Nikon 85mm 1.8G AF-S Review

This review was originally written in June 2012, but still contains relevant useful information.

Nikon 85mm lenses are no strangers to portrait photographers- they’re lightweight, sharp, produce creamy bokeh and perform amazingly in low light situations. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the only 85mm lenses worth purchasing are the 85mm 1.4G or 85mm 1.4D, until now.

Consumers wanted a Full Frame telephoto prime that had outstanding image quality with sharpness from corner to corner, but at a price affordable to even the amateur photographer. Nikon’s answer to this was the 85mm 1.8 AF-S G.

As a Colorado based professional wedding photographer in the wedding and newspaper industry, I only settle for the best. When it was time to add a prime telephoto lens into my arsenal and I was about ready to pick up the 85mm 1.4G, however when Nikon announced this new, affordable version I decided to go out on a limb and save the extra cash and resort to the 1.8G instead. It was a decision I have not regretted. This new 1.8G focuses much faster than the old 1.8D, is sharper and has better bokeh; it’s basically better in every way.

The point of this article is not to list the specifications on this lens, but rather to highlight the attributes, give a brief review and list its applications.

 

SHARPNESS:

To put it simply, this lens is incredibly sharp. In fact, it is the sharpest lens I own. I’ve been shooting primarily with my 24-70mm and 70-200mm VRII, which are both $1600+ lenses and this piece of glass puts them to shame.

Nikon 85mm 1.8G review

Below are some comparison photos to prove how sharp this lens really is:


Cropped Photo


Cropped Photo


Nikon D700 70-200mm VR II 1/200s, f2.8, @ 85mm 100% Crop


Nikon D700 85mm 1.8G AF-S 1/200s, f2.8, @ 85mm 100% Crop

Bokeh:

Although the bokeh (quality of background blur) isn’t as creamy as a f1.4 lens, it’s definitely an improvement over the previous 1.8D model, and is for sure better than any f2.8 lens I’ve ever owned. Unless you are someone who obsessed with very shallow depth of field, the difference between the f1.4 and f1.8 is minimal. It’s up to you to decide whether or not to spend three times as much for a lens that does almost the same thing.


D700 1/100s, f/2.2, ISO 2000


D700 1/1250s, f/1.8, ISO 200

 

LOW-LIGHT CAPABILITIES:

It goes without saying that a prime lens will perform well in low light. As long as you have a steady hand, you’ll get awesome photos in low light with this lens. The quality of light that this lens picks up is amazing. I’ve found that anything handheld under 1/100s will create some blur unless you hold it very still so be careful. Focus speed however is a bit slow in low-light, so this is something to keep in mind.

 


D700 1/80s, f/2, ISO 1250

 

FOCUS:

Since this is an AF-S lens, it focuses reasonably quick and silently, but isn’t fantastic. While it doesn’t focus as quickly as say my 70-200mm VRII, it’s quick enough for me to capture important moments at a wedding. The improvement over the old 85mm 1.8D is very noticeable and the best part about it – It’s silent!


D700 1/2000s, f/1.8, ISO 200

 

ERGONOMICS:

I love that Nikon has made this lens look and feel more like a professional lens. The old 85mm 1.8 AF-D felt cheap and was dwarfed by the size of my D700. Nikon has beefed this version up and it simply feels great in my hand.

 

NEGATIVES: 

There are two negatives to this lens. First, the purple fringing (chromatic aberration) is terrible. The good news, however, is this is an easy fix with a quick Lightroom adjustment, so not a huge deal. Second, it will occasionally focus hunt in low-light situations and is not the world’s fastest lens in terms of autofocus speed. This is pretty typical however with prime lenses, so nothing new there.

 

CONCLUSION:

In my use of the 85mm 1.4G, I personally see no need to upgrade to the 1.4G versions. I’ll admit I haven’t had the opportunity to own a 1.4, but I’ve used one, and based off what I’ve seen the amount of quality for the price is outstanding. If you’re on the fence, go for the 1.8G and save the extra money to buy yourself a new speedlight, or a nice pair of jeans.


D700 1/125s, f/2 ISO 400


D700 1/800s, f/1.8, ISO 200, 50% Crop


D700 1/320s, f/1.8, ISO 500

 

Sean Lara is a Fort Collins wedding photographer specializing in artistic wedding photojournalism throughout Colorado.

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