June 27, 2012

review: Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens

At the same time that I photographed Anelisa for the review of the Nikon 28mm f/1.8 AF-S lens, I had the brand-new Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens (vendor) on my other camera body. For every place that I photographed Anelisa with the 28mm f/1.8 lens, I also shot similar images with the 85mm f/1.8 lens. In a way, these two lenses complement each other, if you like working with a dual prime lens setup. A nice wide-angle view with the one lens, while the 85mm is a sweet portrait lens.

Wanting to show off the shallow depth-of-field, I shot at f/1.8 or f/2.0 throughout this photo session.

I have to remark that in terms of the bokeh alone, this new f/1.8G lens is a superb upgrade to the previous f/1.8D version. The D series lens had harsh bokeh. The G series lens has smoother bokeh. In fact, doing various test shots in my garden the next day, I couldn’t distinguish between the bokeh of the Nikon AF-S Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (vendor) and the new f/1.8G lens. Couple that with autofocus that is faster than the f/1.8D and that this new lens is very sharp wide open, the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens  (vendor) is an excellent choice for the more budget-minded photographer.

This fast prime lens from Nikon delivers superb image quality. Nikon’s Super Integrated Coating (SIC) is a multi-layer lens coating that improves light transmission, provides better color consistency, and minimizes ghost and flare to a negligible level. From the various images I shot, the lens is sharp, and it wasn’t easy to get flare. So that is well controlled. As can be expected from any optic, used wide-open, the contrast is reduced, and you will have to adjust for that in post-processing.

Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) delivers fast and quiet autofocus. Even better, the length of the lens isn’t altered as with focusing. The lens responded fast in auto-focusing on my Nikon D4 camera.

This lens has 7 rounded blades of the lens diaphragm which is intended to smoothly render the out-of-focus areas. In other words, the bokeh is smooth and pleasant. (As an aside, shallow depth-of-field is not the same thing as bokeh.)

All the images shown here were shot using just the available light.

camera settings: 1/400  @  f/1.8  @  400 ISO
Nikon D4 (vendor);  Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens (vendor)

The one benefit of using fast primes wide open, is that you get fast shutter speeds without pushing the ISO too high … and then you get that distinctive shallow depth-of-field look to your images.

camera settings: 1/800  @  f/2.0  @  200 ISO
Nikon D4 (vendor);   Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens (vendor)

camera settings: 1/400  @  f/1.8  @  400 ISO
Nikon D4 (vendor);   Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens (vendor)

Shooting through flowers, I was able to frame Anelisa with these random splashes of orange. Again, the shallow depth-of-field makes this image.

Here is a pull-back shot, photographed with the Nikon AF-S 28mm f/1.8G (vendor), to show how I placed myself to get that photograph.

In another location, the pull-back shot to show where we started:

I thought the way this tunnel under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, would make a terrific natural frame with shallow depth-of-field and the short telephoto.

camera settings: 1/500  @  f/1.8  @  100 ISO
Nikon D4 (vendor);  Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens (vendor)

This is the beauty of working wide open with a telephoto lens, even a short one like the 85mm f/1.8 … the background just melts away. Here, Anelisa and I stood in the middle of a road in Brooklyn. The way the background recedes helps accentuate her face.

camera settings: 1/640  @  f/1.8  @  400 ISO
Nikon D4 (vendor);  Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens (vendor)

camera settings: 1/400  @  f/1.8  @  200 ISO
Nikon D4 (vendor);   Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens (vendor)

I would highly recommend this lens for any photographer who wants a portrait lens that can be used wide open with confidence. It is small and light-weight and would barely take up space in your camera bag.

You can order the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens from this affiliate link. Alternately, you can go all-out and get the AF-S Nikon 85mm f/1.4G

Also check out the review of the Nikon AF-S 28mm f/1.8G lens


help support this website

{ 40 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Alexandru Mateisescu June 28, 2012 at 3:02 am

Hi Neil,

I also have this lens but and it is fantastic but I believe you made an error. You said that “It has the renowned Nano Crystal Coat “, but unfortunately it does not.

You are doing a great work with you Tangents blog!



2 Neil vN June 28, 2012 at 3:18 am

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I fixed the error now.

The mistake crept in because I wanted to repeat the structure of the review of the 28mm f/1.8 lens, and that slipped by me when I rewrote the text. Sorry about that.


3 Gregory June 28, 2012 at 7:56 am

Great review and greater shots.
Have you tried the 1.4 version of this lens. I am sure the 1.4 with the 9 blades will give better bokeh i guess. Whats your take


4 Neil vN June 28, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Greg, as mentioned in the article, I couldn’t see a difference in the bokeh between the 1.4G and 1.8G.

Do keep in mind that shallow depth-of-field is NOT the same thing as bokeh.


