review: Nikon 85mm f/1.4G

review: Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.4 G

So after a slight delay, my copy of the brand-new Nikon 85mm f1.4G (affiliate) actually did arrive. I was itching to try it out on a photo session, and yesterday afternoon had Jessica model for me. During the short photo session, I used the new 85mm f1.4G and the classic 85mm f1.4D side-by-side. As you can see in the photo above, (Just like the older version of this lens), the new lens’ extremely shallow depth of field and superb bokeh, give backgrounds that just melt away.

My first impression already is that lens is even better than I anticipated …

1. Focus speed

I expected the new Nikon 85mm f1.4G (affiliate), to focus faster, and it is! In using this lens on the D3, it felt like the lens was suddenly just in focus at the touch of the focus button. And it is quiet. Very impressive. If you’re used to the f1.4D buzzing sound as it focuses .. especially when it hunts a bit, then this new lens will be a real treat for you. It really is much much faster. This alone would’ve made it an automatic upgrade for me.

2. Focus accuracy

Better yet, while I frequently enough got miss-focused shots with the f1.4D during use on shoot, it would appear with this initial test that the f1.4G nails focus at f1.4 more often.
Focusing on a Jessica’s eyes during various simple portraits of her, the f1.4G nailed it more often than the f1.4D in comparison. The f1.4G nailed it pretty much every time. It is difficult making a qualitative assessment here, working hand-held with an f1.4 optic. If either you or your subject moves even slightly, the plane of focus shifts. Despite that, the f1.4G definitely appeared more confident. The focus was accurate and just *there*. So this is a big improvement.

3. Sharpness at f1.4

I honestly couldn’t tell a difference. For properly focused shots, you could count eye-lashes on photos taken with either lens. Stopped down to f2.0 and then to f2.8 made a difference to the sharpness on both lenses. However this type of lens was meant to be used wide open, or close to wide open.

4. Contrast and control of flare

Here is the other Big News! Look at these two photos … taken about 30 seconds apart on two different D3 bodies. No filters. The exact same camera settings, and exact same RAW settings in processing.

First, the Nikon 85mm f1.4G

Then, in comparison, the 85mm f1.4D

Notice how the flare from the background washed out the contrast, as you can see in her black sweater. Now, the image at the top is noticeably warmer. I did subsequent tests, and the f1.4G is indeed slightly warmer than the f1.4D comparing the two lenses on two identical camera bodies, cross-swapping the lenses. But the difference in warmth of the images wasn’t to the extent shown here. So I am assuming what we see in these photographs is entirely due to the flare from the blue-ish / purple-ish tree leaves.

5. Bokeh

I can’t see a difference in the bokeh in these shots or other test shots. I photographed railings and grid-like iron-work .. things which very quickly show up a lens when it has harsh bokeh. But to my eye, these two lenses had the same great bokeh.



Final initial assessment of the Nikon 85mm f1.4G (affiliate)
– focus speed is greatly improved,
– focus accuracy is improved,
– and the new lens handles flare like a champ.

If you would like to purchase this lens, it is available from these affiliate links:
– Nikon 85mm f1.4G  –  (B&H  / Amazon)

The f/1.8G lens might be a more affordable alternative. It too is stellar.
– Nikon 85mm f/1.8G  –  (B&H  / Amazon)


49 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1parv says

    I take it you would be using a Nikon 85 mm f/1.4 lens for the long term. Nonetheless, would you compare the recent Sigma version too ?

  2. 4Neil vN says

    Magnus … for me, the 70-200 (whether Nikon or Canon) has always been my ‘go to’ lens, over the 85mm f1.4 or f1.2 (whether Nikon or Canon).

    I still have the Canon 85mm f1.2 II since it is such a spectacular lens, but I always favored the 70-200 zoom over it when it came to a shoot. Same with the Nikon. The zoom is more versatile, even though the wide-open 85mm lens gives a very specific look.

    Neil vN

  3. 5Alfredo says

    “it felt like the lens was suddenly just in focus at the touch of the focus button.”

