Nikon 85mm Review

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The Nikon 85mm 1.4 is one of my two favorite people-shot lenses! It’s tied with the 50mm — see my Nikon 50mm Review.

I do NOT own the Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens, but it is a cheaper version of the 1.4 above. The only difference is that it has a slightly more forgiving depth-of-field.

Nikon 85mm Review

The lens is amazing, and I like it even better than my 50mm 1.4. See more at the Nikon 50mm Review.

The reasons I like it better than the 50mm lens are:

  • A more intimate shot. The BIG difference is that you can be further away when taking the shot, which really matters. As soon as you “get up close” with that 50mm, sometimes the moment is ruined, because people are VERY conscious of the camera. The 85mm has now become pretty much my main “people / family shot lens”.
  • Better compression.  The focus has a more complex and interesting relationship with the background.  This is quite hard to explain, but it certainly has a nice “feel” to the final shot.

When it comes to taking photos of people or kids, this is the main lens that I depend on when first entering the scene.  For example, when we go to Disneyworld and we carry around the Nikon D3S (see my Nikon D3S Review), the 85mm is the lens we have on there.  It allows us to get in nice and close to the subject without needing to be about three feet away, which is a requirement with the 50mm.

The downside of this lens is that it has no flexibility in terms of zoom.  As a “prime” lens, you can’t zoom out or zoom in.  You get what you get.  Also, it is a heck of a lot more expensive than the 50mm.  If you are on a budget, just stick with the 50mm prime.

I think the best way to see what a lens can do is to look at some sample photos!

85mm Sample Photos

Below are a few sample shots taken with the 85mm.


d3s review (4 of 4)

Here is my daughter in downtown Tampa.  How’s that for low-light performance?  Shot with an 85mm 1.4 lens.  This is ISO 1250 on an 85mm lens shot at f/1.4.  1/90th of a second.

Running right at me full speed!  ISO 200, 85mm,  f/1.7, 1/3000 sec

ISO 360, 85mm,  f/3.3, 1/90 sec

She’s not a happy princess.  But she was shot at 1600 ISO, 85mm, f/1.4, 1/320 sec.



d3s review (2 of 4)

Here is Isabella again.  It was dark on the streets of Savannah, and I mean DARK.  And she was moving around, as always.  This was ISO 3200, 85mm, f/1.4 at 1/90 sec.

d3s review (1 of 4)

Here is my friend’s family in Savannah.  After dinner, about 10 PM in very very dark, we went out.  All of this is, like the ones above, without a flash.  It’s really amazing, isn’t it?  This is ISO 3200, 85mm, f/1.4 and 1/90 sec.


In Petaluma to see Leo Laporte in Action!

A barn near Petaluma on a foggy morning. This was shot at f/1.4


Any questions about the nature of these reviews? Visit my Ethics Statement. It’s all quite simple!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/sammers05/ Samantha

    I can’t wait to see some photos with this! I considered the 85mm f/1.8 for my crop sensor Canon, but went with 100mm f/2 instead. The bokeh is just beautiful on full frame (hope I can make use of that someday!), but still really nice on my camera as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Deron-Kamisato/715846146 Deron Kamisato

    I thought my lens collecting days were over but because of this review I really want that lens!

  • Stefanos

    Since I see that you already own the 70-200 f/2.8 can you describe how this lens compares with your tele-zoom? Great work!

  • Stephen Zacharias

    I would really like to buy this lens but don’t know whether the additional cost over the 1.8 is worth it considering my needs and the fact I shoot with a D90.

    Love the picture of Isalbella in downtown Tampa.

  • http://tagchips.com/skunkworks.html DARYL BUTCHER

    I love the 85 f-1.4. It works REAL WELL shooting out the window (open) of a speeding car. Set manual focus to just get to infinity at f-1.4, put it on shutter priority at 1/250 or so, point it out the window and shoot. Get travel pictures without stopping or when stopping is not practical. Alternately, set it on auto-ISO, program mode with a 1/250 minimum shutter speed or faster and never look back. As the sun sets slowly in the West, the pictures will keep coming back fine even by moonlight. The camera will just keep jacking up the ISO as the sun goes down. Sucks in photons like a black hole. Also makes great HDRs and panoramas in full light. Letting the camera set the ISO for exposure with a manual speed/aperture setting works great for sports. That is the 4th mode for me … e.g. S, A, P and ISO. With the low-noise sensors it makes pictures possible that were one time just about impossible.

