I snuck away with Nikon for a few hours to play with a pre-production model of their new Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S lens. It’s a lens we hoped would have character. There are times when the entire staff has agreed that Nikon’s lenses are a bit too sterile, and the colors can be odd. But I’ve liked what they’ve been making since the Z9’s firmware updates. More importantly, I like that they’re trying to make some weird focal lengths compared to various other manufacturers. In many ways, Nikon is cooking with masala while others use butter and cream. That’s not to say either is wrong, but my preference is for flavor.
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Thankfully, there’s something about the new Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S that I can’t quite put my finger on. Better yet, it’s a beautiful mystery that I’m not quite sure I want to be solved as I stare in wonderment at the photos I shot. There’s an appeal about this I never felt with the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L lens. However, I experienced the same mystique with the Canon RF 50mm f1.2 L. That said, this is an incredible lens from what I’ve seen so far.
Editor’s Note: The Phoblographer found time to meet up with Nikon to test the pre-production lens beforehand. We chose the location, coordinated with talent, and used our own lights and accessories. Nikon paid for a meal we shared. The Phoblographer took care of the studio and talent. Nikon provided us with the camera and lenses to test. They were then immediately returned to Nikon. We believe this sort of information is important to be transparent about with our audience. We care about keeping your trust and we’ll always be upfront about what’s happening.
Here’s a look at the Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S. As you can tell, it’s got a more plastic body instead of it being metal. Despite this, it doesn’t feel like a cheap product. Three rings double up for control and grip.
On one side of the Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S is a function button and an autofocus or manual focus switch. During my short time with the lens, I didn’t use them.
The logo is on the other side of the Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S. The idea here is that you’ll spend time controlling the lens with your thumb as you cup it from below.
Here’s a look at the front of the Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S. It’s got a chonky (purposely spelled this way) 82mm filter thread. But it’s also just beautiful to look at it like this.
The Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S is quite a fascinating product when you hold it. I say this for several reasons. First off, it’s not as heavy as Canon’s. And with that said, I don’t feel like I’m getting a workout when I use it. That’s probably bad news for my Apple watch, but good news for my arms and back. It’s also designed to be very lovely to handhold. For example, I can count so many times where I’ve held Sigma lenses and found that my finger placement is all over instead of in a straight line. So ergonomically speaking, the Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S is a treat to hold.
On top of all this, Nikon built weather resistance into this lens. As it is, Nikon’s gear is some of the most durable we’ve tested. So I can only expect that much.
Ease of Use
The Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S is pretty simple to use. I just screwed it onto the Nikon Z9 and shot with it. Of course, you have to customize the Nikon Z9 to do what they want. Once that’s set up, the 85mm will be a breeze to use.
The good thing is that the Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S focuses very quickly. In fact, during my test, I didn’t have any huge misses (inaccuracies, rather) when using human detection with focusing on the eyes. I used Single AF on the Nikon Z9, and after a while I switched to AF-C in other situations. In the appropriate case, the focus did a great job. I can’t complain, but I only did these tests with a pre-production unit and in a limited amount of time.
A few statements before we get into this. We tested a pre-production variant of the Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 Every tester that’s had it is doing the same. Nikon also only allowed us to shoot JPEGs. Some of these images in this section are straight out of the camera with either crops or a creative filter used. We state these clearly within the sections.
Here’s what I wrote about when I shared my opinions on what this lens should be:
“However, I think what might truly sell the Nikon 85mm f1.2 is the image quality. I believe it will render much nicer if it has something like the swirly bokeh of a Petzval lens. Even if that render is slight, it’s going to add the character that Nikon desperately needs in order to differentiate itself. Photographers are tired of having the same optics over and over again. And if every camera company is looking for sterile cleanliness and perfection, then all lenses will look the same after a while, right?”
Nikon told us there’s some Cat’s Eye bokeh in the corners. But during my tests, I couldn’t find any. And for what it’s worth, I didn’t even test for it as I was focused on what was in front of me.
