This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G prime portrait lens that was announced in January of 2012. The Nikon 85mm f/1.8G is a consumer-grade portrait lens for enthusiasts and seasonal pros that need quality optics of a fixed portrait lens at an affordable price point. Its large aperture of f/1.8 is great for low-light photography and the shallow depth of field helps isolate subjects from the background, beautifully rendering background highlights.
The Nikon 85mm f/1.8G replaces the older Nikon 85mm f/1.8D lens that had been in production since 1994. Compared to the AF-D version that has 6 optical elements in 6 groups, the new 85mm f/1.8G has a very different optical design with 9 optical elements in 9 groups. You would think with so much glass inside the new 85mm f/1.8G would weigh more than its predecessor, but in reality it actually weighs 30 grams less. The lens is designed to work on both DX (cropped-sensor) and FX (full-frame) cameras from Nikon. On DX sensors, the lens is equivalent to a 128mm lens, which is a good range for portraiture, but may be a little too long for most other types of photography.
Just like the old Nikon 85mm f/1.8D, the front lens element of the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G does not extend or rotate during autofocus operations, which makes the lens more durable and also makes it easy to use circular filters and filter holders. In addition to the above-mentioned optical improvements, the lens incorporates silent wave motor (AF-S), which not only provides near silent focus operation, but also allows the lens to be fully used on entry-level DSLRs such as Nikon D3100 and Nikon D5100 (the older Nikon 85mm f/1.8D cannot autofocus on entry-level DSLRs without a focus motor). In addition, the AF-S motor gives the ability to use autofocus with a manual focus override, which you cannot do on any of the AF-D prime lenses. Just like the older AF-D cousin, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G also has Super Integrated Coating, which helps reduce lens flare and ghosting. And unlike the 85mm f/1.8D, which had a 9-blade diaphragm, the 85mm f/1.8G has a 7-blade diaphragm. This might sounds like a downgrade, but it is actually not – the 7-blade diaphragm used on modern Nikkor lenses is rounded, while the old ones are straight. This means that bokeh on a 7-blade rounded diaphragm lens could actually look as good or better than on a 9-blade straight diaphragm. The heptagon-shaped bokeh that is produced by the older lenses is generally not visible at large apertures and is only noticeable when stopped down to f/2.8 or more, as seen in the bokeh comparisons below.
In this review, I will provide a thorough analysis of the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G lens, along with image samples and comparisons against the professional Nikon 85mm f/1.4G and the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G.
1) Lens Specifications
- Internal Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) powered Focus (IF) system provides fast, accurate and quiet AF and helps produce sharp and clear images at all apertures.
- M/A focus mode switch enables quick changes between manual and autofocus operation if needed.
- Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) enhances light transmission efficiency and offers superior color consistency and reduced flare.
- 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 (rounded)
- Distance Information: Yes
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 2.62 ft./0.8 m
- 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
Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.
2) Lens Handling and Build
Similar to the recently introduced Nikon prime lenses, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G has a solid build, with a plastic exterior and a metal mount. The changes in optical and barrel design increased the size of the lens, which as can be seen below, is a little smaller and less bulky than the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (Left: Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, Right: Nikon 85mm f/1.8G):
And here is with lens hoods attached to both lenses:
The Nikon 85mm f/1.8G also has a rubber gasket on the lens mount, which provides good sealing against dust making its way into the camera. The rubber gasket definitely helps not only in reducing sensor dust, but also in reducing the amount of dust that could potentially end up inside the lens. As I explained in my “what to do with dust inside lenses” article, it is quite normal for lenses to suck air in and out when focusing or zooming in/out. The filter thread is also bigger – it is now 67mm, versus the 62mm thread on the 85mm AF-D. This is not good news if you already own the older 85mm f/1.8D lens and bought specialized filters – larger 67mm filters would have to be purchased separately. Because the front element is round and is recessed inside the lens (which is good for shooting against the sun), it can be difficult to clean the outer area of the lens element that is close to the lens barrel. Because of this, I would recommend to get a good 67mm clear/protective filter such as B+W 67mm MRC clear filter and leave it on the lens at all times. Not only will it help protect the front element of the lens and reduce dust, but it will also make it much easier to clean the lens when needed.
Despite the bigger size and bulkier lens barrel, as I have already mentioned, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G is actually 30 grams lighter than its predecessor and almost twice lighter than the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G! It balances really well with any DX camera and it feels just right in terms of size, weight and focal length on professional DSLRs like Nikon D3s as well.
I have received several inquiries from our readers about weather sealing on cheaper Nikon prime lenses. The short answer is “No”, these lenses are not weather sealed. While I have been using my Nikon 85mm f/1.8G lens in hot/cold/dry/wet weather conditions and have not had any issues, Nikon lenses without gold rings are not designed to withstand tough weather as professional lenses. That’s why Nikon does not specifically mention weather sealing in their marketing materials on these lenses. Another good news is that the rear element of the lens does not move in and out when focusing, so you do not have to worry about changing the lens focus to infinity when changing lenses (like on the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G).
As for the focus ring, it is conveniently located on the front of the barrel, making it easy to manually focus with a thumb and index fingers while shooting images or video. The lens comes with the “HB-62” lens hood, which snaps on the front of the lens and sits tight without wobbling like some other Nikon lens hoods. The M/A and M switch on the side of the lens allows autofocus with manual focus override and full manual focus operation. The latest Nikon DSLRs like Nikon D5100 immediately recognize the focus position and provide notifications on the information (“I” button) screen.
3) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
I found autofocus performance and accuracy of the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G to be very similar to the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G. While AF is rather slow to begin with when compared to the older Nikon 85mm f/1.4D), it is definitely more accurate, as I have reported in my Nikon 85mm f/1.4G review. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G seems to be a tad faster when rapidly changing focus from one subject to another, although the difference is not substantial, both in indoor and outdoor environments. Unfortunately, we are not in the same situation as the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, which significantly outperforms its 50mm f/1.4G counterpart in AF performance.
I tested the AF acuracy of my lens sample with the LensAlign lens calibration tool and it turned out to be a little off, as seen from the sample crop from the LensAlign test:
I personally get annoyed any time a lens has front/back focus issues like this. I do not understand why manufacturers cannot do more thorough QA tests before their products are shipped to retailers. We, as consumers, should be receiving properly calibrated lenses and cameras and not having to deal with testing our gear using focus charts. Unfortunately, these kinds of QA issues happen with all manufacturers, including Nikon. In my experience, however, third party manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron typically have more QA issues (although they both have gotten much better lately).
As with any other lens, be careful when shooting at very large apertures in low light situations. If you cannot consistently get accurate focus in daylight, your lens sample probably has a front/back focusing issue.