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Nikon 85mm f/1.8
Manual Focus (1964-1977)
© 2009-2012 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

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Nikon 85mm f/1.8

Nikon 85mm f/1.8, K version, AI updated (52mm filters, 15.3 oz/432g.) enlarge. This one came from this direct link to it at eBay; Adorama is also a good place to look. Using these links when you get yours is what helps me keep adding more reviews. Thanks! Ken.

April 2012, June 2009   More Nikon Reviews   Nikon Lenses   All Reviews


Optics:   Good, but Nikon's worst 85mm.
Usefulness:   Everyone needs an 85mm lens.


Ideal Uses: Perfect for use on manual-focus FX digital and film cameras. Pop one on your D800, and if you don't mind manual focus, you'll get fantastic results.

Not for: Fast action: focus is manual. Not for cheaper cameras that can't meter with manual lenses; use the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF-D instead.


85mm Lens Specifications Compared 23 June 2009

85mm Lens Central Sharpness Comparison 23 June 2009

85mm Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison 23 June 2009


See also

Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF and AF-D (1987-)

Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G (2012-)


Introduction        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Compatibility    History    Production    Pricing

This is Nikon's first 85mm lens for SLR cameras, introduced in 1964 and replaced in 1977 by the optically superior, smaller and lighter 85mm f/2 AI.

Even today on the 36 MP Nikon D800, it can create extraordinary images never dreamt of by its designers back in the early 1960s.

I have a separate review of the current 85mm f/1.8 D Autofocus lens.

This Nikon 85/1.8 is a great lens for just about anything, even though newer lenses offer slightly better optics and autofocus.


Nikon 85mm f/1.8

Nikon 85/1.8 K, AI updated. enlarge.


Compatibility       back to intro     back to top

The Nikon 85mm f/1.8, presuming you've had it updated to AI as shown here, is compatible with every decent Nikon SLR ever made, from the original Nikon F of 1959 through today's D800, D3X, D3 , D700 and F6.

The newest upper-end digital Nikons are fully compatible, and even have this lens programmed into their firmware!

On the D800, D3X, D3, D700, D300, F6, D2 and D200, use the "Non-CPU Lens Data" menu option to input 85mm and f/1.8. This gives full color matrix metering and EXIF data, and finder read-out of set aperture. It works great in aperture-preferred as well as manual modes on these cameras.

It works perfectly every professional film camera (F, F2, F3, F4, F5, F6), but since it's not born as an AI lens, gives no Matrix metering on the FA, F4. It won't couple well to the cheaper digital (D80 and below) and cheaper film cameras (N80 and below).

See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details with your camera. Read down the "AI converted" column if your lens has been AI updated, or the Pre-AI column if not.

If your lens hasn't been AI updated, it only really wants to work on Nikons made before 1977.


Nikon 85mm f/1.8

Rear, Nikon 85 1.8 K, AI updated. enlarge.


History      back to intro     back to top

All these versions have the same glass optics. They vary only in their coatings and cosmetics.


1964: NIKKOR Auto (a.k.a. "F" version)

Nikon introduced this 85mm f/1.8 lens in its first "F" version. "F" stands for the then-new Nikon F single-lens-reflex which was putting Leica out of business.

This version is only single-coated and had a fluted solid aluminum focus ring.

"Auto" refers to the diaphragm mechanics.


1972: NIKKOR H • C Auto (a.k.a. "C" version)

The "H" means Hex, as in six elements.

The "C" means multicoating.

"Auto" refers to the diaphragm mechanics.


1975: NIKKOR (a.k.a. "K" version)

The final version of this 85mm f/1.8 lens is the one shown here.

It was made until 1977, when it was replaced by the 85mm f/2 AI.

None of these 85mm f/1.8 lenses was AI (automatic indexing); you had to engage the prong with pre-1977 camera's metering feelers to couple the light meters.

Anyone who was paying attention had his 85mm f/1.8 updated to AI as shown here, and if you have updated your 85mm f/1.8, it works great on almost every Nikon to this day. If you didn't, your lens only works well with cameras made before 1977.


Pricing      back to intro     back to top

Used, USA, 6/09: They go for about $250 on eBay.

Ignore the people asking $400 and telling you this version is better than the newer 85mm f/2; it's not.


Specifications        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations


Name     back to Specs        top

Nikon calls this the NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8, and as shown in History, uses some extra words depending on age.


Optics     back to Specs        top

6 elements in 4 groups.

Unit focusing.

Single coated from 1964 - 1972, multicoated from 1972 - 1977.


Diaphragm     back to Specs        top

Nikon 85mm f/1.8

Nikon 85mm f/1.8 K at f/5.6. enlarge.

6 straight blades.

These six blades are a throwback to the first Nikon F lenses. Newer lenses have superior 7-bladed diaphragms. The problem with 6 blades is that sunstars take on simplistic and bright 6-pointed sunstars, and that out-of-focus highlights become distractingly obvious hexagons.

