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Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S Lens Review for Cinematography

Is the Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens good for serious cinematography and video? Let’s take a good look.

I got a chance to test the Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) on a real-world music video shoot. Here are my impressions, though please note these are specific to cinematography.

Review type: Comprehensive
List of sponsored/free gear: The lens was loaned to me by Nikon India for a few days.
Did I get paid for this review? No
Warning:

The findings of this review are based on the particular sample tested, and might not be true of all samples. Even though I’ve tried to be as objective as possible about image quality and usability a large measure of subjectivity and personal preference is inevitable.
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Image quality

The Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) is a great optical performer. It performs as well as many 85mm f/1.4 lenses:

It is sharp, with very pleasing bokeh from the 9-blade aperture. The image rendering is top-class. As of this writing, it is probably my favorite Z-mount lens.

Flare suppression

The 85mm has good flare suppression:

This is a class-leading performance. You’d be hard-pressed to find many 85mm f/1.8 lenses with this level of image quality.

Focus Breathing

The lens does breath a bit, but that is to be expected:

Aberrations

I haven’t tested the lens specifically for aberrations because they usually present themselves on a real shoot. I am happy to say the aberrations are well controlled across the frame.

There’s minimal chromatic aberration or other artifacts. I didn’t notice any major pin cushion distortion.

Really, nothing to complain about on a technical level. How people perceive and react to aberrations are a personal preference.

Mechanics

Now’s a good time to remember this review of the Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) is specific to cinematography.

I’ll divide this section into the following parts:

  1. Manual focus system
  2. Autofocus system
  3. Hood
  4. Close focus
  5. Size and weight
  6. Filters

Manual focus system

The Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) has both auto focus and manual focus abilities. Unfortunately the manual focus system is focus-by-wire.

This makes it an automatic no-go for cinematography follow focus work, or even repeatable manual focus work.

This isn’t a fun lens to use for a lot of cinematography work, period.

Autofocus system

Unfortunately, the autofocus performance of the Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) is severely limited by the Nikon Z6 I used it on. I used face detection AF.

As you can see in the sample footage above of the camera spinning around the girl, autofocus is not reliable in low light work.

This is true generally of all Nikon S-line lenses, because all of them are limited by the camera’s ability. It is nowhere near the performance levels of Canon or Sony lenses and cameras. I hope Nikon improves this in future camera iterations.

Hood

The hood is well made, and fits on perfectly. I like the “straight” design, as opposed to the “flower” design.

It does well to eliminate stray flare and I would recommend keeping it on most of the time.

Close focus

The Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) focuses to 2.62 feet, which is typical for an 85mm lens.

The Auto and Manual focus switch is really handy.

Size and weight

The Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) is lightweight at 470 grams, but slightly on the longer side for an f/1.8 lens.

It balances well with the current Nikon Z6 body, and will be fine for gimbal work if you don’t mind the poor autofocus.

The lens is supposedly weather-resistant, according to Nikon:

Extensively sealed to keep dust and moisture out, especially around all moving parts of the lens barrel, for worry-free durability.

Nikon USA

Filters

The 85mm has a non-standard filter thread size of 67mm. You can get by with step-up adapters.

Final impressions

Who is the Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens (AmazonB&H) really for?

According to Nikon:

The artistic qualities, natural perspective, quiet autofocus and smooth aperture control of the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S make it outstanding for video work in documentaries, interviews, B-roll footage and anywhere you want to isolate your subject from the background. U

If you’re handholding the camera, then sure. But that’s not the whole cinematography story. The control ring can be programmed for aperture control, though then you lose out on manual focus ability. This lens is seriously let down by:

  • No aperture markings (you can control aperture via the tiny Control Ring, but that’s not what I’m talking about here).
  • Focus-by-wire manual focus making it practically unusable for follow focus work.
  • When you switch off the camera, the lens loses the focus point it was last focused on.
  • Unreliable autofocus with the current crop of full frame cameras.

The bottom line is, the Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens (AmazonB&H) has beautiful optical performance, and is designed for solo shooters who are mostly into handholding their cameras for video work.

Unfortunately, the design is not useful for cinematography, though I’m sure if Nikon wanted to they can convert this stellar optical design into a cinema lens.

What do you think?

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