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?
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.
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.
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.
– Bjørn Rørslett has a short review
– More info on Nikon 85mm lenses at mir.com
– Info and user experienced at DPreview.com