So after years of reading how an 85mm prime could transform your portrait photography and after following the very talented Susie More and discovering she used an 85mm most of the time I decided to finally take the plunge and purchase the Nikon 85mm F1.8G. Here is my review.
I guess the first thing I should start with is primarily I’m a people photographer. I won’t say portrait because at lot of what I do is off the cuff, natural work but the subject is nearly always a person and the Nikon 85mm F1.8G on a full frame camera gives you a really nice working distance for people. Not so close you are in their face but not so far away you have trouble communicating. In fact I found it such a nice working distance I took it with me on a recent camping trip to use as my walk about lens. It worked in this situation because we had a bit of space being outdoors in the country. In the city I suspect the Nikon 85mm would be a little to long.
I should also say I’m not a stranger to primes. I also use the Nikon 50mm 1.8G and the Sigma 105mm F2.8 DG HSM. The Nikon 85mm does not disappoint in comparison to these two, wide open it gives very good results, although I find I’m often stopping down to F2.2 to F2.8 to allow for a little focus inaccuracy on my part as my subjects move around. That said, the results at F1.8 and F2 are very impressive and when I nail the focus, very sharp and with good contrast, even when shooting directly into the light.
I really like the perspective the Nikon 85mm F1.8G gives me and prefer it to the 50mm F1.8G. I also love the fact that due to the increased focal length the depth of field can be made so shallow that the background just melts away from the subject and the Bokeh is pleasing enough.
It’s also a relatively light lens, not much bigger or heavier or than the 50mm F1.8G and a featherweight compared to all of my zooms. The importance of weight can’t be overstated when you are either walking around with it or shooting all day and at 350 grams, about 500 grams lighter than a standard zoom it makes it a very attractive option to carry around.
Build quality is OK on the Nikon 85mm F1.8g. It has a plastic rather than metal barrel but that has advantages in that it is not as prone to expand or contract in different temperatures like a metal barrel will. It probably isn’t as robust as some of the metal barrelled lenses out there, but the simple answer to that is don’t throw it around! It’s a precision engineered and like any piece of precision equipment should be treated with a little bit of care to avoid knocking it out of calibration. This lighter plastic construction seems to be the way Nikon is going, the D750 that replaced my D700 is also much lighter, at first glance it feels a downgrade but after your first full day shoot your body really appreciate the weight saving!
Finally I had no issues with focus which I found to be quiet, quick and snappy. Focus consistency also appears to be quite good. After running Reikan focal calibration software I had to adjust my the Autofocus fine tune to +3 which is very good and well within tolerance right out of the box.
I’m a big fan of the Nikon 50mm F1.8G as I was its predecessor, the 50mm 1.8D. I often use the 50mm for images of the bride getting ready, family groups and where I want a shallow depth of field but don’t have the distance to use the telephoto end of my 70-200. Compared to the 50mm the 85mm F1.8G is nearly twice the weight at 350g compared to 180G, a little wider and a little deeper.
Image wise I believe the Nikon 85mm F1.8G gives a more pleasing perspective for people, the potential for much shallower depth of fields and is a little sharper.
You do need a little more working room with the Nikon 85mm F1.8G, at the same time that can be an advantage if doing head and shoulders work where you do not need to invade the subjects personal space which could help them relax more, but could be an issue when working indoors in rooms of a limited size or in crowded areas where people could get between you and your subject.
Price wise the Nikon 85mm 1.8G is twice that of the Nikon 50mm 1.8G.
If I had to choose only one I would go or the Nikon 50mm F1.8F because it is more versatile, however if I could choose only one and had the ability to control the location I would opt for the Nikon 85mm F1.8G because I prefer the results. These are both very reasonably priced lenses however and I would recommend having buying both lenses. Certainly both my Nikon 85mm F1.8G and my 50mm 1.8g, coupled with a 24-70 F2.8 and my 70-200 F4 will make it into my wedding bag and should cover most eventualities that would suit my style of images.
I’m impressed with the Nikon 85mm F1.8G lens. It delivers excellent results at a very reasonable price and weight and is almost perfect as a portrait lens. As a photographer who shoots mostly people I can see this becoming something that will live on my camera a lot of the time.