This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S lens that was announced with three other lenses in August of 2010. Ever since the manual focus AI-s version of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens was introduced back in 1981, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lenses have been used as references for superb sharpness, best-looking bokeh and beautiful color renditions. The last autofocus AF-D version of the lens produced in 1995, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D, was often called the “king of bokeh”, yielding extremely pleasing out-of-focus areas, in addition to producing sharp, colorful images when shooting wide open. Its legendary performance made the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D lens a must-have for portrait photographers and many professionals heavily relied on this lens for many years for their commercial work (and some still do). The Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lens is the latest update to the 85mm f/1.4 line, which replaced the outdated AF-D version with newer optical and technology innovations from Nikon. In this review, I will not only provide information on the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G lens, but will also compare it to both the older Nikon 85mm f/1.4D and the lighter and smaller Nikon 85mm f/1.8G.
The 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 sharp results in the center frame, as shown in the following sections of this review. Compared to its predecessor, Nikon completely re-engineered the lens by optimizing its optical formula for better overall sharpness, replaced AF-D focus motor with much faster and more accurate silent-wave motor (SWM) and also added more advanced Nano crystal coating technology. 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.
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 has been performing flawlessly under various weather conditions and I have used it under rain, snow and even sandy environments without any issues. It has a total of 10 optical elements in 9 groups and weighs a total of 595 grams, making it relatively 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 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 design, 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 Lens Comparison section to see more information about other differences between the two lenses.
3) Focus Speed and Accuracy
The autofocus performance of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is quite good, definitely better than on most other older-generation portrait lenses. 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 shallow, 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, subject movement, 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 older Nikon 85mm f/1.4D certainly focused well when shooting in daylight, but as soon as the amount of light decreased (indoors or after sunset), autofocus would get extremely unreliable, forcing one to focus several times in order to get a reasonably sharp photo. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is much better in this regard, especially when coupled with the latest-generation Nikon DSLRs such as the Nikon D750 that have excellent low-light focusing capabilities. This difference alone made the 85mm f/1.4G worth upgrading to for many working professionals, including myself. 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 properly acquire 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 had to worry about that after I started shooting with the 85mm f/1.4G.
When it comes to autofocus speed, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is certainly slower than its predecessor though, as can be seen later on. 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
Compared to other Nikon primes, the 85mm f/1.4G performs very well at large apertures and produces sharp images at the center, with corners starting out weaker, but getting really good when stopped down a little. Having tried out a number of older 85mm lenses, I can say with confidence that this one is without a doubt the sharpest Nikon 85mm f/1.4 made to date, easily beating both AF-D and AI-s versions. It even stands its ground quite well when compared to Canon’s 85mm f/1.2L, which just does not do all that well at wide apertures. Since the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G performs so well at f/1.4, I personally do not hesitate to shoot it wide open. It might not have top-notch sharpness, but that’s not always the number one priority when photographing people anyway – the aesthetics and the overall look of the image are far more important in my opinion.
As you can see from the sample images in this review, Lola and I often shoot the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G between f/1.4 and f/2.8, rarely stopping down beyond that. Images come out tack sharp, and color and contrast were truly amazing, certainly top of the class.
Here is how Imatest measured the sharpness of the lens at different apertures:
The lens starts out pretty strong already wide open, but it is definitely not biting sharp, especially in the center of the frame. Stopping down even a little improves sharpness quite a bit, with f/2.8 already going strong and f/5.6 reaching peak sharpness across the frame. To be honest, the above numbers don’t really mean much, since other lenses such as the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G outresolve the 85mm f/1.4G, sometimes even by a pretty big margin. When it comes to portrait lenses, sharpness should not be the top criterion for determining lens quality – it is all about its rendering and bokeh capabilities, as that’s what the lens is designed to do. Still, being able to get good sharpness at wide open apertures is expected from high-end portrait lenses and that’s where the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G certainly does deliver. Personally, I love shooting with this lens wide open. If I need a bit more detail on my subject’s face, I stop the lens down between f/1.8 and f/2.8 to get the best results.
It is worth noting that while testing the lens, I encountered a noticeable amount of focus shift between f/2.0 and f/5.6 apertures. The lens also exhibits some field curvature, because of which the corner numbers suffer. If one focuses with the lens at the edges of the frame, it is possible to yield very sharp results there, obviously at the expense of center resolution.
