Lens review: Nikon 85mm f1.8D

Booya !

Christmas is getting closer! And since you received your Nikon first DSLR last year, you've been using that kit zoom lens a lot and came to the financially painful conclusion that yes, you do need an other lens.

So you do a quick check on Amazon or else, to realize that stepping up means two possible options:
  1. Spending $1200 in a premium zoom lens. Ouch. 
  2. Spending $300 to $ 600 in a prime lens, but you loose of course, the zoom range. 
Well you already have a zoom lens (do I assume right?) for versatility so here is why you should consider a prime:
  • It excels and outperform zoom lenses at the given focal length because quite logically, it is optimized for it. 
  • By outperform I mean that they are sharper and significantly faster (sample shots following to illustrate. A prime lens should be by default a f1.8, and more expensive version should be f1.4 or f1.2. An expensive zoom lens will be at best f2.8.
It leaves us with one question: since you can only have one fix focal length, which one to pick?

Well I've reviewed the multi purpose one already (35mm), so today we'll see one of the 2 best choices in the Nikon lineup for portrait: the 85mm f1.8.

The second one would be the nikon 105mm f2 but I won't review that since the all point is to get you a cheaper lens than a premium zoom, and this one's not exactly cheap.

Once again, I don't do laboratory like reviews, since picture are to be seen with human eyes, not spectrometers, but I'll still give some insights regarding the technical abilities of the lens.

- Resolution:
It is rock solid as you'd expect from a Nikon prime of this price range. The purpose of such a lens is to get very narrow depth of field and isolate you subject, and it does is fantastically well. It's main strength in this domain is the ability to remain a top performer at or close to f1.8. Unlike the 50mmf1.8 (a cheaper yet good product, to be reviewed soon) that start dropping in performance under f2.8, this baby will give you a premium results wide open. 

- Bokeh:
This is highly subjective, people like there bokeh in different ways. I personaly like a "painters" bokeh, as far as possible from a mechanical feel. I will compare it to the Mamiya Sekor 110mm f2.8, my personal portrait lens reference. It is of course not as soft as the MF format Mamiya (let's not compare apples and oranges) but it clearly is among the top lenses you can find for a DSLR. It doesn't have to be ashamed compared to the medium format lens, which is a true compliment to the Nikon lens. It is a great bokeh, when shooting a feminin portrait where I want softness, it works great (see examples below).

- Built quality:
It corresponds to its price range and to Nikon standards, i.e. it's very good. It's a plastic / metal lens, I've used mine quite extensively, took a sand storm once, and it still works just fine even after taking the extremely brutal motor of the F5 autofocus.

- Other:
Nearly no chromatic aberrations, vignetting is well controlled, no weakness whatsoever, distortion is not noticeable.

If you have Nikon and shoot portraits, and are under a budget constraint, this is the one lens you must have. You'll never need to replace it and it'll probably do the next 15 years easily if you take good care of it.

Sample shots :

Courtesy of photozone.de

 Nikon F5, bright daylight, f5.6

Nikon F5, bright daylight, f5.6

I needed one taken with a digital camera too, courtesy of http://www.pbase.com/chinwai/student

1 comment:

  1. This lens rocks, I got the old AF-but-non-D version for €200 in Dublin Camera Centre 2 years ago and is one of my favorites, specially on full-frame (film). Got a few samples here, 3 of them con DX.