Nikon 105mm and reportage wedding photography
Nikon 105mm f1.4. A new legend? I think so. I’ve only had it a few months, it was released at the end of August, for the eye watering price of £2049 (inc vat). It’s one big, heavy, very big, expensive, did I mention it’s big, lens.
But it is a belter of a lens.
Every so often Nikon release fantastic pieces of glass – this is one of their very best! But why? This isn’t a review as such. No charts, no scientific analysis – that’s beyond me. I tend to ignore such reviews anyhow, because it is how a lens performs, how it feels, for you as an individual photographer, that counts. Does it work for the way you photograph? Does it fit? I must admit, having pre-ordered this lens, I did read a review online that was rather lukewarm towards this lens. Comparing it to two cheaper lenses. Glad I stuck with my purchase, as this lens kept me shooting with Nikons this year – despite the temptation of the mirrorless. So why? Let’s go back a few years…
Nikon 105mm f1.8 AIS lens
For years, if asked, I would name this lens as my favourite lens, the Nikon 105mm f1.8 AIS lens. It dates from the early 1980s. It was/is a beauty though. I worked a summer to save up for a secondhand one, before my course in photojournalism at the London College of Printing. Days of shooting on film, no autofocus, etc but a smooth, sharp lens that I used on my course along with an old 24mm from the 1960s and a 50mm lens. I still used it when I worked at The Times newspaper, but made the mistake of selling it to an American photographer after I switched to Canon EOS. The copy I have now is good, but not as smooth as my old lens. It was for a long time the longest focal length lens I owned. Here’s a photo of an old print, of a womens’ rugby match I shot as a student, using this 105mm. (Lost the negatives long ago it seems)
It wasn’t until I was working at the newspaper that I shot with longer focal length lenses, out of necessity. But for portraits, for reportage, this fast 105mm lens was perfect. I have never been a massive fan of the 85mm focal length. I’ve owned both versions of the Canon f1.2 – nice, big, heavy but slow. Fine for portraits but not reportage for me. The Nikon 85mm F1.4 AFS is a great lens – fast, sharp, clear but still it’s 85mm. Not used it since getting this 105mm. That bit of extra reach works better for me.
But there was another lens, in the days that I shot with Canons, that took the title of ‘favourite’ – Canon’s 135mm f2.0 – a classic and a great focal length. For portraits, for isolating people in a crowd – fast and sharp. Since I switched back to shooting weddings on Nikons, in 2011, I’ve been crying out for Nikon to update their 135mm. They haven’t yet but they delivered the 105mm this year. If they can update their 135mm f2.0, like they have the 105mm – can stay at f2.0, just have the same qualities – I’ll be first in the queue!
(The Nikon 105mm f1.8 AIS, the Nikon 105 f2.0 DC and the new Nikon AF-S 105mm f1.4E Ed lens – a size comparision)
So why does a longer lens matter, when in my look back at 2015, a third of the slideshow images I ended up choosing, were with a 28mm? Different tools for different situations, different images. And the way I shoot. I have never been the ’35mm and a 85mm only’ sort of wedding photographer. I like more variety in the coverage of a wedding day. Wide, long. I’ve been known to shoot with very long lenses…killing any pure documentary credentials in the process I imagine? (Long lenses are frowned upon it seems?) But every lens has it’s place.
Images from two weddings (both funnily enough at one of my favourite wedding venues, Dewsall Court in Herefordshire) First, the monster Nikon 200mm f2.0 and second, the sublime, Nikon 300mm F4E PF ED VR. Isolating people in a crowd, using the compression of this perspective, separating people and objects from their backgrounds. Mixing the coverage up a bit, with a variety of focal lengths.
Now I don’t always do this. As I write this, the last wedding I shot was with just a 24, a 35, a 58 and the 105. The 200/2 is too big and heavy to carry all day anyway. Only used it twice this year. But like the 300mm, for a few shots during the drinks reception and during the wedding speeches, even portraits, they bring something else to the table. It’s not about standing far back and sniping but using these lenses close up, in amidst the crowd.
They are also two of the crispest Nikon lenses you can find. This is important.
The main thing that these two long lenses do have, is clarity. Even in very poor light. They are beautiful pieces of Nikon glass. The ‘getting on’ Nikon 135mm works well in good light (see the portraits below) but when the light is not so good, it struggles and shows it’s age. Be it in the church or in a dark reception venue. Nikon badly needed a top performer in this range. They went for the 105 first, let’s hope a revamped 135 follows soon?
Sharp and clear (and fast)
That’s what I want from a lens. That’s what this new 105mm delivers. Get this!? It’s sharp at f1.4!!! Really, it really is! The first two weddings I shot with it were largely inside – dark and very wet outside – with one drinks reception in the dark cellar bar of an Oxford University college. Didn’t faze this lens one bit. (I think I did more chimping than usual – just admiring the sharpness at f1.4). It brings with it a clarity not unlike another lens of this length, that I’ve used at weddings. The Zeiss 100mm f2.0 ZF.2 (like the AIS lens, just manual focus) – here are some wedding shots with this beautiful piece of Zeiss glass.
But the new Nikon 105mm has the whole package. Fast, sharp, clear, slick, if heavy and expensive (about the only time being vat registered is useful as a wedding photographer!). It’s not perfect, it’s big and heavy – the AIS size would have been better – but it’s a keeper. My back may not like it, it would definitely prefer a mirrorless system, but hopefully my clients will. It’s another advance in that goal of shooting in low light but still getting interesting images.
So here are few wedding images that I’ve taken with the Nikon 105mm over the last few weeks…
Now then Nikon. About that new 135mm?? 😉