New Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G

The new Nikon 85mm f/1.4 is announced. It has some big shoes to fill.

UPDATES: August 2010

This lens has finally arrived, well in September it arrives,  and whoever made the image for the rumour article basically got it exactly right.

Read Ken Rockwell’s preview of this lens here.

Read the DPReview article here.

The other major update to this article and to my love-affair with the 85mm f/1.4 is that I recently ditched my AF-D lens, trading it in for the older AiS version. I did this mainly because of the awful manual focus ring on the AF-D. I got a D700 in January of this year and am now mainly –  due to the bigger viewfinder and better manual-focus capabilities – using manual instead of AF lenses. The manual ring on the AF-D was truly terrible to use. The action was sloppy and the focusing imprecise. I spend time over my shots with this lens and MF is no great issue to me. I also found that on my D700 the lens had serious issues with getting precise focus, despite my repeatedly fine-tuning it on the camera and with the aid of a focusing chart.

So, adios AF-D and hello AiS. So far I love it  but am obviously keen to try out this new lens… but the price is not exactly what I would call pocket change and I have a family of four to feed. So, as I don’t want to get divorced, It may be some while before you see me shooting with the new G series 85mm.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t leave the house without my Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AF-D series lens. It is my favourtite piece of Nikon glass and my shots of it have, to date, convinced around 25 people to go out and buy it. And they are the people I know about. I should be on a discount programme with Nikon!

Hell, the 85 is my favourite piece of glass. Period. Sorry mum, but I prefer it even to the those lovely Jacobean shot-glasses you gave me years ago. Like many Nikon legends, rumours abound of a successor to the 85mm f/1.4 AF-D but Nikon decided to finally replace this classic lens, they will frankly have to surpass themselves….

The history bit….

Nikon’s 85mm lenses have a long and distinguished history. Starting out life as an f/2 for the RF rangefinder cameras, the 8.5cm Nikkor won many fans back in the early 1950s for its sharpness and its large maximum aperture. The first SLR version came in 1964/5, and was an f/1.8.

Nikkor kept the 85mm f/2 up until it’s Ai-S version in the 1980s and the f/1.8 version exists now, in the company’s AF-D series of lenses.

But the jewel in the Nikon crown, the 85mm f/1.4, arrived in 1981 in Ai-S  format. Still an awesome lens today, the Ai-S is regarded by many as optically superior even to the more recent AF-D series lens and second-hand examples still command good prices.

Nikon’s last 85mm f/1.4 came in 1996 as the AF-D.

Thirteen years on…. no upgrade

The lack of an upgrade to the classic 85mm f/1.4 AF-D is something of a mystery to all serious Nikon shooters. The company has released many, many lenses in the interim and yet has only recently begun to update their best prime lenses: the 50mm f/1.4 AFS-G came in the last 12months as an upgrade to the superb D-series 50 1.4. That G series update was, to begin with, decidedly unimpressive. I first played with one on a friend’s D700 the week the lens was released and the focus was so slow it was like focusing through glue. That was improved, on the D700 at least, with a firmware upgrade. But distortion, in my opinion, on the new 50 is worse than it ever was on its D-series daddy.

So, what hope for a superior 85mm f/.1.4 G?

I am prepared to be surprised but for now I am not getting my hopes up. My D-series lens continues to deliver shots of the most excellent quality and it will take a monumental shift in performance to convince me to part with it for a newer version as there really isn’t much I would change about it. Sure, better more modern coatings would be good but no lens shot wide-open is ever going to be immune from colour-fringeing. So, anyone hoping for an end to the purple and green fringes on the 85mm AF-D, would be better off shooting in monochrome than expecting nano-coating to get rid of colour-fringes. The metal lens-hood on the AF-D whilst a bit of a pain [it often brings the front element off with it if you aren’t very careful when unscrewing the hood] is sturdy and old-school. The thought of a plastic one makes me think of Canon’s 85mm f/1.2 L series lens; heavy for sure, expensive for certain but lacking in real charm as, for me at least, it feels like a heavy lump of plasticky crap that has been mass-produced. Any new 85 1.4 will undoubtedly benefit from newer technology and get some tweaks in the focus department. But, again, expecting to shoot at night, wide-open, and not have the AF go a’ huntin’ occasionally is naiive.

Anyway, one day there will be a new 85mm f/1.4 and if it is good, I will get one. I am not one of these Nikon gear-heads that sits in hope of an 85mm f/1.2. After all, look what Canon had to do to get lenses with apertures that big: ditch their FD mount for EF, and pissed off a large percentage of their customers in the process. And anyway, f/1.2 is cool but at 50mm it is usable and Nikon has a 50mm f/1.2 and I would rather see them update that old chestnut to AF than have waited almost 15 years for an upgrade to the 85mm f/1.4 only to be given a vastly more expensive f/1.2 that, due to being longer than the 50 1.2, is practically unusable at its maximum aperture for anything more than arty bokeh shots.

So, as I hate wanking-off about gear…. just look at the proof of how good the 85mm f/1.4 AF-D is and just wait and see what Nikon gives us. I hope it lives up to the hype.

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