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Nikon 85mm f/3.5
(2009 - )
© 2013 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

How to Shoot Macro   Best Macro Lenses Compared

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

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Nikon 85mm f/3.5

Nikon 85mm f/3.5 DX VR (DX only, 52mm filters, 1:1 close-focus, 12.4 oz./352g, about $527). enlarge. I got mine at this link to it at Adorama, and Amazon is also a great place ot get it.

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June 2013   Nikon Reviews   Nikon Lenses    All Reviews

Best Macro Lenses Compared.

Why fixed lenses take better pictures.


Optics: Sloppy for a Micro-NIKKOR


Good: Low-cost macro lens for DX digital only that also autofocuses on the cheapest DX cameras. Small, light, fast-autofocus and excellent working distance at 1:1.

Bad: Won't work on 35mm or FX. More expensive than the superior Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Macro.


Introduction       top

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations


Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio
I use these stores. I can't vouch for ads below.

This Nikon 85mm f/3.5 VR DX Micro is a macro lens whose main claim to fame is that it's inexpensive, has vibration-reduction for use in dim light hand-held and autofocuses on even the cheapest DX cameras like the D40, D3000, D3100 and D5000. Manual focus is as easy as turning the ring at any time, there's no need to move a switch.

The bad news is that it cuts-off the corners if used on film or FX, which is why it's sold only to work on Nikon's DX cameras.

Otherwise, especially for serious macro work where we focus manually and use strobes, which eliminate the utility of VR, any old 105mm Macro is at least as good.

For less money, I'd get the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Macro instead. You forgo VR and autofocus on Nikon's cheapest cameras, but I don't use either when shooting macro, and the Tokina has better optics, is better-built, and costs less.

This Nikon 85mm lens is made in China. Who wants that, unless of course you're Chinese? The Tokina is made in Japan, just like Nikon's very best lenses.


Compatibility       intro     top

Everything works perfectly on every DX digital, especially on Nikon's cheapest digitals like the D40, D40x, D60, D3000, D3100 and D5000.

Forget it on 35mm or FX; it cuts-off the corners of the picture on these cameras.

See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details with your camera. Read down the "AF-S, AF-I," "G" and "VR" columns for this lens. You'll get the least of all the features displayed in all columns, since "G" (gelding) is a deliberate handicap which removes features.


Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G AF-S

Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G DX VR AF-S Micro-NIKKOR ED. enlarge.


Specifications         top

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations


Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G AF-S

Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G DX VR AF-S Micro-NIKKOR ED. enlarge.

Nikon call this the Nikon AF-S DX Micro-NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED VR.

    DX: Won't work on 35mm or FX cameras.

    AF-S and SWM: Silent Wave Autofocus Motor.

    Micro-NIKKOR: Nikon macro lens.

    VR: Vibration Reduction.

    ED: Magic Extra-low Dispersion Glass.

    IF: Internal focusing; nothing moves externally as focused.

    G: Gelded for cost-reduction and removing compatibility with older cameras.

    ∅52: 52mm filter thread.



85mm f/3.5 diagram

Schematic diagram. Yellow: ED. enlarge.

14 elements in 10 groups. One is of magic ED glass.

IF: Internal focusing; nothing moves externally as focused.

Nikon Super-Integrated Coating (SIC).


Focal length

85 mm.

On a DX camera, it sees the same angle of view as a 135mm lens sees on full-frame. (see crop factor).


Maximum aperture

f/3.5 at infinity.

f/5 at 1:1.


Minimum aperture

f/32 at infinity.

f/45 at 1:1.


Coverage        top

DX only.


Focal Length        top


On a DX camera, it gives angles of view similar to what a 135mm lens gives when used on an FX or 35mm camera.


Angle of View

18° 50,’ on DX.


Diaphragm blades

9 (rounded).

Freakily, the aperture really is very round as it works, like out eyes.


Closest focusing distance

0.9 feet (0.286 meters), both specified and confirmed.


Maximum Reproduction ratio

1:1 (life size).


Working Distance        top

5.5" (145mm), measured at 1:1.


Hard Infinity Focus Stop?        top


You have to let the AF system focus at infinity.


Focus Scale        top



Depth-of-Field Scale        top



Infra-Red Focus Index        top



Aperture Ring        top



Tripod Collar        top



Filter thread

52mm, plastic.

Never rotates or moves.


Hood        top

Plastic bayonet HB-37 hood, included.


Case        top

CL-1018 pouch, included.


Vibration Reduction (VR)         top

Claims 4 stops improvement, but not in the macro range.



2.9 x 3.9 inches, specified. (73 x 98.5 millimeters.)



12.370 oz. (350.6g), measured.

Nikon specifies 12.5 oz. (355g).



52mm Snap-on Front Lens Cap LC-52

Rear Lens Cap LF-1

Plastic Bayonet Hood HB-37

Flexible Lens Pouch CL-1018



Made in People's Republic of China.

