The Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G promises excellent performance at what is an extremely versatile prime focal length
The same lens crops even more tightly on a DX (APS-C) format camera body, when it behaves almost exactly the same as a 135mm prime lens from bygone years.
The Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens tested here is one of no fewer than five 85mm lenses offered by Nikon: the others are an older f/1.8D version, a faster f/1.4G version, a true macro f/3.5G version and an f/2.8D perspective-control lens. That wide range of options proves just how useful the 85mm focal-length can be!
Being a prime lens there is only one collar on the barrel, to apply manual-focussing input. The collar is located towards the front of lens and is obstructed by the lens hood when the later is reversed for storage. There is a focused-distance window, with depth-of-field markings for f/16 only, located immediately behind the focusing ring.
The manual-focussing ring does not rotate in AF mode so the user is free to adopt whatever grip provides the best support. The lone switch, to change between Manual and Automatic focussing modes, falls comfortably under the user’s left thumb.
Automatic focussing proved to be quick, accurate and remarkably quiet: when manual focussing is required the collar offers just the right amount of resistance but its considerable diameter may be a little awkward for users with smaller hands.
Technical testing revealed a very good MTF performance that does not dip below the critical 0.25 cycles-per-pixel threshold at any point within the aperture range. Peak resolution was comfortably in excess of 0.3 cycles-per-pixel from f/4 right through to f/16 (Nikon very sensibly provides no smaller aperture setting).
There was just the slightest hint of chromatic aberration on the high contrast technical target but no such problems appeared in any of the real-world test pictures.
The f/1.8G lens is surprisingly bulky and also unexpectedly lightweight. As such it sits most comfortably on the front of larger FX-format cameras although it is not out-of-place on smaller DX-format bodies. It also appears to behave better when fitted to a full-frame body than it does on a DX camera as was found to be the case when Nikon’s stablemate 50mm f/1.8G lens was recently evaluated.
This difference in behaviour will be examined in more detail in a forthcoming review that will pitch the latest 85mm f/1.8 G-series lens against the earlier D-series version.
Overall, Nikon's 85mm f/1.8G prime is everything that any discerning buyer could want. The fact that Nikon includes a protective soft pouch with the lens is a very nice additional touch. All that is missing is a vibration control system. To be fair, that is hardly essential in a lens of this type but it is a feature that Nikon could in theory add in the future, albeit at greater cost. As things stand, the 85mm f/1.8G offers what is probably the ideal combination of features, quality and price.