Praise for Primes: Nikon 85mm f/1.8

As I’ve mentioned before, I decide to sell this lens every few months. It’s the last remaining lens from my film days; I bought it around the time my son was born, 23 years ago.

I get frustrated with this lens because it does not always focus accurately. When it does, I always like the results.  Moreover, when I read reviews of those sexy 85mm f/1.4 lenses, people say they don’t always focus accurately, but when they do, etc…

When I feel like selling this lens, I put it on a camera for a few days, take some pictures, and save myself a thousand dollars or more. Yet, every time I get into a dimly lit theater or club, the fast glass envy seeps into my brain.

Subject isolation is the specialty of fast telephoto lenses, so they are considered a top choice for portraiture. I’ve been using another lens for portraits for the last couple of years, because, as I mentioned above, I’ve encountered some focus problems with this, particularly in low light.  With a fast telephoto, focus accuracy is really important, because depth-of-field gets very narrow at f/1.8 or f/1.4. The extra effort is amply rewarded by the quality images such a lens can produce.

With shallow depth-of-field, it's critical to focus on eyes. When it works, it works.

During theater shoots, this lens has helped me capture moments I would not have gotten with the 70-200 f/2.8.

I like to use this in the studio, where I can stop down a little and focus carefully under controlled conditions. This lens produces beautiful skin tones.

Low light? Check. Moving subject? Check. Sharp image with smooth out of focus areas? Check!

Subject isolation achieved through shallow depth-of-field. Notice the plane of sharpness surrounded by smoothly out-of-focus foreground and background.


I shot this the other day, after fine-tuning the D7000's autofocus for this lens. Click on the image if you'd like to count the cat's whiskers or the threads of the napkin.

There's a reason these are considered excellent portrait lenses. Of course, the f/1.4 version is even better...

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Filed under Camera Gear, Low Light, Portraiture

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