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.
I bought this lens last year and I must admit I haven’t used it all that much so far. This is mainly due to the fact that for the kind of work I do it is a little bit cumbersome as it requires manual focusing and doesn’t fit into my workflow easily. As far as focussing is concerned – it has a very smooth long travel gearing which does allow for very fine focus adjustments. The barrel is very smooth and as its a Metal lens it feels like a quality bit of kit with a good weight.
The lens has a very nice “Velvety” bokeh and a diffusion in the focussed areas when wide open. This I am told is not out of focus but rather a diffused effect. It is not something one can replicate in photoshop as it is not blur…it is a rather unique aspect to this lens alone.
To really utilise this lens to its best the subject has to be in the centre of the frame as that is the area that remains in focus so if you like to offset things you are photographing then you will have to place the subject in the centre and crop afterwards as I have done on the following images (albeit the subject was not dead centre):
Here is an example of a model full length at around f2.8 to give you an idea of why its not so good for Fashion:
It is however very ethereal for abstract imagery:
On the whole it is an interesting and characterful lens that has some interesting potential applications for creative use. I am sure there are people out there that would find this a very pleasing and interesting tool.
I have included a few images that give you some idea of the transition in the diffused areas of the frame shot at F11, F5,6, F2.8 and F1.6 respectively below:
I have just purchased the new Sigma 50mm 1.4 DG art lens to replace my Nikon 50mm 1.4G. I did this because whilst the Nikon is a perfectly good lens it tends to be a bit slow focussing and it was always a bit soft towards the edges of the frame (not ideal for portraits as eyes end up out of focus if you are shooting quite open).
After initially putting the lens on the camera I couldn’t get focus on anything I pointed it at. I then decided to calibrate both lenses and did some rough and ready tests by locking off the camera and shooting my very exciting bookcase. Note: I had to make much bigger adjustments on the Sigma which was effectively unusable straight out of the box. Sigma – if you are listening then please make sure you calibrate your lenses properly before selling them… 🙂
A few comments on the aesthetics and functionality of the Sigma. The lens is a chunky hunk of glass. It is a heavy and large lens but it feels well balanced on the D800 and is pleasing to look at with a modernistic and minimalist look. It feels like quality and is beautifully made. The AF/MF switch is solid and the hood fits solidly – in all it feels like a pro lens although it is not weather resistant. This lens focusses a lot faster than the Nikon. It locks on quickly and seems to be as good in terms of accuracy as the Nikon.
As far as the differences that I was able to observe in sharpness and quality….the Sigma is not quite as sharp as the Nikon in the centre at 1.4 and the Nikon displays more chromatic aberration. As soon as you go to F2 everything changes right across the frame and its the same story as you move down the apertures. The Sigma outperforms in every department. The bokeh on the Sigma is buttery smooth and although the Nikon is no slouch its highlights are a bit crunchy by comparison.
As far as the cost/benefit is concerned…if you shoot professionally and you need critical sharpness then there is no comparison – Sigma have hit a home run with this lens. If you are on a budget then the Nikon is perfectly good for everyday work and in most cases you probably won’t be wanting. Shooting Fashion means that I am often shooting in portrait mode and I am a bit anal about sharpness throughout the frame.
I am not posting the full size files here but these are screenshots at 100% of various apertures to give you an idea of the quality and a few random shots I took to give an idea of the look out of camera – without adjustments. Sadly I didn’t have a real model to shoot when I wrote this so the Playboy Doll had to do….(dont ask how it came to be in my possession).
Random Shot (below)
Random Shot (below)
Bokeh Comparison Sigma on Left (look at the highlights)