Nikon AF 85mm f/1.4D Review

by Enche Tjin on February 18, 2009

Nikkor AF 85mm f/1.4D has been hailed as legendary lens for Nikon DSLR or film camera. I think it is because of its unique characteristic but also its age. This lens has been around for thirteen years.


Image Quality and characteristic
Mounted in Nikon full frame camera D700, the lens is sharp at maximum aperture of f/1.4D, which is excellent. Stopped down to f/2.8, the lens become very sharp. But extreme sharpness is not what this lens is made for. It is primarily made for its ability in low light condition, and its ability to create a beautiful out of focus effect in background or foreground.

Because of those characteristic and its fixed focal length, this lens is ideal for portrait. It is also good for candid portraiture such as in wedding. For Nikon pro wedding shooters, this lens is one of must have lens.

Unfortunately, this lens suffers a bit from purple fringing in high contrast area (see sample pic below), it is also susceptible to flare, but not as bad as other lenses.

Auto Focus operation
Because Nikon 85mm f/1.4D does not have built-in motor focus like modern lenses (AF-S) lens, it relies on camera body to focus. It speed will also depend on the camera body. The more higher-end model such as Nikon D700, D3 or D3X will focus faster than the entry-level camera.

When mounted in Nikon D700, the lens focus very fast. Unfortunately entry level user such as Nikon D40, D40X and D60 only can use manual focus because the camera body doesn’t have the capability to focus AF lenses. This lens also create some noise when focusing because lack of Silent Wave Motor.

In sport games such as basketball, the lens has difficulty in continuous tracking. It fails to lock on the object properly resulting in many blur image. I don’t recommend it for sports.

Build Quality
Built quality of this lens is awesome, it is average in size and weight and very nice to handle. The focus ring is smooth. Closest focusing is 85cm, make it not very ideal for macro / close-up photography.

It will come with “metal” lens hood. Unfortunately the lens hood is screw-in type and you can’t reverse it for more compact storage. In spite of that, the lens hood is fully metal, so it is better than regular plastic type and a lot more durable.

Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D vs 85mm f/1.8D
Compare to f/1.8D version, This lens is 2.5 times more expensive, the cheaper lens is not as sharp as f/1.4D in its maximum aperture of f/1.8. At f/2.8, the sharpness is almost equal. The build quality is also a lot worse than the f/1.4D. But the 85mm f/1.8 is more compact and portable.

In Conclusion
You might want to get this lens because of several reasons:

  • You frequently shoot at extremely low light condition which f/1.4D is often needed
  • You are concern about artistic, especially smooth background blur.
  • You are looking for the sharpest lens from edge to edge of the image. (The lens is designed to be sharp in the center “focus” and soft in the corner).

Don’t buy this lens for indoor sports, it is better to get either f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens or lighting equipment.

Travel and general purpose : *
Landscape : **
Portrait/Still Life : *****
Candid/Photojournalism : ***
Sports: -

Sample images:

Nikon D90, f/2.5, 1/125, ISO 800

Nikon D90, f/2.5, 1/125, ISO 800

Nikon D90, ISO 350, f/2.5, 1/125

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