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Nikon 105mm f/1.4 Vs. Nikon 85mm f/1.4 Vs. Tamron 85mm f/1.8 | Does the 105mm Look Worth The Cost?

By Kishore Sawh on August 27th 2016

Perhaps one of the most exciting lenses to arrive in some time, and with much pomp, is the Nikon 105mm AF-S f/1.4 ED, which, ironically, shipped yesterday. While we will certainly be brining you a review and perhaps comparisons of it compared to other similar lenses and in various scenarios, photographer Taylor Jackson got his hands on perhaps the first unit in Canada, and did some basic testing with it.

What makes this particularly interesting, however, is that unlike everything we’ve seen thus far, Taylor isn’t fawning all over it, and tests it using simple street shots with a model where he shot it, the Nikon 85mm f/1. 4, and the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 VC.

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While the testing and thus results aren’t entirely controlled, they are intriguing at the very least, if not revelatory. There’s a sense in photography that the higher the price, the higher the performance, but if you’ve been around it long enough you’ll understand that basic economic concepts still apply, such as the law of diminishing returns. The Nikon 105mm f1.4 is a remarkable feat, but coming in at $2,200 the question begs be asked just how much ‘better’ it performs than similar models that cost at least $1,000 less. It’s this we get an idea of from Ryan’s video.

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For head shots and portraits, beauty and fashion, 105mm is a wonderful focal length, but so is 85mm, and if you’ve ever shot an 85mm 1.4 you’ll know that it would be unusual to need that extra 20mm, and unlikely you’d want a background even softer. AS such, comparing those two makes sense, but what may be even more surprising it comparing it to an 85mm 1.8, and from Tamron at that. Now, I’ve just been testing the Tamron and can attest to its great performance, and I would’ve expected a bit more of a difference from the new 105, but the new Nikon just doesn’t seem to be blowing the 1.8 away. Interesting stuff, and check out the video below. Also, you can get more from Ryan on his site, and check out the RAW files associated with it here.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Photo Trope

    Good idea to compare the 85/1.4 with the 105/1.4. But I’m really surprised you choose a white wall as the background to test the difference in background blur. Hmmm… did you really think that through?

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  2. Dominique Richardson

    used nikon 85 1.4 for $1000 or new tamron 85 1.8 for $750?

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  3. Steve Choi

    This cannot be effective comparison because the background objects are far away from the main object. So, any lens can isolate the background. Also, it did not shows significant backlighting source so the pictures are all looked same. Good lens handle a lot of different lighting situations.

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  4. Joel Richards

    Depends on wha you need. I love my 85mm 1.8 for portraits but honestly I wish it were a little longer so aside form the price a fast 105mm sounds more appealing than a faster 85mm. The samples were a bit odd because the 105 seems to do a much better job of blurring the background (much more noticeably than the 85 1.4 vs 1.8) but the background was fairly neutral to begin with. $2200 isn’t unprecedented for a unique lens like this but it is steep.

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  5. Cameron Clark

    THANK YOU for this review. I need a new 85 and looks like I know where to spend my money. I have the old Nikon VR 105 macro and it’s slow so I was interested in this new lens. I love the 85 focal length….but frankly weight is such a huge factor as an event photographer. I just don’t want to carry heavy gear if I don’t have to.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Cameron, I’ll be publishing a review of the Tamron 85 1.8 in this video very soon. Keep an eye out.

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  6. Scott Cushman

    I really want the new 105 … but not for portraits. I completely agree that if you are working with natural light portraits, an 85 f/1.8 leaves little need for improvement. For that matter, a 70-200 f/2.8 does a remarkably good job, especially if you, like me, get tired of the super shallow depth of field, “everything blurry but the eye” portraits.

    Where I think the 105 would shine on my camera is sports. I’m astounded how often people ignore the use of primes in sports, particularly indoors. Gym lights are horrible, and the wider aperture and greater light transmission of a good prime lens means those photos end up looking so much better than any zoom. If you have court side access, an 85 on a full frame body is just about perfect for basketball, but for volleyball and a number of other sports, I really want a little more reach while still getting the extra light of a prime. I’m really hoping they release a similar 135 soon too.

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  7. Daeshawn Ballard

    Is it just me or is the mark as read gone? Anywho, nice article. I’d personally love to see more of these side by side lens comparisons.

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    • Peter McWade

      Its gone. Poof. I asked about it. Your ranking is gone too. Helped give a little incentive to read some of the articles. It would have been cool to have been given notice of the change but this is the response I was given.

      “Thanks for getting in touch. Yes, we have deployed our new profile system
      that doesn’t include a “Mark as Read” button for points and has removed the
      point system. We are sorry to those that have really loved that system but
      we needed to make some room for some very exciting changes that are coming
      soon. We hope you will still enjoy reading and learning from the articles!

      Thanks so much for you understanding!


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    • Daeshawn Ballard

      I miss it already, it definitely made me want to more articles. Thank you for clarifying Peter!

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  8. William Johns

    The Nikon 85mm f/1.8 is even cheaper than the Tamron and is an absolutely amazing lens that would have no trouble keeping up with all 3 of these much more expensive lenses.

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