Nikon’s second prime lens for their Z system with a bright f1.2 focal ratio has a lot going for it: It collects over one stop more light than their Z 85mm f1.8 S, has an excellent Bokeh, a fast autofocus drive and very good optics with astonishingly little light fall-off and very little color aberrations. And it’s hardened well against the elements, has an extra L-Fn function button, and a dedicated focus ring in addition to the usual multi-function ring.
The down-sides of this lens? Mount the lens hood (as you should) and the lens is very large and at over 1.1kg / 2.6lb pretty heavy. Optically I wish that flare, ghosting, and especially veiling glare were better controlled. And I was quite surprised to see the DX-corner deliver sharper results than the center: I would have preferred it the other way around. Other small(er) issues include the autofocus drive which can clearly be heard, visible focus breathing, and the missing fluorine coating against moist and dust. And did I mention that the lens pouch is a bit of a disappointment – especially considering the not insubstantial asking price for the lens of 3349 EUR / 2797 USD / 2999 GBP?
Let’s have a closer look at how the Z 85mm f1.2 S compares to some alternatives.
Compared to Nikon Z 85mm f1.8 S
The Nikon Z 85mm f1.8 S is a very good lens: its optical performance is right up there with the best. And its size and weight makes it a much better match for the compact Z-series bodies than the big and heavy Z 85mm f1.2 S. The Z 85mm f1.8 S may miss out on the dedicated focus ring or the AF-Lock button of its bigger sibling but it is also fully weather-sealed and only costs a quarter. And finally the Z 85mm f1.8 S produces quite pleasing Bokeh that’s almost indistinguishable from the Z 85mm f1.2 S at identical apertures. This makes the Z 85mm f1.8 S a great alternative if you are on a tighter budget or don’t absolutely need a focal ratio of f1.2.
For more details see my Nikon Z 85mm f1.8 S review where it came Highly Recommended.
Compared to Zhongyi Mitakon 85mm f1.2
The Mitakon 85mm f1.2 is the cheapest 85mm lens with a focal ratio of f1.2. It is available in Z-mount so there’s no need to use an FTZ adapter. But it is manual focus and manual aperture only and has no electrical contacts to communicate EXIF data with the camera. Manual focus is easy on a modern mirrorless camera – but only on static subjects: With depth of field around 1cm with upper body shots you better make sure that you or your subject does not move – or breath. Optically the Mitakon is pretty soft until you stop down to at least f1.8 with a DX corner which stays mushy until f2.8. Unfortunately the lens does not deliver the creamy Bokeh that one would expect from a lens which is not optimized for maximum sharpness. And it’s also very susceptible to flare and glare against strong back light. This makes the Mitakon a good alternative only if you’re on a very tight budget, absolutely need a focal ratio of f1.2, and can cope with the restrictions of manual focus. Otherwise I’d rather recommend getting the Nikon Z 85mm f1.8 S or the Viltrox AF 85mm f1.8 II.
For more details watch this space for my upcoming Mitakon 85mm f1.2 review.
Compared to Nikon AF-S 85mm f1.4G
The Nikon AF-S 85mm f1.4G from 2010 is a good lens but as the comparisons in this review show it is not up to the performance of more modern lenses. It’s sharp but suffers from strong longitudinal CAs and although it has an f1.4 focal ratio, Bokeh is not the most pleasing. Its most appealing features are the relatively small size and low weight. If you already have this lens in your collection, you can continue using it via FTZ adapter but I would not recommend buying it for a Nikon Z body.
For more details see my Nikon AF-S 85mm f1.4G review.
Compared to Sigma Art 85mm f1.4 HSM
When I tested the Sigma Art 85mm f1.4 HSM in 2017 I was impressed with its Bokeh and sharpness was only topped by the Zeiss Otus. The lens is astonishingly resilient against strong contra-light but has more longitudinal CAs than the Z-Nikkor. Interestingly the Sigma is even longer and heavier than the Z 85mm f1.2 S – when mounted on the FTZ adapter. As the current price of the Sigma is around 1100 EUR / 1200 USD / 930 GBP it is a good alternative for those with a limited budget looking for a large aperture 85mm lens with a Bokeh that is only a little behind the Z-Nikkor. Just make sure AF accuracy and repeatability (via FTZ adapter) of your copy is OK as I had some problems during my test.
For more details see my Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art review where it came Highly Recommended.
Compared to Nikon Z 58mm f0.95 S Noct
The Nikon Z 58mm f0.95 S Noct is an extraordinary lens: It combines an extra bright f0.95 focal ratio with excellent optical performance, surpassing the Z 85mm f1.2 S in center sharpness and delivering a Bokeh which is almost up there with the Z 85mm f1.2 S. But it’s manual focus only, weighs 2 kg, and has an eye-watering price-tag of over 8000 EUR/USD/GBP. And with its 32% shorter focal length it is better suited for environmental portraits (and other photographic work) than upper body shots where you need to get too close to your model. For the day to day work of a professional wedding, fashion, or portrait photographer the Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S certainly is the better choice.
For more details see my Nikon Z 58mm f0.95 S Noct review where it came Highly Recommended.
Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S final verdict
The Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S is an outstanding lens: It delivers the smoothest Bokeh of any lens up to 135mm focal length which I’ve tested so far. And its extra bright focal ratio of f1.2 allows the lens to collect more than one stop of light over the Z 85mm f1.8 S with astonishingly little light fall-off in the corners. Unfortunately this also makes the lens very large, pretty heavy, and quite expensive. The Z 85mm f1.2 S has a very reliable and fast autofocus, is hardened well against the elements, and has an extra L-Fn function button plus dedicated focus ring. Optically the lens is very sharp even at f1.2 – surprisingly not at the center where you need to stop down to f1.8 to achieve very good acuity. But all-in-all the Nikon Z 85mm f1.2 S clearly earns a Highly Recommended – its superior Bokeh alone would justify this verdict.
- Excellent Bokeh.
- Very good resolution and contrast with a bit of softness in the center at f1.2.
- Marginal color aberrations and little coma.
- Very little light fall-off for an f1.2 lens.
- Minimal distortions (through lens profile).
- Extensive weather sealing.
- Dedicated focus ring plus L-Fn function button.
- Large and heavy lens.
- Very expensive.
- Flare, glare, and ghosting could be better controlled.
- Visible focus breathing.
- No fluorine coating against moist and dust.
- Audible focus noise.
- Flimsy lens pouch.