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Lens Review: Nikkor AI’d 85mm f1.8

The Nikkor AI 50mm f1.4 has been my go-to lens for many photoshoots, but my recent acquisition of the Nikkor AI'd 85mm f1.8 lens opened up a new world of possibilities. I found this lens on eBay from a seller in Japan for around AUD$340, shipping included. It was a fair price considering the lens's quality and performance.

Before we delve into my experience with this lens, let's talk about Nikon’s AI system.

Introduced in the 1970s, Nikon AI (Automatic Maximum Aperture Indexing) technology revolutionised lens communication with cameras. AI lenses, like the one I acquired, establish a strong connection with the camera. The mechanical linkage in AI lenses conveys the lens's maximum aperture to the camera, greatly improving exposure metering and light metering accuracy. This is especially beneficial when shooting in semi-automatic and automatic exposure modes.

What sets AI lenses apart from their non-AI counterparts is their compatibility with a wide range of Nikon cameras. The standardisation of communication in AI lenses simplifies the process of using different lenses on various camera bodies. In contrast, non-AI lenses, lacking this linkage, may require more manual adjustments and offer somewhat limited compatibility with modern camera systems.

Nikon AI lenses, including the one I'm reviewing, have made a lasting impact on the world of photography. They've enhanced functionality and compatibility for photographers, and they remain highly regarded and frequently used.

My 85mm lens is the K version, produced from 1975 to 1977, later replaced by the smaller 85mm f/2 AI. My lens was pre-AI and was modified into AI. Being AI-updated, it pairs seamlessly with all Nikon SLRs, whether made before or after 1977. I've used it with my Nikon F2A, FM2, and F3 HP, making full use of their light meters.

Compared to my AI 50mm f1.4, this 85mm lens has impressed me with sharper images, enhanced depth of field, and a broader creative canvas, making it ideal for portraiture and street photography.

The following portraits were shot with this 85mm lens.

And here are the street snapshots with this lens.

As you may know, I typically shoot at f5.6, as it offers a great balance of depth of field and sharpness. When using this lens, even at f5.6, the depth of field is simply breathtaking. Most of the photos from my series Lost in Homecoming were taken with this lens. It excels at adding dynamic layers to a photo, which is especially valuable in a bustling and crowded place like Hong Kong.

I also own a 105mm f2.5 AI lens for portrait photography, which I used for headshots before I got my hands on this 85mm lens. The reason for this change is that I feel I have more flexibility when composing portraits with the 85mm lens. It provides additional headroom, ensuring the subject doesn't fill the entire frame. Of course, this is a matter of personal preference, and there's no absolute right or wrong. These days, I tend to bring both lenses to a shooting session to have more creative options.

However, it's important to note that this lens is notably larger and bulkier than your typical 50mm lens. In fact, it boasts the widest diameter among all my Nikkor lens collections. So, if you prefer a more mobile and lightweight lens, this might not be the best choice for you. In that case, you might want to consider the 85mm f2 AI version, which is more compact. On the other end of the spectrum, there's the colossal 85mm f1.4 AI-S version, but that's a whole different story.

Lastly, here is my favourite photo I shot with this lens.

Goldfish Market, Hong Kong, 2023.


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