Review: Nikon 85mm f/1.8G

I’ve been looking for a good portrait lens that won’t break the bank, is sharp, has good Bokeh quality, and a low F-stop.  Enter Nikon’s 85mm F/1.8G.

I got mine from B & H for $500.  I pre-ordered it in the beginning of March and finally got it Thursday April 3rd!  I’ve ordered from Adorama and Amazon, and I’d have to say that I prefer B&H so far.  They actually know how to pack a lens.  It had packing peanuts above and below the lens box, where as Amazon just puts paper or peanuts over the lens box, which does nothing in my opinion…

My review is going to be mostly practical; if you want a more technical/scientific approach on the lens, This is a good location.

When I took it out of the box the first thing I noticed was the size of the lens.  Compared to my 35 f/1.8, this is a beast!  As you can see below, it’s considerably larger than the 35mm, and almost the same length as the 18-200mm with the hood on.

The lens feels good on the camera.  The focus ring has a good range of travel (maybe 120 degrees) and everything feels solid.  Someone mentioned the filter rings being plastic, but I’m not a big filter person, so I can’t say anything one way or the other on that…

From my initial shots with the lens, it is very sharp, has very low flaring/ghosting, and the Bokeh is the best I’ve seen.  I think this lens is going to be my workhorse until I can afford something like Nikon’s 24-70, or 70-200.

It performs pretty well at f/1.8.  With the 35mm, I typically try to shoot at f/2.8 unless I really need the available light…

The minimum aperture is f/16

The maximum aperture is f/1.8

It has your standard M/A – M controls.  M/A means auto focus and you can override it.  M means it won’t auto focus.

It has a 67mm thread on it, which is a little odd.  This means I’ll have to buy more filters since my other lenses are 72mm I think…

Sharpness, I know what you’re thinking, “The lens has little to do with a sharp photograph…” Or maybe, modern lenses have much less to do with image sharpness than does proper technique, but this lens is really sharp!  Check out the following shots.

All these shots are SOC (Straight Out of Camera), converted to JPEG from RAW using LR4.  I chose f/5.6 because that’s the lowest aperture all the lenses I have have in common (and the best performance point for most of them).  In Photoshop, I enlarged a section and combined them into a single image.  It’s kinda hard to tell the differences unless you know what you’re looking for, but with just the first few real shots I’ve taken with this lens, I’ve noticed how much sharper it is at f/1.8 than the 35mm at the same aperture…

Now, that said, I think I’d have to blow up a shot to 24×36, probably 30×40 before you could even notice the advantage.  I’m planning on printing a shot from my wide-angle 10-20mm Sigma lens (which is the least sharp lens I own) to 24″x36″, so like I said, sharpness in a lens doesn’t mean a whole lot if you take a good picture.  Now, where the advantage will come in will be when I take a poorly framed shot and need to crop in.

The auto-focus feels a little sluggish, almost like the camera has to move more weight to focus the lens than it normally would… By no means is the auto-focus slow, but it doesn’t snap into focus like the higher-end lenses…  If you’ve ever used the 17-55 f/2.8, that lens’ auto-focus is more of a [snap], whereas the 85 f/1.8 is more of a [soowish]… if that makes any sense.

If I had to say this lens has a flaw, it’s Chromatic Abrasion (CA)…  I took one shot that it was clearly visible.  Maybe flaw is too strong of a word.  How about draw back?  It only seems to crop up in very specific instances, like very bright contrast that is out of focus.  I took the lens out for a spin at my wife’s school fair and have noticed very little or no CA yet…  Below are the examples and the corrections using LR4.  It seems to disappear almost completely if you stop down to f/2.8…

Uncorrected

Corrected

Bokeh (The out-of-focus areas in a picture) quality on this lens is incredible!  I absolutely love it.  Check out this quick comparison.

This is the best comparison I could get.  Notice the shape of the highlights from the 35mm shot, like little stop signs.  Now, imagine a portrait where you’re shooting under a tree with the sun behind said tree, there will be thousands of little stop sign shaped points of light distracting you from the image…  As the weather was crap while I was writing this, I don’t have a good comparison shot… I’ll update this post when I get a chance to go outside with the 85 on a nice sunny day…

Next up is lens flare.  It is very well controlled on this lens.  Check out this comparison:

As you’ll notice, the flare in the upper right corner of the frame of the 35mm is significantly larger and more complex than the flare in the 85mm shot.  I recently did a portrait for someone where I had to skew the camera at some weird angle just to hide the flare in some grass.  It ended up working out, but I really wish I had the 85mm at the time. (Flare, Flare Hidden).

Ugh, these “lab” tests suck.  Time for some real world shots! Sasha and I have a good relationship, I get nice test shots and she gets carrots…

Ok, this one is actually from the 35mm, but it’s pretty darn funny so I included it!

If you have this lens, please comment with your opinion of it.  If you think I’ve missed something or want a specific test before you take the plunge, let me know…

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