5 Sandra Mikalauskas June 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Hi Neil,
Wonderful article! I love the images you took with the new 85mm 1.8. I bought this lens and am thrilled with it’s performance. T


6 Nate June 28, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Hey Neil,

Thanks again for another great, practical review! So, here’s the question for you. I’m thinking of selling off my 85mm 1.4 D and going for this one. We already have the new 85mm 1.4G that my better half has taken possession of…needless to say, I don’t use it. I don’t want to dump a ton of cash on another, would this be a great compromise and upgrade?



7 Neil vN June 28, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Nate, I do think it would be a really good choice in that regard.


8 Rob June 28, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Thanks for the review, Neil! I was on the fence about this one and was leaning towards the 1.4G, but after reading your review, I followed your link (I try to support websites such as yours whenever I can) and just bought one from B&H. I’ll have it in my hands tomorrow to try out this weekend. Thanks!

Locust Grove, GA


9 Buddy Brown June 28, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Can’t imagine you ever being w/o Anelisa. What a superb model! So many different looks . . .


10 neil c June 28, 2012 at 9:40 pm

hi neil,

i have the 85 1.4D and for some of my work i find the AF a little slow, i tend to just stick to my 70-200 VR 1, so what I’m asking is just how quick is the 85mm’s AF-S. if its fast enough i may part with the 1.4D as this 1.8g looks very very nice,

thank you.


11 Neil vN June 28, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Neil .. it definitely focuses faster than the f/1.4D which was a tad slow compared to the AF-S lenses.


12 Winston Mattis June 29, 2012 at 2:33 am

Great post, did you use any flash?


13 Neil vN June 29, 2012 at 2:40 am

Winston, you’re going to have to read the text of the article for that info.


14 MvH June 29, 2012 at 2:46 am

I have this lens, and I love it!

The image quality of pictures taken with this lens is superb.

The 85mm f/1.8G received a very good review at Photozone:
Photozone: ” So, in summary, for most subjects the lens gives around 95% of the performance of an AF-S 85/1.4 but at just one third of the price. Certainly highly recommended! ”

You can critique, and find fault with, the best products on the market. The only negative issue of this lens is the slow focus speed in low light conditions. You can try it yourself.

Except for a Macro lens, I didn’t use the prime lenses. e.g. I don’t like the harsh bokeh of the 50mm f/1.8D, etc.

This is a prime lens I use. I like it’s focal length on DX, f/1.8, as well as the bokeh & appeal of the final images.

You can shoot at f/1.8 with this lens. The images are good.


15 Carmen June 29, 2012 at 5:27 am

Hi Neil, Nice post and gorgeous images as usual.

I’m currently debating as I have an 85mm F1.8D model and a bit of a wild card which is a Tamron SP 90mm F2.8 macro. I was debating whether I should get rid of the 85mm as the Tamron macro is actually a supremely sharp lens with a nice smooth blur etc and works quite well as a portrait lens and is a bit more useful than the 85mm as it’s a proper macro lens too… downsides are it’s F2.8 rather then F1.8 and the focusing is slow/hunty…

…then you throw this review of the AF-S 85mm into the mix and now, where I was almost prepared to get rid of the D-version and use the Tamron, getting some money back in the process,I can just see myself spending money on an 85mm upgrade……..thanks for that ;-)

Love your work as always!


16 Bill June 29, 2012 at 11:24 am

Thanks for the review. An 85mm prime is definitely on my short list of upcoming acquisitions, although I’m a Canon shooter and won’t be getting this particular lens.

I loved the photos accompanying this article. I especially like the one of Anelisa framed in the arch. I think the best, though, is the B&W with the converging lines of the street and buildings in the bokeh that gives the effect of beams radiating from behind her. This gives her a dramatic angelic quality (as if she needed much help) and gives the overall composition the feel of a painting.


17 MvH June 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Carmen, I think I can answer your question as I have both the Tamron 90mm and the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G.

The Tamron 90mm is optically excellent. It’s a slow focusing lens with focus limiter. This lens hunts a lot and it irritate me when using it for portraits; but pictures taken with the 90mm are very good. This is a cheap and lightweight macro lens. It has a strange problem: I get a battery low indicator on the camera – from time to time – whilst the battery is full.

The 85mm f/1.8G works great as a portrait lens. It focusses much faster and it doesn’t hunt like the 90mm. The 85mm doesn’t focus as close as the macro lens, but you can shoot at f/1.8.

Both these lenses are good, but they have completely different uses. I prefer the Nikon 85mm for portraits and the Tamron 90mm for Macro.


18 MvH June 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm

The 90mm Tamron would have been the ideal lens if it was f1.8 and didn’t have the hunting issues. The 85mm f/1.8G would be ideal if focused as close as the 90mm.

You can’t have a car tyre which is good on-road as well as off-road.

I will sell the 85mm 1.8D and buy the 1.8G (better bokeh). Keep the 90mm or replace it with the Nikon 105mm macro.


19 Gary Smith June 30, 2012 at 3:26 am

Hi Neil,

I saw this lens come on the market, and was thinking about it. I currently have a Sigma 24-70 2.8 and Nikon 70-200 2.8 for my wedding shoots. I like the 2.8 for shallow depth of field and low light capabilities. However, a 85mm 1.8 would be better for weight and size.

