Another 85mm

The AF-D Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 is shown on my high-mileage Nikon D700. This package is a low-light dream.
The AF-D Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 is shown on my high-mileage Nikon D700. This package is a low-light dream.

I am a lens guy. I think photographic lenses are interesting and beautiful. They are one of my favorite things about photography.

The AF-D 85mm f/1.4 looks a little stubby and chubby without its steel, screw-in lens hood.
The AF-D 85mm f/1.4 looks a little stubby and chubby without its steel, screw-in lens hood.

Recently, a talented and respected Monterrey, California photographer friend of mine, Nic Coury, posted on social media that he switched to Nikon’s new mirrorless cameras and lenses and was selling an old favorite of his, the AF-D Nikkor 85mm f/1.4.

I love all the lenses in the photographic world, but if you pinned me down to name a favorite, it would be the 85mm, and I have always imagined what I could do with an 85mm f/1.4, so when Nic made me a very attractive offer, I couldn’t pass it up.

I certainly didn’t need another 85mm. In January 2016, I was able to add the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G to my bag. You can read more about it here and here and here (links.) And of course, I can get to 85mm with this zoom and that. Still, I always saw 85mm prime lenses as things of beauty that are capable of creating beautiful images, and there really is something magical about those huge apertures like f/1.4.

We buy large-maximum-aperture telephoto lenses to use them at those big apertures, as in this image of Hawken, our Irish Wolfhound, made a couple of nights ago, shot at f/1.4.
We buy large-maximum-aperture telephoto lenses to use them at those big apertures, as in this image of Hawken, our Irish Wolfhound, made a couple of nights ago, shot at f/1.4.
My 1990's-era AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D was never a great lens, partially because of the mediocre optics, and partially because of the cheap build quality.
My 1990’s-era AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D was never a great lens, partially because of the mediocre optics, and partially because of the cheap build quality.

Compared to the AF-S 85mm f/1.8G…

  • Despite the two lenses being nearly identical in size, the f/1.4 weighs 20 ounces, while the f/1.8 weighs just 12.4 ounces.
  • The D takes more effort to coax it into focusing. Once it’s there, it’s sharp, but as you can imagine, at f/1.4 or even at f/2, the subtle aberrations mix with the super-shallow depth of field to challenge sharpness.
  • Autofocus is slow, and it often requires another push of the shutter release or back button to “restart” the focus. I shot a little basketball action with it the day I got it, but the percentage of useable images was way down compared to my usual basketball lens, the AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8. AF-S really is the game changer it’s touted to be.
The AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 and the older AF-D Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 are nearly identical in size, and it's a great fit in my hands, but the f/1.4 is very noticeably heavier, undoubtedly because the f/1.8 uses a lot of plastic in its construction.
The AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 and the older AF-D Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 are nearly identical in size, and it’s a great fit in my hands, but the f/1.4 is very noticeably heavier, undoubtedly because the f/1.8 uses a lot of plastic in its construction.
A common aberration among large-aperture telephoto lenses - and the 85mm f/1.4 - is spherochromatism, which causes color fringing in out-of-focus areas.
A common aberration among large-aperture telephoto lenses – and the 85mm f/1.4 – is spherochromatism, which causes color fringing in out-of-focus areas.

Compared to the AF 85mm f/1.8D, a lens I bought in the 1990s and used until it died, and the 85mm f/2.0 that I sold years ago…

  • The f/1.4D is much better made and sturier in-hand than the plasticky f/1.8D, and much more a pleasure to use.
  • Aperture-for-aperture, the f/1.4 is always sharper. (This in in contradiction with Ken Rockwell’s assertion that the f/1.8 is sharper… my f/1.8D was never all that sharp.)
  • The manual-focus 85mm f/2.0 was a gem, both mechanically and optically, and one of the lenses I miss the most, but adding the autofocus f/1.4 makes up for it.
This gorgeous Christmas display was one of the first images I made with the 85mm f/1.4. Shot at f/1.4, depth-of-field is just a few millimeters, and the out-of-focus area is quite striking.
This gorgeous Christmas display was one of the first images I made with the 85mm f/1.4. Shot at f/1.4, depth-of-field is just a few millimeters, and the out-of-focus area is quite striking.
The photographer who sold me the AF 85mm f/1.4D, Nic Coury, and I had a good conversation about how glad he was that he was selling this lens to someone who was not going to store it and admire it, but who was going to use it.
The photographer who sold me the AF 85mm f/1.4D, Nic Coury, and I had a good conversation about how glad he was that he was selling this lens to someone who was not going to store it and admire it, but who was going to use it.

 

1 Comment

  1. Lovely images. Enjoy the “new” lens!

    “This in in contradiction with Ken Rockwell’s assertion…”

    My experience very often contradicts Rockwell’s assertions. 🙂

    (A recent exception was the Irix 150mm f/2.8 Macro Dragonfly lens I acquired this year; Rockwell was spot-on about it, and I’m enjoying it quite a bit.)

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