Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G Lens

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lens.I’m happy to report that I’ve become an owner of a portrait lens that I coveted for several years now — Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G. Over the years I’ve read multiple reviews and saw a lot of images taken with this lens. But the price is quite steep, so we waited, pretty much since its release in August of 2010.

Alena. On the fly shot taken at f/1.8.Portraiture is what this lens was made for. The focal length of 85mm is great for rendering faces in a flattering way and the maximum aperture of f/1.4 is perfect for separating the subject from the background and washing out said background into a milky smooth blur. This is my first 85mm prime lens and my first f/1.4 lens. I think it will solve a number of issues for me in certain situations.

Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G vs Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S.I have a great manual 50mm that I love, but it’s not always ideal. First of all manual focus limits the number of quality shots I can take of Arosha — he is too quick. Also it makes me uncomfortable asking to take somebody else’s photo knowing that I’ll have to fiddle with focus for too long. Another issue is that it measures the exposure only at the center, making explaining to other people how to properly take a shot is close to impossible and is also a time constraint on when I’m using it.

Daniel. Taken at f/1.4 with +9 AF tune. Check out that bokeh.All in all, I got the lens from B&H fairly quickly and had to exercise a great deal of patience before getting my hands on it — it was my New Year gift from Alena and my parents. The lens itself is quite a lot bigger than my 50mm is. It also is quite heavy as it turns out. I saw the technical specifications on the lens beforehand, but it’s hard to know how it will feel until you actually touch it. It does pair up quite well with my trusty Nikon D700.

Cyclist. Taken at f/16. The blur on the cyclist is my hands shaking. Has nothing to do with the lens.However nothing comes easy. Soon after I had a bit of a disappointment. When looking through some experimental shots I took I noticed that the lens exhibits an obvious front focusing issue. In simple terms when you try to focus on the eye you end with focus plain falling on the nose and eyes are not sharp. The issue becomes quite a bit less noticeable by stopping down to f/1.8, but if I wanted to shoot at f/1.8 I would’ve gotten a lens that costs 1/3 of the price of this one.

LensAlign test target.Luckily D700 allows one to performing auto-focus fine tuning. And while it’s something that becomes quite complicated for a zoom lens a prime is much easier and more practical. I did some quite unscientific testing and arrived to +9 adjustment on the scale of -20 to +20 with 0 being default. But to make a final decision of whether to keep it or try to exchange it I placed an order for LensAlign kit — something that I wanted to get for some time now anyhow. I also bought of copy of their FocusTune software. FocusTune1 in itself is a great tool allowing one to tune the lens not by eye and not from a single sample, but from a bulk of shots.

One of FocusTune chart.I took a large number of test sets — each set consisting of 100+ shots and actually ended up with fairly consistent test results2. The recommended value that I arrived at on multiple instances is +6. I also read that pretty much everyone of these lenses will need to be tuned due to variations between the bodies and lenses — which in reality are extremely small, so exchanging the lens is as much of a gamble as anything. On most lenses it will just not be noticeable, but when you deal with a long and bright lens — you want it to be very precise.

Family. Taken at f/1.4 and +9 AF tune. Great bokeh again.Either way — our testing at +9 produced some nice shots and we won’t know how well +6 does until we go out on the upcoming weekend and do some testing in the wild. But if practice agrees with theory — and I don’t see why it wouldn’t — the lens is a keeper.

Arosha's BMW. Taken at f/1.4 with +6 AF tune and focus point on the plate.

  1. FocusTune actually doesn’t need LensAlign target to work. It can be used with a number of targets that can be printed out by the end-user himself. []
  2. I will not go into detail of properly setting up for a good end results as the author of the system provides great info on his site. []
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