Nikon 105mm F1.4 Real World Review: The BEST Sharpest Portrait Lens I've Ever Used
When Nikon announced the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED Lens I was a little surprised. I never expected or even considered that Nikon would come out with a pro lens like this.
Right off the bat you are hit with the price tag which clocks in at just shy of $2,200. On top of the price tag you have the weight which is 2.1 pounds.
Putting the price aside, I think this is the BEST portrait lens I have ever used. The sheer sharpness, contrast and color that I am capturing with it is amazing. Even when shooting wide open at F1.4 on my Nikon D5 I am able to get tack sharp images. As many of you know i’m not the biggest fan of shooting at 1.4 for the sheer fact that it’s much easier to miss your focus if your subject moves or you move slightly.
Keep in mind, just because you have the ability to shoot wide open at 1.4 doesn’t mean you should. Let’s take a look back at why these 1.4 lenses existed in the first place. When you go back 20-30-40 years you have to look at the speed of film we had access to. In the past the film speeds were much slower which meant you needed a way to let more light in. One of those ways was having faster glass. But with faster glass shooting wide open you ran the risk of missing your focus.
Nowadays we have pretty much infinite ISO possibilities which renders the need for shooting wide open almost obsolete. Don’t get me wrong, there are creative reasons to shoot wide open and I tested that out as well during this review.
Part of the testing was to shoot some portraits at F1.4 and see what I would get, would I nail focus? Once I got the images back home I could see I was mostly tack sharp at F1.4 which created an insane background bokeh. It basically obliterates the background beyond recognition thus isolating your subject.
One thing I noticed once I got the RAW files into lightroom is the amount of vignetting there was wide open. Sometimes I like the natural vignette as it draws me into the subject more. In some cases this time I used lens correction inside of Adobe Lightroom CC to remove it and I must say it made the image POP that much more. This all comes down to personal preference as well.
Another test I was interested in seeing was how far from the wall do you need to be to blow out the bricks. I had Josh put his back against the wall and I shot two sample images, one at F1.4 and one at F4. At 1.4 you would think he’s 10 feet away from the brick because of how much it’s obliterated. At F4 on the other hand you can clearly see how the brick is more prevalent.
If you ever find yourself in a tight situation with background distractions that you’re right up against shooting this lens wide open will make your day and image.
Who should own this lens? This lens is first obviously for anyone that can afford the $2,200 price tag. If your job revolves around capturing portraits of any kind from weddings to head shots to special moments it may be for you.
Keep mind being that it’s a prime lens it will be much harder to capture perfect composition when it comes to moving subjects. It’s not ideal for action photos where the subject is going to be all over the place. Yes you can still get great results with the lens as long as your subject is going to be a little more predictable in there movements.
Prime lenses are limiting in the way that you must move your feet opposed to simply turning a zoom ring. But that’s what makes a prime lens so awesome, it doesn’t zoom which means the only moving parts become the focus mechanism. This will lead to what will seem like much sharper images. The images out of the lens at all apertures are tack sharp.
How is the focus speed? On my Nikon D5 the 105 F1.4 focused quickly. What I can say is focus speed never became an issue during my shoot. I didn’t find myself waiting for the focus in order to take the image. The focus was locked on and accurate quickly and efficiently.
If you were to compare the focus speed of this lens to the Canon 85 F1.2 you would see a WORLD of difference. The Canon is uber slow when it comes to focusing, it spends a lot of time hunting and searching. With that said it is a F1.2 which means it has even more glass to move around.
How close can you get to your subject to focus. The close focus distance is 3.2 feet or around there. I was able to get really sweet horizontal portraits that are usable and tack sharp. Sometimes lenses minimum focus distance don’t allow you to get good compositions but that does not apply here.
A word of warning for people with small hands, this 105 may be a little harder for you to handle since it’s extremely thick compared to other lenses. It’s not awkward in my hands but I could imagine if you had smaller hands it may be a little more difficult to mange. It does add some heft to your body and I know some people are sensitive to weight when they are shooting.
At the end of the day this lens is one of the sharpest I have ever seen or used. The focal length is perfect for portraits from tight head shots to tighter more detailed shot. This lens will be my first choice when it comes to portraits where I have time and freedom to move over the Nikon 70-200 2.8 VR II or NEW 70-200 2.8 VR III.
If you consider yourself a portrait photographer, can afford it and shoot NIKON I could’t recommend this lens any more.