A Look at the Best 85mm Lenses

What happens when seven different 85mm lenses are pitted against each other in a controlled test? I guarantee the results will shock you and make you reevaluate your spending habits on lenses.

In this 9-minute video, Matt Granger compares a wide variety of 85mm lenses, including the likes of the $100 Opteka, the $4,500 Zeiss Otus, and the $1,200 Sigma Art Lens

Granger conducts his test by taking the exact same shot with all seven lenses in two different settings. In the first, it's a portrait-style shot in a studio with each lens set at an aperture of f/4. He then puts the lenses through their paces with another portrait shoot outside, with the lenses set at their widest respective apertures, so he can show you the bokeh effect each lens can produce. It makes sense that he included portrait-style shots, because that is what the 85mm lenses are most renowned for.

When he puts the image results up on screen for you to look at, they are in random order, meaning he doesn't let you in on the relationship between lens and picture. However, he does keep the results in the same order for both shots, which certainly helps with consistency and maintaining your interest.

His methodology is as fair as one could hope for in this type of review, and while the shots and compositions aren't particularly great, I don't think that's the point. It's more to compare the results of each lens in a controlled environment, which is how all scientific testing must be carried out for the most reliable results. 

As I was watching the video, I had a pen and paper and made some quick notes about which results I liked and which were terrible (to my eye). When Granger revealed the order of the pictures (and lenses) I must admit I was quite stunned. Perhaps it was a deliberate ploy of his to reveal the price of each lens at the start of the video, but the results, in my eyes at least, don't come anywhere close to corresponding with the price of each lens.

I think you'll be shocked by the results too. However, as is always the case, you're not just taking price and results into consideration. There're also size and weight to evaluate as well. What did you think of the results and most importantly, did they make you rethink the price tag certain lenses come with?

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13 Comments

michaeljin's picture

The thing that shocked me most was how crappy the photos from the Lensbaby looked. I know that it's meant to be a "soft focus" lens, but it looked like someone just smeared petroleum jelly all over the lens... You expect SOMETHING to look close to in-focus. Along with the aperture ring issue, I'm wondering if it's just a defective lens altogether.

Can any owners of the Velvet 85mm chime in here?

Simon Patterson's picture

I generally look at these kinds of comparisons on my phone, and think "every option is fine". But even I, on my phone, could pick out the crappy picture from the lens baby every time.

I had one for awhile. And at wider apertures only very center Of the frame is in focus at all and I’d say your description is pretty much bang on. It’s a smudgey mess. As you stop down the effect lessens until eventually the frame becomes usable and can make an interesting image. But with his copy stuck at 2.8, the lens is a mess at those apertures. You might make something interesting with it if you take what it’s Doing into account, but framing up a standard portrait like this at the wider apertures is going to produce just gross blurry images. it’s kind Of weird to even include a lens like that in a comparison like this. The lens isn’t total garbage but isn’t a versatile all-a-rounder. It’s a one trick pony. I found the wider aperture settings to be mostly unusable. Stopped down some It can take some interesting shots, but I sold mine after a few months because it just didn’t get used much.

user-156929's picture

It went too quickly, in the video, to keep track and I wasn't interested enough to download the files. But that's okay...I'm happy with my Nikkor. :-)

michaeljin's picture

You mean the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AIS, right?

user-156929's picture

No. I'm too old and my vision too poor to manually focus.

Matt is about the only Youtuber that is not creepy when working with female models. His videos are fun to watch for this reason, among others of course. Unlike some other fedora wering guys who casually call models 'honey', or the bearded ones who like to show off their wife's boobs.

user-156929's picture

I don't know. In some of his earlier videos, he came off as a little creepy. To me, anyway.

I haven't seen the old ones.....

user-156929's picture

Well, I haven't seen the videos you referenced. I'm sure we're both better off. :-)

Michael, hoping for a link to the bearded 'tog and images of his wife!
Less seriously though, I just wanted to say that I shot 27 portraits of EU nationals this summer (as part of an anti-Brexit exhibition) all with 85mm primes on a D800 or 50mm primes on a D7200. Only one cost more than a hundred pounds. They included old Nikkor AI-s f/1.8 and f/2, the Opteka featured here, even a Helios f/2 lens and, at £200, a Samyang f/1.4. Not only did they all resolve faces beautifully, sometimes it was too much. Just like Matt's samples, there was often too much detail of the beautiful model's pores and pimples. I really liked the Opteka and mine only cost sixty quid on ebay!

Luke Adams's picture

Well, picked #5 (Otus) as my favorite, and #4 (Opteka) as the least. So guess I'm screwed and I just have expensive tastes :(

I dunno if it's a mistake, but the wide open photos from sigma and nikkor are the same photo. I was curious to see how the sigma fared vs the otus, but that looks like it's the nikkor shot with slightly different colors