Stops down to f/22 in full stops.


Close Focus     back to Specs        top

1964 - 1975: 3.3 feet (1.0m), marked.

1975 - 1977: 2.8 feet (0.85m), marked.


Maximum Reproduction Ratio     back to Specs        top

1964 - 1975: 1:9.8.

1975 - 1977: 1:8.


Depth-of Field Scale     back to Specs        top

Yes, color-coded .


Infra-Red Focus Index     back to Specs        top

Yes, red dot.


Infinity Focus Stop     back to Specs        top



Filters     back to Specs        top

Nikon-standard 52mm, metal threads.

The filter threads don't rotate.


Size     back to Specs        top

For the K version as shown, I measure 2.443" extension from flange x 2.757" diameter; 2.767" overall (62.04 x 70.00mm, 70.30mm overall).

Nikon specifies 2.8" long by 3.0" diameter (71.2 x 76mm).

The widest thing is the focus ring.


Weight     back to Specs        top

Nikon AI-updated K lens, naked: I measure 15.228 oz. (431.7g).

Nikon specifies 14.8 and 15.2 oz. (420 and 430g) for various versions.


Hood     back to Specs        top

HN-7, all versions.

This is the same hood as the 85mm f/2 and all versions of the 80-200mm f/4.5.


Performance        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Overall   Distortion   Ergonomics   Focus   Mechanics   

Sharpness    Lateral Color Fringes    Spherochromatism   Sunstars


Overall       performance        top

It works great, although the newer 85mm f/2 is smaller, lighter, and sharper.

Nikon has never made a bad 85mm lens


Distortion       performance        top

There is no distortion at infinity.


Ergonomics       performance        top

This is a swell lens. It's the same as every other Nikon manual-focus lens, which means perfect focus feel and easy-to-set apertures.


Focus       performance        top

Manual focus is great. The ring flicks quickly with your fingertips, and the finder image is always bright and easy to see.

Used with the electronic focus assist lights of most AF cameras, especially the Nikon D800 on which I specifically tested it, manual-focus is almost always dead-on under all conditions, especially at f/1.8.


Mechanics and Construction       performance        top

This is as good as Nikon has ever made lenses.


Filter Threads

Black-anodized aluminum.



Enameled and anodized aluminum.


Focus Ring

Enameled and anodized aluminum, rubber covered (newer versions) or fluted metal (first versions).


Aperture Ring

Cast aluminum.



Dull chromed brass.






Engraved and filled with paint.



Made in Japan.


Sharpness       performance        top

See also

85mm Lens Central Sharpness Comparison and

85mm Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison

for examples.


On the 36 MP Nikon D800, it's sharp but veiled by contrast-lowering spherical aberration at f/1.8 and f/2.

In the center by f/2.8, it's perfectly sharp and contrasty, improving only slightly at f/4 and f/5.6.

The corners are still a little less contrasty at f/2.8, and are clear by f/4, improving even more at f/5.6.


Lateral Color Fringes       performance        top

There are no lateral color fringes on a Nikon D800, which corrects whatever might be there.


Spherochromatism      performance        top

Like most fast, long lenses, there is some spherochromatism.

This shows as green color fringes on out-of-focus background highlights, and magenta color fringes on out-of-focus foreground highlights.


Sunstars       performance        top

With its straight 6-bladed diaphragm, it should beget bright 6-pointed sunstars on bright points of light.


Compared    back to Performance        top

Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF

Nikon 85/1.8 K, Nikon 85/2 AI-s, Nikon 85/1.4 AI-s, Nikon 85/1.8D, Nikon 85/1.4D and Vivitar 85/1.4. enlarge (actual size at 106 DPI).


NEW: 85mm Lens Specifications Compared 23 June 2009

NEW: 85mm Lens Central Sharpness Comparison 23 June 2009

NEW: 85mm Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison 23 June 2009


Recommendations        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

The newer 85mm f/2 AI-s sells for about the same price used, and is smaller, lighter and better optically.

If you have one of these old 85mm f/1.8 lenses, hang on to it, but I wouldn't go out of my way to find one of these.

The current Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF is far better optically, works great on every old camera, and works even better on newer AF and digital cameras.

You'll notice that the only people trying to tell you that this old f/1.8 manual-focus lens is Nikon's best ever are people trying to sell you one.

All Nikon's 85mm lenses are very good, and this one happens to be the worst of an excellent bunch.



I'd keep a Nikon 52mm NC filter on it for protection on digital cameras, or when shooting color print film, or B&W film indoors.

I'd use a 52mm Hoya Super HMC 81A filter with Fuji Velvia 50 or other color slide film.

I'd use a Hoya 52mm yellow filter outdoors with B&W film.


Help me help you         top

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Thanks for reading!



Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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