I was leaning towards the 1.8 (AKA sharpy) and your strong response helped me to make up my mind. So first of all – thank you all for some great advice.
After a few months with this lens, I would like to share my experience with the lens. Now, don’t expect a Ken Rockwell kinda review, Ken does this much, much better then I can. Instead, I’d like to talk a bit of the general experience that I had with the lens.
Even before first mounting the lens, I knew I made a good choice. The lens felt heavy in my hands. Sturdy. Like the volume dial on an old radio set. A lens that heavy musts have a ton of glass inside. I was not surprised to find out later that the optics are superb.
To wrap up the tank look the 85/1.8 comes with a weird looking lens hood. Unlike the usual petal shaped lens hood that I grew accustomed to, the 85/1.8 comes with a round lens hood. The other thing that is unique about the hood is that it is made from metal. Of course, you can always print yourself a regular petal shaped lens hood.
As I said, it is no surprise that the lens is sharp. In fact is very sharp. My only other lens that is sharper is my 50mm f/1.8 prime Nikkor Lens.
It is sharp at f/8 as most of the lenses. BUT it is also sharp at 1.8 which is rare. Shooting at f/1.8 has a lot of merits, but it also poses some challenges. More on that later.
In the image below you can see a 100% crop of an image I took at f/1.8. Sharp!
One of the merits of shooting f/1.8 is the great ability to exercise bokeh control. F/1.8 is great to have a really shallow depth of field. This shallow depth of field enables me to blur the background real well and create some great subject to background separation. In fact, getting a larger aperture lens is one of the simplest ways to improve a portrait.
The lens blades are round shaped, which create a very smooth and eye-pleasing blur on out of focus areas.
It works so sweet with the cool hearts bokeh project.
The downside on working with a 1.8 aperture is the need to focus very carefully. The shallow depth of field make is very easy to go out of focus. A small movement of the subject or camera will take it out it focus sweet spot. This is no issue when you’re on a tripod and have the time to manually focus and check that you are focused well. BUT…
Shallow DOF Challenges
The other challenge is related to the way I am used to focus and reframe the picture. When I look through the view finder it may happen that the point of interest in the picture does not “fall” on one of the focusing point of my focus-points-challenged-D70. What I usually do is to go though a frame the picture the way I want it. Reframe it so my interest point falls on one of the focusing point and do a half press. Then I reframe again to the original framing and complete the picture. This is where shallow DOF and low aperture fail. The depth of field is so shallow that the changing the focal plain of the lens takes the image out if focus.
One issue where I was not very happy with the way Sharpy handles flare. I was expecting a superior flare, and the ability to shot “directly into the sun” without any noticeable flare, but it turned out the lens is catching flare quite easily.
Here is a shot taken with a snooted SB800 right out of the frame on the top. The flare is very visibly seen.
As every single person who recommended the lens said, it is perfect for outdoor portraiture. I found the working distance created by the 85mm focal length (equivalent o about 130mm on a full frame) was great for medium shots (head and head and shoulders shots) as well as for full body shots.
In house is was harder to use this lens, since it requires a few meters distance to get a decent head shot. This is not as close as I like to be to my subject. To get a full body shot, I’ll need to extend my living room to a bathroom. This is why I prefer the little sister for indoors shooting – the 50mm f/1.8
How About The Price?
Right now it is selling at amazon for 385 Dollars – and is a great addition to your bag if you are into portraiture. It is great if you would like to move forward from your kit lens, or if you’d like to spend some time with a prime lens.
If 385 Dollars are too much, you can always go for the little sister – the 50mm f/1.8 for about a 100 Dollars.
Your Favorite Lens
That’s the story, now you know what is my favorite lens. What’s your favorite lens? Share in the comments.