The new 24mm comes with all the standard goodies – a soft lens pouch, lens hood, and all the associated literature you’d expect. The lens pouch is tall enough that you can store the lens standing up with the hood attached. The lens hood for the new 24mm features a friction lock, so it just twists on and snaps into place. One thing you do have to consider is that due to the combination of a wide field of view and the shallow depth of field possible with this lens, accurate AF calibration is a must. The reason for this is that the actual AF sensors of your DSLR actually extend beyond what’s indicated in the viewfinder. The Good News: There is actually some genuine blur to look at with this lens, which for a wide-angle is amazing.
In this crop from near the center of the frame, you can see that the circle of confusion drawn for out-of-focus highlights is relatively neutral.
In the crop from slighter farther toward the edge of the frame, we can see more of a very slight brighter ring for the defocused elements. If you wanted to minimize this effect, stopping down diminishes the edge emphasis in defocused highlights, as evident in the first sample and respective crops. Due to the perspective distortion of the 24mm wide-angle, I find that the harder-edge of defocused elements actually draws more attention to the depth of field and create a heightened dimensional emphasis. Were the defocusing quality smoother, I think that this emphasis would get lost more easily due to the apparent size of the out of focus highlights in comparison to a telephoto image with shallow depth of field. This 24mm does exhibit chromatic aberrations – again, most notably only at wide apertures and toward the extreme edges of the frame. To get the most out of this lens, I recommend a very fine sharpening Radius in Lightroom and a high amount of Amount and Detail in the sharpening dialogue. The new 85mm comes with all the standard goodies – a soft lens pouch, lens hood, and all the associated literature you’d expect. The prime features a relatively square shape – it actually feels like you’re holding a softball – and balances extremely well with just about any camera you can throw at it.
As a prime lens, there’s obviously no zoom ring on this lens – just a single knurled ring for manual focus.
The lens hood for the new 85mm features a friction lock, so it just twists on and snaps into place.
In use, I found the new 85mm very close in terms of the speed of AF acquisition next to the old AF-D model. The one criticism of the AF performance of this lens that  very dim, low contrast light is not a strong point. In terms of operation, the new AF-S lens focuses whisper-quiet compared to the clicks and whirrs of the older, screw-driven lens.
One of complaints about the old AF-D lens was that like Nikon’s other fast AF-D primes, the color and contrast rendering had an airy, less snappy look than more recently introduced lenses. One interesting point on the color of the lens is that, compared to the old AF-D lens, the new AF-S lens features a visibly warmer tint under identical shooting conditions and WB settings. Aside from the pure speed of a fast aperture, one of the reasons many people looked to the old 85mm AF-D lens was very shallow depth of field it could render. In my shooting with the new 85mm, I found that this lens offers a beautiful rendition of out of focus elements in degree of smoothness that the old AF-D lens never produced. Even when stopped down, the lens offers a very smooth character with defocused elements.
For all you bokeh-heads, here are my comparison samples comparing the two lenses and their performance with regard to rendering defocused elements.
The below test scene is of a bush in full sunlight, which creates plenty of highlights to throw at the 85mm primes.
In all frankness, I was never sold on AF-D as legendary in regard to its ability to render a smooth scene. Ironically, I do think that the new AF-S version of the lens starts to live up to the renown of the AF-D design in a way that older lens never did.


