If you are thinking of the best lens for portraits and an 85mm prime comes into your mind – you are absolutely right. Mounted on a full-frame camera body, an 85mm lens enables you to bring the expressions, features, and personality of a subject to life in an image.
Even if an 85mm lens is fitted on an APS-C format camera, it delivers brilliant performance when taking headshots or creating head-and-shoulders portraits. Of course, for Micro Four Thirds, you will go with a shorter focal length. At the same time, a fast aperture would help you focus well on the main subject while adding a nice bokeh to your images.
When it comes to choosing an 85mm lens for a Nikon camera, there are a lot of fabulous high-end lenses on the market. Here are our best buys that will give you a great portraiture performance. With some of them being Nikon 85mm lenses and others from third-party manufacturers, you can find many being offered at very reasonable prices.
1. Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S (Overall Winner)
The Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S promises great quality while having a compact size and lightweight body that compliments Z-series camera systems. However, you would want a slightly faster aperture in the 85mm sector, so here this lens has something to prove.
Its optical design consists of two Extra-low Dispersion elements and a Nano Crystal Coat. It lacks aspherical elements, but this can be an added advantage for creating beautiful bokeh.
Based on a stepping motor, the autofocus of the lens is fast yet virtually silent. Moreover, it offers remarkable resistance against ghosting and flares.
This Nikon 85mm lens is extensively weather-sealed and its big, electronically-coupled control ring allows you to focus manually with high-precision. It can also be used to adjust the aperture and exposure compensation.
The lens provides spectacular image quality and retains amazing sharpness and contrast across the whole image frame, even when being used wide open.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art features a weight of around 1,130g, which is huge for an 85mm f/1.4 lens. With a firm focus on image quality, it seems the company didn’t notice the size and weight while designing the lens. This is typical of Sigma’s Art series lenses.
The complex optical construction of this 85mm lens includes 14 elements with one aspherical element and two Special Low Dispersion elements. Driven by a ring-type ultrasonic motor, the autofocus is both fast and accurate.
Sigma’s Art series lenses offer excellent construction and, unlike a few of them, this one comes with weather-sealing. However, on the downside, it lacks optical image stabilization.
In terms of image quality, the lens delivers impressive edge-to-edge image sharpness. You get extremely sharp results even when shooting wide-open. A well-rounded nine-blade diaphragm creates smooth and beautiful bokeh with very little to no sign of the onion-ring effect that you might have experienced with some previous Sigma Art lenses.
Featuring a solid, weather-resistant metal barrel and mounting plate, the high-tech Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD weighs in at 700g, which isn’t quite lightweight. It’s specifically designed for DSLRs, which are more susceptible to ghosting and flaring effects compared to film cameras. Indeed, it includes two types of nano-structure coatings which effectively minimize these aberrations.
The autofocus system is based on a ring-type ultrasonic motor, which is highly precise and quick. A nine-bladed diaphragm controls the aperture while the Tamron’s Vibration Compensation consistently provides support for handheld shooting, resulting in quite sharp images.
Sharpness is good enough and very well-managed across the entire image frame, however, it could have been slightly better at f/1.8. Even though the lens features a modest aperture rating of f/1.8, bokeh performance is incredible, matching f/1.4 lenses (mostly) in terms of smoothness. Color fringing is very well handled while bokeh fringing is kept to a minimum.
The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G weighs only about a half of the above Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art but comes with a relatively heavy price tag. Its optical design includes 10 lens elements compared to the Sigma’s 14, and the diameter of the front element is considerably smaller. Like the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8, no aspherical or ED elements used in the line-up.
On the plus side, the compact and lightweight construction of this Nikon 85mm lens makes it easy to handle. The autofocus system is typically fast and silent, powered by a ring-type ultrasonic motor, and the lens mount comes with a weather-sealed ring. To minimize the ghosting and flare, a Nano Crystal Coat is applied.
Compared to most other f/1.4 lenses, image sharpness drops off more when shooting wide-open, while bokeh isn’t as smooth as it could be. Stopping down a little would show only minor degradation.
5. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G (Budget Winner)
The compact and lightweight body of the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G allows it to easily slip into a small pocket of your gadget bag, which is a big attraction of this 85mm lens.
This lens is refreshingly affordable and undercuts many rivals for price. Nevertheless, it features a high-quality optical design that employes nine elements, however, there aren’t any aspherical or Extra-low Dispersion elements included.
The lens is solidly constructed, and its mounting plate is fully weather-sealed. Its fast autofocus system utilizes a ring-type ultrasonic motor. However, only a seven-bladed diaphragm controls the aperture, rather than the nine blades that you usually see on 85mm lenses. You get an incredibly smooth bokeh though, where points of light remain quite well-rounded if you stop the lens down a little.
Image sharpness from this little Nikon 85mm lens is outstanding, even at the widest aperture. Thanks to a modest aperture rating, chromatic aberrations are very well controlled. You may notice a slight touch of pincushion distortion, but it’s certainly not an issue in portrait photography.
Final Thoughts on the Best Nikon 85mm Lenses
The Nikon 85mm lenses have become a real deal for many beginners and professional photographers, offering wide aperture and great focal length. They can be used to create an effect of artistic blur in portraits, as well as in landscape photography.
In our list above, we have presented some of the best 85mm lenses for Nikon cameras. Hopefully, these thorough reviews that we provided for each 85mm lens on this list will help you select the most ideal option for your interests.