Saturday, 3 October 2009

The Machine Arrives: the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D

After reading and lusting after countless reviews I finally took the plunge and picked up the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D and it's everything that you'd expect, but there are certainly a couple of things you need to remind yourself when buying/using this.

The Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D - all the things that you read about this lens are there; the weight is right, the build it superb and the images (particularly if you're a bokeh freak) are what you've been looking for, and if you've bought this lens, you're probably going to make use of the wide aperture and the bokeh is stunning.

But its not all gold from the off - shooting wide open has left my initial batch of images looking relatively soft. This definitely isn't the lens but me and not really getting the narrow DOF is really that narrow. Shooting at f/1.4, focusing on a subject's closest eye has left the face very soft (looking like bad focusing) but on a 100% crop of the eye, the eye and eye lashes are sharp.. I need more practise that's for sure.


The things that lens freaks tend to obsess about:


It's not as sharp as the 24-70mm f/2.8 at it's wide end (24mm) but its not far off, although (and subjectively) I find that the 85mm at f/2.8 is better than the 24-70mm at it's longest end (70mm) at the same f/2.8 aperture.

For portraits, wide open is sufficiently sharp - at typical headshot distance:

1/250th f/1.4 ISO200

This is the corresponding 100% crop of the eye that was used for focus

Below is an image shot at f/2 to allow both eyes to remain in focus given the angled pose - by the ears, focus is already suitably gone keeping focus on the face and eyes. Click through for the 100% crop - focus point was on the subject's left eye.

1/250th f/2.0 ISO200

As with all lenses, wide open is softer than a few stops down - photozone's MTF tests suggest around f/4 to f/5.6 for optimal sharpness, and I've always found f/4 to be exceptional.

(photozone) D3x resolution figures:

(photozone) D200 resolution figures:

Finally, Nikon's own MTF chart:

Contrast and Colour

No issues on contrast wide open (see below) and colour is pleasing.

_DSC2178 (HK taxi wide open)
1/160th f/1.4 ISO200

However in controlled, flash lit environments, my copy seems to have a very slight green cast which is not noticeable in ambient lit scenes: of course this is simple for corrections in post.

Things They Don't Tell You on the Box

From my initial usage, there isn't anything thats too bad. There is some lateral CA that are quite evident in high contrast areas but this is a known issue at the wider apertures.

f/1.4, single focus point on the 'H'
1/125th f/1.4 ISO200

1/250th f/1.4 ISO200

The second image is an extreme example - cloudy afternoon behind - and has had no CA correction. Whilst the CA corrected image is slightly better, it's still very evident.

_DSC2094 (more 85mm cliche'ing)
1/500th f/1.4 ISO400

Given that my primary use for this lens is going to be portraiture, this isn't a big problem for me.

As mentioned previously, focusing wide open takes a little bit of getting used to given the very very narrow DOF. When I bought this lens, I tested 3 different lens using a paper focus test chart and it seemed the focus accuracy differed across the samples I tried (to the annoyance of the guy in the shop) although it could be user error on my part.

Focus and recompose when using wide apertures will rob your image of sharpness and focus so it is highly desirable to be able to compose your frame and moving your camera's autofocus onto the point of interest (nearest eye to camera for instance).


The out of focus areas of rendering are certainly smooth and I guess this is the one of the main reasons that people buy this lens over the 85mm f/1.8.

Rendering of point light sources is also pleasing, producing rounded circular halos (in the case below, of traffic head lights)

1/80th f/1.4 ISO200

1/60th f/2.0 ISO400

But is it for me?

There is no doubt that that this is an expensive lens when compared to its f/1.8 sibling.

And the main Q that goes through people's mind (certainly mine) is inevitably Is the money worth those extra stops? but for me, it wasn't just the extra stops. The build (I asked to use the f/1.8 in the store where I bought the f/1.4) is more solid and its quite a bit heavier - not a problem for me, having carried the 24-70mm, the 85mm feels light(!).

But it would appear to be the out of focus (with its readily apparent smoother) rendering and also of point light sources (due to its rounded diaphram blades unlike the f/1.8) that make a difference. Stopped down a little (ie f/2.8), the f1/.8's non-rounded diaphram blades start to produce noticable hexagonal point light sources whilst the f/1.4 retains the rounded rendition.

So in total, are these differences worth that extra money (and it's a bit of a jump)? That's not a Q for someone else to answer for you.

Some resources that may help decide: f/1.4D or f/1.8D ?

_DSC0938 (Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D)

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