12 comments on “Lens Review: Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AI-s

  1. Nice review. The 85/1.4 AIS also does a great job on the D600. I am often conflicted which body, Nex-7 or D600, should be allowed to use the lens… 😉

    This is unscientific: I have the sneaky feeling that my copy of the lens is a bit sharper at f/1.4 than your chart shots indicate.

    • Thank you eths. I look forward to mounting this and/or that Makro-Planar 100mm f/2 on a FF NEX-9. 😉

      Per your sneaky feeling, though, it’s probably due to my focusing methods on the test chart. All of the fast AI-s lenses I have tested are near-impossible to critically focus on a B&W test chart wide open due to the spherical aberration. Too much one way, and it’s low contrast with high detail. Too much the other way, and it’s high contrast with smudgy detail. On real, actual subjects that aren’t test charts, even this lens is super-sharp wide-open. In the wide-open “mid-air chase” shot, despite all the noise from ISO 3200, there is still a ton of detail that I could recover on the player’s face. I’m really quite thankful I had this lens for that day, because pushing ISO any higher would render noise unbearable, and I didn’t have any lens as fast and long as this one. One more reason I can’t wait to get a full-frame camera and forget about ISO altogether.

      • I highly doubt we will ever see a NEX9. It makes no sense for Sony to introduce a full-frame cameras with E mount as it would instantly render every single existing NEX lens obsolete, while also cutting into their A mount business. That doesn’t mean we won’t get full-frame mirrorless, it just won’t likely be E mount.

        Another possibility would be FF that is just always cropped unless the LA-EA2 A mount adapter is attached, but that is a very clunky solution.

        A mirrorless A mount could definitely work. A fully-coupled extension tube or the LA-EA2 for use with existing A mount lenses, and a new line of AM (A mirror less) lenses that would work on mirrorless only (thanks to short flange distance.

        Sadly, I doubt we will ever see any of that. It will be as it is now, A mount for full and crop, E mount for crop only. The FF camcorder also requires LA-EA2 to work.

      • Responding in order:
        A full-frame e-mount NEX VG-900 already exists (as you know). It wouldn’t render the lenses obsolete, as there are still going to be four current bodies (NEX-3N, NEX-5r, NEX-6, NEX-7n?) that are APS-C. The restructuring of the (admittedly rumored) A-mount roadmap suggests some big changes are in line for A-mount anyway.

        When an e-mount lens is attached to the VG-900, it goes into 1.5x crop mode just like the Nikon/Canon DSLRs. I would assume a NEX-9 would do the same. To take advantage of the full-size sensor, you mount CINE lenses or legacy options. A-mount lenses attached via LAEA2 would still only project onto APS-C—the opening with the translucent mirror isn’t large enough to cover a 35mm sensor.

        Agreed on the A-mount mirrorless, that’s one of the big rumors floating around recently.

        2014 will be a big year, just you wait. 😉

      • In addition to my skepticism on why Sony wouldn’t go FF on the NEX, even if they did, why bother? The whole reason for mirror less is to be small and light, and full frame adds bulk.

        The current NEX7 is already a resolution and image-quality powerhouse, and it will only get better with improved technology.

        I would much rather have a NEX7n and continue using my existing lenses than a full frame NEX9, which would be awesome with legacy glass, but then, Sony doesn’t make any money on legacy glass.

      • Why not? I’m sure there’s a market segment of people wanting a relatively compact camera that provides full-frame benefits ala Leica M 240/Monochrome. With the shorter flange distance of e-mount, a NEX-9 could easily be made at least a bit smaller.

        Not arguing there, I love my NEX-7, and I’m curious what the next NEX-7 will have to offer in terms of signal-to-noise ratios. If ISO 6400 on a NEX-7n performed like ISO 1600 on my NEX-7, I’d jump on it in a heartbeat. But, I’m sure I’m dreaming. 😉

        Actually, based on their current market, Sony cares more about their body sales anyway. Now that top manufacturers like Zeiss are making their own lenses for the system (and Sony even endorses Novoflex adapters on the VG-900 page), Sony might have their head in the right place with full-frame.

  2. I recently bought this same lens for my NEX-6 with the (gasp!) infamous LensTurbo. Absolutely gorgeous. In my mind, good manual lenses like this will only go up in value as mirrorless cameras with focus peak become more mainstream. Not that it matters, as I will likely never want to sell this little hunk of glass!

    Oh, and great review Matt – I read your thoughts on this lens literally hours before making an offer for it!

    • Hey there Rob, glad my review helped bolster your confidence in getting the lens. 🙂 I’m more looking forward to using lenses like this on the soon-to-be-announced full-frame NEX, as those speedboosters don’t appeal to me for my telephoto usage. Of course, that’s many months off, while these adapters are here now. Keep on a-shooting!

  3. Hi – thank you for the review. I read this article with interest as I was in the market for a fast 85mm lens. I already had the Nikon 50mm F/1.2 AIS lens which shares some of the same mechanical virtues of the 85 cousin. However, seeing the review results wide open or at F2 gave me pause. I did find a late used copy in like new condition so I decided to give it a go. My initial results with a Nikon D810 were not encouraging. Then I mounted the lens on a Sony A7r via a cheap adapter and I noticed that at F/1.4 the difference between sharp and unsharp was a fraction of an arc degree. With some practice the results with the A7r were vastly better than with my D810 thanks to the A7r’s EVF magnified focus preview. I still see haze and a lack of contrast at 1.4 but I find my images a lot sharper and more contrasty than the ones here. I mention this because I almost did not buy the lens and I think it is a mechanical jewel and an optical workhorse. I imagine there may be a lot of variability with old lenses so results can vary. My lens is a late serial number that starts with the digits 239XXX.

    • Hey there, glad you found the review helpful! Unfortunately due to the inaccurate focusing screens in even the most flagship Nikon DSLRs (even the D4s), correctly focusing manual focus telephoto lenses is extremely difficult at or near open aperture (many Zeiss Otus owners who use a DSLR are seeing the same problem).

      Gotta love the EVF on our Sony’s helping achieve critical focus every time, and quickly at that. Your lens was likely manufactured very later than mine, and it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that there is some noticeable sample variation even in these high-quality lenses (also, the A7r does a bit better with lenses in general than the NEX-7, due to the placement of the off-set micro lenses).

      That said, my copy is also still one of my most used lenses in the field. Keep on shooting!

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