85mmf-14

Nikon Announces new 85mm f/1.4 & 24-120mm f/4

Nikon Announces new 85mm f/1.4 & 24 140mm f/4

Both the new Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S and Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VRNikon Announces new 85mm f/1.4 & 24 140mm f/4 have long been rumored, and they’ve finally been officially announced along with Nikon’s new HD video-capable DSLR, the Nikon D3100.

For me, the most interesting announcements are the pro-grade 85mm and 24-120mm lenses – my thoughts on these announcements after the jump.

If you’ve been waiting for either of these lenses and are just chomping at the bit, as I know many have been, you can pre-order them now:

Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-S G

Nikon Announces new 85mm f/1.4 & 24 140mm f/4

Nikon shooters have been patiently (and some, not so patiently) waiting for an update to the fast-aperture primes in the Nikkor family. With the release of the 50mm f/1.4 and 24mm f/1.4 primes, the 85mm f/1.4 AF-S is the newest to the family, and includes many of the bells and whistles we’d expect.

Nikon Announces new 85mm f/1.4 & 24 140mm f/4Nano Crystal Coating:

Sight unseen, one thing that really has my interest with the new 85mm is the inclusion of Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coating. Simply put, all the new lenses that Nikon has rolled out with this anti-flare and anti-ghosting coating have been nothing short of stellar in image quality. Case in point? The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, and new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. Of course, it’s impossible to say whether this is due to the updated optics of many of these lenses or new designs entirely, but whatever the reason, the Nano coating is enough of an indication to peak my interest.

If you missed it, check out my recent review of the new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II.

Autofocus: AF-S:

Like all new lenses, the updated 85mm f/1.4mm features AF-S, Nikon’s Silent Wave Technology for a built-in motor. This not only promises silent AF operation, but potentially faster and more precise AF. In addition, unlike the old 85mm f/1.4, it means that the new 85mm is compatible with the entire range of current DSLRs, including models like the new Nikon D3100 which lack an in-camera focusing motor to drive older lenses.

Expectations:

I fully expect the new 85mm f/1.4 AF-S to be a killer performer that produces improved sharpness, contrast, and overall image quality to the old 85mm f/1.4 AF-D, which I own. All of the old f/1.4 lenses that I’ve used, including the 50mm f/1.4 AF-D and 85mm f/1.4 AF-D, have an airy, lower contrast rendering than modern lenses, while still offering enough bite and sharpness to not truly capitalize on those characteristics the way the Nikon 105mm f/2 DC lens does.

Nikon Announces new 85mm f/1.4 & 24 140mm f/4Nikon Announces new 85mm f/1.4 & 24 140mm f/4

If you compare the MTF charts of the new 85mm lens (left) and the old AF-D lens (right), you can see that overall sharpness is more consistent wide open. Contrast is roughly equal.

One interesting feature to glean from these MTF charts is the more closely spaced meridonial (dashed) and sagital (solid) lines of the new 85mm should produce a smoother image character and smoother defocusing qualities. While some might expound the “creaminess” of the old 85mm f/1.4 AF-D’s rendering character, I always found it a little rough for my portrait tastes, and expect a nicer rendition with the new lens.

For music photographers and other event shooters working in dim light, I expect the new 85mm to be beautiful in low light. What remains to be seen is how the AF speed and performance of this lens stacks up to its predecessor.

Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR

Nikon Announces new 85mm f/1.4 & 24 140mm f/4

Canon’s own 24-105mm f/4 lens has been out for several years now, and Nikon has finally answered with their own constant-aperture utility zoom – the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VRNikon Announces new 85mm f/1.4 & 24 140mm f/4. The range of the new zoom one-ups Canon’s popular effort, which is a welcome point – if optical quality remains high.

This new 24-120mm zoom should not be confused with Nikon’s 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 VR, which features the same zoom range, but entirely different optics and a variable aperture range.

For travel and event photographers, the 24-120mm lens provides a fantastic range – nearly everyone you’d ever want – all in a single lens. For me, the f/4 aperture of this new announcement is a little too slow for general use as a music photography lens, but the range is alluring enough that it has me contemplating it nonetheless. For arena and amphitheater shows, the f/4 aperture isn’t the huge obstacle that it might have been before the exceptional high ISO performance DSLRs are delivering today.

Optical Design:

Nikon Announces new 85mm f/1.4 & 24 140mm f/4

From the look of the new 24-120mm f/4?s optical design, Nikon has thrown in a few elements to be excited about – specifically three aspherical elements and two elements of ED glass for well-corrected chromatic aberrations. The question for any large-range zoom like this is whether or not optical quality can be maintained across the range, and if not, with what compromises.

Vibration Reduction:

The Nikon 24-120mm f/4 features Nikon’s VR II technology for image stabilization, which promises up to 4-stops of compensation for camera shake at slower shutter speeds. This is a great feature for travel photography, and one that is going to make the new lens a very desirable piece of glass for a relatively compact lens, high-quality, all-in-one lens.

For music photography, I find VR useful just to add a stop of assurance against camera shake, but it only really works for subjects like singers at a mic who are relatively still.

Expectations:

I expect the 24-120mm f/4 to be a big hit, just like Canon’s 24-105mm f/4 L IS. Optically, if I had to guess, the lens is going to have killer contrast and overall great image quality, with some compromises in optical distortion. I would say that there are compromises in sharpness, the MTF charts from the new lens look pretty nice, particularly at 24mm. The “gotcha” here is going to be consistency across the frame, and whether this clears up when the lens is stopped down.

For music photography, I have no doubt we’ll see this new zoom in the photo pit. For my work, the 24-120mm f/4 is just a little too slow – I’ve been spoiled by my f/2.8 zooms.

End Notes:

Are you excited about either of these new pro lens announcements? I’m going to try and get review copies of these lenses as soon as they’re available. If they’re anything like the new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II, the performance should be stellar.

If you just can’t wait, B&H Photo taking pre-orders on all the recent announcements:

As is Amazon.com:

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There are 15 comments

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    • Todd

      Hey Paul,

      I’m definitely interested in reviewing both lenses. I already have the old 85mm f/1.4 AF-D, so I’m curious to see how the new lens stacks up. Personally, I think the new lens will blow away the old one.

  1. John

    The 24-120 would be enticing for concerts if it was faster.
    For me it would be too expensive to justify for maybe three concerts a year where the lighting is good enough.
    What I want is a 10-200mm 2.8 zoom – oh, and below 600 Euros.
    VR would be nice too, but I’d take it without :-)
    I’m still dreaming of owning the 70-200 2.8 Nikkor, but concert photography doesn’t pay!

  2. Dance Photographer

    Hi Todd,

    I’ve been looking forward to the new 85mm f1.4, but my main gripe about the old one is chromatic aberration. In my experience, it can be very nasty if you have any bright lights off the focal plane — bad enough that I don’t find it very usable without closing it down a bit. At that point, why pay the big bucks?

    I thought that I might have gotten a bad copy of the lens, but I’ve seen other commentary about this issue on the net. Any idea if the new one is improved in that respect? Since it lacks extra ED glass or aspherical elements, I’m worried that it might be just as bad, even shooting with a D3S.

    By contrast, the 135mm f2 DC seems to have no visible chromatic aberration at all. Similarly for the 70-200mm VRII. Of course both of these lenses are slower than the 85mm f1.4. I’d like the extra speed of the 85mm if the chromatic aberration is under control.


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