Rodney Campbell's Blog

Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G – First Impressions…

by on Aug.31, 2012, under Life, Photography

I’ve been thinking about getting a fast 85mm portrait and low light lens for some time now. I already have the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens which I really love but there are times when I feel that it isn’t quite long enough (even on a crop sensor body) and I notice a hint of the types of things you see with wide angle distortion and I yearn for a little more longer focal length compression. I notice this most when taking really close head and shoulders and even just partial face compositions. This is probably because whilst shooting on crop you may get the angle of view of a 75mm lens the 50mm lens is still a 50mm lens and still acts like a 50 (just with the image cropped).

There are an abundance of fast (f/1.8 or faster) 85mm lenses available for Nikon bodies including the ultimate Nikon 85/1.4G, the older 85/1.4D, the Sigma 85/1.4, the very affordable manual Samyang 85/1.4, the new Nikon 85/1.8G (the subject of this first look) and the older 85/1.8D.

Whilst I (like anyone) would have loved the new Nikon 85/1.4G – it’s a two thousand dollar lens ($1500 grey) and even the old 85/1.4D is over $1000 grey and I just couldn’t justify dropping that sort of cash on what is a specialty lens for me. The reviews of the 85/1.8G looked very promising with all the hallmarks of a great lens without the extra 2/3rds of a stop of speed.

I’ve been watching the prices on the new Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G for a while and I almost bought it at just over $500 but when I saw it for $470 from a shop I could visit close by in North Sydney (grey market) I decided it was time.

Note: These images (especially the wider shots) look much better when larger – so click any of the images below to see larger versions in an inline overlay slideshow gallery viewer.

One of my daughters plays netball on friday evenings and I literally dropped by the store and bought the lens on the way to the game :). Her game is after sunset and they play outdoors under lights so it was a good opportunity to try out the low light performance and I have to say it focuses very surely and quickly in very low light (certainly better than my 50/1.4 which is no slouch). Here’s a shot of my daughter on the sidelines just before her game (5:40PM) – shot at 1/200 @ f/2 at ISO 2500 – it doesn’t look it but it was essentially dark with just the court lights providing some illumination. It was candid and the kids are always moving so it was just a quick frame and shoot and whilst I didn’t quite get the focus exactly on the eye I’m pleased with the result

NIKON D7000 + 85.0 mm f/1.8 @ 85 mm, 1/200 sec at f/2, ISO 2500

After her game we went to see her older sister dance in a flash mob and I took some wide open at ISO 6400 shots in near darkness and got some usable results

A few days later I had the opportunity to take some shots for our schools band festival concert performance so I had another opportunity to test out the lens in much better conditions – outdoors in good shaded light [1/250 @ f/2 at ISO 100]

NIKON D7000 + 85.0 mm f/1.8 @ 85 mm, 1/250 sec at f/2, ISO 100

Lastly whilst it’s not a typical street photographers focal length I took my camera with just this lens into the office one day and did a little wandering at lunchtime to try it out

Firstly a little flower bokeh – shot wide open at f/1.8 near the minimum focusing distance (which is 80cm) – I found this quite long for shooting these small flowers but the depth of field even at this range is pretty tiny.

NIKON D7000 + 85.0 mm f/1.8 @ 85 mm, 1/320 sec at f/1.8, ISO 100

One of my favourite rows of trees in Hyde Park [1/320 sec @ f/5.6 and ISO 100]

NIKON D7000 + 85.0 mm f/1.8 @ 85 mm, 1/320 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100

and finally perhaps a more typical “street” image [1/250 sec @ f/2 and ISO 100]

NIKON D7000 + 85.0 mm f/1.8 @ 85 mm, 1/250 sec at f/2, ISO 100

Impressions so far:
– it’s very light and feels relatively cheaply made – i.e. all polycarb shell – I suspect that’s reasonably typical of a lot of newer Nikkor lenses
– it does however look just like a smaller version of the 85/1.4G
– it has a reversible bayonet hood (note not petal shaped) – sure it’s cheap plastic but still yay!
– size wise it’s actually quite a nice fit with my D7000 – focal length aside I could easily see this as the sort of lens you could comfortably walk around with
– it appears to be extremely sharp – I’ll need to do some more testing with other real world subjects at some stage and update
– it focuses very responsively and quickly even in extremely low light
– even with just 7 rounded aperture blades the bokeh so far looks like it’s going to be very nice – smooth and buttery – again I’ll try some other testing with things like oof specular highlights to see how they are rendered
– it looks like it has a weather shielded bayonet mount which is a nice touch
– the relatively long 80cm minimum focus distance may be an issue for some – for it’s intended purpose as a portrait lens this shouldn’t be a problem however
– it vignettes at or near wide open even on crop – easily fixed in Lightroom (which has the profile for the lens already built in to the latest version (LR4.1) but for the intended use I actually like the little vignette it gives
– theres some definite chroma happening in some shots – again easily fixed in Lightroom
– it’s early days but very happy with the addition to the lens cupboard so far

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2 Comments for this entry

  • Royd Tauro

    Very nice review. I’m thinking of getting this lens as well. Have you had a chance to test the sharpness yet, specially wide open?


  • Rodney Campbell

    Hi Royd – my impression was that it was extremely sharp (even wide open) – basically it was perfect except for the quite visible CA (pretty much in every image) – I’ve since moved to the Sigma 85/1.4 (which I won so it wasn’t like I didn’t like the 85/1.8) and a friend took the 1.8

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