Monday, October 29, 2012

Nikkor 85 1.8G with Nikon D600

Here are my preliminary impressions of the Nikkor 85 1.8G used on a full frame camera (the Nikon D600).

I've never sought out this kind of lens.  I knew this focal length was great for portraits, but I felt it was too specialized to be useful.  At the same time, I had other lenses that I thought could fulfill a similar function.  For example, Nikon 24-70, the Nikon 70-200 VR, the Sigma 50-150 or maybe the Sigma 50 1.4.  Nonetheless, I kept hearing great things about this lens, which kept it on my radar.

Nikkor 85 1.4G - never really considered it, regardless of all the accolades heaped upon it.  It is way too expensive for me for a specialized lens.
Nikkor 85 1.4D - legendary bokeh but still quite expensive.
Sigma 85 1.4 - Ryan Brenizer is a fan, and notes the extremely fast autofocus, with image quality close to that of the 85 1.4G.  However, it's also too expensive for me.  Plus, because it is not a Nikon or Canon lens, I was concerned about the resale value.
Nikkor 85 1.8D - cheap but the bokeh is not that great, which I think defeats the purpose of getting one.
Tamron 90 2.8 - a macro, with about the same focal length.  However, I think at 2.8 the depth of field would not be shallow enough.
Nikkor 85 1.8G - great image quality and the price is not out of this world.

I saw a Nikon-refurbished copy of this lens with a good warranty and exchange policy, so I thought I'd give it a try.


  • My first impression of the lens was that it was very light.  Ridiculously light for its size.  It feels like I'm holding a hollow plastic tube.
  • The lens is plastic but feels very solidly built.
  • This is a G lens therefore it doesn't have an aperture ring.
  • Instead of a dot to mark the lens mounting position, it has a round white bump to facilitate changing lenses without looking.  The D600 has a similar round white bump, therefore it is possible to mount this on the D600 without looking.
  • The lens hood doesn't have ridges (the ridges help reduce the amount of reflection that would cause glare).
  • AF speed does not seem impressive.  Just before it locks focus the lens seems to take a moment to adjust the focus back and forth, even in bright conditions.  Also my refurbished copy has a squeaky sound when it is adjusting, like you're tightening a jar.  UPDATE: Some folks at dpreview responded to my inquiry - the squeaking sound is a warning of impending AF failure so I need to return the lens.
  • The minimum focus distance is closer than I expected, at around 2 feet.

I took my daughter to the park, while my wife got some rest and my son asked to stay home to play Skylanders.  I thought it would be a good chance to take portraits of our daughter with the Nikkor 85 1.8G.

One of my concerns was that the depth of field would be too shallow to be usable.  I was surprised to find the depth of field is very usable even at f/1.8.

I also noticed that the contrast seems high.  The image looks vivid even with just the standard picture mode, although I still adjusted it in post.

The bokeh usually looked good but I think the Sigma 50 1.4 seems smoother.  That's just my impression.  I plan to compare them side-by-side next time, although of course they can't be compared completely because of the difference in focal length.
Often the bokeh is nice and smooth

Sometimes the bokeh is not that great
I'm not a pixel-peeper, but this lens is very sharp even wide open.

On the down side, the lens had quite a bit of chromatic aberration (purple and green).  Again, Lightroom 4 comes to the rescue.
Uncorrected - no cropping.
Corrected - no cropping.

Uncorrected - cropped.

Corrected - cropped.
The lens also can be susceptible to flare, even with the lens hood.  However, the flare could be mitigated in post.
SOOC. Flare.

Quick adjustments in post
Overall I am quite impressed with this lens.  However, I still have a few questions:

  • Can 24-70 compete (70mm 2.8)?  What about the Sigma 50 1.4 (on full frame or APS-C), or the Tamron 70-300 VC or Sigma 50-150?
  • How does it perform on APS-C?
  • I'd like to do a side-by-side bokeh comparison with the Sigma 50 1.4.
  • Is it practical?  How often would I get to use it?  Usually we go out as a family.  How easily can I use it with a group as subject?
  • What would I pair it with?  Perhaps Tokina 11-16 on APS-C?

I will pin down these questions in a follow-up post.  In the meantime, here are a few more samples.