Hands-on with the 85mm f/1.4 AFS G Nikkor

The Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AFS G on a Nikon D3s DSLR

Last month, Nikon announced a redesign of their legendary 85mm f/1.4 AF lens. The new model includes an internal silent-wave focusing motor (AFS design) and does away with the aperture ring (G designation). The new lens also adds Nikon’s proprietary “Nano-Crystal Coat,” which should improve contrast and reduce ghosting and flare in back-lit situations. Having received a copy of this lens from Roberts Imaging, here are my initial impressions of the new model. Disclaimer, I don’t spend a lot of time photographing brick walls, so I’m not going to try to dive into “absolute” optical performance. I will, however post some test shots and give feedback as to what I have seen so far using this lens. Build and handling: The lens is solidly constructed and is hefty to hold.  At 660g, it weighs in over 100 g heavier than its predecessor.  The outer shell is fairly thin and is similar to the 50mm f/1.4G design.  With no aperture ring , you’ll need to use this lens on a modern Nikon body.  I found that this lens balances nicely on my D3s, it’s going to seem a little bit big on a D90, though. The internal focus motor (AFS design) allows for full-time manual focus override.  This is a great feature, and something that was always a little bit of a pain with the previous lens.  With AFS focusing, you simply turn the manual focus ring to engage MF– simple and effective.  If you want to use Manual Focus only, you can set the MF/M switch to the “M” position and thereby disengage the AF motor.  The lens comes with a standard bayonet-mount hood made from high-impact plastic.  I quite prefer the new hood design to the metal screw-in hood of the older lens, as it makes using filters easier and it can be reverse-mounted for storage.

Optical design: The new 85mm f/1.4 AFS G has 10 lens elements in 9 groups, versus 9 elements in 8 groups for the previous edition.  Strangely enough, the lens is not specified to include ED glass elements.

Performance: My initial tests show that this lens, like the one it replaces, can definitely be considered top-notch.  Center sharpness wide-open is good, and by f/2.8 it is deadly sharp.  Out of focus areas are just as creamy as the original 85mm f/1.4 AF-D, and with a nine-bladed aperture design, out of focus highlights are rendered quite smoothly.   The AFS autofocus system is snappy and accurate on this lens; much faster than the AFS motor in the 50mm f/1.4 AFS G.  Sports photographers looking for a short telephoto are going to really enjoy the AF performance of this new Nikkor.   The 85mm f/1.4 AFS G does show significant axial CA when shot wide-open, seen as magenta fringing in front of the focus plane and green fringing behind it.  By f/2.8, the axial CA is essentially gone.  Moreover, if you use Nikon Capture NX 2, you can enable axial CA removal and get rid of it automatically in your NEF files.

Conclusion and Samples

With a list price of USD $1699, the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AFS G is not for the casual user or enthusiast.  However, if you make a living shooting portraits or fast-action indoor sports, this lens is an absolute top-performer.  With very fast and accurate AFS focusing and full-time manual focus override, the 85mm f/1.4 AFS G Nikkor is a dream to use.  Paired with a D3s or D700, you can practically shoot in full darkness and still autofocus.  Keep in mind that when you shoot close-ups at f/1.4, depth of field is ridiculously narrow, especially on an FX Nikon DSLR.  Of course, shooting a wide apertures is what this lens is all about.  If you find yourself usually using f/8 or smaller, save the money and use the significantly less costly 85mm f/1.8 AF-D.  Because this lens is a “G” design, it won’t meter properly with manual-focus Nikon cameras, and it has some limitations on bodies like the F4.  I’m very pleased with the new design, and it will be a great addition to my kit.

Support this site: Check out the following photography guides by Jason P. Odell

The Photographer’s Guide to Digital Landscapes
The Photographer’s Guide to Silver Efex Pro
The Photographer’s Guide to Capture NX 2

7 thoughts on “Hands-on with the 85mm f/1.4 AFS G Nikkor”

  1. Thanks for the “heads up” review Jason!
    All these new lenses seem to be so good.
    The Nikon Nano-Crystal Coat “special sauce” really seems to add to the improvements in lens design.
    I don’t know if I will acquire this lens, but NAS is an insidious thing, so you never can be sure….
    Thanks once again.

  2. Thanks Jason for the information on the 85/1.4 G
    I have an older model and use it for basketball games.. I am using the d-300s and really need to update to a d-700 or I wish the D3S… Have you got any ideas on which camera.
    Lindsey Webb

  3. Lindsey,
    The D3s is my recommendation because the AF performance exceeds the D700. It’s also amazing in lower light situations when you don’t have strobes.


  4. Thanks-Bought the lens & shot a Basketball Event Lasy Night-Incredible seperation from subject!!!

  5. Thanks for the concise report; glad I visited your site. Only wish the 1.8 overhauled version of the 85 would soon appear. The 1.8 excellent, and $1.7K seems increase over the previous AF-D version doesn’t seem wise. The AF-D is very popular at around $1K, even with advanced enthusiasts.

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