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Nikon 105mm f/1.4 Review by a Working London Photographer

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I have already seen a few posts about the new addition to the Nikon prime lineup, the Nikon 105mm f/1.4, but don’t worry, this isn’t just another review with lots of graphs and pictures of brick walls. Just a few thoughts on my first impressions on the new Nikon 105mm f/1.4 from a working event photographer in London.

I always make time to test new lenses or other gear that I’m going to use on paid jobs. So when my postman knocked on my front door with my new Nikon 105mm f/1.4, I was quick to make time to go out and get started testing my new piece of kit!

I headed into central London with just my Nikon D750 and the new lens and a vague idea for a short and quick project: portraits of the city musicians that busk in central London.

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Street Portraits with the 105mm f/1.4

The majority of my street photography is with wide angle lens, either a 35mm or 28mm, so it was a nice challenge (and change) to shoot with something a bit longer.

The 105mm has a long focal length so if you are used to using a 85mm on a weekly basis you might find yourself taking a few steps back every time you frame up. The nice thing about this long prime is that its makes you work a bit harder to get an interesting composition. My street musicians project was a great test and by the end of the morning I got a few portraits that I was happy with.

The lens was great to use with the main highlights being that it focuses super fast and doesn’t even miss a beat even under the non-existent light conditions in tube tunnels. This new lens is sharp—as sharp as one of my kitchen knives.

The compression from the lens’ focal length works brilliantly for doing portraits as well. One of the main questions that all my photography friends have on the tip of their tongues: “is it bokehlicious?” And the simple answer is: “Yes!”

With London being a busy place (as you would expect) it is extremely hard to keep the background uncluttered, so being able to open up to f/1.4 and use the compression of the long focal length at the same time is a godsend! Once you have used the back button to get your chosen point of focus, everything in the background goes very creamy and soft and the subject just pops out from the background.

Here are a few examples of street portraits that I liked:

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Event Photography with the Nikon 105mm f/1.4

The type of event photography I specialize in, and get commissioned to photograph, is non-intrusive—my clients hire me to record/document the event without interrupting the flow with lots of direct flash.

I mostly rely on pushing my two cameras and my different lenses so I don’t have to resort to using bursts of flash when my clients are making their speech, or when they are networking with their guests. Every week is different, so I have to shoot a mixture of primes/zooms lenses to cater to each new job and make sure that I am ready for any situation and not get caught short.

One type of lens that I always reach for at certain points of the shoot is a long range prime, which works hand-in-hand with my style of event work. Over the last couple of years my most used lens is the Nikon 85mm f/1.8, which I have used on numerous occasions for both event and portrait work; however, it was starting to show its age from regular use and occasionally its focal reach wasn’t quite long enough, forcing me to resort to my trusty (but heavy) 70-200mm.

When the new Nikon 105mm f/1.4 lens appeared on my horizon, I knew straight away that it would be a perfect lens to have in my kit bag for every event shoot.

This lens works well under all sort of lighting situations—from poorly lit conference platforms to candlelight dinners parties—and its longer focal length works in the majority of situations that I normally photograph in. I can see myself (depending on the brief) leaving my 70-200mm at the office and just using the 105mm in the future, which will hopefully make my camera bag a bit lighter!

Here are some examples of the lens in action on a few recent shoots:

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What’s it like to shoot with the new 105mm?

In terms of performance, I can say with confidence that this lens is excellent now that I’ve put it through its paces on a number of different jobs. The AF in particular is super fast on both my D750 and my trusty workhorse, the D4.

One thing to point out is that, if you are using a smaller body camera like the D750, the weight of the lens can feel a bit out of balance when shooting for long periods of time. When paired with the Nikon D4 there are no problems with the balance and feels very easy to use.

One mistake I made when first using the new lens was putting the camera over my neck. After a few hours of shooting, my neck was extremely sore due to the weight; I would highly recommend using a shoulder strap or getting yourself a battery grip to make the weight distribution more even…

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Time and time again I was impressed with the colour of the final photographs, especially during the edit in Lightroom when I didn’t have to worry too much about adjusting the colour balance (a big time saver). When I have nailed the focus, the image looks super sharp and jumps off the screen.

I use my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 a lot, but I know that it makes me lazy when I am shooting because I tend to stay in one position and just zoom and shoot. Shooting with a long range prime makes it more fun and the final results, in my eyes, are a lot punchier. I have a feeling my 70-200mm will be collecting dust in my camera bag over the winter months.

The Nikon 85mm f/1.8 feels a bit like a toy compared to the 105mm f/1.4 when it comes to size and weight. It feels very odd putting the 85mm on after using the 105mm for a period of time. You might find yourself checking that you have a lens on your camera body! Also, the AF button from AF to Manual is firm and won’t be easy to knock out of place when you are shooting.

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So… would I recommend buying this lens? I would say definitely yes, assuming your bank balance isn’t in the red and you need a solid lens for both your portrait work and low-light event photography.

It’s is a great tool that will make your images pop. Simple as that.


About the author: James Gifford-Mead is a London-based Professional Corporate and Event Photographer. You can find more of his work on his website or by following him on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. This post was also published here.

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