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Nikon 85mm Corner FX Sharpness Comparison
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NEW: 85mm Lens Specifications Compared 23 June 2009

85mm Center Comparison

85mm Corner Comparison (this page)

105mm Center Comparison    

105mm Corner Comparison   

200mm Center Comparison   

200mm Corner Comparison

 

June 2009     More Nikon Reviews

 

Introduction

Let's take six different Nikon 85mm lenses and see which is the sharpest.

These are all shot on a Nikon D3. I'm showing only the very top left corner of the full FX frame.

This is just like a traditional Greek wrestling match. Every competitor is butt naked and competing on the same ground. There are no handicaps to help the weak. Some of these lenses are brand-new out of the box, while others are over 30 years old.

Warning One

All of these lenses are very sharp. I'm doing stupid things to exaggerate the differences, especially by showing only the top left corner at large magnification..

See Lens Sharpness for why none of this really matters.

Warning Two

I'm only showing a tiny section of an image from the farthest upper left corner.

Frame

Full FX image. Red box shows crop area shown below.

These images are all crops from 100% images shot at ISO 200 on my D3. The full images would be 43" (110cm) wide at this magnification. I never print this large; do you? If you do print this large, would you be looking this close?

On the D3X, the full images would print 60" (1.5 meters) wide!

These are so highly magnified and made under such special conditions that I'm showing differences too minute to be significant for almost any sort of photography.

Warning Three

This stupid tree is 600 feet (200 meters) away, and even in the suckiest enlarged images below you still can see every leaf!

Warning Four

I only have three hands. Not all the exposures match, so please don't confuse a lighter or darker image with one that's less sharp.

 

Guide to the Lenses Compared          top

Nikon 85mm f/1.8 K (1964-1977)

Links take you to my reviews of each. If there's no link, then I'm working on a review. Years are the dates of production of each optical design.

All of these are manual focus, except for the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF and Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-D. None of them autofocus with Nikon's cheapest D40, D40x, D60 or D5000 cameras.

 

Technik          top

The use of a natural target is intentional. Leaves have a fractal nature which means they have sharpness at all spatial frequencies at all magnifications in all axes. This makes sharpness obvious at every level and magnification and in any direction, and makes any smearing obvious.

Artificial objects, like buildings and classified ads, have sharp lines. Lines have detail only at some spatial frequencies (usually at odd-ordered harmonics) and only in some directions. Sure we can see differences in sharpness with these targets, but we can't see as much at the same time.

I put the camera on a tripod. There was no wind and there was no heat shimmer over this classified test range where specially grown reference trees are used to calibrate defense sensors.

 

At Maximum Aperture          top

 

At f/2.8        top

 

At f/5.6        top

 

Summary          top

This shows me that most lenses look alike if you stop them down a little.

None of this really matters for serious photography. All of these can be used to create incredibly great photos.

Wide open, the cheap Vivitar wins, followed closely by the Nikon 85mm f/2 AI-s.

At f/2.8, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AI-s, Nikon 85mm f/2 AI-s and Vivitar 85mm f/1.4 are about as good, while the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 K, Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-D and Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF are worse.

At f/5.6 they're really about the same, with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-D and Vivitar 85mm f/1.4 trailing.

 

Recommendations          top

No lens is best at everything, especially when you consider center sharpness as well.

Pick your lenses based on how good they feel in your hand, not on how sharp they are in a lab.

For manual focus, I prefer the 85mm f/2 AI-s for its small size and weight. The 85mm f/1.4 is superb, but a lot heavier and more expensive. The Vivitar is very inexpensive if you really need f/1.4, but I'd rather have the slower Nikon f/2 for about the same price based on feel.

For autofocus, the smaller, lighter and less expensive Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF is sharper than the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-D.

The dog at this party is the old 85mm f/1.8 K. It has quite a lot of folklore about it, which is why it sells used for about as much as a new Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF. I'd get the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF over the old manual-focus f/1.8 any day.

 

PLUG         top

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Thanks for reading!

Ken

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