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  Reviews by: jlnewland  

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Nikon 135mm f/2D AF-DC Nikkor

Review Date: Dec 17, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,000.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Spectacular bokeh, sharp wide open, built like a tank

The ultimate portrait lens? I go back and forth. For portrait use, I have, or have owned, the 135, the 105 version, the 85 1.4, the 105 VR and the 70-200 VR.

Each has its strengths, and each is excellent. But the 135, like the 85 1.4, has a sort of magic that's hard to describe. This lens is specifically designed for portraiture, and it is built to do two things really well: render great skin tones and provide beautiful bokeh. As for the latter, it's everything you hear -- better even than the amazingly good 85 1.4 and the 105 F2 DC. I can't imagine how bokeh could get any better, and it REALLY makes your subject pop, especially if you don't have an ideal background.

So is this better than the 85? Depends. If you're using an FX camera and you don't need to get a lot of the model's body in (or if you have some room to back up), then I prefer it. The reach is great. But for some things, I prefer the 85. I love that it has a full extra stop and that you can carry it 24/7 without strain because it's so small and light. I also like that the 85 can focus to 3 feet (4 feet is minimum for the 135).

I've written before about how underrated (IMO) the 105VR is for portraits. For absolute color fidelity and truth, it's a rock. And it makes up for being a stop slower by having VRII.

But if bokeh is your thing, this is truly the best I've ever used. as creamy as the 85 can be, I'd rate this lens higher.

I'd say to buy one while you can. I was able to get a UK model used (in new condition) without spending a fortune. Mine, by the way, is a pre-D version, and it makes NO difference to me. I use off-camera, manual lighting, so the distance information that "D" provides is meaningless. The D version also has an extra glass element on the very rear, apparently to further reduce dust entry. But I've had no problem whatsoever with that. This lens seals tight as a drum on my camera.

Overall, it's an easy 10 of 10. And if you can find one, it's even worth its full retail price.

Nikon 105mm f/2.8 ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor

Review Date: Dec 12, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Nikon's best technologies rolled into one fantastic package. Excels at macro, if that's your thing, but where it really shines is as a portrait lens, particularly with the ability to shoot ultra-close or to stand back for more of a flat field. Bokeh is very close to Nikon's best.
Absolutely none.

We all know this lens is great for macro. But I use it for portraits, and this is where it shines. I think it's just a tiny bit behind the DCs, the 85 1.4 and the 70-200 -- in other words, IMO, it's one of Nikon's best portrait lenses, and it's the most flexible and convenient of all of them.

Let me make my case briefly. This lens has the sharpness and lovely bokeh that are needed for portraits (you can always soften skin in post, if you really want to). But there are a few things that set it apart:
1) AF-S is incredibly accurate and fast. I rate it with the 70-200 in focus acquisition and the easy ability to manually tweak without flipping switches.
2) It's flexible. Because it's a macro, you can shoot as close as you like. Images are also wonderful if you want to step back and take advantage of a somewhat flatter field that results from long-lens compression. And though it lacks the low-light capability of the 1.4 or the DC lenses (both f/2), the VRII system really does allow a very slow shutter.
3) It has no problems I can find with CA or flare. I suppose this is due to the Nano-Crystal Coating. While the 85 1.4 and the DC lenses may be just a tiny bit ahead of this lens because of their sort of "magical" qualities, they each have some issues with CA or color fringing. (Greenish skin tones are common with the DC lenses, and purple color fringing is common with the 85, although all are easy enough to correct.)
4. The size is perfect, at least for my hands. It's just big and heavy enough to feel gorgeously balanced on a D700 or D3, but it's not a pain to carry like the 70-200. I think the 105 and 135 DC lenses are equally great, sizewise, but the 85 sometimes feels a tiny bit small to me (I love it anyway) and both versions of the 70-200 are beasts to fit in a camera bag and swing around for hours.
5. For what it does, it's cheap. Best of all, you can find these used on craigslist, typically for about $700. I bet the people who sell them bought them for macro and then got tired of shooting bugs. And because it uses 62mm filters, you may already have one, or you can get a good one without spending the money a 72 or 77mm commands.

Don't get me wrong. I own or have owned all the lenses I referenced above, and they are all fantastic. But if I had to pick just one portrait lens, especially if cost were a big factor, this would be it.

Sorry to write so much, but I get the feeling that lots of folks have this lens for macro and don't realize its true beauty. Hope it helps at least one person!

Nikon 85mm f/1.4D IF AF Nikkor

Review Date: Dec 12, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,200.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Gorgeous bokeh, sharp without stopping down, renders great skin tones, small and light for a portrait lens, old-school perfection.
Some color fringing in high-contrast transitions between dark and white. Love the metal hood, but it prevents the standard lens cap from seating firmly back on the lens. Once you shoot with this lens, though, you probably won't care.

I keep coming back to this lens for portraits. It really shines for work in an outdoor or non-studio environment, where the bokeh can really be appreciated. The smooth bokeh makes the subject really pop, and this lens has an almost magical touch with fine detail and skin tones. A classic that's worth every penny.

Nikon 105mm f/2D AF DC-Nikkor

Review Date: Dec 12, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,020.00 | Rating: 9