The AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G is the new incarnation of the tried and tested 85mm f/1.4D IF.
The new lens comes with advanced and better technology, such as the SWM and Nano Coat. Going by its specifications, it is an ideal lens for low light, portraits, fashion and wedding photography. Let’s see how the lens fares on our test bench...
Design and Build Quality
The AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G is designed for the full-frame (FX) body, having its exterior constructed with magnesium alloy to withstand tough professional use. Since it is a G-type lens, it has no aperture ring; apertures are controlled through the camera body. The lens mount is made from metal and a rubber ring surrounds the rear flange to prevent accidental entry of water and dust in to the rear element. An M/A-M switch lets you select between AF and Manual focus. Autofocus can be overridden if necessary. Filter size is 77mm and the lens weighs 595 g.
The lens is constructed with 10 elements in 9 groups and offers an angle-of-view of approximately 28 degrees on FX bodies (approximately 18 degrees on DX). The widest lens opening is f/1.4, making it extremely useful in low light conditions (the minimum aperture is f/16). Couple that with the 85mm medium telephoto focal length, and we have a fantastic portrait lens.
According to Nikon, the optical system is newly designed and includes the Nano Crystal Coat to further reduce flare and ghosting, thus delivering crisper images. A Silent Wave Motor (SWM) provides quick, silent, and accurate autofocussing. Manual focussing too is smooth, thanks to the refined gearing mechanism. The lens incorporates 9 aperture blades (rounded diaphragm) that provide a soft, dream-like bokeh of out of focus areas. The closest focussing distance is 85cm, offering a maximum reproduction ratio of 0.12x. Being an IF (Internal Focus) design, the lens does not extend during focussing. Depth of field scale is limited to f/16 only, making one wonder why is it there in the first place.
The lens was tested using a full-frame Nikon D700 body. The combination balanced perfectly well and the lens was very easy to use. A twist of merely 15 degrees of the focussing ring takes the lens from its closest focus to infinity. The 50cm (2-inch) deep lens hood shields the front element from flare-causing external light.
As mentioned earlier, the lens was tested on a D700 body. Autofocussing was quick, smooth, and accurate, even in low light (naturally, since it’s a f/1.4 lens!). Manual focussing was very smooth too. Center sharpness was excellent throughout the aperture range; corner sharpness was excellent too, except at f/1.4 where it was slightly less sharper. Generally, lenses with extreme wide apertures do not exhibit such sharpness when used at their wider apertures, but the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G seems to be an exception. Shooting portraits at f/1.4 and f/2 with this lens was a pleasure. Depth of field at f/1.4 is practically non-existent, so the focussing has to be perfect. If the focussing distance changes ever so slightly (because you move back or forth), you are not likely to get sharp results. In this case, you should blame yourself, not the lens! The background turns into a beautiful blur, forcing the viewers’ attention to the principle subject. The lens appeared to render wee-bit warm results, which I seem to prefer. Distortion was very well controlled; though fault-finders like me may notice very slight barrel distortion, but I would say it’s negligible.
Fast’ lenses generally have problems of corner darkening at wider apertures and the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G was no exception. Darkening of corners was very evident at f/1.4, f/2, and to some extent, at f/2.8. Though the Nano Coat helps in reducing flare, in strong against-the-light shots, flare and chromatic aberration was observed. To maintain the level of contrast and image crispness which this lens is capable of, the lens hood should be used at all times; and please, avoid cheap filters!
VALUE FOR MONEY
The AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G sells at an MRP of Rs.1,14,095. By no means easily affordable (by most users) but let me tell you this: it is probably Nikon’s sharpest portrait lens till date, and hence good value for money.
+ Very sharp
+ Very fast (f/1.4)
+ Superb control over DOF
- Expensive (but good value for money)
- No VR
- No special glass
Design and Build Quality 17/20
Key Features 16/20
Distortion Control 4.5/5
Darkening of Corners 4/5
Extra Features 3/5
Value for Money 7/10
Grand Total 82.5/100
All good things in life are heavy on the pocket (whosoever said that “the best things in life are free”, probably was not into photography). The AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G is sharp, fast-focussing, easy to handle, has good build quality, and can be an asset in difficult lighting conditions. If your pockets are jingling, go for it!