Unbelievably, Nikon never produced an 85mm f/1.2 prime lens for its F-mount range of DSLRs and 35mm SLRs. As such, the new Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.2 S is a welcome first to the Nikon family - and proof once again that the large Z-mount is allowing it to produce lenses it couldn't produce before.
Canon, of course, had an EF 85mm f/1.2L USM way back in 1989 - and followed it up with the second-generation EF 85mm f/1.2L USM in 2006. More recently Canon's mirrorless RF 85mm f/1.2L USM (opens in new tab) for its full-frame mirrorless cameras was launched in 2019. So Nikon's new milestone lens is not a miracle of technology, but a very welcome addition nonetheless on the Z-mount roadmap (opens in new tab).
An 85mm f/ 1.2 offers a super-wide maximum aperture which is brilliant at throwing the background out of focus - and getting the kind of bokeh that so many professional portrait photographers adore.
Mount: Nikon Z
Full frame: Yes
Image stabilization: No
Lens construction: 15 elements in 10 groups
Angle of view: 28°30’ (on full frame cameras)
Diaphragm blades: 11
Weather sealing: Yes
Minimum aperture: f/16
Minimum focusing distance: 0.85m / 33.4in
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.11x
Filter size: 82mm
Dimensions: 102.5 x 141.5 mm
Weight: 1160g / 41oz
Features and handling
The big aperture on this short-telephoto lens, however, means that it need to be manufacutured with lots of glass. The Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.2 S uses 15 optical elements in its construction, and has a wide-eyed 82mm filter thread at the front. This is, as other 85mm f/1.2s before it, a big, big lens for its focal length. The Nikon beast weighs in at 1160g.
Despite this, it is easy enough to handle - looking and feeling perfectly at ease when we managed to get a brief hands-on with the lens using a Nikon Z6 II (opens in new tab).
Nikon is at pains to say you can use this new portrait lens on its DX-format mirrorless cameras - such as the Nikon Z fc (opens in new tab) and the Z30 (opens in new tab) - giving an equivalent focal length of 127.5mm. But this is not something we would particularly recommend.
The lens has a wide manual focusing ring, that is designed to give you precision control over your focus point. With depth of field being so, so limited when using this lens for head-and-shoulder shots at f/1.2 this ability to fine-tune is more than necessary if you are the sort of person that doesn't like to completely trust Eye AF.
There are two further controls provided on the Z 85mm f/1.2. There is a second 'control' ring - that can be set-up, say, to give you stepless aperture control when shooting video. Or that can be used to give easy access to EV compensation, or ISO.
There is also a custom function button that can used simply to lock the autofocus, or can be set up to engage image playback or subject tracking.
We were really impressed with this lens based on our short trial with it at a Nikon event in London. The 85mm f/1.2 prime was in fact easier to handle with a suitable full-frame camera than we had imagined.
This is an expensive lens - but it is actually priced reasonably when compared to previous 85mm f/1.2 lenses we have seen from Canon. Moreover, if you need this lens, you will appreciate its value. For everyone else, there is the 'budget' option of the Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S which is arguably one of the best-value lenses for the Z mount, and still a great step for portraits over a zoom.
From our early results, the images look good - and give that magic mix of great definition in the in-focus area, and beautiful bokeh blur in the out-of-focus areas. We hope to be able to bring you our usual full lab test results, and a more extensive field report, very soon.