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Equipment

Nikon 105mm f/1.4E: An Ode to Nikon’s Best Lens

When I first heard about the new Nikon 105mm f/1.4E, I was pretty excited but cautious. I knew it was going to be big, heavy, and expensive, but worth it? What would I use it for? Nikon has always had an edge when it comes to camera bodies, but their lenses generally fall behind other brand’s offerings. With this lens they’re breaking new ground and taking a big risk. What’s the point of this lens when there are other lenses in similar focal lengths that are already pretty great? Seems like a perfect focal length for portraits, or maybe indoor sports? I used to shoot a lot of roller derby, and despite having retired from my local league last year, I still think of things in terms of derby. But that doesn’t really help you, the reader, too much. So what else is fast paced, high energy, and very demanding? A wedding!

Before we get to that, let me first say that this is a big lens. Maybe it’s not so easy to tell in the image up top, but it makes the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G look puny in comparison. It’s sorta like Wayne Szalinski zapped an 85 and blew it up to twice its size. Fortunately this isn’t a 100 lb toddler rampaging through town, it’s just a big, beautiful piece of glass. It takes a little getting used to holding it, as it dwarfs a Nikon D750, but it would match pretty well with a Nikon D5. Still, I use it on the Nikon D750 pretty much exclusively. Here’s a side by side visual comparison with the 50 and 85:

lensrentals-nikon-105mm-comparison

 

This image actually illustrates a couple of things. First, you see it’s big. But second, it’s the same design and build quality expected from a Nikon prime, with one subtle difference. Like all the new Nikon lenses coming out, they’ve included the new electronic aperture, so don’t expect this lens to work with older Nikon bodies. If you’re shooting on an FX body you’ll have no issues, but you’ll want to check compatibility with older DX cameras.

My normal kit for weddings is a Nikon D750, Nikon 35mm f/1.8G, Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, Nikon 85mm f/1.8G, and the Nikon 200mm f/2G or Nikon 300mm /f2.8G, depending on the size of the church. This past weekend I swapped out the 85 and took the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E instead, and after using it, that’s going to be a permanent substitution. Why is that? Well, because images coming out of it look like this:

1/3200 f/1.4 ISO400

1/3200 f/1.4 ISO400

 

We don’t have hard numbers yet (don’t worry, Roger and Aaron are working on that), but in practical use, the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E is SHARP. You’ll want to make sure the lens is adjusted properly to your camera, though, to take advantage of that sharpness. The depth of field at f/1.4 is quite narrow. At 10ft and f/1.4, your depth of field is less than 3 inches. It’s even shallower in comparison to the 85mm f/1.4 at f/1.4 or the 200mm f/2 at f/2, if you’re keeping your framing the same. Knowing how to use AF fine tune is critical for this lens and any fast aperture prime (check out my blog post about that here). Once it’s dialed in, though, WATCH OUT. And, as much as I hate commenting on something so subjective, the bokeh is really smooth and wonderful.

 

Nikon 105mm f/1.4E, 1/2500 f/1.4 ISO 400

Nikon 105mm f/1.4E, 1/2500 f/1.4 ISO 400

 

I second shoot for a wedding photographer in town, so those first two images are his (thanks, Josh!).

The only real downside I can find with the lens is that AF is kinda slow. It’s about on par with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4, so it’s still quite usable for most things. It kept up with the processional, and I pushed it on the dance floor, where it held up well enough.

1/500 f/2 ISO1600

1/500 f/2 ISO1600

 

1/60 f/1.4 ISO 6400

1/60 f/1.4 ISO 6400

 

1/160 f/1.4 ISO12800

1/160 f/1.4 ISO12800

 

1/160 f/1.4 ISO12800

1/160 f/1.4 ISO12800

 

I thought about comparing it to the old Nikon 105mm f/2 DC, but there’s really no point. It’s soft and maybe a little hazy, and its old design really doesn’t hold up to current standards. For portraits, I suppose it still has its place if you want that dated, soft focus look. The new 105 is sharper, quicker to focus, more contrasty, and doesn’t have any gimmicky defocus control to mess with. And what about the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Micro Nikkor? It’s still great in its own way, but it’s made for completely different purposes. If you need a macro lens, get a macro lens. But if you’re primarily shooting things at greater than macro distances, the new 105 is superior in every way, unless you have to have a stabilized lens.

And I do wish this new Nikon 105mm f/1.4E had VR. I would’ve had more dance floor keepers with VR, because those 1/60 shots would’ve been much easier to keep steady. That’s really the only thing I can knock this lens for. The price would be more justifiable if they’d added that one feature. Still, there’s nothing like it anywhere else, and what it was meant to do, it does extremely well.

 

What I Liked:

  • It’s sharp. It’s very, very sharp.
  • 105 is a very pleasing focal length for portraits, and this does it better than any other 105 offering.
  • It looks impressive. Did I mention it’s sharp?

 

What Could be Improved:

  • The lack of VR is glaring.
  • Change the laws of physics, so this can be smaller.
  • I can’t wait till the price comes down, if it ever comes down.

 

Should you spend $2200 on this lens? If you have a 85 that you already love, maybe you shouldn’t. If you wish your 85 were more like a 200 f/2, this might be the compromise you’re looking for. Either way, you should take it for a spin over the weekend. I guarantee you’re gonna love the results.

 

Joey Miller

Senior Photo Technician/Tech Support

Author: Joey Miller

I’m Joey. I love cameras, especially old film cameras, and I can’t remember the last day I didn’t take a photo. Digital cameras are great, and they keep me employed, but I also still like processing my own film. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. I shoot every single day, no matter what.