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  • http://newtonflash.com newton

    Hi, which is wiser to buy for better bokeh, better performance? Nominees are 50mm 1.4d or 85mm 1.8d?

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  • http://www.nofilmneeded. Brian Hoffman

    I have the 85mm 1.4 and I love it as much as you do. I use it as my “normal” lens.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeanette-Victoria/767015264 Jeanette Victoria

    I want……..

  • http://www.ParkImaging.com Wil Bloodworth

    Trey,

    You do know Nikon is about to release a new AF-S version of the 85mm f/1.4 right? Of course, it will probably be $3000. Enjoy it!

    - Wil

  • http://www.couturephotography.com John Couture

    Thanks for sharing your review. I want to improve my portrait photography and was considering buying the 105mm f/2.0 D, but your review is tempting me to go with the 85mm f/1.4 instead. Do you have any experience with the Nikon 105mm “defocus” lens for a comparison?

  • http://www.stuckincustoms.com Stuck In Customs

    Thanks

    John – no – I don’t have any experience with that one…

    Wil – that one sounds pricy!!! hehe

  • Will

    You ought to try out the AF-S 200mm F2.0G, just an incredible lens and will get more of your people’s shots in focus.

  • Will

    A common problem I get with the 85 is that when I focus on eyes, the edges of the person smudges away and become out of focus, becomes even harder with group shots in terms of getting everybody’s eys in focus

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Maria-Martinez/1469394916 Maria Martinez

    I’ve had my 85mm 1.4 for a few months now and I absolutely love it. It’s the only lens I really use for portraits, it created gorgeous bokeh and crisp clear focus…although at times the focus range is a little tricky.

  • http://aa.ronshegrud.com Aaron Shegrud

    I Shoot with the 5DmkII and the 85mm 1.2.. and I have to agree. The shots, even in little to no light turn out stunning.
    beautiful pictures.

  • Will

    * Nikon 85mm 1.4 – It’s one of my two favorite people-shot lenses! It’s tied with the 50mm — see my Nikon 50mm Review.
    o Approx Cost: $1,230-$1,300
    + See Latest Prices on Amazon – Nikon 85mm 1.4
    + See Latest Prices on B&H – Nikon 85mm 1.4
    * Nikon 50mm 1.8 – I do NOT own this lens, but it is a cheaper version of the 1.4 above. The only difference is that it has a slightly more forgiving depth-of-field.
    o Approx Cost: $450-$500
    + See Latest Prices on Amazon – Nikon 85mm 1.8
    + See Latest Prices on B&H – Nikon 85mm 1.8

    I think the second one should be Nikon 85mm 1.8

  • Will

    * Nikon 85mm 1.4 – It’s one of my two favorite people-shot lenses! It’s tied with the 50mm — see my Nikon 50mm Review.
    o Approx Cost: $1,230-$1,300
    + See Latest Prices on Amazon – Nikon 85mm 1.4
    + See Latest Prices on B&H – Nikon 85mm 1.4
    * Nikon 50mm 1.8 – I do NOT own this lens, but it is a cheaper version of the 1.4 above. The only difference is that it has a slightly more forgiving depth-of-field.
    o Approx Cost: $450-$500
    + See Latest Prices on Amazon – Nikon 85mm 1.8
    + See Latest Prices on B&H – Nikon 85mm 1.8

