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Nikon 85mm f/1.4G first impressions

f/1.4 — nicely sharp
but little depth of field

Just showed up courtesy of B&H Photo is the new Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (about $1699, and can be pre-ordered). A full report will follow in DAP over the next few weeks.

The 85/1.4G is a big lens, it looks and feels much larger than I had anticipated. With lens hood and front and rear caps, I weighed it on a gram-accurate scientific scale at 666 grams.

My first impressions are of very high quality wide open, with exceptional contrast for an f/1.4 lens, and very natural color rendition. Wide open, the images have a punch (high overall contrast) that is reminiscent of the 24/1.4G. I am looking forward to field shooting the lens.

The AF-S focusing makes a faint scratchy noise, just as with the 24/1.4G, apparently normal operation. Those who liked loud music in their youth probably won’t hear it at all.

Because both the 24/1.4G and 50/1.4G have clear front-focusing problems at distance, the very first shot I took with the 85/1.4G was a distance shot to check the 85/1.4G, which showed clear signs of front-focus error (using the central focus sensor on the Nikon D3x).

Canon doesn’t have this problem with its f/1.4 lenses, so I’m beginning to think it’s a fundamental design defect with Nikon AF. Whether the focus error is consistent, or whether it is flaky as with the 24/1.4G I don’t yet know. At close range, the 85/1.4G seems spot-on, just as the 24/1.4G was also spot on.

Focus error at distance; focus is well in front

The 85/1.4G has the violet fringing to be expected of any f/1.4 lens (axial chromatic aberration). There is nothing “wrong” here, this is to be expected. I go into axial chromatic aberration in detail in Making Sharp Images.

Nikon 85mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4

You’ll also get the usual magenta/green color bokeh, but this is also expected; even my Leica 75mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M exhibits such behavior. I also explore color bokeh in Making Sharp Images.

Nikon 85mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4

Sharpness and contrast are first-rate wide open at f/1.4; this is actual-pixels and I manually focused here, because AF couldn’t deal.

Nikon 85mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4 (manual focus by eye)
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