52mm front cap and LF-1 rear cap are not marked for origin.


Warranty        top

5 years, USA.


Nikon Product Number        top




14 October 2009.



Since December 2009.


Packaging        top

Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G AF-S

Box, Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G DX VR AF-S Micro-NIKKOR ED.

Micro corrugated cardboard box, gold-colored ink.

Folded corrugated cardboard inserts.

Lens in thin gray foam bag with serial-number sticker.

Paperwork slid-in along the side.

Hood and sack in small box on top of lens.


Price, USA

$527, June 2013.

$479, November 2010.

$530 at introduction, October 2009.


Performance       top

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

Overall    Autofocus    Bokeh   Color   Coma    Distortion

Ergonomics   Falloff    Filters    Focus Breathing    Lateral Color Fringes

Macro    Maximum Aperture    Mechanics    Sharpness

Sounds and Noise    Sunstars   Survivability    VR


Overall       performance     top

Autofocus and ergonomics are great, quite likely the fastest autofocus Micro-NIKKOR.

Optically and mechanically, the Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G DX VR AF-S Micro-NIKKOR ED is good enough, but probably the lowest optical performer of any Nikon Micro (macro) ever. It's still very good; this being the softest and most distorting Micro-NIKKOR is like saying you own the slowest Ferrari: it's still good.


Autofocus       performance     top

AF Speed

AF speed is just about instantaneous on the D7000, even when slamming back and forth between macro and normal distance.


AF Accuracy

AF was always right on.


Manual Focus

Manual focus is easy: just turn the ring at any time.


M/A - M Switch

Nikon goofed. This switch is supposed to be labeled "A - M."

The "M/A" position means autofocus. It's called "M/A" because you also can focus manually simply by grabbing the focus ring in this position.

The "M/A" position means autofocus. It's called "M/A" because back in the old days, when Nikon had almost caught up to Canon who had been doing this for ten years before, Nikon was trying to show off that you could focus manually while in the AF position.

Paint over the extra M if you're easily confused.


Bokeh       performance     top

Bokeh, the character of out of focus backgrounds, not simply how far out of focus they are, is quite neutral.


Color Rendition       performance     top

Color rendition seems the same as all my other NIKKORs.


Coma       performance     top

I can't see any coma.

Coma (saggital coma flare) often causes weird smeared blobs to appear around bright points of light in the corners of fast or wide lenses at large apertures. In lenses that have it, coma goes away as stopped down.


Distortion       performance     top

The Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G DX VR AF-S Micro-NIKKOR ED has too much barrel distortion to be acceptable for a Micro lens. We expect a Micro-NIKKOR to be so good that we need not worry about things like distortion, while this lens has some visible barrel distortion. This distortion would be fine for any other lens, and is much less than a zoom, but for a Micro lens, it's not worthy.

This can be corrected for critical use by plugging these figures into Photoshop's lens distortion filter. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires hours of photography and calculations on the resulting data.

10' (3m)

© 2010 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.


Ergonomics (handling and ease-of-use)       performance     top

Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G AF-S

Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G DX VR AF-S Micro-NIKKOR ED. enlarge.

Ergonomics are swell. Grab the lens and shoot.

Just turn the ring for instant manual-focus override.


Falloff (darkened corners)       performance     top

Falloff on FX is severe, which is why Nikon doesn't sell this lens for use on FX or 35mm.

Falloff on DX. is never a problem, and only slightly visible wide-open.

I've exaggerated this by shooting a gray field and placing these on a gray background.


Nikon 85mm f/3.5 VR DX falloff, no correction.

FX, 1:2
FX, 1:1

© 2010 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.




Filters, use with       performance     top

There is no problem with vignetting, even with combinations of thick filters.

In fact, the front element is so tiny that you could used the 52mm -> 39mm adapter ring and use 39mm LEICA filters.

The plastic filter ring never moves or rotates.


Focus Breathing       performance     top

Of interest mostly to cinematographers focusing back and forth between two subjects, the image from the Nikon 85 3.5 gets larger as focused more closely.

Because of the huge range of focus distances covered by this Micro lens, the enlargement at close distances is large.


Lateral Color Fringes       performance     top

There are no lateral color fringes on the D7000, which corrects them automatically.


Macro       performance     top

Macro gets up to life-sized, which means that something as small as a half-inch by an inch (16 x 24mm) fills the image.

Of course the lens is super-sharp at macro distances; the limitation to sharpness is the fact that nothing is ever in focus this close because depth-of-field is measured in fractions of hundredths of a millimeter (thousandths of an inch). The biggest challenge is keeping the subject flat and the camera aligned to it.


Maximum and Minimum Apertures     performance    top

As all macro lenses, this 85/3.5 lens gets slower as focused more closely.



Mechanics and Construction       performance     top

Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G AF-S

Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G DX VR AF-S Micro-NIKKOR ED. enlarge.

The Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G DX VR AF-S Micro-NIKKOR ED is made as well as any other plastic made-in-China lens.

The glass is glass, the mount and electrics contacts are made of metal, and that's about it.


Filter Threads




Plastic bayonet.


Hood Mount



Barrel Exterior



Focus Ring

Metal; rubber covered.



Seems like mostly plastic .



Dull-chromed brass.





Identity Plate

Debossed plastic, fake-gold-look.


Serial Number

Sticker bottom rear of barrel, near mount.


US Model Signified by

"US" prefix to serial number.


Rain seal at mount



Noises When Shaken

Clicking and klunking from the diaphragm blades, VR, and focus systems.


Made in

People's Republic of China.



There are so many delicate AF-S, focus and VR systems inside this lens that I doubt many will be in service in 30 years.

Nikon offers a 5-year warranty in the USA, but I doubt specialized parts will be available decades from now when they'll really be needed.


Sharpness       performance     top

Warning 1: Image sharpness depends more on you than your lens.

Warning 2: Lens sharpness doesn't mean much to good photographers.

With those caveats, the Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G DX VR AF-S Micro-NIKKOR ED is not as sharp as a Micro-NIKKOR is expected to be. This won't affect your photos, but screw it, Nikon doesn't pay me or send me any Christmas cards; I wouldn't buy this Chinese Nikon lens when the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Macro is sharper, less-distorted, and costs less.

Doesn't vary much with aperture or position in the frame. Except for diffraction, it's about the same regardless of setting.

My sample didn't perform well enough to support Nikon's claimed MTF curves. This curve is excellent, but the sample I actually tested is not.

Nikon 85mm f/3.5 MYF


Sounds and Noise       performance     top

Focus sounds like sliding.

The VR system makes a satisfying metallic "klink" as it cages (turns off).


Sunstars       performance     top

With its rounded diaphragm, the Nikon 85 3.5 doesn't make any sunstars on bright points of light.


Survivability       performance     top

The Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G DX VR AF-S Micro-NIKKOR ED is a lightweight plastic lens that is both extremely complex and made with the lowest possible labor cost in Communist China.

It's overall design is tough; nothing moves externally and no air gets sucked in or our a its focused, but I don't trust that all this complexity will still be cranking out photos as Nikon's manual-focus lenses will be 30 years from now.

I said the same thing about the electronics of the F3 back in 1984, and was proved wrong. Let's hope I'm wrong again this time.


VR        performance     top

Nikon claims the VR system is good for four stops, but for macro, it won't work that well. Use strobes.


Usage             top

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations


Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G AF-S

Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G DX VR AF-S Micro-NIKKOR ED. enlarge.


Leave M/A - M in M/A for autofocus. Just grab the ring if you want manual focus. If you want to lock-out the autofocus system so it only focuses manually, use the M position.

Leave VR ON, except if on a tripod.

In the macro range, best results usually happen at f/32 and strobes.

Be very careful to keep your subjects flat and parallel to the image sensor, otherwise even at f/32, things get fuzzy fast.


Compared             top

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

This 85/3.5 isn't as sharp as the other spectacular Micro-NIKKORs or the Tokina 100/2.8. You won't see this in real photos, since depth-of-field is more critical than the lens, but if you count pixels, count thus lens out.

This 85/3.5 has at least triple the distortion of the other Micro-NIKKORs and the Tokina.

At 5.5" (145mm), this 85mm's working distance at 1:1 is much better than the 60mm micros and the Tokina 100mm, and about the same as 105mm Micro-NIKKORs. This is the best thing about this 85mm: it's tiny size and long working distance.

See also my Comparison of 105mm Micros and my Comparison of 60mm Micros.


Recommendations       top

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

If you value size, weight, working distance and VR, get this lens only if you only plan to use DX cameras for quite some time.

For better optical performance, but lacking VR, the Tokina 100/2.8 is superior, and does work on 35mm and FX.

For serious macro work, I shoot the 200mm AF Micro every day in my studio because it lets me stand far enough away to get a proper perspective. Sadly, the 200mm Micro is far more expensive.

AF and VR aren't helpful for serious macro, where we shoot with action-stopping strobes and focus manually.



I'd leave either a 52mm Nikon Clear (NC - UV) filter, or a 52mm Hoya Super HMC UV on the lens at all times. I would leave the hood at home.

If I was working in nasty, dirty areas, I'd forget the cap, and use an uncoated 52mm Tiffen UV filter instead. Uncoated filters are much easier to clean, but more prone to ghosting.

For color slides like Velvia 50, I use an old Nikon A2 or new 52mm Hoya HMC 81A outdoors.

For B&W film outdoors, I'd use an old Nikon Y48 or O56, or a new 52mm Hoya HMC K2 Yellow or 52mm Hoya HMC Orange.


More information

Nikon's product data

Nikon's press release


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November 2010