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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
  • Stormy Llama

    The bokeh is horrible, it’s not creamy it looks like petroleum jelly smeared over then lens or what someone with glaucoma sees. eeeck

  • Dino Carblasso

    It’s amazing how many people don’t understand the Nikkor DC line. If you know how to use them they deliver tremendous sharpness and are not soft unless you dial in a very shallow DOF and blur the background (or foreground) for that matter. The DC line has been one of Nikons sharpest lenses for quite a while and most misunderstood.

  • Omesh Singh

    I can’t speak for others, but I shoot many indoor events using bounce flash off of a white (or close-enough-to-white) ceiling. So in my case no tripod is necessary. The combination of shooting at ISO 400 or ISO 800 and f/1.4 or f/2 gives:
    a) plenty of flash range and/or
    b) faster recycle times and/or
    c) more flashes images per set of batteries

  • T N Args

    You are either talking about direct flash (ewwww) or off-camera lighting, which is just as likely to go with tripod-mounted camera. All of which does not diminish my main point: that a whole heap of real-life,non-tripod, non-flash photography with this lens will not deliver the lens’ test-bench sharpness due to lack of VR. Poor combination: ultra sharpness with no VR and high-res bodies.

  • Joey Miller

    That irks me, too, about the E. Every time I refer to E series lenses vs. G series, I think about those old, budget Series E lenses.

  • Joey Miller

    I’m probably just spoiled at this point, but I really don’t like the 105 DC. It’s an old design that doesn’t hold up to more modern lenses for me. I would probably like it quite a bit more if I still shot 35mm film, though. But as our MTF tests show (see the next blog post), this new 105 is definitely sharper. I’ve been waiting for an AF-S update to that old 105 DC, and this is a considerable update.

  • Joey Miller

    Oh, I’m not saying VR stops motion blur. But, at least for my style of shooting, motion blur plus hand shake can kill a decent capture of a moment. There were definitely shots from this wedding where the problem was hand shake and not motion blur.

  • Joey Miller

    No offense taken. And obviously this isn’t the lens for you. Would I buy it if I didn’t work here? Probably not. But for the small market this is targeted to, it’s fantastic. I think at $2200 Nikon isn’t expecting it to sell in droves.

  • Joey Miller

    Yes, it would be less, by a fractional amount. But in practice, subjectively, it won’t have substantial visual impact.

  • Weigh more and not have OS. They didn’t put it in the 50-100 DX which is why I won’t get one of those. With my hands, I want it on the 18-35 DX Art as well. Tamron seems to be a safer bet for releasing a 135 1.8 or 2 VC.

  • Carleton Foxx

    Depends where you buy your 135 DC….I bought mine from LensAuthority and it is razor sharp….but that’s the benefit of buying from people who own their own optical bench. As long as LensRentals is in business I will never, ever, buy a new lens again. It’s just too risky.

  • Albert

    Have you seen the Sigma Art lenses? A Sigma 135 Art would weigh more, not less.

  • Because I’m bored. The 200mm F/2 has less DOF at the same framing. At least it should. That’s all. Peace 🙂

  • brandon

    ” I would’ve had more dance floor keepers with VR, because those 1/60 shots would’ve been much easier to keep steady. ”
    you sure about that? i mean, 1/60th+ dancing people. now to make a u-turn, in my exp shooting wedding receptions i could go lower than 1/60th without issue, but i use flashes, so…. VR ?

  • Despite the handicap of not having his own optical bench, Mike got this correct. It is sharper wide open. Much. Sharper. 🙂

  • OLAF says we will tell you tomorrow morning 🙂
    But OLAF also says anyone who is comparing 85 1.4G sharpness favorably to this lens is really, really, really wrong. It’s not close.

  • Michael Ogle

    Do you think Nikon designed the cat eye bokeh on purpose?

