Optical Review Blog No. 46 – Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D

If there is one lens that helped put Nikon on the map, it is an 85mm lens. This lens traces back to when Nikon stepped into the camera market but had yet to make a worldwide splash. A Japanese and American photographer helped take the company to worldwide status, and a simple 85mm lens in Leica Thread Mount showed them the way. The 85mm f/1.8D helped continue that legacy and is one I have a unique viewpoint on. While I did use this lens in the past, I wasn’t too fond of it despite producing some fantastic results. The problem I only recently found out was because I was using it on a crop-sensor body, but after finding the lens again and using it full-frame, I realised it was a focal length I never knew I was missing and am glad that I have it back in the mix.

House Keeping Note: In this review I will be featuring an un-edited and un-corrected version of the image on the left to show what the lens looks like before any correction, then the corrected and edited image on the right for the optical tests.

Optical Review Blog No. 46 - Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D

Lens Specifications
Make: Nikon
Model: AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
Focal Length: 85mm
Focal Range: ∞ – 0.85m
Aperture: f/1.8 – f/16, 9 Straight Blades
Structure: 6 Elements in 6 Groups

01.85mm-LensTest-01As you can see there is very little difference between the SOOC and the corrected and edited version when shot at f/8.
Nikon D750 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D[/caption]

Build Quality
At first glance, the 85/1.8D is not a well-built lens. But I can assure you this lens is well-designed and built. The outer housing is plastic. However, the internals and the areas that take the most use are metal. These areas include the lens mount and filter threads, So the lens does have a fair bit of weight to it, less than the faster 85/1.4D, but not too much to throw off the centre of gravity on even smaller camera bodies. The significant front element is the biggest thing you’ll notice, so it is best to attach a high-quality UV filter to prevent damage. Of course, you can also add an extra layer of protection by keeping a lens cap on and using a lens hood. The HN-23 is an all-metal screw-in type hood, but the HN-24 will also work without interference. The lens takes a 62mm filter size, and because it’s 85mm, you don’t have to get a low-profile filter. The autofocus speed surprises me; the 85/1.8D has a fast and accurate autofocus for a lens of this age. But it is also an easy lens to focus manually; there is a hard stop at either end of the focusing scale, and it only takes a little movement to go from end to end.

02.85mm-DoF-1.8-01
When you have the lens wide-open at f/1.8 you get a lot of fall-off at the corners and a fun “puffy” rendering of your out-of-focus areas. You will also notice that the center figure is sharp and perfectly in focus.
Nikon D750 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
02.85mm-DoF-2.8-02
Stopping down to f/2.8 the fall-off is almost gone already, you still maintain the puffy rendering while the center figure remains the only item in sharp focus.
Nikon D750 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
02.85mm-DoF-4-03
At f/4 the fall-off is totally eliminated and there is little change in the depth of field.
Nikon D750 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
02.85mm-DoF-5.6-04
At f/5.6 the out-of-focus rendering is starting to come together in a more traditional look, and the rear figure is starting to come into the depth-of-field.
Nikon D750 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
02.85mm-DoF-8-05
The lens performs well at f/8, you get a smooth rendering in the out-of-focus elements, enough depth-of-field but still keeping the center figure isolated from the other elements.
Nikon D750 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
02.85mm-DoF-11-06
At f/11 you are starting to see that depth of field increase into the rear of the image to get the figure in focus but not the background.
Nikon D750 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
02.85mm-DoF-16-07
And stopped down to f/16 you have the center and rear figures in clear focus, not so much the front one. But you are still isolating them from the background.
Nikon D750 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D

Image Quality
Given the legendary status of Nikon’s 85mm lens offerings, this quality will extend to this lens. It certainly can deliver contrasty, sharp, and distortion free images, with little work needing to be done in post-processing. Okay, the lens is not 100% distortion-free, but as you can see in the test chart, there is hardly any difference in the straight lines between the two test chart images. And you also don’t have to worry about flare (but still use that hood to help keep it that way) or coma/ghosting with this lens, which makes it great for low-light and nighttime portraits with distant points of light. The one thing you do need to worry about is fall-off, it is most significant when shooting wide open at f/1.8, and you can still see it a little bit at f/2.8. But when you get to f/4 and beyond, it is hardly noticeable unless you’re shooting against a light-coloured surface. But the fall off is easily handled by the lens correction presets when post-processing your images, and if you use the lens on a crop sensor body you don’t need to worry about the fall-off. When it comes to sharpness, the 85/1.8D has that in spades, even at f/1.8 where you would expect some softness around the edges of the center figure it is clearly defined and stands out beautifully from the out-of-focus areas. And this only increases as you start to stop the lens down. When you combine the 85mm focal length and the smallest aperture of f/16, you will see a loss in depth of field, but that only comes out when you’re focused in close; if I had backed up, that front figure would have been in focus. The one aspect that surprised me with the lens is the out-of-focus elements you get a rather unique rendering when shooting wide-open. The out-of-focus elements are inflated with air and get a lovely puffy rendering, something I have not seen in Bokeh before. As you stop down, things smooth out to a more traditional rendering. But even at f/8 and smaller, the out-of-focus elements are still smooth and pleasing. It’s hard to call a lens perfect, and despite the flaws, the 85/1.8D is close to that mark.

