Along with the Nikon D4, Nikon also announced the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G lens today. While all photography sites are buried with the Nikon D4 announcement, this little gem is receiving very little attention. I am super excited about this portrait lens, because it not only replaces the old 85mm f/1.8D, but considering how good the latest f/1.8 lenses have been, should deliver superb performance at a relatively low price of $500.
You might be wondering why one would want an 85mm lens, if there are cheaper 50mm portrait lenses out there. Well, 50mm lenses were never considered to be portrait lenses in the past, because 50mm falls into the “standard” range. However, because of digital cameras with smaller cropped sensors, 50mm lenses are now more like 75mm lenses, which is too long for a standard range and hence the new name. Even I often refer to the 50mm lens as a “portrait” lens. In fact, 50mm lenses are not portrait lenses – they are just designed to be small, lightweight and portable for everyday photography and occasional portraiture. 85mm lenses, on the other hand, are specialized tools created specifically for portraiture in mind. This means that they are optically designed to deliver outstanding results when photographing people with very sharp optics, superb colors and exceptionally good-looking bokeh. The current Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, like its predecessors, is often called the “bokeh king” for a reason – there are very few lenses out there that can deliver similar results (the superb Nikon 135mm f/2.0 DC is one of them).
The new Nikon 85mm f/1.8G brings a lot to the table for those of us that cannot quite afford the expensive Nikon 85mm f/1.4G. With a smaller maximum aperture of f/1.8, it is obviously slower than its bigger brother. It also has a simpler and lighter optical design. However, its color reproduction, bokeh and subject isolation capabilities should be similar to the f/1.4 version. It is more than 3 times cheaper than the 85mm f/1.4, but it is definitely not 3 times worse! When I evaluate lenses, I always pay extra attention to their price to performance ratio. Without even having this lens in my hands (which I will shortly), I can tell you that it will be phenomenal. Similar to the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, I expect it to have better wide-open performance than the f/1.4 version. And since there is less focus rotation taking place, its AF performance should also be slightly faster. And on top of all this, it weighs half as much as the 85mm f/1.4G! Now that’s a great value. Why is the f/1.4 version so much more expensive? Because you pay a premium for the best glass out there. Nissan GTR costs 10 times less than Bugatti Veyron and yet it is an incredibly fast machine. It may not have the same best quality interior, exterior and the engine, but it has a phenomenal price to performance ratio. The same with slower f/1.8 lenses – they do not have the best glass, optical design and other bells and whistles, but they deliver a lot of value.
Lastly, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G will autofocus on all Nikon DSLRs, including the entry-level DSLRs like Nikon D3100 and D5100. The older Nikon 85mm f/1.8D did not have an internal focus, so autofocus would not work on cheaper DSLRs with no AF motor.
Here are some lens specifications from NikonUSA:
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length: 85mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/1.8
- Minimum Aperture: f/16
- Format: FX/35mm, DX
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 18°50′
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 28°30′
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.12x
- Lens Elements: 9
- Lens Groups: 9
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode, 35mm Film
- Diaphragm Blades: 7
- Distance Information: Yes
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 2.62 ft.
- Focus Mode: Auto, Manual
- G-type: Yes
- Filter Size: 67mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions (Approx.): 3.1×2.9 in. (Diameter x Length), 80x73mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight (Approx.): 12.4 oz. (350g)
- Supplied Accessories: LC-6 Snap-on Front Lens Cap, HB-62 Bayonet Lens Hood, LF-4 Rear Lens Cap, CL-1015 Semi-soft Lens Case
And here is the 85mm f/1.8G MTF chart (left), compared to the 85mm f/1.4G MTF (right):
Now keep in mind that this MTF chart only shows wide open performance at f/1.8 and f/1.4, respectively. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G should have more resolution, especially when stopped down on high-resolution cameras.
I will provide much more detailed comparisons between the two lenses in February, so stay tuned!