I have been following the very talented Susie Moore for many years due to her talent. I have read for many years that an 85mm could change your photography so purchased the Nikon 85mm F1.8G. Now I’ve used the lens for a couple of months its time to do the 85mm F1.8G review.
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. 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.
I found it such a nice working distance for my initial review 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. As a walk about lens in the city where people would keep getting between you and the subject and should you wish to capture some cityscapes and architecture I suspect the Nikon 85mm would be a little to long.
In my opinion for people based photography the Nikon F1.8G is a brilliant choice. It has a pleasing perspective, its also quite small so is non-threatening. Additionally it offers excellent image quality for a very reasonable price. There is an awful lot to like in this lens.
I would argue it is less suited to situations where you can’t control the environment so much and walking forwards and backwards to ‘zoom’ is not possible. The same could be said for all prime lenses to be fair, but indoors you can nearly always walk forward to get close enough and the limit is how far you can step backwards owing to the size of the room. In this situation you need something a little wider.
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. I do find I often need to stop down to F2.2 to F2.8 but this is more 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.
Without getting into mind numbing MTF charts, the Nikon 85mm F1.8G resolves more detail and is a little sharper than the already excellent Nikon 50mm F1.8G.
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 helps them relax. It can however 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. Neither are expensive as lenses go, but if you are an amateur on a tight budget this could be a factor. If I had to choose only one and needed to cover most situations with it, I would go for the Nikon 50mm F.8G becase it is more versatile. These are both very reasonably priced lenses however and I would recommend buying both lenses. Both can bought together for less than the cost of a good quality standard zoom. They will also cover most of the work you need to do cover as a portrait photographer. I find my Nikon 85mm F1.8G, 50mm 1.8g, 24-70 F2.8 and my 70-200 F4 are all I need at a wedding. I’ve stopped taking everything else.
The 85mm is 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. In fact the combined weight of both lenses still falls 350g sort of my standard zoom. The importance of weight can’t be overstated when you are either walking around with it or shooting all day and at 350 grams, compared to the 850g of my 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 and is the same as the Nikon 50mm 1.8G. 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! Its 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 appreciates the weight saving!
On handling, I had no issues with focus which I found to be quiet, quick and snappy. Focus consistency also appears to be quite good. The lens is a literally a joy to have on our camera as its so light, fast and compact. I can get the nice Bokeh effect I was getting from my 70-200, but in a much shorter, lighter, less expensive package. I can literally have the camera around my neck on in a small bag big enough to fit just a camera with one lense and I know I’m covered for most of what I want to shoot.
I originally wrote that I was impressed with the Nikon 85mm F1.8G lens and that It delivers excellent results at a very reasonable price and weight and is almost perfect as a portrait lens. With couple of months of use it just keeps growing on me. I can’t go anywhere without this lense now and if I’m honest with myself, I’m probably overusing the Nikon 85mm F1.8G I’m so fond of it!
This is the first bit of kit I’ve ever bought which has refreshed my interest in photography, I feel inspired again, like the whole world is ready for the taking, quite impressive for a piece of plastic and glass costing a couple of hundred pounds! It just feels like the thing I felt was missing and creates a ‘look’ I’ve not been able to achieve with either the Nikon 50mm f1.8G or the 70-200 and comes in such a convenient little package you can carry it anywhere.
For people work it is a very easy buy. If mine broke I’d go online sobbing and immediately purchase another. My advice is if shoot a lot of people in a controlled environment, buy one. Its a fantastic bit of kit.