Nikon AF-S Nikkor 105mm f/1.4E ED lens review

This review of the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 105mm f/1.4E ED lens ($2,196.95) is by the Romanian photographer and Nikon Ambassador Mircea Bezergheanu (Website | Facebook | Vimeo | YouTube). The original review was published here in Romanian (thanks for the translation Marius; click on images for larger view):

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Nikon has always been well represented in the 105mm lens category, but the launch of the Nikon 105/1,4E ED has overcome all expectations of those who love this focal length, because there are photographers who do not find themselves using the 50, 58 or 85mm lenses for portraits. I am one of them, preferring portraits with 105- 135-200mm focal lengths.

The lens is big and heavy, weighing 985 grams, the front element is big and the filter thread has an 85mm diameter which makes it impossible for me to use 77mm filters. I will have to get 85mm filters, which will be evidently more expensive…

The lens is made of plastic and polycarbonate to be more precise - so it comes with one disadvantage and two advantages - it’s less shock resistant, but is lighter and cheaper than if it would have been made out of metal. The lens is expensive and it sells for around $2,200.

Buuuuuut … for this money you get MAGIC!

Portrait? Magic!

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Landscape? Magic!

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Close-up? Magic!

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Bokeh? Magic, magic, magic!

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But let’s take it one at a time, dissecting all chapters of the story I entered the moment I lifted the camera and looked through this lens.

Over the time I’ve used a lot of good lenses from different manufacturers but the world transforms when I look through this Nikon 105mm - I’ve never come across this before.

Let’s start with the technical performance.

The focalization - here I was nervous because overall bright lenses move slow and have problems with accuracy and consistency. First frames to evaluate the focus I shoot in the city by night, where I had the most problematic source of light - mercury vapor bulbs, which are used everywhere in public lighting. First frame is a static one, I chose the subject at distance because focus error would be easier to notice. Honestly, the results perfect. I repeated the test 3-4 times. The result? Identical! Perfect focus on a static subject and in mercury vapor lighting. First frame is the original, and the second is a 100% crop:

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Let’s get to the second part, same lighting conditions, but the subject is moving towards me with a speed of 60km/h.  Car headlights are more confusing because while moving, the lights suffer dramatic intensity and direction changes:

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All tests were taken with 1.4 aperture.

For the next test, I took it outside and photographed a subject that ran sideways with a dynamic and crowded background. The result? Perfect:

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I also did some detailed tests on related subjects, making a comparison between the Nikon 105/1,4, Nikon 85/1,4G, Nikon 135/2 DC and Tamron 85/1,5VC lenses. Here are the crops taken with the different lenses:

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More tests of a Nikon banner are next.

Nikon 105/1,4E:

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Nikon 85/1,4 G:

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Nikon 135/2 DC:

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Tamron 85/1,8 VC:

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Autofocus tests and bokeh compared for portrait photography:

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I also add a comparison between the Nikon 105/1,4 at f1,4 and Nikon 105/2,8 VR macro lenses at f2,8:

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A difference in shading can be noticed; the macro lens reproducing colors in highly warm tones.

I also did an unusual test in very low light to see the lens behavior and the capability to reproduce details (second picture is a 100% crop):

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Test to evaluate chromatic aberration - here I noticed the extremely discreet presence of aberration (did not appear in all situations):

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Bokeh test:

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Different photos to evaluate the bokeh of the lens:

Another bokeh test at various apertures:

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Next, portrait photography starting with some concert pictures where I tested the autofocus in highly dynamic lights in various colors:

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It was followed by portraits shot in various conditions:

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Once again, I have to appreciate the autofocus system, the lens did not require calibration although I attached it on many different cameras: Nikon D600, D810, D500 and D5. I also gave it to other colleagues who used it on D7100, D750 and D5300. Al results were perfect.

For landscape photography, I was pleasantly surprised that the lens has no issues shooting frames with far away subjects while reproducing excellent details. I pushed the edge a little bit by shooting exclusively at 1,4 aperture even for landscape. There were only a few situations in which I stopped down the aperture:

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Certainly, this lens will produce great satisfactions to users who can understand its qualities. And don't forget: it's not the camera that makes the photography, it is you!

Good light, everybody!

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