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Nikon 85mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor

1931NCP_180
Review Date: Sep 18, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $386.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Crystal clear images, fairly fast AF, lightweight and well-made. Best low-light lens I have ever used -- even better than the much touted 50mm f1.4, with less flare and ghosting than the 50mm as well. Versatile for a wide range of subjects.
Cons:
None. Some hate the metal screw-in hood, but it's really only an issue if you're changing filters a lot (and use a hood anyway).

While many tout this as a "portrait lens" (I'm sure it's very good at that) I've found this lens to be perfect for any kind of still-lifes where precision focus and fore/background blur are important. I shoot a lot of scenes in agricultural settings, like old barns, tractors, rustic equipment, livestock, etc., including cropped landscapes from the roadside, and I've found the 85mm to be very adaptable to a wide variety of scenes.

It also flares and ghosts much less than my 50mm f1.4.

As a low-light lens, it is unsurpassed. I recently shot some nighttime shots of the recent "Day Fire" in Castaic/Fillmore, CA, and even though the 85mm is 2/3rds stop slower than my 50mm f1.4, it had no problem autofocusing on dimly lit buildings in extremely poor foreground lighting in order to capture the firelight beyond. I switched to my 50mm just to see if it too would perform as well, and it wouldn't lock focus on ANYthing, even compensating for the spacial difference by moving closer to the foreground buildings. When I considered the price difference between the 50mm and the 85mm, it was about $65, so in my book the extra cost of the 85mm is warranted for it's low-light performance and versatility.

As far as image sharpness goes, it's everything it's been praised as being. Obviously photographer shake and error can result in out-of-focus images of anything with ANY lens -- even the VRs -- but when you shoot with this 85mm and your dead-on focused you'd be hard pressed to find a sharper, perfect contrast lens anywhere--especially at this price.

Get one!


 
Nikon 50mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor

1902NCP_180
Review Date: Sep 15, 2006 Recommend? no | Price paid: $320.00 | Rating: 5 

 
Pros: lightweight, sharp images under specific conditions (for me at least), fast AF.
Cons:
FLARE! GHOSTING! picky focusing

I'm not at all thrilled about this lens -- in fact I'm tempted to sell it and just get the f1.8.

The flare and ghosting I've experienced with this lens is on an unprecedented scale. It's perfectly happy to take very sharp photos under diffused light, or in absence of a direct light source at all, but introduce even the slightest lighting and the entire image fills with flare, spots, and/or ghosted images.

It ought to be labeled a "special effects" lens as far as I'm concerned.

I tried using this lens at night at the Los Angeles County Fair recently, and images that I NEVER have a problem using a moderately fast zoom on are rendered virtually useless with this lens. The neon, flourescent, and incandescent lighting just overwhelms this thing to the point that it's a joke. Tried stepping it down and using a faster ISO -- doesn't help either. It's like you have to point this thing into virtual darkness to get a decent picture.

I've also tried it on landscape and nature photos. Yes, it works, but I spend so much time trying to recompose myself to avoid the flash-ups of stuff I don't want that it ruins the experience.

Further, what's the sense in having a lens this fast if you can't use it in Program Auto or AE without toting a decent flash unit around with you?! I've found the focusing to be both unprecise and unpredictable on both of my camera bodies (even the new D80) under low light conditions, and even with a shutter speed of 1/125th or more at f1.4 I still get many, many blurry images. I'll be damned if I'm going to stick an f1.4 lens on a tripod at dawn or dusk just to get a blur-free image.

And yes, I've been shooting a long time and know all about how to hand-hold a camera and squeeze the shutter to minimize blur. Like I said, I've had better results with lenses 2+ stops slower than this one under the same conditions. In fact I've had better luck with the 18-70 f3.5 kit lens than this thing, and that's the LAST lens one would seek out for low-light photography.

The news isn't ALL bad, though. I've taken some photos with this lens that are absolutely razor sharp. I've also taken a series of the same image in P mode where some are great and others are blurred beyond belief -- even in continuous frame shots.

Maybe I got a dud. Maybe the factory ran out of lens coating goop when my glass went through the spray gun. Who knows.

I'm going to talk to the dealer that sold me the lens and see what his other customers have to say about it. It seems to me that an expensive, "prime" lens like this should be far more predictable and usable than what I've expereinced with it so far. But I can absolutely guarantee that if I had it to do over again I'd just opt for the f1.8 model if this is what's to be expected of today's Nikkor 50mm line of lenses.

p.s. I'm also seriously considering purchasing the 85mm f1.8 Nikkor lens, but I'm almost afraid to dish out that kind of $$$ on another fixed lens if this is what I can expect.