Moreover, I like the way the Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S renders tout-of-focus cues areas. It’s also pleasantly sharp. Portrait photographers are going to love this lens because of that specific render. Combined with off-camera lights, they’re also going to get the maximum amount of sharpness. What I really liked doing, though, is putting creative filters on this lens. Combined with its out of focus render, the look is simply gorgeous.
You may wonder, “Why would you buy a lens like this and then ruin the image quality?” But the truth is that I’m not ruining the image quality. I’m adding to it for my own creative needs and reasons. If you go to photography museums and look at the work that photographers do to make it all happen in-camera, you’ll understand. That’s the philosophy we take here at the Phoblographer.
With Creative Filters
So far, I’m pleased with what the Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S can do. I think photographers should be using it in a studio setting, at weddings, etc. And overall, I’m happy that Nikon is making so many lenses to compete with other brands. I didn’t spend enough time with it to create photos that have blown me away. But I think it’s more than capable of doing that.
Stay tuned for our full Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S review.
Here’s the relevant section from the Nikon press release. This lens will cost $2,,799.95.
The view from this premium S line lens is nothing short of captivating. Ultra-high-resolution and intense sharpness renders skin texture and hair realistically, with a striking yet gradual depth of field and abundant light gathering ability that only a lens with a wide f/1.2 aperture could offer. Focus on the eyes creates a deep human connection between the viewer and the subject, with three-dimensional rendering that portrays a heightened level of emotion and depth.
What makes the new NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S lens extraordinary isn’t immediately apparent; the outstanding optical performance goes beyond the impressive sharpness to create a truly unique optic, with special emphasis given to the distinct character of the bokeh and out-of-focus area. The background blur is soft and natural, while the transition from the plane of focus is subtle and gradual. Wide open, the depth is utterly astounding, and even when stopping down it’s downright dreamy and opulent with smooth and circular bokeh that drives attention to the subject to create a glamourous appearance that’s desirable for fashion, boudoir and brides.
Similar to the coveted NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 NOCT, the optical construction includes 11 rounded diaphragm blades, which work together with the fast aperture to melt away point light sources into round and soft circles. Additionally, the use of ED glass suppresses color fringing, while the position of lens elements is carefully considered to eliminate any kind of “onion-ring” characteristics.
The new NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S benefits from Nikon’s advanced multi-focusing system for enhanced optical performance at close distances as well as rapid AF performance that enables precise accuracy even with the razor-thin depth of field at f/1.2. This is the precision that helps to capture what’s most important; from a model’s dynamic poses, a couple’s fleeting emotional embrace, or intricate event details. To achieve this level of performance, the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S’s multi-focusing system consists of two stepping (STM) motors to coordinate positioning of two focusing lens groups simultaneously. These small-diameter, high-torque STM’s in the AF mechanism ensure outstandingly quiet, fast, and accurate operation.
Additional Features of the new NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S
- A Nikon first, f/1.2 aperture on an 85mm lens, provides shallow depth of field, gorgeous bokeh and amazing light gathering capability.
- A minimum focusing distance of only 2.8ft / 0.85m lets you get close to subjects for immaculate details.
- Embrace shooting with challenging backlight thanks to a Nano Crystal Coat that suppresses ghosting and flare.
- Videographers will appreciate the quiet operational sound and fast AF afforded by the STM motors, the minimized focus breathing2 as well as the support for manual linear focusing on select cameras.
- The independent control ring and an additional L-Fn button are fully customizable.
- The optical formula consists of 15 elements in 10 groups with 2 aspherical elements and one ED element. The ED lens effectively reduces chromatic aberration while the aspherical lens reduces spherical aberration, distortion, and other aberrations.
- The lens is constructed of durable magnesium alloy, while superior dust and drip-resistance is ensured by sealing in various areas including movable parts of the lens barrel and mount.3