85mm is one of the most useful focal lengths. It is a short tele and so enables you to be intimate with your subject without having to get too close. This is why it is very popular for portraiture.
There are several great 85mm lenses available for a Nikon DSLR which can make it difficult to choose one. Fortunately for you I’ve gone through them all before settling for one and I now share my experience with you. All the photos below were taken using a D750.
The best bang for your buck. Inexpensive, small and reasonably fast with decent bokeh. Choose this lens if you’re on a budget, if you’re not fanatic about bokeh or if you do not require the very best low light performance. If so, grab one of these and go shooting instead of wasting time reading reviews!
A classic, the Cream Machine. Great low light performance and amazing bokeh. In my opinion its bohek is even better than that of the newer 85mm 1.4G.
The main problem with this lens is flare. With its huge front element and without nano coating it is prone to loosing contrast when exposed to a lot of light. That was why I returned it otherwise a lovely lens.
Another possible problem with this lens is that, as a D lens, it relies on the camera built in motor for auto focus. Some DSLRs such as D5xxx or the new mirrorless Z cameras do not have such an engine meaning that on such a camera you’d have to focus this lens manually.
Cream of the crop and with a price tag to match. Great bokeh, low light performance and flare resistance thanks to its nano-coating. Note that nano coating not just decreases flare, it prevents light from bouncing off the 8 elements in the lens and so increases transmission i.e. the amount of light that passes through the lens and reaches the sensor. Therefore its low light performance is even better than that of the f1.4D at aperture 1.4 or of 1.8G at aperture 1.8. The feature image of this article was taken with this lens at f=1.4.
This is a whole round lens and I use it for anything from street photography in abundant summer sunlight to portraits to indoor photos without flash.
The main shortcoming of this lens is that its AF is slow and so is not very suitable for shooting fast moving subjects such as sports.
The bargain lens with fast autofocus. This lens is a good rival for the Nikon f1.fG with much faster AF and a lower price. However it is VERY heavy it weighs 1130g (2.49 lb) while the Nikon 1.4G weighs 595g (1.31 lb). It also has a yellowish color cast but this can be corrected in postproduction.
Buy this if you need fast AF or something cheaper than the f1.4G and you don’t mind the weight.
There you have it, the main points of difference between these 4 lenses. I hope this helps you making your decision on an 85mm lens.