    I was wondering if you use the AF-On button or just half press the shutter and what are your thoughts on one vs the other.

  4. 6Neil vN says

    Alfredo … I couldn’t adapt to using the AF-On button as the focus initiation. So I just use the shutter button for focus and tripping the shutter.

    Using AF-On as the focus initiation makes sense if you shoot mostly in continuous focusing mode (AF-C / Servo), such as sports shooters. Then letting go of the AF-On button acts like focus lock. For most of us that don’t shoot sport or something similarly active with lots of movement, I’m not convinced that using AF-On makes more sense. Although, I would be first to admit that tripping the shutter and focus lock, are two separate activities.

    Neil vN

  5. 7Eduardo B. says

    Neil, when you have the time, I would like to know the difference between the f1.4G and f1.4D in terms of edge-to-edge sharpness.

    thank you

  6. 9Sam Bari says

    i would like to ask if the the nikon or canon 85mm can give the same kind of Bokeh if it is used by a crop kind of camera like canon 7D or nikon D300 ?..thanks

  7. 10Neil vN says

    Sam .. absolutely.

    In changing your perspective, and then recomposing to get the same image size for your subject, you do change a few things. So the way the background blurs might look different, but the quality of lens blur (ie, bokeh) will be the same.

    Neil vN

  8. 11Mike S says

    Whilst on the subject of lens review, I noticed that in passing you slated the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM. Yet this lens has such good reviews on B & H. Can you say what problems you encountered with the lens, please?

  9. 12Neil vN says

    Mike, This article will partly explain my frustration with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II lens. And when I saw how superb the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 is, I realized I had been stupid for continually throwing money at Canon in the hopes of getting a sharp Canon 16-35mm f2.8 zoom, when the Nikon existed. Here’s another report on the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 which explains what a magnificent lens it is.

    Anyway, after having waded through 5 copies of the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 ver2 lens … of which the first three were horrendously bad, (noticeably poorer than the ver 1 of the lens), …. and the 4th copy had to go in to Canon twice to be calibrated to an ‘okay’ level … and a 5th copy also performed merely ‘okay’ … it is then a lens that I can not recommend in good faith. But, if Canon would send me over a copy that they believe matches their hype, I’ll gladly take a look at it. I’m always open for these considerations.

  10. 13 says

    Thx for review, very intersting to read. What do you think about plastic construction of this lens? I own that lens and the new AF-S 24mm F/1.4 and the cheap plastic construction disappointed me.

  11. 14Neil vN says

    Bogdan, the lens body is made from what I assume to be some type of polycarbonate material, and feels study enough. Doesn’t feel cheap at all. It doesn’t make that metallic sound when you click a fingernail on it, but cheap and non-durable aren’t descriptions that come to mind.

    Neil vN

  12. 16stakx says

    Hi Neil,
    I’m very happy to see your post of today (10/26/10 “bokeh – a few notes”) with regard to these pics from the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G. I love your choice of background- a defining quality of your photography- and the purples of the Japanese maple(?) complementing Jessica’s hair color are awesome.

    Subjectively, however, I’m not too fond of the bokeh. To my eye, the highlight OOF areas are a bit distracting where the edges are defined.

    I’m curious how the Zeiss 100mm f/2 would render the highlight areas (as well as the other lens in your arsenal).

    BTW: The difference in contrast between the lenses is remarkable. I’m realizing what many of these terms actually mean– thanks for your great blog.

  13. 17 says

    Hello Neil
    I was a canon user until last week, finally switched to a Nikon D3S. So far I have only a 24-70 lens to mount on it.
    I came across this post by looking up reviews of this lens, which I’d like to replace my canon 85 1.2.
    Excellent timing, thanks for the post and this blog is great, BTW :)

    I was also considering a zeiss makro planar 100mm as a portrait lens, do you know this one ?

  14. 18Neil vN says

    Pierre .. I have a Zeiss Makro-Planar 100mm f2 on loan, and posted a single image from it in this post on bokeh. The build quality is spectacular, and the focusing really is silky smooth.But I’m so used to responsive auto-focus that it is hard for me to adapt to this lens. For someone used to a slow considered way of working, it would be a dream. As it is, I prefer the Nikon 105mm f2.8 VR. BTW .. the Canon 100mm f2.8 IS macro is spectacular too.

