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Nikon Mirrorless Z 85mm f/1.8 S Announced! Is 1.8 the new 1.4?

By Matthew Saville on July 30th 2019

Nikon has announced another full-frame mirrorless prime lens for its Z-series full-frame mirrorless system, and it’s likely going to be an extremely popular one: The Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S.

Indeed, Nikon’s Z-mount is still less than 1 year old, and already this marks the sixth lens available for the system. Seventh, if you count the 58mm f/0.95 Noct, which isn’t on shelves yet but has been displayed and demonstrated at various shows over the last 11 months.

For those who are indeed counting, (or cheating and looking at their Z lens roadmap) that leaves us with two more un-released lenses in 2019: a Z 24mm f/1.8 S, and a Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S, making a grand total of nine Z/S lenses by the end of the year, and a pretty complete professional lineup.

And, yes, this new Z 85mm f/1.8 S looks to be every bit as professional as its existing Z f/1.8 prime counterparts- It’s got weather sealing and the general construction of a flagship-grade lens.

In my review of the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S, here, I got some comments for calling it a “flagship” lens because, to paraphrase, “f/1.8 is not f/1.4”. Well, I think we should put that notion to bed because apparently, f/1.8 is the new f/1.4. Also, apparently the “S” in the lens’ nomenclature might stand for “Superb”, so there’s that. Maybe, if we’re lucky, f/1.2 will be the new f/1.4. (2020 is going to be an exciting year for Nikon Z owners, too!)

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Specifications

Focal Lenght & Angle of View: 85mm, 18.5° FX, 28.3° DX angle of view
Size: 3.0″ x 3.9″ (75 mm x 99 mm)
Weight: 16.6 oz (470 g)
Aperture: f/1.8-16, 9 rounded blades
Filter Threads: 67mm (the 35mm and 50mm are 62mm)
Autofocus: Internal, Multi-focusing system
Close Focusing:
Optical Construction: 12 elements, 8 groups,
Stabilization: In-camera VR
Mechanical Construction: Metal mount & barrel, some plastic, weather sealed
Price: $799, available September 2019

Official Press Release

Today, Nikon Inc. announced the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens, bringing a fast prime with a classic medium telephoto focal length to Z series full-frame mirrorless cameras. Ideal for headshots, fashion, wedding/event photography and tight video shots, the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S is designed to take full advantage of the wider, brighter and faster Z mount. This new addition to the S-Line delivers exceptional sharpness all the way to the corners of the frame, even at f/1.8, while integrating the latest NIKKOR optical technologies for intense rendering capability. Nikon Z series photographers and videographers who want to bring striking clarity to a subject’s eyes or who demand shallow depth of field and beautiful, natural bokeh will find the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S a welcome addition to their kit.

“The NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lens is so sharp, yet the background blur is so natural; the incredible detail captured with this lens is nothing short of striking,” said Jay Vannatter, Executive Vice President, Nikon Inc. “For fashion and portrait photographers, to wedding shooters and all types of videographers, now is the time to discover why the new NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 will be an indispensable asset for those creatives who are familiar with the outstanding performance of the Nikon Z series.”

NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S

With the addition of the new 85mm f/1.8 S, Nikon Z series photo and video shooters now have a native Z mount option for capturing incredible portraits, fashion photography, event images, tight interview shots or B-roll footage that add emphasis to any scene. This is also the latest lens to join the NIKKOR S-Line, representing the pinnacle in optical superiority and construction.

The NIKKOR Z 85mm’s fast f/1.8 maximum aperture allows users to confidently shoot in low light and capture gorgeous, shallow depth of field that adds dimensionality and character to high-resolution images and 4K video footage alike. Helping to provide a natural look is a lens diaphragm consisting of nine rounded blades, which produce smooth, natural bokeh that gently leads the viewer’s eye to the subject of the frame. With the addition of Eye-Detection autofocus included in the recent release of Firmware 2.0, the Nikon Z series cameras and NIKKOR Z lenses offer even more control and capabilities when capturing stunning portraits and candids.

This lens uses an all-new optical design of 12 elements in 8 groups and features the industry-leading lens technology consumers have come to expect from NIKKOR glass. Two Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) elements help ensure minimal aberration, while Nikon’s patented Nano Crystal Coating offers superior control of ghosting and flare. Additionally, the high-speed Multi-Focus System realizes superior resolving power at minimum focus distance. These cutting-edge features are protected from the elements by Nikon’s professional-grade dust and drip resistance.

