Review: Nikon 105mm f1.4 E ED (Nikon F)

The world of portrait photography is becoming more and more filled with great lens options available for purchase. Sony. Zeiss, Sigma, and Tamron all make some absolutely fantastic ones that were recently announced: but one lens is seriously looking to outdo all of them. Nikon has shown some recent true innovation with the Nikon 105mm f1.4. This lens is the longest telephoto lens to have an f1.4 aperture and also something that absolutely no one else has. Though Sony’s 85mm f1.4 G Master has 11 aperture blades and Tamron’s 85mm f1.8 has vibration control, nothing has the pure perspective flattening that a 105mm lens can–and nothing has the out of focus bokeh ability.

Pros and Cons

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Pros

  • Absolutely jaw dropping and incredible image quality
  • Nice build quality overall
  • Nikon is truly showing off innovation here
  • Weather sealing

Cons

  • That price point
  • Pretty big lens

Gear Used

We tested the Nikon 105mm f1.4 with the Nikon D810, the Adorama Flashpoint Zoom Li-on system, and the Roundflash dish.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from Nikon’s page listing

Ergonomics

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When you look at the Nikon 105mm f1.4 lens all by itself, you’ll believe it to be a large lens. In comparison to many other portrait lenses, it really is. But as we’ve seen in recent years, even 85mm f1.4 lenses are becoming much larger. As it is, when you mate the lens to a body like that of the Nikon D810, you can’t sit there and say it’s that large. But do note that the lens is overall quite big and that taking off the lens hood cuts down on that a tad.

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When you look at the lens itself though, you’ll notice just how beefy it is overall. It’s mostly characterized by that giant focusing ring and a bit of the plastic areas otherwise around it. There’s also a massive drop in size towards the mount.

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The only control on the lens other than the focusing ring is that M/A and M focusing control switch. Luckily, I’ve never accidentally switched it to something I didn’t want to do.

Build Quality

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This is by far the beefiest prime portrait focal length that I’ve held. 135mm lens offerings can also be beefy, but this one takes the cake! The lens has weather sealing built in, but I never had the chance to take it into a rain storm.

Still though, I honestly believe that this lens should be regulated to studio use. With that said, it’s going to surely survive the dust that you may have gathering around.

Ease of Use

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Using this lens is pretty simple: just screw it on, point, focus, and shoot. You’ll have lots of fun. However, I will surely say that my thought process involved with working with an 85mm vs a 105mm took a bit of adapting. With an 85mm, I’m typically used to working pretty close to a subject. With a 105mm, you’ll need to back up or just shoot tight. It requires space to work with and, if I got one, I’d need a larger apartment or I’d need to shoot outside for sure.

Autofocus

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In our tests with the Nikon D810, the lens barely ever missed its focusing. Additionally, it’s quiet and fast to focus. These are both traits that photographers will love, just be sure to pre-select an autofocus point to make the entire process more straightforward.

Image Quality

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By far, the strongest reason for buying the Nikon 105mm f1.4 lens is its image quality. In fact, I’m going to go as far as to call it the ultimate portrait lens. The Zeiss 135mm f2 Milvus and the Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master lenses indeed come in very close, but it’s incredibly tough to beat the Nikon due to its mixing of both worlds. This lens has incredible bokeh, sharp renderings, beautiful colors that you’ll come to expect from Nikon, perspective flattening abilities naturally designed into it, and honestly no flaws. While it doesn’t have the length of the Milvus, it can make it up with an f1.4 aperture.

And for that, Nikon has a brilliant optic on their hands.

Bokeh

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If you’re an 85mm f1.4 lens user, then you’ll seriously want to consider the 105mm. The bokeh is better at any distance obviously. Portrait photographers are seriously going to love this because it gives them the f1.4 aperture that they’re used to be: also the extra compression. In my tests, I barely ever had a reason to stop the lens down beyond f2.8.

Chromatic Aberration

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This lens has little to no chromatic aberration. One of the biggest things that I found when working with the files in Lightroom is the almost zero distortion. It’s beautiful; and when coupled and knowing that you’ve got no purple fringing, that’s even better.

But I am missing something from this lens though: I really tried to make it flare. There was none, and that can be a downer. If you’re shooting in the studio, then no problems. but otherwise, good luck. It’s designed too well.

Color Rendition

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The image above was shot and balanced to Tungsten. I personally really like the look of it, and for what it’s worth this lens tends to mute Nikon’s images a bit. For portraiture though, that isn’t bad at all.

Sharpness

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The best sharpness from this lens comes with a flash being used in the scene. And yes, it’s super, duper, crazy sharp. It’s up there with both the Milvus and the G Master lens offerings.

Extra Image Samples

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Conclusions

Likes

  • Bokeh
  • Working distances from the subject
  • Build quality

Dislikes

  • I really wish I could get it to flare.

The-Phoblographer-Editor's-Choice-Award-Logo

If you were to choose any portrait lens out there on the market right now and make that a major reason for switching a camera system, then the 105mm f1.4 would be the biggest draw out there. Sure, the Milvus and G Master lenses do indeed offer great image quality. But this lens is in many ways the perfect compromise. It has the light gathering abilities, the shallow depth of field, the solid image quality, the weather sealing, etc. Nikon did a fantastic job with the 105mm f1.4; and for that reason, it wins our Editor’s Choice award.

Phoblographer-Star-rating

The Nikon 105mm f1.4 is awarded five out of five stars. Want one? Get ready to drop almost $2,200 for one.