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Brian Tobey
Nikon 85mm f/1.8G AF-S

NIKON 85mm f/1.8G AF-S




Last Updated: May 7, 2012 | By Brian Tobey Email Google+



Nikon NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G AF-S

Announced with the Nikon D4 on January 6th 2012, the 85mm f/1.8G makes for a nice portrait lens at an affordable price point. It is a moderate improvement over the previous 85mm f/1.8D, which was released in 1994 and had an older autofocus drive that relied on the camera to autofocus. This new 85mm f1/.8G is compatible with all modern Nikon DSLRs and has a built in silent wave motor. Optical improvements are mostly seen in its background bur quality or bokeh. The previous f/1.8 D had poor bokeh and most were tempted to upgrade to the superior 85mm f/1.4D.

Now Nikon has two 85mm AF-S lenses, the more expensive 85mm f/1.4G and this 85mm f/1.8G, both replacing the previous 85mm AF-D lenses. Although they come at a higher cost, the real question is, are they any better?


Currently there is limited availability for this lens mostly because it is new. However, it is made in China, and I suspect there to be an abundance of them produced.


The 85mm is primarily used as a general purpose portrait lens. It is designed to be an affordable alternative to the 85mm f/1.4. This is obvious, as it does not perform quite the same as the more expensive 85mm on a variety of functions: autofocus, bokeh, center sharpness, and build quality.


This lens will work great on DX cameras. It has a SWM, built in autofocus motor, so entry level digital SLRs can autofocus. It makes for a nice portrait lens, similar to a 135mm portrait lens. However, you should also consider the 50mm f/1.8g, as a more inexpensive alternative.


- SAMPLES (D700) -

Sample Nikon 85mm f/1.8G AF-S NIKKOR 1
Sample Nikon 85mm f/1.8G AF-S NIKKOR 2
Sample Nikon 85mm f/1.8G AF-S NIKKOR 3


Sharpness is not a concern with this lens. It is respectably sharp wide open in the center, but gets much shaper by f/2.8. It is optimally sharp by f/5.6, where it can resolve more than 60 lp/mm. The lens is more than sufficient for the Nikon D800ís resolution power. It remains sharp until f/11 where diffraction begins to set in.

Remember that lens sharpness is only one aspect of a lens and should not be the primary reason to purchase a lens. Other factors, like aberrations, distortion, bokeh should play an equal part in any decision.

The samples to the right show some examples of how this lens performs. The top and bottom images are at aperture f/1.8, and the middle is at f/5.6. The bottom image was taken at ISO 3200. Click to enlarge to 100%.

CLOSE FOCUS2.62 FT (79.9 CM)
DIMENSIONS83mm Diam x 88.5mm L

Nikon 85mm f/1.8G MTF
F-STOP: f/1.8 | f/2.8 | f/5.6


After testing this lens myself, I found it to be very sharp. Sharper than the previous 1.8 D lens, especially wide open, at f/1.8. It is surprisingly sharp in the corners as well. At f/4 it can achieve an impressive 0.45 MTF at 30 lp/mm. (Note that Nikon's marketed MTF charts show lines/mm and not line pairs per mm). Although I only tested this lens on a D700, I can conclude that this lens is D800 worthy. Sharpness is a very impressive characteristic of this lens, better than its predecessor, the 85mm f/1.8D.

85mm f/1.8g distortion


Distortion is hardly noticeable. This is expected from a prime lens. It has some minimal barrel distortion and requires only a -0.5 adjustment. The distortion is easily correctable in either Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. Lightroom 4 has a lens distortion profile for this lens that automatically corrects for the distortion. Correcting distortion is easy, just enable this feature under under develop. You can read more on distortion in the learning section.


MTF 85mm f/1.8G vs 85mm f/1.4D

Lateral chromatic aberration is present in the extreme edges and corners. This is easily correctable in Lightroom or Photoshop and Nikon automatically corrects for this in JPEG output.

Longitudinal chromatic aberration is not easily correctable and is present below f/4. This expected for a telephoto lens with this size aperture. Longitudinal chromatic aberration can be mitigated by stopping down some. By f/5.6 youíre in the clear!

Nikon 85mm 1.8g sample

Nikon 85mm 1.8g specs


Nikon 85mm 1.8g Flare Flare becomes more evident when you stop down some. Flare is created when the lens is pointed at really bright objects. Flare is not a concern with this lens. Unlike the older f/1.8D and f/1.4D this lens has improved coatings to reduce flare. Nano crystal coating is not required.


Sunstars are a farely weak attribute of this lens. Its diaphragm is slightly rounded, and has poor sunstar production. This is not a make or break deal. Try the old 85mm f/1.8D if you'd like better sunstars. Read more about Sunstars.


There is some minimal light fall off at f/1.8. It is gone by f/2.8. Light fall off is not much of a concern and can compliment portraits at f/1.8. In lightroom 4, the correction profile adjusts the vignetting automatically.

Nikon NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G AF-S Light Fall Off Vignette


The 85mm f/1.8G has much improved bokeh over the previous 85mm f/1.8D. I did not even bother comparing it to the 1.8D, but instead compared it to the classic 85mm f/1.4D. In the past, most people upgraded to the f/1.4D not because of the extra 2/3 stop of light, but because of the improved bokeh (quality of background blur).

The 85mm f/1.4D is known for the ability to blur backgrounds into a beautiful Gaussian abyss. This 85mm f/1.8G comes close to the f/1.4D, but falls short at smaller apertures (high f-numbers, greater than f/4), where the 7 bladed diaphragm becomes more evident. Further, when shot wide open, at f/1.8, the 85mm f/1.8G creates disproportioned blur along the outer portion of the image.

Nikon NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G AF-S Bokeh

It is difficult to make out the differences, but at f/5.6, you can see that the f/1.8G is a bit predictable in its production of background blur, edged emphasized and heptagon in shape. The 85mm f/1.4D is more Gaussian distributed. I understand this is hard to see in this example, but in real life portraits it becomes clearer. This is not a make or break deal unless you are ultra anal about background blur as I am. I am a sucker for nice bokeh, and Nikon takes all my money because of it. The 85mm f/1.8G has decent background bokeh, and should not make or break your decision for purchase. It's perfectly adequate for most situations.


The autofocus is surprisingly slow, but accurate. I timed it against the f/1.4D and found that it is about ~30% slower. This is not expected, as the autofocus of the f/1.8G does not require the same accuracy of the f/1.4G or f/1.4D (motor driven). This was tested on a D700, but on a D4 or D3s, the motor drive is even more enhanced which would leave me to believe the f/1.4D is even faster on those cameras.

The autofocus speed is barely sufficient for professional use in weddings or photojournalism. This should only make or break your decision if you are a pro, otherwise the autofocus speed is perfectly sufficient for everyday use and portraits.

The autofocus required no calibration. It was dead on right out of the factory. You can see this pictured below.

Nikon NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G AF-S Autofocus


The diameter of the 85mm f/1.8g is large due to the AF-S (Built in autofocus motor). It is roughly the same size as the older 85mm f/1.4D.

Nikon NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G SIZE


Nikon NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G DIAPHRAGM


Nikon NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G AF-S

USA serial numbers are prefixed with US markings. US serial numbers begin with 600000, while international serial numbers start at 200000. Production started in January 2012.

You can find the serial number identification on the opposite side of the name plate. This is shown in the picture to the right.



I would not recommend this lens for professionals in wedding and event photography or photojournalism, as the autofocus was just not fast enough. The bokeh is reasonable and much better than its predecessor the 85mm f/1.8D. However at the $500 price range one should also consider the older far superior 85mm f/1.4D at a used price of aprox $900. The newer 85mm f/1.4G is also a nice lens, however its price tag far exceeds this lens.

For studio use and more formal portrait use, this lens is a great alternative to more expensive prime lenses. It is superior to the 50mm as it provides a more pleasing perspective and improved background blur qualities.


I would purchase this lens new. This lens does not provide a significant discount when purchased used. I would recommend Amazon or Adorama.