Nikon Prime Comparison 24/1.4G, 35/1.4G, 58/1.4G, 85/1.4G and 105/1.4E Wide Open
I was inspired to do this. Why I did it, I'm not entirely sure. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but then finding a reason why this was a good idea took a bit of mental hindsight acrobatics. I mean, I suppose I was just eager to see how the new Nikon 105mm f/1.4E stacked up against the other fast Nikon primes, but that doesn't really make sense, given the different focal lengths of all the lenses in this comparison.
Okay... I confess... it never occurred to me to make this comparison. I only thought about it, because I noticed that some of my site visitors have been searching for the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G on my website. I guess for some curious onlookers, the natural point of comparison for the new Nikon 105mm f/1.4E is the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G - which didn't quite make sense to me, given the different focal length. But then that got me thinking... if there are people interested in seeing a comparison of different focal lengths, why not go all the way, and compare all fast Nikon primes. If I'm going to have to make a comparison - I might as well go big and go long - if for no other reason than to make this more difficult for me!
So then I decided on the five lenses in this comparison - the 24mm f/1.4G, the 35mm f/1.4G, the 58mm f/1.4G, the 85mm f/1.4G and the new 105mm f/1.4E. And before you jump all over me, and point out the obvious omission - I am aware that I don't have a 50mm f/1.4G in this comparison. To be perfectly frank, I just didn't have one? Which was weird... But then I figured that five lenses would be enough.
Alright, I admit it, it's the first goof of this comparison. But this comparison wouldn't be me if not for the odd goof up.
For the testing methodology, I decided to photograph wide open from three framing position - further, middle, and closer - admittedly, not very detailed with regards to actual measured distance. Anyways, I decided to pick three framing position, because from my ongoing investigation on suboptimal-light wide-open comparison, I have come to appreciate the effect that focusing distance has on the aesthetics of background blur. It was the best way to see how each lens compared in rendering relative to each other.
Please note that I decided against comparing the lenses photographed at the same focusing distances between different focal lengths. I didn't think that comparison would offer much insight, other than how big or small the subject would look from a set distance at different focal lengths. At the same focusing distances, the subject will be different in scale on each different focal length, which would make comparison pointless. For a proper comparison, I needed sample images in which the subject was more-or-less comparable in scale between different focal lengths. After all, the objective of this comparison is to see how these lenses renders wide open, relative to each other.
See how mental hindsight acrobatics works... I think I just hurt my head bending too far backwards figuring out the purpose for why I did the comparison in the first place... ouch. It's like jamming a circle into a square.
So what did I find out...
FIRST SET - Shot further away (or rather, the environmental portrait)
For the first set of images, I started out with the 105mm f/1.4E, and proceeded downwards from longer to wider focal distance. Immediately on the first shots taken with the 85mm, I didn't know why I couldn't get focus. I did everything I could to improve my chances. I even shot on live view with the camera on a tripod. But the lead eye of the subject on the 85mm f/1.4 just didn't seem to be as sharp as the 105mm f/1.4E.
But then it got me thinking... maybe the new E lenses resolved details better at high resolutions? Somehow, my first reaction was disbelief. How could the new lens be this much sharper? I mean I could accept that the new 105mm f/1.4E resolved details better than the much older 105mm f/2D DC - given the significant generational difference between the two lenses. However accepting that the E lenses resolved details so noticeably better than the G lenses wasn't something I had expected. If that was the case, there was no point in trying to get the focus on the 85mm to look as crisp as the 105mm lens.
As for bokeh, background blur isn't exactly the first thing that anyone thinks of in an environmental portrait. Still, it wasn't bad, especially for the higher focal length lenses. It was enough to provide enough blur to isolate the subject.
SECOND SET - Shot midway (or rather, head and torso shot).
On this second set of images, I took a long hard look at the 58mm f/1.4G. To my eyes, the focus seemed especially soft. This was very disappointing. Then I thought that maybe the focus gets softer nearer the edge, since I was shooting wide open. However, the hem of the subject's dress appeared reasonably sharp. The camera was shot on a tripod, and in live view. And the subject was asked not to move.
So then I started to play with the focusing micro adjustment. Still, it got worse, in either direction of correction. So the lens was focusing properly. I even tried to focus manually. In the end, I gave up in trying to get the lead eye into the same tack focus as the 105mm f/1.4E.
As for bokeh, it's much nicer at this relative distance than the environmental portrait - which is no surprise. And again, the blur is smoother when the focal length is higher. Once more, the 105mm is the best of the bunch.
THIRD SET - Shot close up (or rather, the head and shoulder shot)
With this third set of images, it became absolutely clear that the 105mm f/1.4E resolved details significantly better than the 85mm f/1.4G (and all the other G lenses in this comparison). I had no doubt that all my sample images were in focus, given the close focusing distance. In fact, I don't even need to include a magnification crop of the subject's lead eye. It's already obvious in the images that I have included in this writeup. The mascara on the subject's eyelashes just pops out on the 105mm lens, while it appears somewhat feathered on the 85mm downward.
Overall, I am of the opinion that all five lenses rendered images rather nicely, despite the horrible light and ghastly yellowish interior. Mind you, the subject seemed to like the warm tone on her complexion, so I decided not to go cold in tweaking the white balance. All lenses were reasonably sharp, but then one lens was more equal in sharpness than the others, to paraphrase equality from Animal Farm. The 105mm f/1.4E is amazingly sharp at high resolution. This can only mean that Nikon will roll out a new line of E lenses for all their fast primes. Obviously, this comes as no real surprise, if you've been following my Leica comparisons.
As for the bokeh, it was as expected. The 105mm, 85mm and 58mm all rendered background blur smoothly at closer focusing distance. As for the 35mm and 24mm, I am of the opinion that the bokeh looks a little choppy, but all the same, reasonably appealing. And as expected, the further you move from the subject, the less smooth the bokeh will become.
So the take away from this comparison - the E lenses renders detail significantly better at higher resolution.
All images in this writeup are full crop. Images have been optimize in Lightroom - however only slightly.
Special thanks to Anna, my new besty! Expect to see more of her.