Monday, January 10, 2011

My review of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D lens


All images shot with a Nikon D3
Standard picture control with +6 sharpening.
Large basic JPEG fomat
High ISO noise reduction and Active D-lighting OFF to retain maximum detail and sharpness.

 A friend recently got hold of a Nikon 85mm f/1.4D lens and asked me if I wanted one. However being on a tight budget, I decided to test it out first and see if its really suits my photography style.

This is a very solid, well built, highly sought after lens which heralded the days of Nikon AF-D lenses. Nikon's newer lenses aren't as well built unfortunately. Weighing 560g, its a heavy prime lens with 9 glass elements in 8 groups. It is powered by a conventional screw drive motor instead of Nikon's latest Silent Wave Motor, hence the lens does make quite some noise when it autofocuses.

Price wise, this lens had a retail value of approximately RM3,800 before it was recently discontinued. On the used market, its usually priced around RM3,000 to RM3,200.

On the exterior of the lens, you can see a distance scale, Manual / Autofocus switch as well as an aperture ring for use with film cameras. Newer G lenses unfortunately don't have aperture rings in order to 'save cost'. A large textured manual focus ring is located towards the front of the lens for MF enthusiasts.

When you set the aperture to its widest (f/1.4), you can see that this lens is a huge chunk of glass.

This lens has a metal bayonet mount (unlike Nikon's 18-55, for example).

Optically wise, this lens is very sharp at the central portion of the frame even at its f/1.4 maximum aperture.

On the periphery of an FX sensor, it doesn't perform as well optically compared to its lighter cousin, the Nikon 85 f/1.8D.Nonetheless, the 'less sharp' edges gives the lens its distinct 'look' which is great for portraits.

This lens has superb circular aperture blades which makes out of focus highlights almost perfectly circular. Its bokeh is pretty shallow and 'buttery' too, especially when mounted on FX sensors. Bokehlicious! :)

Although the optical performance of this lens seems dated since the launch of the 85/1.4G AF-S, a friend has told me that I can enjoy that optical performance at a fraction of the cost with the Samyang 85/1.4 which cost around RM 1200. The only trouble with the Samyang (and all its other lenses for that matter) is that it is manual focus.

This lens doesn't have very impressive macro capabilities with its 0.85m minimum focusing distance. Nonetheless you can still grab some close up shots of medium sized objects.

The texture on the label of the Carlsberg bottle is fully visible.

Although this cup is quite close to the beer bottle, the lens still manages to blur out the bottle in the background because of its large aperture.

If you're a fan of available light shots, this lens may be your answer. The lens still manages to find  focus although it tends to hunt especially when the subject doesn't have enough contrast to begin with.

Another example of a subject which posed great AF difficulty for this lens - a black cat.

Using available light gives a certain ambiance to the photo which could easily be disrupted through the use of flash.
Look ma, no tripod! Handheld at f/1.6 and ISO 12000.

 The 85mm focal length gives a slight compression effect between the subject and the background. Its great for head shots and half body shots as it gives you a bit of working space between you and the subject, especially if they're not so used to seeing someone with such a large camera. The background is nicely out of focus, especially when you use large apertures, such as f2 as shown above.

One of the biggest irritations that I find with this lens lies with the weakness of its regular screw-drive motor..  It is SLOW and at times inaccurate. This is also a pretty 'lazy' lens. It refuses to autofocus even though I press the shutter button to fine tune its autofocus, hence making it not so useful for events where fast AF and accurately focused images are required all the time.

But when the lens autofocuses correctly, the result is sublime. It is bloody sharp and wonderful!

In conclusion, this lens is in a league of its own among Nikon primes. After the release of its AF-S successor, this lens is highly in demand. After all, not everyone would want to pay more than RM 5k for its successor that performs slightly better. If its autofocus performance was dead on accurate all the time, I would have no reservations to acquire one. Its for those who can afford to have work in a more relaxed environment, such as a studio, or a controlled portrait shoot, but not for intense event coverage.

Hope you've found this review useful. Drop me a comment if you have any. Cheers!


Jason Ayers said...

Too bad to hear that the autofocus is an issue because you captured some wonderful shots with the lens.

Hang in there Brandon.

dimzPhoto said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)


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