With an aperture of f/1.8, it’s not quite as fast as the portrait photographer’s popular alternative, an 85mm f/1.4 lens, but it’s also smaller and lighter than a typical lens of that ilk, which makes it a good match for Nikon’s Z-series cameras.
The Nikon Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S is an uncomplicated lens that can be used in all weathers and delivers the type of results that you hope for from a first-rate portrait lens. It gets the focus point sharp and renders out of focus areas nice and smooth.
It’s a great choice for professional or enthusiast portrait photographers with a Z-series camera.
- Great size on Nikon Z full-frame cameras
- Great image quality
- Nice bokeh effects
- Not f/1.4
- High price for an 85mm f/1.8 lens
A great portrait lens for full-frame Nikon Z-series photographers, it’s light enough to use all day.
What is the Nikon Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S?
- Product type: Portrait lens
- Announced: July 2019
- Mount: Nikon Z
- Format: Full-frame (FX)
- Focal length: 85mm
- Maximum aperture: f/1.8
- Minimum aperture: f/16
- Construction: 12 elements in 8 groups (including 2 ED elements and elements with Nano Crystal Coat)
- Coatings: Nano Crystal Coat
- Focusing system: Internal focusing system
- Minimum focus distance: 0.8m
- Stabilisation: No
- Number of diaphragm blades: 9
- Filter size: 67mm
- Weight: 470g
- Diameter x length (extension from lens mount): 75 x 99mm
As the Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S has the Z-mount, it’s suitable for use on any of Nikon full-frame mirrorless cameras, including the Nikon Z7 II, Z6 II and Z5. However, it can also be mounted on the APS-C format Nikon Z50, on which it has an effective focal length of 127.5mm.
Inside the weather-sealed barrel, there are 12 elements arranged in 8 groups with 2 ED elements and elements with Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coat to suppress ghosting and flare.
In an era when we’re seeing an increasing number of buttons and rings on lenses, the Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S seems quite a simple affair with just a switch to flick it between automatic and manual focusing, and a broad ring that can be used to focus manually and that can be customised to enable it to adjust the exposure compensation or aperture when the autofocus system is engaged.
It’s good to see a deep lens hood supplied with the lens.
Build and handling
With a length of 99mm (excluding the lens hood) from the lens mount, and a weight of 470g, the Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S looks and feels great on a Nikon Z-series camera. I tested it on the Nikon Z7 II, but that camera is exactly the same size and shape as the Nikon Z6 II and as near in size and shape to the Z5 and the original Z6 and Z7 as makes no difference.
The camera’s deep grip helps to make the lens feel well-balanced and you can shoot one-handed if you like. However, if like me, you enjoy using the manual focus ring to adjust exposure compensation, your left hand instinctively supports the lens from beneath the ring.
The control ring or manual focus ring, depending on how you see it, has a smooth action and the camera responds quickly to its rotation. However, as usual with a focus-by-wire system, there are no discernable ends points.
As a portrait lens, the Nikon Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S’s main target is often going to be eyes and it’s compatible with Nikon’s Eye Detection AF system, which works with both humans and animals. Further good news is that the recent firmware updates for the Nikon Z7 II and Z6 II have improved the Eye-Detection AF’s sensitivity and performance, making this feature even more useful.
Follow the link to discover how to use Nikon’s Eye-Detection AF system
When you shoot a portrait with the focus on the eyes, you want them to be sharp and there’s no need to worry about that with the Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S, it’s very sharp even wide-open. There’s slight fall-off in the extreme corners of the frame, but it’s nothing to be concerned about, especially as that’s beyond the area where the main point of focus is likely to be.
The sharpest results, however, are captured in the range of around f/2.8-f/5.6. An aperture of f/2.8 on an 85mm lens still gives a good degree of background blur while keeping more of your subject’s face in focus in a head and shoulders portrait.
If you shoot with the aperture wide-open and with the camera’s Vignette control off, you may notice some corner shading but it’s not problematic and it disappears if you close down a little.
Distortion, flare and chromatic aberration are also not issues.
At f/1.8 the depth of field from the Nikon Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S is very shallow and the bokeh in nice and smooth with good blur. At one point during my testing, shot through a wire fence with wireless that were too close to exclude from the image. At f/1.8 the wires are barely noticeable, but closing down to f/16 makes them very clear.
Nikon Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S sample images
Nikon Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S image gallery
While its price seems on the high side in comparison with many other 85mm f/1.8 lenses, the Nikon Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S is impressively sharp. It’s also worth remembering that the Z lens mount is large for a full-frame camera, so more glass goes into constructing the lenses.
The Nikon Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S is also a great match with a full-frame Nikon Z camera. Its more appealing to use for a long shoot than the phenomenally good Nikon Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S, which weighs 1.36Kg / 3lb without its tripod collar. And of course, it’s got the extra 15mm on the focal length over the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S which might make a nice more affordable alternative.
It’s an uncomplicated, unfussy lens that delivers superb results and makes a great choice for professional or enthusiast portrait photographers with a Z-series camera.