Review: Nikon AF 85mm 1:1.8D

I consider this a great value for money lens. It’s focal length along with its f/1.8 max aperture makes this an ideal portrait lens for beginners, amateurs and even professionals, and you can find this lens fairly cheap second-hand. However, is it really a bargain? Does the quality hold up?

Nikon AF 85mm 1:1.8D

About the lens
The Nikon AF 85mm 1:1.8D is an older, now discontinued lens. It’s a simple lens and it does not feature image stabilizer, and it does not have an internal focus motor. The lack of focus motor means smaller cameras like the D3xxx and D5xxx series can only use this lens in manual focus mode. Nikon has released this lens in two versions. First there was a version labeled just AF, then in 1994 came the AF-D version. Optically they’re the same, however the AF-D supported 3D Matrix Metering and may have been coated with an improved coating.

Build & handling
This lens is the little brother of the 85mm 1.4 lens and build quality is one of the major differences. This lens does not have the same quality build its bigger brother has. This lens has a plastic casing and does not feel as sturdy. It doesn’t have the professional build quality and feel to it. Never the less it’s build quality feels much better than say a cheap 18-55mm zoom lens. One thing feels solid about the lens though; it’s lens hood! The all metal screw in lens hood is in a different league than the modern plastic ones.

The 85mm 1.8 is a fairly small and handy lens. At 380g it’s a little heavier than the newer AF-S model. However, it’s a well-balanced lens on the camera and my D800 with this lens feels like a rather compact and light kit.

Unlike it newer AF-S sibling, this lens features an aperture ring. This means it can be used on older manual cameras or mounted on different cameras by adapters and still be in full control of the aperture. This can also be a nice feature for video shooters for easier and quicker adjustment of exposure.

The manual focus of this lens is one thing that did not impress me. The manual focus ring is very light and there’s very little resistance. It’s not at all as smooth as a proper manual focus lens. This makes it very easy to focus fast, but hard to be precise. However it does feature good distance from close focus to infinity, and a focus distance window which is a great feature for those shooting manual focus photo or video.

Performance
The AF 85mm 1:1.8D is a solid performer when it comes to image quality. It’s sharp even wide open and it’s performance improves if stopped down. Corner sharpness is a little weaker wide open, but all in all it’s fairly uniform. The newer 85mm 1:1.8 AF-S is a little step ahead when it comes to image quality, but considering its double the price for a new lens the AF-D does good! This is a lens that renders nice colors and contrasts and is still sharp enough for the D800.

In difficult conditions with highlights and contrasts it may show some CA, however this is easily removed in post processing, so I don’t consider this a big problem. At f/1.8 this lens shows some vignetting, but not at all bad. It’s mainly just visible in the far corners and it decreases rapidly as you step down.

The auto focus on this lens is quite noisy, but actually quite fast. I shot a session with my dog at an agility coarse and the auto focus kept up with the action.

Conclusion
This lens can be found second-hand for half the price of the new 85mm 1:1.8 AF-S. If you’re starting up with photography and don’t want to spend a lot of money, or if you’re just on a budget this lens is definitely something to consider. While newer and more expensive lenses may perform better this lens is still a solid performer! It’s capable of delivering stunning images even on modern high-resolution cameras.

Below is a selection of images taken with this lens. The images may have been edited and/or cropped.

 

Further reading:
– Bjørn Rørslett has a short review

– More info on Nikon 85mm lenses at mir.com

– Info and user experienced at DPreview.com

Should you use image stabilization when shooting DSLR video?

This may seem like a somewhat stupid question, but I’ve heard people give a definitive ‘Yes’ and a definitive ‘No’ to this question, so I realized I had to figure it out myself.

Image Stabilizer
What is image stabilization?
Most of today’s DSLR and mirrorless lenses comes with image stabilizing (referred to IS from here on). The different brands labels their IS technology differently (Nikon VR, Tamron VC, Canon IS, Sigma OS, Fuji & Panasonic OIS), but it’s mostly the same. What it does is stabilize the lens elements, and it eliminates the vibrations from your hand, breathing etc. When you shoot photos hand-held this gives you a sharper image and allows you to shoot on slower shutter speeds.

Now, most agree that IS is generally a good thing. The debate is should you use the IS when shooting video with your DSLR or not. Some say it’s not a problem while others claim the IS in DSLR lenses are not designed to handle video, and therefore shouldn’t be used.
On a traditional video camera it’s simple. You should always turn the IS on when shooting hand-held. The same general rule goes for stills photography. Unless your camera is sitting on a tripod always use the IS. It’s almost always better and gives you sharper images, eliminates motion blur and let’s you shoot at slower shutter speeds.

When it comes to video a lot of people claim the same rule to be true, however others claim that the problem with DSLR lenses are that the IS is not designed for video. Typically the IS in a DSLR lens will hold the image stable for a short period of time and then reset the IS. This cause a little “jump” or “jerk” in the image often followed by a click sound as the IS resets. If you’ve shot with a long lens with IS you have probably seen this. On a traditional video camera this isn’t a problem because the IS is designed to be working constantly.

Let’s see!

I grabbed my D800 and a Sigma 70-200mm 1:2.8 OS lens. This isn’t as high-class as Canon’s L series or Nikon’s 70-200mm, so this is a good test to see how a cheaper IS handles video. Check out the video below to see how the IS performs on video!

As you see from the video the IS is making a big difference! It makes the image much more smooth, but it’s not without problems. It’s not as smooth as the IS on a video camera and it still acts a little nervous and produced some “ticks”. However, we don’t see any of the big jumps in the picture as I expected.

There’s a pretty good reason you don’t get the jumps when shooting video. When the camera is shooting stills it actually turns the IS off and on. As you press the button to focus the camera turns the IS on. After you let go of the button it turns the IS off after a while and locks it in the neutral position. You get the “jump” in the image as the IS is turned on and off. So, why don’t you get it when shooting video? Well, because the camera leaves the IS on as long as you’re recording. At least that’s the case on my camera.

Conclusion

So, does this mean you should use IS or not? Well as you can see from the video the IS can be a big advantage. It give you a smoother image, however it’s not 100% smooth, and in my case the IS is giving some unflattering “ticks”. Another problem is panning and moving. The test video was shot while trying to hold the image still. This is what still image IS is made for. Once you start moving the IS will act differently and may have a less flattering effect.

The effect of the IS, and how it performs and looks, will vary from lens to lens as well. My lens was a cheaper and older lens. A newer and/or a more high-end lens will have better IS which may act differently. Newer lenses are also made with video in mind, and their IS will be designed to handle video better.

In general I would say “Yes”. You should use IS when shooting video on your DSLR. However, in my case it will depend on the situation, the project and the equipment. My best tip is to get to know your equipment. Test this yourself and see how the IS on your lenses performs and decide if the advantages of using IS outweighs the issues it raises.

Further reading:

This article explains how IS works