Nikon 85mm 1.8G Quick Review

Just wanted to share my initial thoughts on the Nikon 85mm 1.8G. I just purchased it this weekend and had the chance to take it for a spin last night…

Note: This post features a Flash-based slideshow which will not view on Apple mobile products (iPads and iPhones)…

(Note that I like to add a vignette in post in my photos. I’m PRO-vignette; I understand not all photographers are…)

I have to admit I hesitated on getting this lens for a long time, based mostly on being thoroughly unimpressed with its predecessor, the 1.8D model. On that older lens I felt that the bokeh was really harsh and “nervous”, and highlights seemed to “vibrate” which caused a huge distraction from the main subject. Really, the main reason people like to get primes, in addition to sharpness, is to get that great shallow depth of field and beautiful blurred out backgrounds that isolate the subject and make them pop off the photo. The 85mm 1.8D failed to achieve this (in my opinion). I had considered various other options that were more expensive—the Nikon 85mm 1.4 D, the Nikon 85mm 1.4G and the Sigma 85mm 1.4. I even considered the Rokinon/Vivitar 85mm 1.4 manual-focus only as a desperation option since it’s so cheap at $300. In the case of the first three lenses, they were all out of my price range, especially the 1.4G ($1600…ouch), and the Sigma and a used 85mm 1.4D can be found for around $900 online. As for the Rokinon/Vivitar, I decided I couldn’t live without autofocus on a lens. Nevertheless, I tended to ignore the 85mm 1.8G, even though it had a great price at $499, because the sample photos I found on Flickr quite honestly didn’t impress me…although now I figure that it is quite possible that is because the photographers themselves didn’t make the most out of the lens. I don’t say that to offend, but these weren’t necessarily full time professionals, just amateurs.

I finally found some reviews and samples from full time professionals and got to see the capabilities of the lens in the hands of someone who knows how to take advantage of it. Plus I inquired online to a local photo group and got some great feedback and was even further convinced upon seeing the work they were doing with it. So I made the jump and bought it yesterday…and I’m quite frankly stunned by the quality this lens delivers.

I don’t think I have ever had a lens that did NOT require me to change the AF adjustment to calibrate it to either my D700 or D7000; it was perfect right out of the box at “0”. At f/1.8 the shots are Razor Sharp (yes, capitalized), and I’m amazed at the autofocus accuracy; wherever my focus point was in a shot…it nailed it, time after time. This is in sharp contrast to when I had rented the 85mm 1.4D and the Sigma 85mm 1.4; they’d both often show it was focused, but would instead backfocus badly a huge percentage of the time, which made working with either maddening. My brief time renting the 85mm 1.4G was accurate, but for the price point difference it better be, lol.

As for bokeh, again I’m impressed. So far I’ve only had it for one evening—barely 24 hours as I type this—so I haven’t yet necessarily experienced a wide range of backgrounds to see both its good and bad aspects, but what I’ve seen so far has me psyched at its potential. What I’m seeing so far has convinced me that for most people the 85mm 1.8G at $499 is the ideal alternative to the more expensive 1.4G that sells for $1600+. I’ve read other reviews that state that the 85 1.8G gets you 95% of the performance of the 1.4G at a third of the cost, and I wouldn’t disagree with that. It’s awesome.

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