This is an in-depth Nikon 85mm f/1.8G review of the new, much anticipated 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 the background highlights, also known as bokeh.
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.
4) Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
As I reveal in my sharpness tests below, the performance of the 85mm f/1.8G is excellent throughout the aperture range. You can see many examples of lens sharpness taken in a controlled environment, along with comparisons against other lenses.
Here is how Imatest measured the sharpness:
Bokeh is a very important characteristic of portrait lenses. In this case, we are dealing with three cream machines, especially the 85mm f/1.4G and the 105mm f/2.8G, which are some of the most sought after lenses just because of the way they beautifully render bokeh.
Here is the full image from which I made the below bokeh crops:
Here is a bokeh comparison between Nikon 85mm f/1.8G, Nikon 85mm f/1.4G and Nikon 105mm f/2.8G at maximum aperture:
All three look good and creamy, but the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G stands out with very smooth and less defined bokeh due to its maximum aperture of f/1.4. Let’s see what happens to bokeh when all lenses are stopped down to f/2.8 (still max aperture for the 105mm f/2.8G):
Interestingly, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G seems to have a slightly smaller diaphragm opening than the 85mm f/1.8G at f/2.8, which results in smaller background highlights. In this case, I actually prefer the bokeh of the 85mm f/1.8G. Overall though, the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G certainly looks the best here due to much less defined and smoother background blur.
While the 85mm f/1.8G has a 7-blade diaphragm (compared to a 9-blade diaphragm on the 85mm f/1.4G), you would not be able to see any difference between the two at large apertures. This is because the new diaphragms on all modern Nikkor lenses are rounded, which only shows defined edges when stopped down to f/4-5.6 and smaller.
If you are crazy about bokeh, this lens certainly has a lot of potential:
Overall, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G renders great-looking bokeh that is very comparable to the one on the professional Nikon 85mm f/1.4G.
Most prime lenses heavily vignette when shot wide open and the same is true for the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G, so no surprises here. The good news is that as you stop down to f/2.0, vignetting decreases significantly. At f/2.8 vignetting is almost invisible and by f/4.0 onwards it is completely gone. Take a look at lens vignetting at different apertures:
This type of behavior is expected from large aperture lenses, especially when they are mounted on full frame cameras. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G also vignettes significantly at large apertures, despite its high price tag. The older Nikon 85mm f/1.8D vignettes more – dark corners are visible even at f/2.8 and f/4.
If you use Lightroom 4 or Photoshop Camera RAW, vignetting is not an issue for this lens, because the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G lens profile is already included in the latest update.
7) Ghosting and Flare
Ghosting and flare are controlled quite well, depending on where the bright source of light is positioned in the frame. It does not do as well as the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G though, because the latter has better lens design and Nano-coating to further reduce ghosting and flare. Here is an image with the sun positioned inside the frame:
The Nikon 85mm f/1.8G has a slight amount of barrel distortion, which is not very noticeable. The older Nikon 85mm f/1.8D had no noticeable distortion in comparison. As I have already pointed out, Adobe already has a built-in lens profile in the Lens Corrections module, so you can easily take care of the problem with a single click.
9) Chromatic Aberration
Lateral chromatic aberration is controlled well, even in high-contrast situations. Longitudinal chromatic aberration / LoCA (which is the effect of color fringing in front of and behind the focused area), on the other hand, can be quite visible at very large apertures, which is expected for a fast prime lens. Here is an extreme example of LoCA with some axial purple fringing:
Unfortunately, unlike lateral chromatic aberration, LoCA cannot be easily removed in post-processing.
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – Sharpness tests.
10) Sharpness Test
Some Technical Info:
- White Balance: Auto, changed to “Custom”: 4400 Temp, +15 Tint in Lightroom
- ISO: 200
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Lens was mounted on Nikon D700 Camera and Gitzo tripod
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect
- 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
- Lightroom settings: Default settings
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
- Testing was performed at f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6 and f/8.0 apertures
- Nothing was moved during testing
11) Sharpness Test – Nikon 85mm f/1.8G Center Frame
The Nikon 85mm f/1.8G has excellent center sharpness, as can be seen below. Wide open at f/1.8, the image starts out a tad softer and gradually improves when stopped down to f/2.8:
At f/4 the lens seems to reach its peak performance:
And stopping down further does not improve its sharpness:
I am not including smaller apertures, because stopping down the lens beyond f/8 reduces image quality due to diffraction.
