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Nikkor 85mm 1.8 af-s or nikkor 105mm micro vr?

Quang Tran , Jul 16, 2012; 11:48 p.m.

I'd like to have them both if I can, but for now, my wife would treat me badly if I did that :-) so, I may only get one. I think I will shoot portraits more often (family, friends, etc.), but macro is a bonus. I almost bought the 85mm 1.8 af-s, but then I saw the 105mm 2.8 vr micro used for only $300 more ($820). I read people reviewed the 105, and it sounds like a very good portrait lens beside being a superb micro lens. Please give me some advice which one would be a better choice if I can get only one. Also, can any body give a comparison of bokeh between the two? How much better does the 85 1.8 isolate the main object from background compare to the 105 2.8 at max aperture? Currently, I have nikkor 17-55mm 2.8, and nikkor 35mm 1.8, and I hate to get too close, destroying the natural expression on people face. Thank you very much in advance.


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Rick Chen , Jul 17, 2012; 01:27 a.m.

My 2 cents: the 105mm VR is very sharp, but it might be too sharp for portraits. Because it's a macro, it's focusing speed is slower. The 105mm range is good range for portraits.
Many felt the 85mm is too wide, but it has a great subject separation at f/1.8. That also depends if you are on DX or FX, for DX the 85mm is ok I think.

If you think $300 is not much, you can use that to get a used 90mm tamron f/2.8 for marcro (works with low end DSLRs too in AF) and you get the best of both worlds.

Elliot Bernstein , Jul 17, 2012; 02:21 a.m.

I have both. Both are excellent. I have never compared the bokeh between the two but the new 85mm f1.8 AF-S would be my choice for everything but macro work. My suggestion - get the 85mm and a set of $75 automatic extension tubes.

I happen to have tubes and did a quick test with them and the 85mm actually does a pretty good job with extension tubes. Who would have thought...

This was a quick test, shot hand held - the point of focus is slightly different between the two but the overall IQ is surprisingly quite similar. Both shots are completely unprocessed, opened in CS5 with default settings.

85mm AF-S with Extension Tubes, f16, ISO 200, 1/60, with flash

Elliot Bernstein , Jul 17, 2012; 02:23 a.m.

Same 100% crop shot with the Nikon 105mm Macro

Nikon 105mm AF-S, f16, ISO 200, 1/60, with flash

Monika Epsefass , Jul 17, 2012; 03:21 a.m.

My 2 cents: the 105mm VR is very sharp, but it might be too sharp for portraits.

Huh??? How can anything be too sharp for portraits? You'll love the benefit of tack sharp eyes! I love this lens for portraits and use it rather sparely for 'real' macros. Mind you, it may be a bit long if you use it on a DX camera - mine is FX and the length of the lens just right.

Jose Angel , Jul 17, 2012; 04:07 a.m.

Agree. The 105VR is my favourite lens for portraits.
(BTW, time ago I tested it (the 105VR) against my 70-200VRII, and I found the zoom to be at the same level at portrait distances (actually, some pics were even sharper - D700). So, if Micro lenses are "too sharp for portraits", we should say the same about "longer pro zooms"! :)

Andrew Garrard , Jul 17, 2012; 07:00 a.m.

Not that I have either of these lenses (though I second the bargain nature of the 90mm Tamron macro), but I've never bought the "too sharp for portraits" argument. It's easy to smooth things in post-processing (or if you don't like computers, use a soft focus filter); getting things sharp is much harder, and skin smoothing is much better controlled by post or by lighting than by residual spherical aberrations.

On FX, I originally got a 90mm Tamron as a short portrait lens/macro combination (it being close to 85mm). The 105mm Micro VR is quite expensive compared with the competition, and not optically much better, although it may handle more nicely. I already had a 135mm portrait lens, so a 90mm to complement it made sense; the problem with the 90mm + 85mm combination is that there's quite a lot of duplication. An 85mm + a Sigma 150mm would solve the problem, but cost a lot more... (There are always the Tokina and Sigma 100mm and 105mm macro lenses if that's an issue.)

The older, AF-D 85mm f/1.8 was known for (slightly) ugly bokeh. The AF-S lens seems to be much better. For what it's worth, I have the Samyang 85mm f/1.4, which is extremely cheap for its optical quality but is manual focus - the AF-S f/1.8 Nikkor wasn't available when I got it, and I can't guarantee I wouldn't have gone that route instead.

My feeling, based more on what I didn't do than direct experience with these lenses, is that the 105mm is a compromise - it's an over-priced macro whose VR makes it a convenient portrait lens (note that the VR doesn't help much for macro - it's not as clever as Canon's 100mm macro IS). The 85mm is a pure portrait lens - a pure macro to go with it might be a better combination.

Re. focal length, 85mm is a short portrait lens on FX and a long one on DX; 105mm is a bit middling on FX (nothing wrong with it unless you're planning to get both an 85mm and a 135mm in the future - though I'm sure some 105mm f/2 DC owners would disagree with me) and possibly a bit long on DX (although I use a 200 f/2 for candids; there are no rules).

Hope that train of thought helps.

Bruce Rubenstein , Jul 17, 2012; 08:20 a.m.

I have the 105 and a 85mm D lens. Go check the weights on the two lenses, there's a big difference. At portrait distances, the 105 has faster focusing than any other lens I have. It's faster than my 17-55/2.8. You pay a lot in terms of size, weight and cost for that macro "bonus"; it better be a big bonus for you.

Kent Staubus , Jul 17, 2012; 08:49 a.m.

Bokeh? No-brainer, get the Sigma 85mm f1.4. It consistently rates the highest for portrait bokeh. And there's more good news. The Nikon 85mm f1.8G is a consumer grade lens. The Sigma is a pro lens. Better construction, and you get the full f1.4. If you can only buy one, this is it. For macro you could add a Marumi 2-element diopter to it, or an extension tube. I went the diopter route and am very happy. Because the Sigma is such a great performer, I'd simply pass on the Nikon.

Kent in SD

Phil Evans , Jul 17, 2012; 09:40 a.m.

Quang, I only have one of these lenses but I also plan on owning both at some point. My only comment is that $820 seems like a lot of money for a used 105mm afs. Here in Toronto you can buy it new for that. I think you might be able to do a bit better than that.

Local Toronto Camera Store

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