  • Mike

    Hi Art, as sharp as the 85 is, the 105, wide open is sharper. It’s has virtually no purple fringing in high contrast scenes. I use 2 bodies a lot and I also like the gap between (24-70) 70mm & 105mm better than 70 & 85. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6f54337a8a905b33d6fba506b0b1e01306502d0f295d526670a2e248c69717f2.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/58bc93fac0104458f9adb7bf0aa61692dc4cb53dc99066029da0f7e08dc29422.jpg

  • Otis Criblecoblis

    Nused?

  • Otis Criblecoblis

    Right on Carl. I wish Nikon developed an f/1.x 135mm instead of the 105mm. At this rate I wish Nikon manages to stay in business too.

  • Carl Eberhart

    No offense, but to wish this lens had VR is silly. Like wishing an 85 f/1.4 had VR. To shoot people on a dance floor at 1/60? The VR would also need to have a panning mode…and would still get plenty of missed shots when their head moves too fast and their eyes get blurred.

    I applaud Nikon for designing and producing the lens, and getting it built in China but still charging the price like it was made in Japan. Good for them for daring to keep the profit margin high…

    But as I have said elsewhere, I don’t think this lens will sell well. Sure it has great sharpness, a bit more extreme blur, smooth enough bokeh…also it deftly avoids the LoCA that seems to be present in all other Nikkor fast primes (including the slower f/1.8 ones). You know, that purple fringing within the bokeh that is so hard to get rid of, that users either claim they don’t notice, or else process in black and white to get rid of it ??

    But nope…This one is not for me. The output doesn’t look enough different in angle of view from an 85, yet the weight and cost are entirely too high. I think this is a partial fail for Nikon, but the bigger fail is the new 70-200 v3 with its absurd front placement of the zoom ring, and price near $3000. But they will sell more of those than this 105…lol. At least for a while.

    The more sensible, more usable lens I would want instead of this 105, is a 135 f/1.8 with OS. I say OS, because it will be a Sigma Art. And it will not cost $2200, nor will it weigh quite as much. Its sharpness, blur, bokeh smoothness, color, and contrast, will all be similar though. And it will be made in Japan…the end.

  • Omesh Singh

    Flash will lock motion in 1/1000s…. And with a modest angle of view at 105mm you don’t need to cover a ton of area with light.

  • An American in Canada

    The DC isn’t soft if you tune it and use the DC properly (if at all). That said, it is soft at f2 (good by 2.8) and obviously it wont touch this new lens in terms of corner to corner sharpness – again, 99% of the DCs require AF fine tuning. I totally agree that sharpness preferences vary and would add that sharpness isn’t everything. I love mine for all sorts of subjects and styles and it can do some really great stuff – including producing very crispy images.

  • Art M.

    Can you describe in more detail what you prefer about the new 105mm f/1.4 over the 85mm f/1.4?
    Thank you.
    Art

  • David Bateman

    Interesting that you say the 105mm DC is soft. As this is the first time I have ever heard someone say that. In forums I have read the 105 DC is sharper than the 135 DC and I have briefly used a 135DC and found it good. All be it only one copy, a long time ago. I think you will now get many asking for comparative numbers. As one person’s sharpness view is another person’s softness.

  • T N Args

    “Very, very sharp” and “Lack of VR” are poor bedfellows, especially for a lens that will no doubt be used on high-res bodies.

    Also, whenever I see a Nikon lens labelled ‘E’, I think it belongs to the budget Series E range of lenses that Nikon once produced….

  • Omesh Singh

    But what does OLAF say?

  • The 105mm DC has acceptable sharpness and an interesting color rendition. The new 105mm is definitely sharp though. I’m keeping my 105 DC (used) and 85 1.4G (used) and will keep that extra $470 to do with as I please.

  • I cannot wait to buy this lens.

  • Mike

    I agree 100%. My 85 1.4G was the lens I said I’d never sell. After trying the 105 and then buying it, I knew I’d likely never use the 85 again. So I sold it. No regrets. The 105 has been described as 200 f/2 lite. I agree. It’s phenomenal and leaves me wanting nothing.

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