12) Sharpness Test – Nikon 85mm f/1.8G Corner Frame
The performance of the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G at largest apertures is surprisingly good. Wide open and at f/2.0, the lens yields slightly softer, but acceptably good results. There is a modest amount of vignetting present at the largest apertures, which is why the first couple of images are significantly darker:
By f/2.8, the extreme corners look very good and the peak performance is once again around the f/4 mark:
Similar to the center, stopping down the lens to f/5.6 and smaller does not increase sharpness:
Overall, the sharpness results are very impressive for this lens, but the above crops are meaningless without a comparison against other lenses. Let’s move on to see how the lens fares against the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G.
Compared to Nikon 85mm f/1.4G
Let’s see how the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G compares to the much heavier and bulkier (and much more expensive) Nikon 85mm f/1.4G lens.
13) Nikon 85mm f/1.8G vs Nikon 85mm f/1.4G Center Frame
At maximum aperture, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G seems to be a little sharper than the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, which is incredible. Let’s see what happens when the f/1.4G is stopped down to f/1.8:
Now both seem to be about the same. Here is both stopped down to f/2.0:
I cannot see any difference between the two. Let’s see what happens when we stop down to f/2.8:
Again, both seem to be on par. Stopped down to f/4:
Same story here. And finally f/5.6 with f/8:
To be honest, I cannot really see any difference between both lenses from f/1.8 onwards in the center.
14) Nikon 85mm f/1.8G vs Nikon 85mm f/1.4G Corner Frame
Again, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G clearly does better wide open than the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, even in the extreme corners. Both show pronounced vignetting, which seems to be about the same. Let’s stop the f/1.4G down to f/1.8:
Even stopped down to f/1.8, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G still cannot match the 85mm f1/1.8G sharpness-wise. Let’s stop it down further to f/2.0:
Again, same story – the f/1.8G is clearly sharper. Stopped down to f/2.8:
Now both are about the same. Stopping down further more does not seem to change anything:
15) Nikon 85mm f/1.8G vs Nikon 85mm f/1.4G on Nikon D800
One request that I have been getting is to compare both lenses on the super high resolution Nikon D800 sensor. Because the sensor has such a high resolution, it can show much more details and hence resolution capabilities of lenses. Let’s see how both lenses fare on the D800 wide open:
As you can see, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G still seems sharper than the 85mm f/1.4G. But now we can see why – the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G has more visible chromatic aberration wide open. If it wasn’t for CA, the 85mm f/1.4G would have looked as good or better – the resolving power is very good on a high resolution sensor of Nikon D800. What about sharpness performance when both are stopped down to f/2.8:
The 85mm f/1.4G seems to be a tad sharper, now that it has a lot less chromatic aberration issues, but it’s not completely gone. Still, the resolving power of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G seems to be a little better than on its younger and much cheaper sibling. Let’s stop both down to f/4:
Now the difference is pretty much gone, although I still prefer the 85mm f/1.8G performance here due to less CA.
Finally, stopped down to f/5.6 or smaller, both lenses seem to perform about the same.
The corners have a slightly different fate though – the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G shows better performance and resolution overall.
15) Nikon 85mm f/1.8G vs Nikon 85mm f/1.4G Conclusion
As you can see from the above comparisons, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G shows slightly better performance wide open than the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G. While the 85mm f/1.4G needs to be stopped down to f/1.8 in the center to match the performance, the corners on the f/1.4G do not look as good until f/2.8. So sharpness-wise, the situation with this lens is very similar to that of the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G – it performs better than its much more expensive f/1.4G brother. Vignetting-wise, both seem to have about the same amount of it throughout the frame, completely disappearing at around the f/4 mark. Where the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G shines is at distortion – it has no visible distortion, while the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G definitely has some. Also, when shooting against the sun, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G performs better with less ghosts and flares, most likely because of its Nano-coated glass elements and more complex lens design. Bokeh-wise, both have their leads at different apertures, although the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G can render bigger and smoother bokeh wide open at the same distance, thanks to its larger aperture. AF speed and accuracy is about the same on both lenses. Lastly, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G shows less signs of chromatic aberration, especially of the longitudinal (LoCA) type.
