Posted by on Jun 24, 2006 | 4 comments

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Although my camera is out for repairs I’m looking for a new Portrait lens. Up until now I did all my work with the Nikor 50mm f1.8d af. This is a fine lens a specially for that price. It’s sharp at every aperture and the AF is fast. Taking in to account that I only use it on my D70 with a crop factory of 1.5 the focal length amounts to 75mm (50 x 1.5) which is a good length for portraits.
So the Nikor 50mm f1.8 will most certainly stay in my bag.

The 50mm length is called a “standard lens” what I want now is a “tele lens” really made for taking portraits. I’m only talking about prime lenses here as I much prefer them above zoom lenses for taking portraits. I really like my portraits as sharp as they can be and the color and bogeh from a good prima is almost unrivaled. I say almost because I know there are a couple of really good zoom lenses that come a long way.

Nikkor AF DC 105 f/2.0D
If I used 35mm film and not taking any price considerations the choice for me would be easy, without any doubt I would go for the Nikor 105mm f2.0 AF-DC witch in my opinion, and loads of other photographers, is the best portrait lens you can get for your Nikon.
But is so happens that I want to use it on my Nikon D70 and I’m on a budget. This means that the focal length on my D70 is 157mm thats a bit long for indoor work also if I would want to take a full shot of a model I would loose eye contact with him/here. This would mean that for most of my indoor work I would still have to use the 50mm. Also the price of this lens is around a 1000 Euros. Combining these two factors this is not the lens I’m going to buy.

Nikkor AF 85 f/1.4D
This is the second lens on my list and and it’s just great really nothing wrong with it. The length on my D70 is 127mm which is fine. The bogeh on this lens is really good because of it’s rounded diaphragm. And the optics are really good. Also the lens barrel is metal so really strong. It uses IF (Internal Focusing) so the auto focus is really fast. I think this is the best portrait lens you can get for your Nikon digital camera.
So why I’m I not running to the store to buy it? Well remember the part about price considerations? For this kind of quality the price really is reasonable you can get on for around 1100 Euros. But as it is even more money than the 105mm, I have to let this dream go and look further. But! not much further because this lens has a cheaper brother!

Nikkor AF 85 f/1.8D
So compared to the f/1.4 what are the differences ? First thing to notice is that it is not as sensitive also when looking at it the f/1.8 is made out of plastic (with metal fittings) as opposed to the metal barrel of the f/1.4. Another thing to notice is that it doesn’t have a rounded diaphragm so to the bogeh compared to the f/1.4 is not as nice. And there are probably some other point that I’m leaving out. Does this make the f/1.8 a bad lens? No! Lets brake down the differences.

This really doesn’t make the f/1.8 a worse lens. Some people need that extra stop but I sure don’t. For me f/1.8 is already really sensitive. So no issue.

This is all about build quality. The f/1.4 is really beautifully made it feels very solid also when used with MF and metal of-course is stronger that plastic. What a lot of people notice as well is that the f/1.8 is made in China as a posed to the f/1.4 that is still made in Japan. I do not care to much about this anymore. Fact is that now a days most companies produce there products in Thailand or China. And 10 years ago this would still have said something about the quality of the product. But times change and this still is a mid range Nikon lens which is designed in Japan and made in China. There are some articles out there discussing this issue in more details I suggest searching for them.
So how is the build quality of the f/1.8? It feels really good and it fits really nicely on the camera body with it’s metal fitting. The big differences here is the focus ring. The f/1.4 has a really nice dampen focus ring so also when using MF this lens does great. The f/1.8 provides a focus ring as well but not nearly as good as the f/1.4 it’s a rubber ring at the end of the barrel that’s (i think) not dampen i just would not want to use this lens using MF. But then I do not want to use the D70 in MF as well as I just do not like the weird focus dot system the D70 uses. So again no issue for me.

Rounded diaphragm
So that leaves me with the rounded diaphragm issue. In my opinion it’s really to bad that the f/1.8 doesn’t have the rounded diaphragm as it is a nice feature to have in portrait photography. A nice natural blured background (bogeh) can really work miracles in a good portrait in my opinion. So how did Nikon round the diaphragm? Well they added a couple of more leaves to it. There is an easy bogeh test you can do with your lens.
1. Switch you lens to manual focus and set it to infinity
2. Make a photograph with lights in the foreground ( a city photograph in the evening)
3. Zoom into one of the light dots in your photo.
Of-course the effect all depends on you aperture setting, and the effect all depends on the type of lens you’re using. So experiment with it. But when looking at the zoomed light dot you can see that it consists of multiple corners the amount of corners changes with your aperture setting. The corners you are seeing equal to the amount of corners on your diaphragm at that opening. The less corners you see, the better your bogeh. This all depends heavily on the type of lens you’re using so take that into account.
There are a couple of other things you can look for but I will explain this into a detailed bogeh article in the near future.
So the f/1.4 has an exceptional nice bogeh but again the f/1.8 isn’t at all bad in this apartment either. There are a lot of photographers out there that just love the bogeh of the f/1.8!

So now the thing that makes you forget all the short comings that the f/1.8 has compared to the f/1.4. Remember the part about price considerations? The f/1.8 is almost a third of the price of the f/1.4!
This means I can buy a really good portrait lens and staying well with in my budget. For me the choice is clear I’m going for the f/1.8. And until Nikon comes up with a DSLR version of the 105mm f/2.0 DC, I will probably keep using the f/1.8 for portrait work.


If you’re looking for more in dept reviews about these lenses and other Nikon lenses check out this link:

Check out this articles section later for my review of the Nikkor f/1.8 D 85mm.