Bokeh is what high-end portrait lenses like the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G are all about! So how does the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G compare to its predecessor, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D, which was always regarded as 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 85mm f/1.4G is no disappointment – as you can see, the bokeh on the lens 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 on both lenses. The vignetting issues can be quickly corrected in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom if they bother you, so it is not a big problem. However, why would you want to remove vignetting in the first place? None of the images in this review had their vignetting fixed in post for a good reason – it is part of how the lens renders images and it is absolutely beautiful. Many portrait photographers end up removing vignetting through automated tools, only to find themselves adding it back in, which is silly! The only case where I could see myself removing vignetting, is if I were to use the lens for photography needs other than portraiture…
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 superb 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. Imatest measured barrel pincushion of 0.38% at relatively close distances, which is negligible. Such distortion is really nothing to worry about and the problem can be easily fixed in post-processing software using lens corrections modules.
Here is an example of distortion at close focus:
Let’s move on to lens comparisons.
9) Nikon 85mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 85mm f/1.4D
Without a doubt, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G outresolves the 85mm f/1.4D in terms of resolution. Not only because the 85mm f/1.4G is a newer lens, but also because the f/1.4D was designed for film cameras, so its mid-frame and corner performance definitely suffer more as a result. I have not had a chance to measure the 85mm f/1.4D using Imatest (since the lens has not been available for a while now), but I have personally owned the 85mm f/1.4D and compared the two lenses side by side in terms of sharpness photographing a printed test chart a while ago. The results showed that the two lenses were pretty close in the center in terms of resolution, but when it came to mid-frame and corner performance, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G was vastly better. Below is a summary of other findings when comparing the two lenses:
- 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.
- 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 focuses slower than 85mm f/1.4D and shows 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.
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:
Keep in mind that while the motor speed might be faster on the 85mm f/1.4D, its accuracy is much worse when compared to the 85mm f/1.4G.
10) Nikon 85mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 85mm f/1.8G
Let’s take a look at how the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G does when compared to its smaller, lighter, cheaper and newer f/1.8G sibling:
As you can see, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G actually outperforms its big brother quite a bit, even wide open. Not only does it have better center sharpness, but it also shines in the mid-frame and the corners, where the 85mm f/1.4G does not do that well in comparison. Both lenses get better stopped down, but the f/1.8G version still stays noticeably stronger, especially at f/4.0. Where the 85mm f/1.4G takes over is when stopping down – at f/5.6, it has better sharpness throughout the frame, especially at the extreme corners. But unless one shoots flat subjects or something other than portraiture, who cares how these lenses perform in the extreme corners and when stopped down?
At the end of the day, the main difference between these lenses is how they are able to render images. Both lenses render beautifully without a doubt, but the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is 2/3 of a stop faster, which puts it at an advantage in terms of subject isolation – at the same camera to subject distance, it is able to yield more aesthetically pleasing images, showing larger bokeh highlights and more out of focus background. Also, don’t forget that the 85mm f/1.4G is a pro-level lens, which means that it comes with better build quality, higher quality glass inside, Nano-coating, 9-blade diaphragm vs 7 (for better bokeh when stopped down) and Nikon NPS support. For most enthusiasts wanting to get great portraits, the 85mm f/1.8G would do a phenomenal job, but those who want a pro-grade lens that stands a level above in terms of rendering capability are still better off with the 85mm f/1.4G. Personally, I own both and use them quite a bit professionally. I prefer the 85mm f/1.8G for its faster and more reliable focusing, but if I want to shoot wide open and get amazing bokeh, the 85mm f/1.4G still has its place in my bag.
Photographers buy 85mm lenses for their beautiful bokeh, 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 being a very strong lens for portraiture needs, especially when it comes to its unique image rendering capabilities. It beats the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D in every way and although its AF speed might not be as fast as on the 85mm f/1.4D, it makes up in AF accuracy, particularly when focusing in low light. 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 the sharpness of the subjects is preserved.
Like with any other f/1.4 lens, you have to be careful when focusing at large apertures, as even slightest changes in distance between the lens and the subject will cause the desired focus area to get out of focus, thanks to extremely shallow depth of field. It can also be a bit challenging to focus in dim conditions, since critical focusing at large apertures requires a lot of light for the camera to nail focus each time. With some practice, it is something you can definitely get better at, although the latest generation Nikon DSLRs with better low-light performance will definitely make the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G shine more. The lens handles amazingly well on all Nikon DSLRs and as you have seen in this review, it surely does not disappoint when it comes to sharpness, colors and contrast.
With its unique 3D-like pop, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G truly is a stunning gem, definitely one of Nikon’s finest. Ever since it was introduced back in 2010, it has made its way into the camera bags of many working professionals, who have been heavily relying on it to deliver high-quality images that please their clients. Lola and I have been using the 85mm f/1.4G pretty much ever since it came out and although I got rid of many lenses since then, the 85mm f/1.4G was never one of them – that’s how much both of us love it.
12) Where to Buy and Availability
You can order your copy of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S lens through B&H and other retailers – it is currently selling for around $1,596 as of 12/01/2016.
13) More Image Samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating