Friday, April 22, 2016

Reviewing the Nikon Nikkor AIS 85mm f/2 - Is the Hype Justified?

I will be away for a while due to very heavy workload. AmateurNikon will be back with new articles around May 10th. Meanwhile, feel free to take a look at the countless other articles - you're sure to find something that interests you! Thanks :)


I was asked by a reader to offer an opinion on the Nikon Nikkor AI-S 85mm f/2. The reader asked me, verbatim, "is the hype about it justified?". To be honest, I'm not sure we can talk of a "hype". There are certainly quite a few users who have taken many magnificent pics with this lens, and they consider it an excellent portrait and short tele. On the other hand, there are also other users, who could claim the same about other lenses. So, what's the truth?


+ like all Ai-S lenses, it's built superbly. It will take a very thorough beating without problems.
+ manual focus is perfect, again as expected.
+ splendid optical quality - especially from f/2.8 and over, you really can't find any flaws.

- wide-open is not very contrasty, but for the intended purpose (portraits) that's not such a bad thing (read more on "Final Verdict")
- no autofocus means you need good eyes (or a split screen)
- for the same reason, moving subjects are tricky

Intended Users

Great for:
  • As a cheap but highly capable portrait lens. It renders very creamy, dreamy images with sharpness where you need it.
  • Landscapes. Stop down to f/5.6 or f/8 and be in heaven.
  • Film cameras, obviously enough. Pair it with a Nikon FM and enjoy true professional-grade quality, both optically and mechanically.

Not for:
  • anything moving. It's manual focus. It's not impossible, of course, but it will frustrate you.
  • manual focus can be tricky in low light if you don't have split-screen or a camera with a good viewfinder.
  • for the same reason, I wouldn't recommend for entry-level DX (you don't have metering, either).

Final Verdict

A great little lens, at very competitive prices (used, needless to say). In absolute terms, it's not very contrasty wide-open, but for portraits this actually makes it even better - you get a dreamy, ethereal kind of rendering for your images, which is highly suitable for portraits.

As for "hype"... Well, I think it's not what you'd call a famous lens - the Nikkor 105mm f/2 DC would be in that category - but for whatever hype surrounds it, yes, it's justified. It's a great lens, like almost all AI-S lenses. You will be absolutely satisfied with its optical quality and as a portrait lens. Having said that, with a bit more money you can get the 85mm f/1.8 AF or even the modern 85mm f/1.8 AFS. Perhaps they're not as great mechanically, but they have autofocus.

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