The Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G is the third and latest incarnation of Nikon’s popular short telephoto prime lens. Originally launched in 1987 as the 85mm f/1.8 Nikon released an updated D version in 1994, which you can read a full review of here.
Designed primarily for the Nikon FX lens mount and full frame cameras like the Nikon D800 the 85mm focal length slightly compresses perspective, which is great for portraiture. Redesigned with a new optical arrangement and built-in SWM Autofocus Motor the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G is compatible with all Nikon D-SLRs, including entry-level options, like the Nikon D5100, which don’t have a built-in autofocus motor. Bear in mind however when mounted on a Nikon DSLR with an APS-C sensor the 1.5x ‘crop factor’ increases the focal length to 127.5mm, which is still okay for portraiture but means you’re going to have to stand a bit further back. The maximum aperture of f/1.8 also makes the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G ideal for low-light photography and will produce creative depth-of-field and attractive bokeh effects, too.
At just $500 it’s set at a good price point but with a plethora of options from third party manufacturers like Sigma, Carl Zeiss and Samyang available there’s plenty of choice for 85mm primes. Let’s take a closer look at the DxOMark Scores for the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G and see what you get for your money.
Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G: The best 85mm prime on a NikonD3x?
Achieving an Overall DxOMark Score of 35 the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G prime lens is the best 85mm lens we’ve tested on the Nikon D3x DSLR. Scoring 17P-Mpix for sharpness, which is above the average of 15 P-Mpix on our database for 85mm primes, with a good 1.9TStop Transmission score and virtually no distortion, optically this is a very good lens. At just 4um Chromatic Aberration is well controlled too, although the weakest aspect of the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G is vignetting, which is strong when shooting at the maximum aperture of f/1.8.
That DxOMark Lens Metric Score for Sharpness of 17P-Mpix places the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G 3rd out of the 14 85mm prime lenses on our database (Full Frame mount for Canon, Nikon and Sony camera). This is just behind the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.4G with a score of 19 P-Mpix and the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM for Canon also with 17 P-Mpix.
As you’d hope from a prime lens the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G delivers excellent sharpness at all aperture settings up to f/11 with only a minimal dip in performance at its minimum aperture setting of f/16. Importantly sharpness is also homogeneous across the frame, which means photographers can expect great edge-to-edge sharpness at all aperture settings from f/1.8 to f/16.
One of the weaker aspects of the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens however is corner shading, or vignetting, when shooting at wider aperture settings. Between f/4 to f/16 it’s well controlled but stopped down to f/2.8 the undesired effect starts to become visible and at the maximum aperture of f/1.8 it’s positively heavy.
85mm portrait lenses for Nikon DSLRs battle it out: Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G Vs Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.4G Vs Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Nikon
With all three lenses mounted and tested on a Nikon D3x DSLR the Overall DxOMark Scores demonstrate no significant difference between the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.4G, which scores 34, and the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G with 35. With a Lens Metric Score for Sharpness of 19P-Mpix, compared to 17P-Mpix and a Transmission Score of 1.7TStop compared to 1.9TStop the f/1.4 version of these two Nikon 85mm primes just edges out its f/1.8 rival. However, in terms of distortion and vignetting the cheaper f/1.8 version just has the edge, although the difference is so small it shouldn’t be noticeable. Of course if you’re working in very challenging low-light conditions or would like the stronger depth-of-field effects possible with the f/1.4 version then this is the better lens, but costing $1649 all that extra money only buys a minor improvement in overall sharpness.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM also boasts some very good Lens Metric Scores but it doesn’t perform quite as well as the two Nikon lenses and finishes 3rd in this comparison with an Overall Score of 30. In terms of Transmission, Distortion, Vignetting and Chromatic Aberration the results are similar and although the Sigma only just loses out to the Nikon f/1.8 version for Sharpness, 16P-Mpix to 17-P-Mix, results are not as homogeneous across the frame at the wider aperture settings, which has cost the Sigma f/1.4 EX DG HSM in the Overall DxOMark Score.
Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G: Maybe the best 85mm for Nikon and great value for money
With an Overall DxOMark Lens Metric Score of 35 the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G is the best 85mm lens in the DxOMark database and well exceeds the average DxOMark Overall Score of 28 for this type of lens.
Costing $500, a whooping $1149 cheaper than the Nikon f/1.4 version at $1649, it also represents excellent value for money if you can live without the f/1.4 maximum aperture. In terms of sharpness the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G finishes 3rd on the podium out of all 14 85mm primes lenses we’ve tested and again surpasses the average score for this category of 15 P-Mpix. Its best characteristic is homogenous sharpness with no edge softness even with the aperture wide open at f/1.8. It holds its own in our other Lens Metric Scores too with the notable exception of vignetting, which is where the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G falls down. Heavy corner shading that requires correction in post-production is evident at f/1.8 and the problem isn’t totally eradicated until the aperture is stopped down to f/4.
If you can live with this one downside however the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G is a cracking piece of glass for portraits and low-light photography. Nikon shooters into portraiture get the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G towards the top of your camera gear ‘wish-list’.