Optical Review Blog No. 46 - Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – Ilford Delta 100 @ ASA-100 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 7:00 @ 20C
Optical Review Blog No. 46 - Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – Ilford Delta 100 @ ASA-100 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 7:00 @ 20C
Optical Review Blog No. 46 - Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – Ilford Delta 100 @ ASA-100 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 7:00 @ 20C
Optical Review Blog No. 46 - Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – Ilford Delta 100 @ ASA-100 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 7:00 @ 20C
Optical Review Blog No. 46 - Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – Ilford Delta 100 @ ASA-100 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 7:00 @ 20C

Applications
The number one application for the 85/1.8D is portrait work; it’s what the lens does best. But you don’t have to limit yourself; it handles all the different sub-genres of portrait work out there. Both field and studio, street and event. It also works well in photojournalism, architectural detail work, and product photography. And given how small the lens is, it is great for those who love to travel and have space and weight restrictions. It certainly makes it easy to get that focal length and still have allowance for additional lenses. The one thing you have to watch out for is staying close; a minimum focal distance of 85cm makes for a poor choice for macro. Having that 85mm focal length helps keep a reasonable distance between the photographer and the subject matter, and a fast f/1.8 aperture helps give excellent subject separation along with a bit of compression. The lens does work best on a full-frame camera to get the best use of that focal length; while you can run this on a crop-sensor body and get good results, I am only partially sold on the lens in this format. You have to watch out; the lens requires the camera to be equipped with an autofocus motor for the AF functionality to work. As a D-Type lens, it has a physical aperture ring, which means you can use it on older AF bodies and even manual focus bodies that support AI-S lenses.

Optical Review Blog No. 46 - Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – Ilford Delta 100 @ ASA-100 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 7:00 @ 20C
Optical Review Blog No. 46 - Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – Ilford Delta 100 @ ASA-100 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 7:00 @ 20C
Optical Review Blog No. 46 - Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – Ilford Delta 100 @ ASA-100 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 7:00 @ 20C
Optical Review Blog No. 46 - Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – Ilford Delta 100 @ ASA-100 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 7:00 @ 20C
Optical Review Blog No. 46 - Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – Ilford Delta 100 @ ASA-100 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 7:00 @ 20C

The Low Down
If you are a portrait photographer in any form, from formal to street photography, the 85mm is a focal length you want to add to your lens kit. Plus, the focal length is a little bit of Nikon history. And even if you don’t do much portrait work, it is a lovely compact portrait-length lens that is an excellent addition to any travel kit. It gives you more than 50mm but is more intimate than the 105mm. And while you can get faster versions of this lens, you will be paying more; the 85mm f/1.8D will run about 150$ on the used market, often including the HN-23 hood. And while I have had my issues in the past, I have moved on from them now that I see the power of this lens on a full-frame body. And it is a permanent choice for future weddings, photo walks, and general event work.

James
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – CineStill BwXX @ ASA-250 – Ilford Ilfotec HC (1+63) 10:45 @ 20C (Constant Rotation)
6x7
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – CineStill BwXX @ ASA-250 – Ilford Ilfotec HC (1+63) 10:45 @ 20C (Constant Rotation)
Aim High
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – CineStill BwXX @ ASA-250 – Ilford Ilfotec HC (1+63) 10:45 @ 20C (Constant Rotation)
Contemplating
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – CineStill BwXX @ ASA-250 – Ilford Ilfotec HC (1+63) 10:45 @ 20C (Constant Rotation)
Getting A Reading
Nikon F5 – AF Nikkor 85mm 1:1.8D – CineStill BwXX @ ASA-250 – Ilford Ilfotec HC (1+63) 10:45 @ 20C (Constant Rotation)

Further Reading
Don’t just take my view on the Nikkor 85/1.8D, check out these other reviews.
Ken Rockwell – Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF-D Review
Optical Limits – Nikkor AF 85mm f/1.8D Review
Imaging Limits – Nikon 85mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor Review
Jake Horn Photography – Nikon 85mm f/1.8D Review
Oleg Novikov Photography – AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D lens review
Moment Corp – Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D Review

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