Battle of the 85mm Lenses: Canon 85mm f1.8 vs Nikon 85mm f1.8

I was recently able to test fire and show a couple of sample images with the new Nikon 85mm f1.8 on my D5100, however I also was able to get my hands on a D700. Being a Canon 5D Mk II and 85mm f1.8 USM owner, I decided to put the two lenses in a non-scientific and totally practical test using all available light at around 7pm in NYC and only shooting at f4 and wider for a portrait.

So how did the two lenses perform?

Gear Used


Both 85mm f1.8 lenses are very similar. The new Nikon 85mm f1.8 is far newer than the Canon version: which actually dates back to the film days. Nikon’s front filter thread is just a bit larger than Canon’s and the overall feel of the lens is a bit less plasticy. However, I’ve always generally felt that Nikon gear feels more rugged; but that’s just my personal opinion.

Interestingly, both lens focusing rings feel identical.

Both lenses focus extremely fast, though in real life practice I felt that Canon’s 85mm f1.8 is still the current champ. Indeed, it has often been touted as the company’s fastest focusing lens. A known problem with it though is the color fringing wide open; but this is also a problem that plague’s Nikon’s optics as shown in the previous test.

At this point though, I’d like to remind all the forum readers and people that like to generally sit there and bitch about minor problems like this that those issues are generally easily fixed in post-production software. Still though, I’d be doing an injustice if I didn’t report on it.

Process of the Test

I tried to shoot this test during the golden hour. Most of New York City is covered in buildings, and therefore needed to shoot at ISO 800 because of the diffused shadow lighting around the area.

I set both cameras to aperture priority and focused on the same spot of Dennis’s eye. Though their meter readings were very slightly off in aperture priority, it should be noted that in general, Canon and Nikon do have slightly different metering algorithms and this is just part of how they work.

Typically portraits like this are shot anywhere from wide open to f5.6. I stopped at f4 for this test.

The images were then brought into Lightroom 4 Beta and had the clarity and sharpness adjusted the exact same amount for each image. In the export process, they were resized to 1.5MB on export and 300DPI.

Image Samples












So what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.