    Neil vN

  15. 19 says

    Hello Neil,

    I understand you that the AFS is much better than old AF in the D-lens.
    AF is my main and only problem with the D-version. I shoot small kids playing around but also portraits (where they don’t stop moving), also live-scenes at markets etc. The D-lens is poor in nailing sharpness on moving subjects on my D300. I also have unsharpness with the 17-55 and the 50 AFS, but much less. Because of needed DOF, I often use between 3.5 and 5.6 when shooting moving subjects, with shorter than 1/200.

    Did you also shoot moving subjects with the AFS-lens? AFS was stll that accurate?

    Axel, Berlin

  16. 20Neil vN says

    abbilder … no moving subjects yet, but I’m convinced this lens will acquire focus faster than the AF-D version.

    Neil vN

  17. 21 says

    thanks for replying, Neil.
    yes I just saw your image done with the makro planar, looks pretty good to me.
    I can’t decide between the new 85mm nikon 1.4G and the makro planar 100, they’re my favorites of the set.
    If those two puppies are performing equally well when it comes to sharpness and contrast, then I’d rather go for the nikon as it has AF. After all, this is 2010 :)
    But if the makro planar is really way better in terms of image quality (I know – hard to quantify) over the nikon, then I might just go for it and do some old-school focusing.

    Is the image quality out of the zeiss so stellar that it’s okay to not have autofocus in your opinion ?

  18. 22Neil vN says

    Pierre .. rather than go according to which lens has the best optical performance … decide on the lens which will benefit you most in the kind of photography you do.

    The Nikon 85mm f1.4G is far more responsive considering it is an auto-focus lens … that alone would sway me.

    Neil vN

  19. 23Neil vN says

    An interesting observation in using both these lenses.

    I stood on the steps, leaning over Jessica for this portrait at f1.4

    Now, still focused on her with the central AF sensor, I recomposed the image with the 85mm f1.4G to get this image:

    I did the same with the 85mm f1.4D

    Here are the 100% crops of her eye for both those images:

    I was so surprised at how soft the image was for the f1.4D that I repeated this simple test several times – here and with other images. Same result …

    … using center-focus and then recomposing, gave me a crisper image to the edge with the G lens than the D lens. Consistently so.

    I’m not entirely confident in the outer AF areas of the Nikon D3, and rely on focus & recompose with the central AF sensor when working with shallow DoF and images where critical focus is important.

    So this made me really happy about the new lens.

    Now, I’m not sure yet whether this is due to either:
    – improved edge-to-edge sharpness with the G lens, or
    – the plane of focus is more consistently even from the central to edge areas with the G lens … ie, not as curved.

    Either way, I like the results. It makes using this lens more predictable in its behavior for me during a shoot.

    Neil vN

  20. 24 says

    When you focus and recompose, are you using AF Lock? I have been using the outer AF areas of the D700, and I think you’re right that they aren’t great at AF.

    Also, you must be doing the recompose very carefully, since at f1.4, if you camera to subject distance changes, the depth of field will change noticeably.

  21. 25 says

    Stephen, I mostly use the center AF sensor, and the shutter button to focus, and then I just hold focus and recompose. That’s for static subjects.

    Neil vN

  22. 26Thomas says

    First of all, hi :) First-time reader of this blog. Love your portraits!
    And now onto my question(s). I have a conundrum, researching about this lens like crazy. I want to buy it because I would need it for sports-shooting and portraits as well, (the 70-200 was also considered but I would rarely use focal lengths above 80-90mm), and am using the D700. I’ve read on another blog that the autofocus speed of the G version is quite slower than the D version, and this sounds weird to me (considering that the idea behind the AF-S design is speed), and I’ve also seen that there is a lot of vignetting and coma wide open (this review here: . Considering you say that the 70-200 is your go to lens for portraits, would you recommend it over the 85mm then?

