Nikon shooters have been patiently (and some, not so patiently) waiting for an update to the fast-aperture primes in the Nikkor family. With the release of the 50mm f/1.4 and 24mm f/1.4 primes, the 85mm f/1.4 AF-S is the newest to the family, and includes many of the bells and whistles we’d expect.
Nano Crystal Coating:
Sight unseen, one thing that really has my interest with the new 85mm is the inclusion of Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coating. Simply put, all the new lenses that Nikon has rolled out with this anti-flare and anti-ghosting coating have been nothing short of stellar in image quality. Case in point? The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, and new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. Of course, it’s impossible to say whether this is due to the updated optics of many of these lenses or new designs entirely, but whatever the reason, the Nano coating is enough of an indication to peak my interest.
Like all new lenses, the updated 85mm f/1.4mm features AF-S, Nikon’s Silent Wave Technology for a built-in motor. This not only promises silent AF operation, but potentially faster and more precise AF. In addition, unlike the old 85mm f/1.4, it means that the new 85mm is compatible with the entire range of current DSLRs, including models like the new Nikon D3100 which lack an in-camera focusing motor to drive older lenses.
I fully expect the new 85mm f/1.4 AF-S to be a killer performer that produces improved sharpness, contrast, and overall image quality to the old 85mm f/1.4 AF-D, which I own. All of the old f/1.4 lenses that I’ve used, including the 50mm f/1.4 AF-D and 85mm f/1.4 AF-D, have an airy, lower contrast rendering than modern lenses, while still offering enough bite and sharpness to not truly capitalize on those characteristics the way the Nikon 105mm f/2 DC lens does.
If you compare the MTF charts of the new 85mm lens (left) and the old AF-D lens (right), you can see that overall sharpness is more consistent wide open. Contrast is roughly equal.
One interesting feature to glean from these MTF charts is the more closely spaced meridonial (dashed) and sagital (solid) lines of the new 85mm should produce a smoother image character and smoother defocusing qualities. While some might expound the “creaminess” of the old 85mm f/1.4 AF-D’s rendering character, I always found it a little rough for my portrait tastes, and expect a nicer rendition with the new lens.
For music photographers and other event shooters working in dim light, I expect the new 85mm to be beautiful in low light. What remains to be seen is how the AF speed and performance of this lens stacks up to its predecessor.
Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR
Canon’s own 24-105mm f/4 lens has been out for several years now, and Nikon has finally answered with their own constant-aperture utility zoom – the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR. The range of the new zoom one-ups Canon’s popular effort, which is a welcome point – if optical quality remains high.
This new 24-120mm zoom should not be confused with Nikon's 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 VR, which features the same zoom range, but entirely different optics and a variable aperture range.
For travel and event photographers, the 24-120mm lens provides a fantastic range – nearly everyone you’d ever want – all in a single lens. For me, the f/4 aperture of this new announcement is a little too slow for general use as a music photography lens, but the range is alluring enough that it has me contemplating it nonetheless. For arena and amphitheater shows, the f/4 aperture isn’t the huge obstacle that it might have been before the exceptional high ISO performance DSLRs are delivering today.
From the look of the new 24-120mm f/4?s optical design, Nikon has thrown in a few elements to be excited about – specifically three aspherical elements and two elements of ED glass for well-corrected chromatic aberrations. The question for any large-range zoom like this is whether or not optical quality can be maintained across the range, and if not, with what compromises.
The Nikon 24-120mm f/4 features Nikon's VR II technology for image stabilization, which promises up to 4-stops of compensation for camera shake at slower shutter speeds. This is a great feature for travel photography, and one that is going to make the new lens a very desirable piece of glass for a relatively compact lens, high-quality, all-in-one lens.
For music photography, I find VR useful just to add a stop of assurance against camera shake, but it only really works for subjects like singers at a mic who are relatively still.
I expect the 24-120mm f/4 to be a big hit, just like Canon’s 24-105mm f/4 L IS. Optically, if I had to guess, the lens is going to have killer contrast and overall great image quality, with some compromises in optical distortion. I would say that there are compromises in sharpness, the MTF charts from the new lens look pretty nice, particularly at 24mm. The “gotcha” here is going to be consistency across the frame, and whether this clears up when the lens is stopped down.
For music photography, I have no doubt we’ll see this new zoom in the photo pit. For my work, the 24-120mm f/4 is just a little too slow – I’ve been spoiled by my f/2.8 zooms.
Are you excited about either of these new pro lens announcements? I’m going to try and get review copies of these lenses as soon as they’re available. If they're anything like the new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II, the performance should be stellar.
If you just can’t wait, B&H Photo taking pre-orders on all the recent announcements: