All three lenses are available at a local store near me:

  • 85mm 1.8 at about 400USD
  • 85mm 1.4 at about 1000USD
  • 105mm 2.8 at about 1015 USD

I plan on doing macro and portrait photography and have the ff thoughts so far:

  • I can save a lot with the 85mm 1.8 and a site claims that AF-wise it is much faster than the 85mm 1.4 at twice the price
  • 105mm has VR but I don't know if that would be of much use with portrait and macro as I usually don't use slow shutter speeds with such subjects
  • 105mm has AF-S which means I can get better insect shots because of the silence( and the 105 mm range)
  • I don't know why I should prefer the 85mm 1.4 over the 105mm, when the 85mm may only have AF speed as an advantage, though I am not so sure if it is faster

so as you can see, I'm leaning towards 105mm f/2.8 or 85mm f/1.8 and less towards the 85mm f/1.4. However, I don't want to finalize the decision as many also claims that the 85mm f/1.4 is so good.

Any professional insights to add in helping me make the decision?

  • \$\begingroup\$ You should compare the close-focusing and reproduction ratio capabilities of these lenses. If macro is important to you, the 85s simply are not options. (Unless you have some other plan to do some close focusing, such as extension tubes.) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 6, 2012 at 1:48
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ What camera are you using? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 6, 2012 at 5:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you don't mind manual focusing check out the Zeiss 100 f2, it goes down to 2:1 macro and f2! \$\endgroup\$
    – Shizam
    Nov 6, 2012 at 18:37

3 Answers 3


This is all very personal of course. I have the 85mm 1.8, and a friend has the 1.4. I would gladly do an even swap, but at more than double the price, it wouldn't be worth it to me to pay extra for the 1.4. If I did weddings maybe I could justify it, but I'd rather put the savings into something else. It's a bit more solidly built, slightly better IQ, but for me, no, not worth the extra cost.

I also have the 105mm macro. I get a lot more use out of it than the 85mm lens. I use the 85mm solely for portraits (but when I do people shots it's my go to lens).

I never use the 105mm for portraits. It's usable, but it doesn't have the bokeh of the 85mm lenses. Doesn't AF that fast either. For portraits I either use the 85mm or an 80-200 zoom, which towards the 200mm end throws the backgrounds out of focus and has nice bokeh.

AF on the macro is especially slow, and hunts a bit, at macro distances - you may be manually focusing up close. The VR is sometimes usable doing hand-held garden shots (less than 1:1). I've never known AF noise to scare off insects, but I could be wrong.

What I would recommend is finding an old 105mm AF-D. They would be half the price or less than the VR. Buy one of those, plus the 85mm 1.8 and you can have both for the price of the other lenses (85mm 1.4 or 105mm VR).


It partly depends on what body you are mounting it to, which you don't state.

If it's a DX body, I would recommend the AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G ED, which on a DX sensor has a field of view closer to 90mm - which is great for portrait work. And it's about half the price of the 105 and 85 1.4.

If it's an FX body, I recommend the AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED, instead of the faster 85mm lenses.

The macro/micro lenses stop down to f/32, which gives you a huge advantage for maximum depth of field at close focus distances. I have the older AF 85mm f/1.4., and it's one of my favorites, but it's too fast for macro - only goes down to f/16. Not to mention it doesn't focus as close as the micros.

Also, with the smaller objective, the 60mm and 105mm can be reversed which provides greater magnification. Something I'd never do with the 85s - don't think it's possible actually.

With portraits, the slower lens is less of an issue as you have - presumably - more control of light.

The only reason I'd consider the faster 85mm is if I'm looking for stunning bokeh - but - I think - that'd be too much sacrifice on the macro side.

With primes, we're usually sacrificing a fair bit for a certain aspect of a given lens. Macro and portaiture go well together, with similar feature sets easily accomodated by the current line of micro lenses.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you elaborate on the idea that macro and portrait feature sets go well together? I would have thought otherwise: for portrait, sharpness isn't paramount, and the lenses are probably used in the range of wide open to maybe as far as f/8, while macro lenses are often stopped down to f/11 or f/22. Fast AF might be nice for portraits (if you have a lively subject), and macro is usually MF. Etc. I'm not arguing — I'd just like to hear more! \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 6, 2012 at 1:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suppose it's subjective, but for me, in both portraiture and macro, I'm not going for fast lenses, wide open. All lenses have their sweet spot, and generally I try to stay in that realm when shooting portraits. \$\endgroup\$
    – dbigca
    Nov 6, 2012 at 2:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it likely/common that the sweet spot of a macro lens will be the same as that of a portrait lens, and useful for both? By happy coincidence, or for some reason? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 6, 2012 at 2:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, messed up the previous comment - was incomplete, but nevertheless - No, but a portrait lens is really only defined by it's focal length, and there are other asects at play. A fast 85mm wide open is tricky to work consistently. It has such a small DOF, and if you are using lights, it's way too fast. If I had only one choice, for the situation presented by the OP, I'd go for a macro in the 100mm range, (considering DX vs FX) and not worry about the speed. Plus, f/2.8 isn't exactly slow these days. \$\endgroup\$
    – dbigca
    Nov 6, 2012 at 3:05

Given your interest in macro photography, I think you should consider more macro lenses. This is an area where third-party lenses shine (I've been told). I'm assuming you're shooting DX.

I am currently shopping for something similar myself and have considered three alternatives which are all in the same ballpark price-wise than the Nikon 85mm 1.8G (at least where I live) :

  • Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G VR ED Macro - macro by Nikon, much slower than 1.8, but VR might get you one or two stops back for portraits.
  • Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di 1:1 - Faster, and according to some reviews I've seen it's sharper than the Nikon 1.8 G.
  • Tokina AF 100mm f/2.8 (AT-X M100 AF PRO D) - A longer alternative from Tokina. This one won't autofocus on cheaper Nikon body (such as D5100) however.

From what I've read, the Tamron seems to be the better alternative. I'll update this reply if I get the chance to compare some of those lenses for real (which is what I advise you to do too :)).

Also note that for the 85mm 1.8 and 1.4, there are D and G versions, each of which is a bit different.


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