Overall, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G proves to be a superb alternative to the 85mm f/1.4G. While the latter is more than three times more expensive, it is surely not three times better from a technical standpoint.
Let’s move on to a comparison to the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G macro.
Compared to Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro
I was not planning to compare the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G to the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G due to differences in focal lengths, but some of our readers asked us to do it. While the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G is a macro lens, it is a very popular lens among portrait photographers, because it renders beautiful bokeh and has exceptionally sharp optics. Please bear in mind that the below comparison is not an apples to apples comparison, because of difference in both focal length and maximum aperture.
16) Nikon 85mm f/1.8G vs Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Center Frame
Surprisingly, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G seems to slightly outperform the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G wide open. Here is both stopped down to f/2.8:
The difference at f/2.8 is pretty obvious – the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G is clearly much sharper! Let’s see what happens when we stop down to f/4.0:
Again, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G is sharper. Now down to f/5.6:
Nothing has changed, the 85mm f/1.8G is still sharper.
Even when stopped down to f/8, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G shows more resolving power.
17) Nikon 85mm f/1.8G vs Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Corner Frame
The Nikon 105mm f/2.8G seems to do worse than the 85mm f/1.8G in the corners (but still a little better than the 85mm f/1.4G). The difference is visible, which is partly the fault of chromatic aberration of the macro lens. Let’s see how both compare at f/2.8:
This time, the difference is huge – the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G improves much better at f/2.8 than the 105mm f/2.8. Let’s stop both down to f/4:
Again, the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G cannot quite match the 85mm f/1.8G in terms of sharpness. How about f/5.6:
Now the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G looks even better, but still not sharper than the 85mm f/1.8G, mostly thanks to chromatic aberrations.
Stopping down to f/8 does not seem to change anything in the corners.
18) Nikon 85mm f/1.8G vs Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Conclusion
It is clear from this comparison that the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G shows better sharpness/resolution performance than the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G macro lens, both in the center and in the corners. It outperforms the 105mm f/2.8G wide open and stopped down to f/2.8 produces much sharper results with more contrast. Where the Nikon 105mm seems to be a little better is when rendering bokeh – at maximum aperture the 105mm f/2.8G produces more pleasing background blur, with almost undefined shapes. Different lens design and longer focal length definitely make their contribution here. The 105mm is worse at dealing with ghosting and flare though, despite the fact that it also has Nano-coated glass. It also seems to show a lot more chromatic aberration, especially at the extreme corners. The one big advantage of the 105mm f/2.8G lens over the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G and f/1.4G, without the obvious 1:1 macro capability, is that it has Vibration Reduction (VR), which can be quite helpful in low-light situations.
Similar to the excellent Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G seems to be an excellent performer that competes with its much more expensive, bulkier and heavier brother, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G. While it does not have the same complex optical design of the 85mm f/1.4G, it very closely rivals it in terms of colors and bokeh. It shows exceptional resolution and contrast performance at all apertures, especially wide open. This can be clearly seen in sharpness comparisons to the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G VR macro lens, which cannot match the performance of the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G lens at all apertures, from center of the frame to the extreme corners even when stopped down to f/5.6 and smaller. It has a couple of weaknesses such as distortion, ghosting and flare and some heavy LoCA, but those issues are present in pretty much all fast prime lenses and most of them can be fixed during post-processing. Adobe has already built a lens profile for the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G, so if you are using the latest version of Lightroom, you should be able to correct most optical issues by clicking “Enable Profile Corrections” and “Remove Chromatic Aberration” within the “Lens Corrections” module.
I have been shooting with the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G lens for over a month and I have been enjoying it a lot. It is a light and compact portrait lens that balances really well on any modern Nikon DSLR. It produces beautiful images with plenty of sharpness, contrast and colors – exactly what portrait photographers look for in portrait lenses. Its AF performance is impressive and the lens delivers accurate results when mounted on both top of the line DLSRs like Nikon D800 and on entry-level DSLRs like Nikon D5100. And best of all – with its low price of $499, this lens is a steal, especially when compared to the not-much-better Nikon 85mm f/1.4G! Clearly it is the better choice price/performance wise for many photographers, except those who really need f/1.4 aperture and know how to use it to the fullest.
20) Where to buy and availability
B&H is currently selling the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G lens for $496.95 (as of 07/15/2013).
21) More Image Samples
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Nikon 85mm f/1.8G
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Size and Weight
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