When I started as a photographer in the DSLR era, a f/1.2 lens was a real unicorn.
(They existed, but few used them as they were slow to focus and not accurate in focusing either.)
This has all changed in the mirrorless era, as one can purchase entire lines of fast and accurate f/1.2 lenses.
They are as large and pricey as ever, but their unique rendering can set a professional photographer apart.
I recently used the Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens for a maternity portrait session, a wedding, and a fast-paced event.
These are three scenarios where a fast lens such as this can shine. Let’s see if the extra weight, size, and cost are worth it.
Table of Contents
Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens Specs
- Sharp wide open
- Quick and accurate autofocus
- Incredibly soft bokeh
- Beautiful 3-D like image rendering
- Function buttons and control rings
- No chromatic aberration
- A very large lens (especially with lens hood attached)
- A heavy lens
- Maximum Aperture – f/1.2
- Minimum Aperture – f/16
- Lens Mount – Nikon Z
- Minimum Focus Distance – 33.46″ / 0.85 m
- Optical Design – 15 Elements in 10 Groups
- Diaphragm Blades – 11, Rounded
- Image Stabilization – No
- Filter Size – 82 mm (Front)
- Dimensions – (ø x L) 4 x 5.6″ / 102.5 x 141.5 mm
- Weight – 2.6 lb / 1160 g
Build & Ergonomics
The Nikon 85mm f/1.2 is part of the S series of lenses, which means it is of superior quality, including the build. I did feel I could use it as a weapon should guests at one of my weddings decide to attack.
If it were raining at an event I was photographing, I’d have no problem using this weather-sealed professional lens in the elements.
This tough build quality (and a maximum aperture of f/1.2) comes at a price to the user in the size and weight of the lens.
Once a hood is attached, you are close to walking around with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens attached to your camera.
Many of the Nikon S series lenses have a display button, showing the user a digital readout of aperture, focus distance, and more.
The Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens does not have this display, which is a good thing as it keeps size and cost down.
There is a simple auto-to-manual focus switch and a control ring that can be programmed to various functions via the camera menu.
I found the autofocus performance of the Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens to be lightning-fast in all lighting conditions. I often take candid reaction photos at wedding receptions in dim lighting, and this lens did not falter.
This rapid AF performance is due to the two focusing lens groups, which also enables precise accuracy.
I briefly turned on video mode and found no focus breathing. This, along with the gorgeous bokeh, lens control ring, and smooth manual focus ring, will make this a popular lens for videographers.
The Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens is in the category of a portrait lens, and after using it for a maternity session, I was blown away by the outstanding image quality. I have used the very good Nikon 85mm f/1.8 S Lens, but this one has something special in its rendering.
I could not detect any chromatic aberration in backlit situations, and the bokeh is lovely.
I stated at the beginning about f/1.2 lenses not being fully utilized in the DSLR era, but this no longer applies to modern mirrorless lenses such as this.
You will shoot the Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens or any of its siblings, such as the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 S Lens, wide open with no compromises in image quality or lens performance.
The Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens Sample Images
Some sample images were taken with the Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens, using a Nikon Z 9.
How I Tested The Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens
The Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens can be used on any of the Z mount camera bodies, but considering its size and premium optics, it’s geared toward cameras like the Nikon Z 8 and the Nikon Z 9, which I mounted it onto.
I used it for a maternity portrait shoot in which I wanted to soften the backgrounds and the skin of my subject. The event I shot needed quick autofocus, and the cluttered backgrounds needed to be obliterated.
Lastly, this professional portrait lens is also perfect for weddings, and I used it at a wine vineyard ceremony and reception for a solid 10 hours straight. It excelled at all the tasks I had it perform, from low-light candids to bridal portraits to ceremony photojournalism.
I had no problem handholding the lens at the event and portrait session, but towards the end of the long wedding day, I began to feel the weight of the lens. I’m conditioned for this, but keep this in mind if you use the lens for long shoots.
The main competitor to the Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S lens is the smaller and much lighter Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens.
Although I haven’t reviewed this other portrait lens, I have used it, and it is excellent in image quality, although not quite as fast focusing as the f/1.2 version.
If you are a pro making money shooting portraits or an enthusiast who wants the best, then the Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens is the one you want.
If the price puts you off, but you still want an ultra-fast portrait lens for your Z-mount camera, consider the F-mount Nikon 105mm f/1.4 E lens.
I currently own and use this lens on my Nikon Z 9 with the FTZ II adapter and it works flawlessly and has great character and a bit more reach, although it is a hair slower at focusing than this native Z mount portrait lens.
The Viltrox AF 75mm f/1.2 lens for Z mount is also available for a much lower price point.
Value for Money
At around $2700, the Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens is certainly not inexpensive. One needs to be very serious about their photography to purchase one.
If the best of the best is what you require, then this fast portrait lens is of value to you. If you are a working professional earning an income from portraits, events, and weddings, this is the native Z mount lens you have been waiting for.
While pricey, the Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens does come in for less than the Canon RF 85.
What makes this a Nikon S lens?
It’s a combination of features. The optical formula consists of an anti-reflective coating, a nanocrystal coat, two focusing lens groups, functions buttons, and more.
How does the background blur look?
This lens produces smooth and circular bokeh with striking yet gradual depth.
Why is this lens so much more expensive than the f/1.8 version?
The enhanced optical performance combined with a fast aperture makes this a coveted Nikkor lens for portrait photographers.
Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens Review | Conclusion
At the end of the day, the selling point for this S line prime lens goes beyond the amazing light-gathering capability, the beautiful bokeh, shallow depth, and impressive sharpness; it comes down to the outstanding optical performance.
It has something within the images it produces that makes it a special lens for portrait photography.
This Z 85mm f 1.2 s lens will be a Nikkor classic. I can blather on about optical construction and accurate operation, but looking at the images it produces, will tell you whether or not you want to purchase this Nikon Nikkor Z 85mm lens. I suspect the answer will be yes.
For me, another classic Nikkor lens, the Nikon 105mm F/1.4 E lens via adapter will suffice until a native Z mount version appears or until the seduction of incredible image quality of the Nikon 85mm f/1.2 S Lens overcomes me.