    I think the second one should be Nikon 85mm 1.8

  • Will

    * Nikon 85mm 1.4 – It’s one of my two favorite people-shot lenses! It’s tied with the 50mm — see my Nikon 50mm Review.
    o Approx Cost: $1,230-$1,300
    + See Latest Prices on Amazon – Nikon 85mm 1.4
    + See Latest Prices on B&H – Nikon 85mm 1.4
    * Nikon 50mm 1.8 – I do NOT own this lens, but it is a cheaper version of the 1.4 above. The only difference is that it has a slightly more forgiving depth-of-field.
    o Approx Cost: $450-$500
    + See Latest Prices on Amazon – Nikon 85mm 1.8
    + See Latest Prices on B&H – Nikon 85mm 1.8

     
     
     
     
     
     
    I think the second one should be Nikon 85mm 1.8

  • http://www.clarityphotos.com Eugene Stevens

    Going to pick it up this afternoon after leaving work. I do a lot of available light sports (flash not permitted in volleyball and discouraged in basketball) and while my 50 1.4 works, I am spending a lot of time cropping those photos. This could reduce my “dark room” time.

  • Eugene Stevens

    I just picked up the lens and the one drawback for me (still would purchase) is that the hood is a screw in type. The first time I took it off the UV filter came with it. Instead of almost always using a hood, I will just use it if I see flare.

  • http://www.clarityphotos.com Eugene Stevens

    The 85 1.4 has been used on almost all of my photo shoots since purchasing it. I used it on indoor volleyball with the D700 at 320th/sec, S priority, and 1600 without issues. It has also placed itself between my 80-400 VR without flash and 80-200 2.8 without and with flash as the sun goes down on outdoor sprots events. It also permits available light sideline shots where the field lights are not sufficient without flash with my 2.8 lenses. As others have stated it is now my first choice for a walk-about-lens.

  • http://www.clarityphotos.smugmug.com Eugene Stevens

    “As others have stated it is now my first choice for a walk-about-lens”. This situation stayed until I purchased the 28-300 lens which is now my walk-around lens ( http://clarityphotos.smugmug.com/Family/French-Family-Visiting/FFN4509/1199351409_AiQVW-M.jpg ). The 85 is still prominant in my camera bag and is used on almost every photo shoot.

  • http://autopictography.com Ryan Ellis

    Hi guys,

    Never posted on here before, but wanted to add my two cents. I’m kinda starting out so can’t justify spending $1300 on a lens… I was going to get the 85mm 1.8 until I discovered the Samyang 85mm 1.4… First things first: NO auto-focus, which can be tricky, but it makes you work and think a little bit more, which is never bad! Secondly, it’s CHEAP (I paid £185 for mine). Thirdly: it’s SHARP (the parts that are in focus, at least). Try one out, it’s a beauty!

  • Thila de’Chand

    Hi Trey,
    Can I use the 85mm/f1.4 with D7000?
    Can I use FX Format lenses with D7000?

    Pls help me with this =S

  • http://traveljapanblog.com/ashland/ Al

    Thila,

    You can use the 85mm/f1.4 with D7000. Here is an example:
    http://traveljapanblog.com/ashland/2011/11/sou-womens-basketball/

  • ADE BRELAGE

    Trey, I’ve just discovered your blog and I love it! Your photos are great! They places you have visited and your writing is very interesting. Thank you for sharing all that. As I mentioned, I bumped with your site because I am looking for an excuse to buy the 14-24mm Nikkor and your site not only help me make up my mind but also made my husband smile! He was not very convinced with the idea of me buying a zoom lens because he is a “prime lens” kind of guy, you know… But after I read passages of your blog with your amazing (really amazing) photos, the idea of buying the 14-24mm was the reasonable consequence. Thank you Trey. I hope one day I could show you my future amazing photos too!

  • ADE BRELAGE

    Any idea of the 105mm f/2.8 vs the 85? Thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/imagesbyadamtaylor Adam Tang

    Hi Trey – you might want to check out this ebay sale – they’re using some of your photos to advertise a totally different lens! Not sure if they’re breaching liscensing or whatever. Cheers!

    http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/ODS-Samyang-85mm-f1-4-Portrait-Lens-Nikon-D700-D3000-D3100-D5000-D5100-D7000-/200778225361?pt=AU_Lenses&hash=item2ebf5096d1

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