Would you prefer the 1.4 to the 1.8 for any reason? I know the price difference between the two is considerable, which would make the 1.8 more attractive.

I think I will pay attention to what focal lengths I use today to see how often I go over 85mm.

Once again, many thanks for an informative post.



20 Neil vN June 30, 2012 at 4:00 am

I have the Nikon 85mm f1.4G and personally, I prefer it over the f/1.8 optic.

The main reason is that that extra 2/3rds of a stop might just be something I need in low-light situations.


21 Carmen June 30, 2012 at 4:54 am

MvH, thanks for your reply to me, I think I’m coming to the same conclusion…

…Keep the Tamron and upgrade the 85mm to the G. I need to find more opportunities to use the 85mm as I love the style of images you can get with it.


22 MvH June 30, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Carmen, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G is a very special lens, but it’s not perfect. I am very pleased with the images. You can always try it out before you buy- I didn’t. I think this lens will be close to the Nr 1 position at DXOMARK when it’s tested.

A prime lens needs to be acceptably sharp and have a good bokeh at apertures larger than f/2.8, otherwise you can use a zoom lens. This lens passed this test at f/1.8 + you have great control over depth of field.


23 Jennifer Lynch July 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm

I want this lens! It’s going on the list and maybe nosing its way to the top. Great review.


24 Jennifer Lynch July 2, 2012 at 7:54 am

This lens is only $499? What’s wrong with it? :-)

OK, seriously, why is it more than $1,000 less than the 1.4g? What is the difference and is the 1.4 better?


25 John Gibson July 2, 2012 at 11:59 pm

I purchased both lenses about a month ago and love them. Your reviews are spot on, Neil, I’ve had much the same experience with them.


26 MvH July 3, 2012 at 1:40 am

Jennifer, regarding the $1000 price difference:

a) I don’t think the price of a lens is always completely related to its manufacturing costs. I believe Nikon charges the max it can get for a lens, based on the quality of the pictures the lens produces and what people are prepared to pay for it. You may pay a large premium for a small increase in quality or features.

b) Compared with the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 (@ $200), the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G lens is also expensive ($499). (The bokeh of the 85mm is better than the 35mm, which may justify the price difference.)

c) The f/1.4 lens is larger and bigger. More glass & material is needed to manufacture it.

d) The built quality of the f/1.4G is better. (Made in Japan vs Made in China)


On image quality, Photozone had the following to say:

” So, in summary, for most subjects the lens gives around 95% of the performance of an AF-S 85/1.4 but at just one third of the price.”


27 MvH July 3, 2012 at 2:15 am

The price / performance of products are not always linear. Therefore, you may pay a large premium for a small increase in performance or features.


28 Jennifer Lynch July 3, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Hi MvH: Thanks for all that great information comparing the two lenses.


29 Joram July 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Neil, After all the Nikon lenses that reveiw I have been reading about the new Canon’s New EF 40mm f/2.8 Pancake Lens.
Will you be reviewing it in the near future?
It seems like an interesing design and a economical priced lens.
Thank you for all you share with us.


30 Neil vN July 5, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Joram, I actually have that lens, and will post a review of it in the next few weeks.


31 Rip July 24, 2012 at 12:39 am


Thank you for taking the time to review and post your experiences with photographic equipment. Was wondering if you have any opinion on the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs 85mm f/1.8G (on a D7000). Appreciate your opinion.



32 BB September 4, 2012 at 6:48 am

I have a 35 mm 1.8 lens, have been thinking between 50 mm1.4 vs 85mm 1.8G, my main requirement is faster speed and better bokeh, Which one would you suggest.


33 CC April 25, 2013 at 12:39 pm

From the samples I see – there is no big difference in bokeh. The same character. Third sample shows it clearly.


34 Neil vN April 25, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Compared to?


35 Maurice September 1, 2013 at 10:40 am

I too was wondering how the Nikon 85mm compared with Tamron’s 90mm for portraits. Comments about hunting on the Tamron have helped me decide – I’ll go for the Nikon 85mm for portraits.


36 yogi November 4, 2013 at 4:08 am

I have d600 and using lens 85mm f/1.8G ..now I understand how to use this lens after I see ur pic above with ur explanation.thx u..u


37 Helen Batt November 4, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Hi Neil,
Have you ever used the Nikon 180mm f2f.8? If you have what are your thoughts on it?


38 Neil vN November 4, 2013 at 5:53 pm

It’s not a lens that I’d have much use for with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II being that good. (And having stabilization.)


39 Syd January 15, 2014 at 9:35 am

Many thanks for that review ! The fact that you says it gives almost the same results as the very expensive 85mm 1.4 comforts me in my choice. After reading almost all your books and buying a couple of speedlights, this is next on my list for my little D90 : )


40 Iulian Besliu March 28, 2014 at 7:01 am

best lens for portraits on its price, I recommend everyone own this lens and it does its job well every time I use a Nikon D700, beautiful photos above, I like very much.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: