Well I finally bit the bullet and despite owning the wonderful 85mm 1.4G I went and slapped down rather a sizeable number of notes to acquire the Nikon AF-S-Nikkor 105mm 1:1.4E. I had read a number of conflicting reviews about this lens but I went against my better judgement and bought it. Do I regret it? In a word – No… In several words – It is a fantastic portrait lens when it is focussing… extremely irritating when not. You see it just feels horrendously slow compared with a lot of the other modern Nikon lenses (let alone the new crop of mirrorless ones) and its low light performance leaves a lot to be desired for a lens of this price level. It is almost as slow as a medium format lens which would be its direct competition in terms of what it achieves in terms of “look” when shooting wide open. I would guess that for anyone who’s sole purpose is to shoot portraits, it won’t matter as much but for me shooting as quickly as I do it feels really sluggish. Will I keep it despite this? Yes… The results are definitely worth it to me for particular situations.
If you own the 85mm then quite honestly it is a personal decision as to whether you actually really need it. It gives a little more separation than the 85 and its nice to have that if you shoot full length portraits for instance. If you want the absolute best results from a portrait lens then this is up there with the best and arguably better in some regards. It is very sharp wide open and by F2.8 is super sharp. The bokeh is a bit jittery at f1.4 depending on the background but as smooth as you will get but F2.8. It gives great separation to your subject if you shoot wide open with a very nice contrasty image. Its difficult to nail focus perfectly when shooting a portrait wide open so you have to be aware that any movement from you or your subject will throw it out and I do mean any small movement. You have a sliver of depth of field to play with. This lens is not for close focussing as it only gets to about a metre away from the subject.
Shot at F2.8
This is a beast of an optic. It is a very large lens and its not light, although on any pro body will feel well balanced with it. The construction of the lens is solid but it seems that the body is polycarbonate and not metal which is the case with the modern Nikon lenses. For this price level it feels a bit bog standard compared to the build for instance a Sigma Art lens. By comparison it feels plasticy.
So, the bottom line is you should consider this lens if you primarily shoot portraits and dont mind a bit of distance between you and the subject. It will give you some memorable images if used correctly.
I have included a few portrait shots I did recently of a very well built and exceptionally nice chap called Jake Cushway who very kindly let me use them to illustrate this post.