f/1.4! I still hope that Nikon will someday announce in-body image stabilization (IBIS) in its DSLRs…