    Oh, and so as not to flood you only with questions, just saw your budoir photography, and all I can say is – wow. An inspiration.

    Have a nice weekend :)

  23. 28trev says

    Hi Neil,

    I finally made the break from Canon, having been a 30 year user of them.

    Got tired of the OOF percentage hits from the bread and butter 24-70mm lens, both my 1D Mk III cameras have had to go back for repairs, my Canon 5D MkII has also been back, 1 speedlite [580EX II] actually fried the very first time I simply loaded batteries and turned it on, so replacement had to be done.
    btw: B&H were fantastic about this, I shipped it back to them from Australia and had the replacement in 8 days, fantastic service.

    So, I finally had enough and purchased 2 new Nikon D3s bodies, a 24-70mm f2.8 and a 70-200mm f2.8 VR II, 2 SB900s and other knick-knacks.

    They are actually in transit as I type.
    Each body will have each of above lenses on permanently.

    eBay is about to get a truckload of Canon gear coming it’s way shortly. :)

    In the very near future I am getting a 3rd D3s body and here is my question.
    I want a prime f1.4 lens and was tossing up between the 85 f1.4G and the new 24mm f1.4G lens.

    Seeing you own both [gee, I may even have to go down that path of getting both] which would you say you utilise the most. If you had the choice that is with only the option of having 1 of them.


  24. 29 says

    Trev .. I firmly believe that a wide aperture is more likely to be used (and be useful), with a telephoto lens – even a short telephoto lens like the 85mm – than it is with a wide-angle lens. I would definitely recommend getting the 85mm f1.4G before you get the 24mm f1.4G if you only have money for one of them.

    Neil vN

  25. 30trev says

    Hi Neil,

    Thanks very much for the input, I shall have to seriously get one shortly while the AUS $ is at a high rate, savings are huge overseas than locally. [Seriously, $8000+ on all Nikon gear I purchased, than if I shopped locally].

    I will be spending quite a few hours reading manuals and **of course** your site, love the work.

    Thanks once again,

  26. 31 says

    I always wonder why people who seem to struggle with focus issues, switch a whole system / brand in hopes the problems will go away…
    As an owner of both Nikon and Canon gear I can attest to each system’s at times idiosyncratic behavior. Given equivalent good lens both systems will handle beautifully some situations and horribly some others (apart from 1DMk3 whose AF would border on bizarre sometimes).
    Just my two cents.

  27. 33Ulf says

    I would be very interested in comparishon to the Nikon 85mm 1,8D I own. In my point of view I think the 1,8D is just sharp when closing the Aperture to 2.0 or even more. So there is not that big improvement to my 70-200 VR2 which is pretty sharp even with an open Aperture.
    Is this normal? Do you know this problem?
    Is the 85mm 1,4 G as “soft” or unsharp when using with an open aperture?
    Is this much better on the Canon 1,2 model? So that you can use 1.4 much sharper? this would be my dream lens but is not available for nikon.
    Thanks a lot.

  28. 34 says

    Ulf .. I wouldn’t be surprised about what you found in comparing the Nikon 85mm f1.8 to the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR II. The new zoom is a much more modern design and build, that I am sure it might just be sharper than the older prime lens.

    The 85mm f1.4G is pretty sharp wide open, but you have to keep in mind that stopping down will improve the crispness of the image.

    Neil vN

  29. 35Jerry says

    I want to buy two new lenses for wedding photography. I want them for Nikon D3s. The lenses are: Nikon 85mm 1.4G and 24mm 1.4G
    Do you think its good idea buy these two lenses. Than I have Nikon 105mm Micro and Nikon 70-300mm

    Thank you,

  30. 36 says

    You don’t have a wide-angle lens, and you don’t have a fast portrait lens, other than the 105mm f2.8 Macro.

    I’d say both the 24mm f1.4G and the 85mm f1.4G would be good choices.

    Personally, I’d still rather go with fast zooms. For the same money as the 24mm f1.4G and 85mm f1.4G you could get the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G and Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR II lenses. More versatile. Then you could even sell the 70-300mm lens.