Posted in Equipment
  • Navi Samson

    Thanks for your review…. I bought this lens twice. The first time I thought I had a bad copy because shooting wide open at 1.4 was difficult to attain pin-sharp focus, especially when closer to your subject, and the bokeh was somewhat blotchy when shooting into the light. Unfortunately the second copy I bought had the same characteristics. After using it for about a month I only felt confident shooting this lens when it was stopped down to 2.5 (or lower) aperture, which is a serious drawback as far as I am concerned. Moreover, the build quality of the lens is a bit disappointing since it uses a bunch of plastic and is made in China rather than Japan. I did like the color and rendition coming from this lens, but I can’t get past high price. If this lens sold for $1399 it would be a worthwhile investment, but $2200 seems to be asking too much.

  • Carl Eberhart

    And your point?

  • Michael Stone

    I rented the 105mm f/1.4 lens and got some AMAZING shots BUT I noticed that many shots look like they were taken with two flat planes in composite, like this golf shot. I think it is a characteristic of the lens rendering. I am surprised that no one else has noticed this.

  • Wesley

    Exactly right. Anyone who calls it a “soft focus” lens doesn’t know how to use it. It’s only “soft” if you intentionally make it soft. Use the DC correctly and only the fore or background is softened.

  • ricky

    For anyone that knock the 105dc. I own the 85G f1.4, 105f2 DC, and 105 f1.4E …All these lenses produce crazy good and beautiful pictures. The only REAL WORLD benefits from the 105f1.4E is that it can focus faster and can help with indoors low light. The 105 DC F2 is pretty damn sharp…until you start messing with the defocus rings…even so, it’s fun! It’s real life photoshop! People uses filter…you can adjust your dc rings and bam instant dreamy look images!

    Any how, if you’re not doing photography professionally or wanting a fun quality lens without killing yourself…the 105 dc f2 will fit the bill and produce professional qualities picture..if you know what your’e doing. The 105 dc f2 takes beautiful sharp or creamy looking pictures..and the bokeh is razor sharp and definitely on par with with 105f1.4E. The 105 F1.4E cost twice as much but definitively is not twice as better in terms of image quality. If you can’t get results from your 105 dc f2…you either have a lemon, don’t know what you’re doing…or trying to justify your actions for selling such a good lens to get something “cooler” and “new”.

    Don’t be a lens addict..or be that guy that will buy a lawn mower that has 5hp instead of 4hp for $1000 more lolz I’m not a lens addict…I’m a lens hoarder giving you real life results from my hoarding/experience lol 🙂

  • Carl Eberhart

    Not necessarily.

  • Carl Eberhart

    I do want to rent it if I can get the gig to justify it…but only because I need to shoot in the dark at 1/800 or faster…lol. Hope you’re not having too much fun with all these gear toys Joey 🙂

  • Carl Eberhart

    Not sure what CA has to do with anything.

  • Ramon

    “It’s even shallower in comparison to the 85mm f/1.4 at f/1.4 or the 200mm f/2 at f/2, if you’re keeping your framing the same”

    If you keep the framing the same (same magnification of the subject) the depth of field will be the same between different lenses at the same aperture. So, the 85mm@f1.4, and the 105mm@f1.4 will have equal depth of field, and both will have less than the 200mm@f2 , but because of the narrower field of view, the background will seem more out of focus the longer the focal length.

    I like this page, because he actually took a bunch of pictures to show the effect:

    http://www.bluesky-web.com/dofmyth.htm

  • decentrist

    The new 105 renders as flat as any 70-200. It is inevitable with all the glass elements…sharp and flat. That is the magic of the DC lenses. Better microcontrast,bokeh, and 3D rendering.

  • Stormy Llama

    You make a lot of assumptions on how you think I “feel” then deride those made up assumptions. lol. Do you always talk your yourself? I’m glad you respect your options of you think of how I think. XD

  • Ed Bambrick

    When I first started shooting I thought that white egrets had some sort of ultraviolet aura that couldn’t be seen with the naked eye. As a result, I had a lot of b&w bird photos.

  • Joey Miller

    I’m sorry my opinion of what must be one of your favorite lenses affected you so much you felt the need to insult me personally. In the context of modern, high resolution digital sensors for which this new 105 was designed, the old 105 does indeed fall short, as do so many older designs from the film era like that trioplan. I shoot daily, literally every day, on an old Mamiya Universal from the 60s with another old lens, the 100mm f/2.8 for that system. I love the look, and if we’re talking purely subjective aesthetics, it’s a fantastic lens to me, just like the 105 DC must be to you, if you’ll forgive my assumption from your heated emotional response. However, from a purely objective numbers perspective, which many of our customers are interested in, it doesn’t compare to newer designs. Does it work? Yes. Does it work for everyone? No. I refute your claim that I don’t have a clue and that I’m not a photographer, but I respect your right to your opinion.

  • Stormy Llama

    And as the Nikkor 105 DC, that lens design is patented only by Nikon (the defocus control) so only they can use it. So when Nikon stops making it (which they have) the lens is not coming back.
    Sure the lens formula is based on an old Zeiss design, because it works just ask Zenit.

  • Stormy Llama

    Old design? That’s because they work XD. Like this “ye old design” that is now being remade. http://www.meyer-optik-goerlitz.com/kickstarter_trioplan/
    3 lens elements! You don’t have a clue. Go back to you lens charts because you clearly not a photographer.

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