As with all NIKKOR Z S-Line lenses, the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S is crafted to cater to the needs of videographers as well as image-makers. The lens features ultra-quiet focus motors, minimized focus breathing, a customizable control ring for smooth adjustment of aperture or exposure compensation, and full compatibility with the in-body 5-axis VR found in the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 full-frame mirrorless cameras.

NIKKOR Z S-Line

The NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S joins the superb “S-Line” of NIKKOR Z lenses. Designed alongside the revolutionary Nikon Z mount system, S-Line lenses boast superior resolution, beautiful bokeh rendition, exceptional point-image reproduction, enhanced video recording performance and unmatched edge-to-edge sharpness, even when shooting at the maximum aperture.

Born out of Nikon’s heritage of optical excellence, the S-Line sits at the cutting edge of imaging technology and innovation and represents a new potential for image expression.

Nikon Z7, Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S | 1/320 sec, f/1.8, ISO 400

Nikon Z7, Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S | 1/640 sec, f/1.8, ISO 100

100% crop, f/1.8, 45 megapixels

Matt’s Gut Reaction (Armchair Lens Review)

To me, it is becoming very clear which direction Nikon is taking their Z system first: They’re attempting to achieve a perfect balance between professional quality, and mirrorless portability.

This is the third f/1.8 Z/S prime from Nikon, and the fifth relatively attainable lens for the new Z mount. So, they’ve undoubtedly heard the years of requests for full-frame mirrorless lenses to be compact and portable, to pair nicely with the compact, portable mirrorless bodies.

Sure, f/1.2 primes and f/2 zooms could eventually appear for the Z mount, and such exotic unicorns would be highly welcome as symbols of a strong pride in what their new mount is capable of. After all, the Z mount is the biggest of them all.

However, the bottom line is that most customers don’t actually care about highly exotic glass, or “brand pride”, contrary to what the internet would have you believe. So, instead of dropping lots of enormous, expensive flagship lenses right off the bat, (as Canon is doing with their RF system) Nikon is hammering away with a balanced approach in their initial lens arsenal, and I suspect it will pay off.

In comparison, Sony probably could have made more “modest” primes and zooms sooner, in their development of the FE (full-frame E mount) lineup. In fact, they (Sony) are just now releasing a 35mm f/1.8, and it’s surely going to be a fantastic lens, yet in a bizarre twilight-zone-ish twist of irony, both Nikon and Canon actually beat them to it with their own 35mm f/1.8’s, even though their mounts are both still less than 1 year old!

Flagship Performance and Quality On an F/1.8 Budget?

If the Z 85mm f/1.8 S turns out to be anything like the existing Z 35mm f/1.8 S or Z 50mm f/1.8 S, we can expect stunning optical performance and flagship-grade overall build quality. From the sound of things, that’s exactly what we’re getting.

Considering how far optical designs have come in the last 20 years, and how the definition of “professional” may have changed too, it is indeed safe to say that f/1.8 is the new f/1.4, at least for now.

(For those who don’t know how to read an MTF chart, I’ll translate:
The flat lines at the top mean this lens will be almost flawlessly sharp.)

Keep in mind, there is a 50mm f/1.2 Z/S on the horizon too. Although it’s the only f/1.2 lens on Nikon’s 2020 roadmap, I have a hunch that they’re not going to stop at just 50mm. We could eventually see an 85mm f/1.2 and a 35mm f/1.2, who knows.

This “roadmap”, one of Nikon’s first-ever, is from a Feb 2019 press video

Personally, I’m not obsessed with numbers, I just care what the images look like. And from the look of the sample images I’ve seen so far, this 85mm is indeed delivering “that look” which portrait photographers crave: ultra-sharp detail for in-focus subjects and a smooth, creamy transition to  very pleasing background blur. That’s what matters to most photographers.

Full Review Coming Soon

We’re definitely looking forward to getting our hands on the 85mm f/1.8 S and telling you whether or not it matches the precedent that has been set by the existing f/1.8’s! As always, we would never draw conclusions or make claims that we haven’t tested and proven to ourselves personally, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

With that said, if you’re interested in pre-ordering the Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S, you can do so here: B&H | Adorama | Amazon

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Pradhyumna Gupta

    Itching to move on from my D750. Cmon Nikon, release a dual card version of the Z cameras and I’ll move in an instant.

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