So I finally added the Nikon 105mm 1.4 to my portrait kit. I’d been using the Nikon 85mm 1.4D and 105mm 2.8 Micro VR for years now, but decided that this modern lens (introduced in summer 2016) is another magical lens in the Nikkor lineup. After a few test shoots with friends, I would have to say that this lens is worth the price, size and weight. I’m not going to cut and paste the lens specs (you can find that anywhere), I think I’ll just post some pretty pictures and hope that everyone sees that this lens just has that extra way of rendering life. For me and how I shoot and edit, this lens will probably never leave one of my FF cameras.
To use nerdy FGC comparisons, the 105mm is my new “Main” demoting the old 85mm 1.4D and 105mm Micro to backup characters. They both are still fantastic lenses, but only for certain situations. Everything in the photography world is a compromise of some sorts, but this new 105mm 1.4 is definitely “S” tier for portraits. 😉
I have newer cameras, but I just prefer the old software that Nikon doesn’t support/make anymore: Capture NX2. It’s always been my main program for editing Nikon RAW files. I don’t think any RAW converter (even the new NX-D) can get every bit of horsepower out of these .NEF’s (the D800E I think is the last camera supported). There’s something to be said about comfortable workflows that you know by heart.
Almost all the pictures posted below are shot wide open at 1.4. For non photography folks, f/1.4 historically has been a tough aperture to get any type of sharpness or clarity. I have vintage lenses that are older than me that have unique visual signatures (aka flaws) that lend themselves to dreamy artistic portraits but aren’t up to par for technical images. I also have modern, but still old, Canon 1.4 EF lenses that aren’t sharp either. With this new Nikon 105mm 1.4 you can literally leave it in A priority set at f/1.4 and shoot most anything.
This is a view of Atlanta at sunset from the top of Ponce City Market, shot at 1.4. Below is a 100% crop. Yes it is that sharp and clear, wide open and hand held.
Depending on how you edit, you can have the lens show vignetting or not. I actually prefer some vignetting for portraits as it does add contrast and visual interest.
Below are some examples of the different apertures on the 105mm. For traditional DSLR’s users, remember that the aperture that you set in A priority only happens upon shutter actuation, meaning when you take a picture. When looking through the glass viewfinder, you are viewing directly through the lens wide open, but it’s not a true display of what the depth of field and out of focus rendering is like. If and when Nikon ever comes out with a FF mirrorless camera, looking through an EVF at 1.4 full time will probably be a mesmerizing experience.
Due to the focal length (and camera to subject distance) you have to stop down to f/8 or f/11 if you need other things in focus (like a group photo of people on far different planes). However, this lens isn’t really the tool for that, and its special properties would almost be wasted if used as such. It’s definitely made for both foreground and background bokeh rendering. I’m sure my fellow wedding photographers already see the advantage that this lens has in mundane photo settings.
The cat’s eye bokeh doesn’t offend me, I actually like it, having used the 105mm Micro for so long. Above is a boring scene, but when used in conjuction with a portrait subject amidst a busy background, it really does render like a baby 200mm f/2. The next set of photos below are all at f/1.4. Most are natural light, and just a few with a speedlight in a Mola beauty dish. These modern day Nikon lenses, even certain cheap kit lenses, are pretty darn sharp, but when you throw any type of artificial light (speedlight or strobe) on it, the lenses just take on another level of sharpness.
And as always, special thanks to my lovely friends for being willing test subjects! 🙂 (Also follow our adventures on my Food Blog!)
Could I get the nearly same results from my 85mm 1.4 and 105mm 2.8? Sure could, in bright light and enough time to fire off as many pictures as needed. The 85mm 1.4D is tuned for smooth skin tones and a low contrast that actually makes it better manually focused on the Canon platform. I’ve used it many times as my oddball Nikon+Canon combo and have always been wowed with the images that need really no editing or color correction. With its old AF design on default Nikon bodies though, the 85mm 1.4D is about useless in low light situations or times when the subject is moving towards or away from you.
The 105mm 2.8 VR will always hold a special place for me. Coming out in the mid 2000’s it really showed me the sharpness, color, and contrast that almost all modern Nikon lenses had, even on DX crop sensors. Many an adventure was had with it, not even considering the loss of 1/2 of the glass on DX, but yet the images still stand out today. I’ve had plenty of good memories shot with that lens. Being a macro lens, it will always have a job with closeup shots of rings and the very tiny minimum focus distance.
The Nikon 105mm 1.4E and its slightly narrower angle of view as opposed to an 85mm is something that has always been noticeable and more “attractive” to me. All these lenses are tools just as much as they are musical instruments or drawing pencils. There’s just enough differences in them that normal folks might not see or understand, but for the practitioner of a specific craft, it’s enough to warrant the time and money spent on our tool/toys. 🙂
Nikon 105mm 1.4E Wedding Photo Samples
Thanks to Peter at Nikon Rumors for the crosspost, and letting me talk about my thoughts on this lens! I never claimed to be a lens reviewer by any means, I just take a lot of photos of the things that I enjoy, with the various gear that comes my way. I hope you all do the same! 🙂
I think I will be tacking on to this post random pictures taken with the Nikon 105mm 1.4E on various camera bodies. For those that do not like my style of post processing on my Nikon portraits, here you go: 😉 All the following photos are straight out of camera with the Standard or Monochrome Canon image profile.
These next photos are taken with the 105mm 1.4E mounted on an ancient 5D classic via a regular old adapter. Being an E lens, there is no more aperture lever like on D lenses and G lenses. D lenses have an aperture ring, and G lenses do not, but still has a prong that makes the lens default to the smallest aperture when it is sitting idly. When you mount it to a Nikon camera, the prong gets moved back to open the aperture fully. The new E style Nikon lenses are now like Canon EF lenses, in that they are always at maximum aperture and only controlled by newer Nikon bodies.
So I repeat, with the plain old metal adapter that I have you can’t stop down the 105mm 1.4E, and have to shoot it at f/1.4 only. How does it perform wide open and manually focused?
These next series of images are from the 105mm 1.4E mounted on a Canon 5D mk II. With the live view and ability to punch in two times for manual focus, it makes things things a lot easier. Again, all these are out of camera in either the Standard Color Profile or Monochrome. The difference between the two 5D’s is the generation of CMOS sensor, which internet photographers love to debate over, along with skin tone and other stuff that really doesn’t matter in the end.
Hi! My name is Boon. I’m an Atlanta based Artist. I draw, I take pictures!
I’ve been covering events and documenting the multi ethnic Asian Pacific Islander community here in Georgia since 2004! Feel free to share with the links below. Thanks to all for posing for photos!
All Artwork and Photos © Boon Vong. For image usage feel free to Contact Me.