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Review by Markus Stamm, published May 2011
On paper a 85mm prime is just a short tele lens, but for many photographers it's first of all a classic head and shoulder portrait lens. In almost any system these lenses are available in two forms: moderately fast (usually f/1.8) and, for that extra kick and of course also extra temptation, ultra fast (f/1.4 or even faster).
In the latter segment the market has seen some interesting additions and newcomers from third party manufacturers like Zeiss, Sigma and even Samyang in the recent years. Among those, Nikon's own offering, the AF-D 85/1.4, began to look a little outdated.
This has changed now with the Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.4 G. It's one of the new ultra fast Nikkor primes, a product line that saw a significant refresh by Nikon in 2010. The new lens finally features an AF-S drive as well as Nikon's Nano Crystal Coat, a special glass coating that helps to reduce ghosting and flare in backlight conditions.
In this review, we'll have a look at how the lens performs on our FX test camera, the Nikon D3x.
The AF-S 85/1.4 is cleary designed with the professional photographer in mind, featuring a very solid construction mostly made of metal and a magnesium alloy outer lens tube. The metal mount comes with a rubber seal, but unfortunately that's all the sealing you get. However, such a lens is probably most used in good weather outdoors or in a studio, where full weather sealing is not required.
The rubberized focus ring is nicely damped and operates smoothly. We're glad to report that the focus unit follows the focus ring immediately and without any delay, even when changing the focus direction.
The AF-S 85 has a rear focus group so its length remains constant regardless of the focus setting and the front element does not rotate. Using a polarizer is therefore no problem.
The lens features a Silent Wave ultrasonic drive allowing for a near-silent autofocus and manual override at any time. The AF speed is quite fast for a portrait prime, but not quite as snappy as the Sigma EX 85/1.4 HSM. However, for typical usage, the AF is certainly fast enough.
The AF-S 85 is a G-type lens and thus does not offer an aperture ring.
|Optical construction||10 elements in 9 groups including 1 element with Nano Crystal Coat|
|Number of aperture blades||9 (rounded)|
|min. focus distance||0.85 m (max. magnification ratio 1:8.3)|
|Dimensions||86.5 x 84 mm|
|Filter size||77 mm (non-rotating)|
|Hood||Nikon HB-55, barrel-shaped (bayonet mount, supplied)|
|Other features||Lens provides distance (D) information to the camera, Silent Wave AF motor|