For photographers interested in more bite to their images, the old AF-D lens is a better choice, as it renders defocused with more visual interest. For any user of the old AF-D version of the 85mm, purple fringing and chromatic aberrations at wide aperture are a perpetual issue in areas of high contrast and specular highlights. Even in the scaled version of the above sample, you can see that the new AF-S model controls this fringing much better than the old AF-D lens.
Again, you can also see the difference in the color rendition between the two lenses quite clearly as well, even with the same WB settings and shooting conditions.
Closed down a stop, and this 85mm delivers performance that leaves me wanting nothing in terms of sharpness. Both of these samples were converted from RAW in Adobe Lightroom 3 with the default sharpening settings. To be honest, I feel a little silly even posting these crops, because this lens is so good that image quality is a complete non-issue.
The new AF-S 85mm is one of those lenses that can take just about any kind of background you throw at it and spit out gorgeous blur.
In this sense, a fast telephoto like the 85mm is a great equalizer – nasty backgrounds and pretty backgrounds alike are ground up into a feathery mush with ease. Personally, I prefer a slightly longer lens for individual portraits, but even so, I found the 85mm a simply beautiful lens for portraiture on the full-frame Nikon D3. On a cropped sensor like the Nikon D300s, D7000, or similar camera, I think that the new 85mm would be an ideal portrait lens, giving a field of view similar to the classic 135mm portrait range on full-frame. As a concert photographer, I shoot in all kinds of unpredictable lighting, even at larger clubs.
Overall, what gets me excited about this lens isn’t so much the fantastic performance, but the signal of commitment by Nikon to put out great glass for professionals and dentists. Dry your tears, open up your wallet and get ready to empty it out, because the lens you’ve been waiting for is finally here. But aspherical elements, ED glass, and Nano Crystal Coating all smack of enough promise to make things interesting even before you twist this onto your camera. What we can see from this is that contrast is excellent, and even more remarkably so because this is the performance wide open. But together with the new optical designs Nikon has been rolling out, this new generation of lenses just has a fantastic quality that I love. I found that once this lens is fine-tuned to your camera body, AF is extremely precise, even at wide apertures.
Where we see a slight bias toward a harsher outer ring is in the white lettering, where the overlapping elements start to create added visual interest.
At wide aperture, the lens doesn’t blow you away with contrast in the way it will stopped down. Needless to say, the lens offers all the crystalline detail you could want across the frame when stopped down. This image was basically lit entirely by candle light, with a little fill from the fading blue hour and a little twinkle from the lights of NYC.
For all the concert photography below, it’s worth noting that the lighting was generally so low that they could only be made with a fast lens like the 24mm at extremely wide apertures or a silly camera like the Nikon D3s at ISO 12,800 or above.
It’s this unexpected sense of separation of the subject from the background that really makes this lens capable of delivering unique images. More than that, the new 24mm delivers fantastic quality – so good things do come to those who wait.
Just as any chef wouldn’t rely on singular flavor or taste for every single dish, so too should photographers draw on a range of tools capable of delivering different characteristics.
Between the smooth contrast, effortless sharpness, and creative possibilities of a fat-aperture wide-angle, the only thing not to like is the price.


In fact, I dare say that it’s a perfect size to handle with either a camera like the Nikon D700 or a full-sized camera like the Nikon D3s.
In my opinion, the manual focus experience with this lens is as good as I’ve had with an AF lens. Where the new lens pulls ahead is in the precision of that AF lock and performance in low light, where I found the new AF-S lens performing with a confidence lacking in the AF-D design. That said, I had no issues using it for the demanding task of concert photography, which I think is a pretty big test under adverse conditions. The new AF-S incarnation, with nearly identical specifications, carries on this tradition for all the bokeh fanatics, but with some subtle changes.
And naturally, these defocused elements keep a circular character thanks to the nine rounded diaphragm blades, just like the AF-D model. For anyone interested in the smoothest character in the 85mm focal length, I think you’ve found your new lens. Fans of this style of rendering might find the new AF-S a little too bland, by comparison – and to each their own.
In all but the most extreme circumstances, I found that purple fringing with the new 85mm is essentially absent, even wide open. But talk is cheap, so here are some samples – full-frame first, then the 100% crop for all you perverted types. I shoot everything from small clubs to arenas, and everything in between, so the flexibility of a fast prime is something that is a huge boon when I face less than ideal light.
Nikon has taken an outdated lens and given it a fully modern treatment – comparing the AF-D and AF-S lenses side-by-side, it felt like a make over episode of Oprah.
This new AF-S model not only delivers, but surpasses its predecessor in just about every way, including price.
While individually the improved performance in wide-open sharpness, improved contrast, tight control of purple fringing, smoother bokeh, quiet AF operation, et al are not game-changing in themselves, collectively, they are enough to make one want to throw the AF-D lens in the trash and break open the piggy bank.
Sharpness at the center of the lens is very good, with a slide degradation out toward the edges. This wouldn’t be an issue, except that Nikon has recently created a schism in their lineup, reserving this in-body motor for more expensive DSLRs and leaving many users without an option for fast, AF prime lenses. Both lenses are almost identical in length and size, but the 24mm’s barrel tapers more, for a pleasing, more humanistic user experience. Don’t worry about the color and contrast performance of this lens – worry about composition, the decisive moment, and all that other stuff. In terms of sharpness, the lens never disappoints, but this more delicate contrast rendition does mean that apparent sharpness is affected when shooting at wide apertures.
While the character smooths out when stopped down, shooting this lens wide open creates a unique, 3-D pop that I love. So for all the creamy bokeh fanatics, you better learn to eat bitter – you’ll love it. But aside from raw speed, this large aperture also translates into the ability to render a more shallow depth of field. The 85mm even kept up with singer Janelle Monae, pictured below, who is a firecracker on stage.
While there are many primes that are usable wide open, there are few that I’ve used that are as good as this lens is at maximum aperture.



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