    Neil vN

  31. 37Jerry says

    I read somewhere, I cant remember where, that prime lenses have better picture quality so therefore I was thinking about them two.

    You have tried them, so you can compare which ones have better quality?

    I want to buy lenses what gonna have really good pictures. I saw few yours pictures and they are very nice and you took them with fast zooms.

    So I am kind of in doubt for which ones I would go…


  32. 38 says

    Jerry … prime lenses generally have better image quality than zoom lenses.

    There are notable exceptions:
    The Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 beats every other lens out there, including primes, except for one.

    Also, rather buy primes for their specific look they give at wide apertures. And buy zooms for their low-light abilities. Rather than specifically for image quality.

    As much as I desire top image quality, I also have to consider the practical use of the lens. If a zoom is a better fit for my needs, then I will use a zoom. I’d rather have the shot than be changing lenses.

    Neil vN

  33. 39 says

    Hi there Neil,
    thanks a lot for your answer in the other post theme regarding focus / re-composing.

    Just read all the above… **very** interesting!

    I also came across different lenses with different re-composing behaviour (so I perceived it, at least), but I never before heard something about differences in the curvature of the plane of focus. Could you name other ressources on the web about these differences?

    Could you reproduce this error? Could it be, that other effects (your subject moved, …, the lense has front-focus …) are responsible?

    thanks for your great website,

  34. 40 says

    Vicco … Do some searching on Google for “flat-field lenses” and “curved field design” lenses, and you’ll see that not all lenses have a perfectly flat plane of focus. In fact, it is a specific feature of a lens if it is indeed flat-field. Flat field lenses keep the focus on a specific plane to the lens, instead of the plane of focus curving.

    It is something that becomes more noticeable at closer focusing distances. In other words, nearer to infinity, the DoF will cover the curvature in the plane of focus.

    Macro lenses (generally?) are flat-field lenses, for example. Zooms … well, this is where you’ll have to do some searching. Best of luck there.

    Neil vN

  35. 42Shane Turne says


    Great post but I hope you kindly answer my dilemma,

    I am a wedding photographer & I’m thinking of buying the Nikon 85mm 1.4g lens for it purely been used at 1.4 for beautiful bokeh bride shots..

    But I have the 70-200 vr2 & 50mm 1.4g with 105 Nikon macro and 24-70z

    Would u say is there any need for the 85mm when I have already great lenses, I know the 85 is a specialist lens but is it worth it

  36. 43 says

    I predominantly use the two f/2.8 zooms – the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm. They are my workhorse lenses and are essential for my work.

    As much as I love the 85mm f/1.4 it isn’t a lens I use that often. I always have it in my bag, but I pull it out to “sweeten” the selection of images that I will get … if I have time.

    So whether it is worth it or not … that’s a tough question. It’s a nice-to-have lens. In fact, a really-nice-to-have-lens .. but for me it isn’t as essential as the two zooms.

    Neil vN

  37. 44Will says

    Hi Neil,
    I think you said it best in one of your last posts noting how this lens would “sweeten” the selection of images that you will get”
    I purchased this lens a couple weeks ago and i’m really chomping at the bit to use it at my next wedding.
    Granted I love my 2.8 workhorses as well. But “IF” you were to use the 85mm 1.4 where do you think is the most practical application? I feel like I would miss my zooms to much during the Wedding formals…..would you use it in the church? first dance? cake cutting? etc..
    As always thinks for the great articles!!

  38. 49 says

    Hi Neil,

    Very good review…. I am considering buying a Nikon 85mm lens either the 1.8G or the 1.4G. Based upon your reviews of both lens, I’m leaning toward the 1.8G, because you say the Bokeh is almost if not the same on the two and I don’t think I will benefit from the extra 2/3 stop difference at this time.

    That being said, you did comment on the contrast of the 1.4G being stronger that that of the 1.4D, and that the 1.4G is warmer. Did you happen to make a similar comparison of the 1.4G and the 1.8G? I was very impressed with the 1.4G in that regard.

    When I purchase, I will make sure to purchase through your links.

    Thank you.

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