Nikkor Z 85mm F/1.8 S Lens Review: The Best in Class 85mm Lens for Portrait Photography

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Nikkor Z 85mm F/1.8 S Lens Review

In our recent review, I named the 50 mm lens as the most popular prime lens. This is partly true, but, perhaps, the prime with a focal length of 85mm can also be called the most popular. It is difficult to say which of these two focal lengths is more common in photographers’ bags. 50mm is the most versatile, but 85 mm gives a more interesting picture without perspective distortion. Contrary to all prejudices, 85 mm is not exclusively a portraitist – it has access to both landscape subjects and subject photography. And the high aperture of f/1.8 gives the photographer some freedom to shoot in low light. Today we have a new representative of classic portrait lenses on our review – Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S. In this review we will go the trivial way and show only portraits.

The Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens was announced in July 2019 and is the fifth lens for the new Nikon Z mirrorless system. It embodies all of the major innovations found in the S-Line. The case is almost entirely made of metal and is protected from moisture and dust.

The focusing ring is electronic. Its function can be reassigned in the camera menu to exposure compensation, aperture control, or ISO. An ultrasonic motor is responsible for moving the focusing group of lenses.

On the Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S body there is only one switch, which is responsible for focusing mode.

Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S
Nikkor Z 85mm F/1.8 S

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Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S Specifications

Now in more detail about the technical characteristics of our hero. And here a comparison with a similar lens for the Nikkor F mount is inevitable. Perhaps in the future we will arrange a comparison of image quality, so to speak, “face to face”, but now we will only compare the technical characteristics.

So, the lens became 120 grams heavier – 470 versus 350 for the “old man”. As already mentioned, the case is assembled almost entirely from metal, while the previous generation was made of plastic. The dimensions have also changed. If the representative of the F mount was such a “chubby”, then the novelty looks slenderer. The diameter has become smaller by 5 mm and is now 75 mm, but the length has increased to 99 mm, that is, 26 mm more.

Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S
Source: Nikon

However, the increase in weight of the novelty is associated not only with changes in size, but also with a more complex optical design. The total number of elements is increased to 12 (three more elements). The optical elements in the lens are grouped into 8 groups. The circuit contains 2 ultra-low dispersion elements and elements with a nanocrystalline coating. In addition, the front and rear lenses are fluoride coated to resist grease and dirt.

The Nikkor Z 85mm f / 1.8 S aperture also received a larger number of blades – 9 versus 7 for the previous generation. The minimum focusing distance is 80 cm, the diameter of the filter is 67 mm – these parameters are similar.

Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S Ground Test

Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S
Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S

According to the tradition of our reviews, we conduct laboratory studies that fully demonstrate the optical qualities of the “lens” and for visual demonstration we accompany everything with photographs from practical photography. Let’s start with sharpness.

Sharpness

For the sharpness test, I use the standard test world. RAW files are opened in RawDigger and exported to TIFF to avoid being affected by inline adjustments. Actually, this is what I do in all tests. So, below the crop from the center and corner of the frame. (switching between diaphragms occurs under the plate).

Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S
Source: Nikon

The center of the frame is as sharp as possible when the aperture is open. Unfortunately, the periphery cannot boast of such a characteristic. Starting at approximately f/5.6, the lens is as sharp as possible. At f/16, there is very little softening of the picture under the influence of diffraction.

This is not to say that the Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S has a ringing sharpness, but that would be more a minus than a plus. After all, we are talking about a portrait lens, and excessive sharpness will only intensify minor skin imperfections, which will have to be corrected in the editor. For a portrait lens, the main picture is, so below let’s take a look at the characteristics of the image in the out-of-focus area.

Bokeh

Below are shots taken at the minimum focusing distance.

Bokeh Effect of Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S
Bokeh Effect of Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S

The flare shape is in the form of a circle only in the center of the frame. Closer to the periphery, the disc of light takes on the shape of a cat’s eye. Nevertheless, the bokeh can be called ideal – the filling is uniform, the complete absence of onion rings and edging. Excellent performance for a portrait lens.

Chromatic Aberration

As a rule, I analyze two types of CA – longitudinal and transverse. Longitudinal chromatic aberrations appear throughout the entire field of the frame and are corrected by aperture. Lateral aberrations are characteristic closer to the edge of the frame and appear at all values ​​of the aperture, and also have a certain character. If the longitudinal aberrations look like a one-color edging of one object, then the transverse ones look like a multi-colored one.

Chromatic Aberration
Chromatic Aberration

Longitudinal aberration of the Nikkor Z 85mm f / 1.8 S is completely minimal and disappears completely at approximately f / 8. But the Nikon engineers did not manage to win the transverse HA. Alas, they are noticeable at the periphery of the frame. It is worth considering that above we examined images at very high magnification. Without magnification, neither lateral nor longitudinal aberration will be noticeable even in the highest contrast subjects. That is, post-processing will be required only to achieve an absolutely perfect picture, well, or so to speak, to clear the photographer’s conscience.

Distortion

Distortion Before and After
Distortion Before and After

I’ll explain right away why there is a different white balance. The first file is a RAW file opened in RawDigger, and the second is an intra-camera JPEG with all camera adjustments. So, there is a slight pincushion distortion, which is ideally corrected intra-chamber. Overall, we can conclude that the lens geometry is excellent.

Vignetting

Vignetting

The vignette effect disappears completely at f / 5.0. I must say that at the maximum open aperture of f / 1.8, the darkening in the corners is insignificant, and it is very rare on high-aperture fixes with similar focal lengths.

Astigmatism and Coma

Astigmatism and comatic aberration appear as distorted points of light. Comatic aberrations appear throughout the entire field of the frame, except for the center, and astigmatism appears exclusively on the periphery of the frame.

Astigmatism and Coma
Astigmatism and Coma

Nikkor Z 85mm f / 1.8 S is completely devoid of comatic aberrations, but astigmatism is still noticeable up to f / 7.1 aperture. The absence of such distortions is highly appreciated by photographers of the starry sky and night city. This is not to say that the focal length of 85 mm is often applicable in such scenarios, nevertheless, the optical distortion for such scenes for our hero is minimal.

Breathing Focus

Let’s talk a little about the characteristics that are important for video shooting. Focus breath manifests itself as a zoom change as the focus distance changes. Below are two examples – the first was shot at the minimum distance, the second at infinity.

Focus Breath
Focus Breath

When you change the focusing distance from minimum to infinity, the zoom changes by just over 19 percent. Frankly speaking, this is a pretty bad indicator.

Focus Breath
Source: Nikon

Again, as in the case of shooting a starry sky or a night city, the 85 mm lens is not so often used on a camera in video shooting, and even more so in those scenarios when refocusing from MDF to infinity occurs. However, if you do decide to shoot video with this lens, you need to take into account that it zooms quite a lot when refocusing.

Autofocus

And one more parameter, which is also important not only in video, but also in photography. If autofocus speed and accuracy are important for the photographer, then the minimum noise of the motors is also important for video shooting. Let’s see how the Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S coupled with the Nikon Z6 camera behaves.

There are no problems with any speed setting of the AF motors. At standard and minimum speed, the noise from the motor is completely invisible. At maximum speed, you can hear a subtle jolt, however, with such settings for the autofocus speed, I would not recommend shooting a video, it looks, to put it mildly, unnatural.

Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S In Practice

We have already shown some of the portraits shot with the Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens. They were shot with both natural light and impulse Profoto. The lens copes well with backlighting without compromising contrast.

Source: Nikon

All portraits presented in this review were captured using face and eye detection. Not a single significant miss or difficulties in finding focus were noticed, the system works out adequately, and the motor in the lens works really fast.

Thanks to the longer body compared to the Nikkor F, the lens is easier to operate. However, a too wide focusing ring sometimes leads to an accidental focus shift, so it is better to turn off the focus ring in the fine-tuning mode.

Photo By: Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S
Photo By: Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S

The nature of the blur is a rather subjective factor, nevertheless, we liked its properties. At the widest aperture, the main subject stands out perfectly in the frame, while the background becomes almost indistinguishable.

Conclusion

The Nikkor Z mount, another creation by Nikon engineers, once again gives the impression of a quality professional tool. It all starts with external factors – the case is made mainly of metal, excellent build quality, no backlash and gaps. The bayonet mount, like all Nikkor Z representatives, looks very reliable.

The optical performance is of a high level, as evidenced by our tests. Excellent sharpness, minimal pincushion distortion, beautiful bokeh. Vignetting is very slight and disappears completely at f / 5. Chromatic aberrations, one might say, are practically absent, since they are noticeable only at very high magnifications. Autofocus is fast and quiet, no problems were noticed during the entire testing period.

But if you are going to shoot video professionally, then the lens will disappoint with a very noticeable breath of focus in the region of 19 percent. Although, I note that this is not the worst indicator that I have seen on lenses with a fixed focal length of 85 mm.

Compared to its predecessor, the F-mount lens, here we get not only better quality, but also image stabilization. Of course, stabilization is not the merit of this particular lens, but of the entire Nikon Z system as a whole.

Nikkor Z 85mm F/1.8 S

Get It on Amazon

Unfortunately, the trend is that all Nikkor Z lenses are either slightly more expensive or significantly more expensive. At the time of publication of the review, Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S cost was $796.99 on Amazon marketplace, which is almost twice as much. Nevertheless, due to its qualities, the hero of this review definitely deserves attention and recommendations for purchase.