To capture photographs with a lot of pop, serious portrait photographers will often use an 85mm lens. Nikon's marquee 85mm lens, the AF/S Nikkor85mm f/1.4G ($1,599.95), is a popular choice for professional photographers. It can blur backgrounds to create sharp photos and has a natural vignette. This lens is a solid performer and the best choice for Nikon photographers who are looking for a lightweight 85mm F/1.4. For photographers with tight budgets, you can also get f/1.8 options if you are willing to use a heavier lens.
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Nikkor 85mm F/1.4G (Amazon: $1,596.95) is a 3.3x3.4 inch (HD) product that weighs 1.3 lbs and has 77mm front filters. The package includes front and rear caps as well as a reversible cover and soft pouch. This is in contrast to the larger Sigma 85mm F1.4 which measures 5.0 by 3.0 inches and weighs 2.5 pounds.
With the same accents in gold as on modern Nikkors, the Nikon 85mm comes housed within a black barrel made of polycarbonate. Although it is not marketed as waterproof against moisture and dust, there is a rubber seal around the lens mount so that you can use your sealed professional-grade camera with confidence. To reduce flare and enhance image quality, the glass has been coated with Nikon's Nano Crystal Coat. However, there are no fluorine coatings to keep external elements from grease and moisture.
Focus toggle is the only control switch. It allows you to choose between manual or autofocus operation. You can turn the focus ring to override autofocus. The barrel is home to the focus ring, which occupies most of it. It's covered with textured rubber for a more comfortable experience.
It isn't optically stabilized. This is less important for still photography, since the lens can be used to capture portraits at a larger aperture and in combination with off-camera lighting. Videographers who shoot handheld video will notice that the absence of stabilization causes jitter. Canon offers a stabilized 85mm f/1.4 but it doesn't fit with Nikon cameras. The Tamron SP85mm f/1.8 DiVC USD, which is a stabilized 85mm lens, is not an f/1.4 but it is still a solid performer that is significantly cheaper.
Three feet is the closest distance to focus (0.85-meter), but this is still a good working distance for portraiture. At the shortest focus distance thelens magnifies subjects at 1:8.3 life-size—about par for the course for wide aperture 85mm lenses. You can find many macro options with similar angles of view such as the Tamron SP90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 USD USD. Although it doesn't collect nearly as much light but does have close focus to allow subjects to be captured at life-size magnification.
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The Nikon D850 45.6MP camera was used to test the Nikkor 85mm. The lens can resolve 3,240 lines per inch at f/1.4, according to an Imatest sharpness test. This is a very high range and exceeds the minimum 2,750 lines that we expect from a full-frame, high-resolution camera. The lens' sharpness is nearly the same at edges as at center, even at f/1.4.
The lens is excellent at f/2, with 3,721 lines. It also has outstanding resolution at f/2.8 (4,552 lines), 4 (4,229 line), 5 (6,757 line), 6/6 (4,757 line), 8 (4,744 line), 9 (1,463 line), 10 (1,463 Lines). The resolution falls to 3,706 lines at the lowest aperture of f/16.
The lens doesn't produce visible distortion, which is a plus when shooting portraits. However, it does create a shadow around the subject when taken at maximum f-stops. The corners of the lens are darker than the centre at f/1.4, which is a loss of -4.5EV. At f/2, the deficit drops to -3EV and at f/2.8 it is reduced to -1.4EV. The vignette doesn't appear at f/4 or beyond.
If you are shooting in JPG format, the D850 as well as other Nikon cameras has in-camera lighting correction. The vignette will be reduced by enabling it at the Normal, middle setting. It shows -3.3EV at F/1.4 and +1.8EV at F/2. You'll notice darkening at the edges in both of these cases. This can make portraits look more natural, however, you will need to use post-processing software like Adobe Lightroom Classic to correct it. The Sigma 85mm F1.4 outperforms the Nikon here, all but eliminating a vignette even at f/1.4—its larger front element and heavier optics likely come into play.
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Nikon AF-S Nikkor85mm f/1.4G, one of Nikon's top lenses, is part of the f/1.4G series and a solid performer. The lens draws subject sharply and has a shallow depth-of-field at large apertures. This aspect can either be corrected using software or left alone for striking portraits.
The Nikkor is significantly lighter than the Sigma 85mm F/1.4, and also costs $400 more. Some photographers will value saving the money, while others will gladly pay more for the Nikkor—it all depends on where your priorities lie. Budget shoppers who can live with a narrower f/1.8 aperture should look to the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G or the Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD as alternatives—both are very good lenses.
There are photographers out there who like to use a longer lens for portraits. The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 105mm f/1.4E ED is a more expensive option than the 85mm, at $2,200. However, it delivers comparable performance. Sigma announced its own Sigma 105mm F/1.4 lens. It is not yet available, however, there are 135mm F/1.8 options.