1.4 Prime Lens Portrait Shootout

by Alan Trammel

Nikon D780 + Nikon 105mm f/1.4E @ ISO 320, 1/2500, f/1.4 with gold reflector.

A portrait shoot with Astrid Kallsen was the perfect opportunity to put the new Nikon D780 through the paces and test three 1.4 prime lenses.


  • Nikon D780 DSLR
  • Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD
  • Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G
  • Nikon AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED
  • Bowens 32″ Reflector Disc Gold/Silver.

Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD

This lens is optical perfection.  The 35mm focal length for portrait photography is great when you want to include location context with your subject.   I love the way this lens renders skin tones and the bokeh it produces at f/1.4.  The bokeh is super creamy and well complemented by the colors the lens produces.  It provides great subject separation with a soft background that still has meaning.  Rarely does this lens leave f/1.4 when I use it and rarely does it miss focus.

If I am pressed to say anything negative about this lens it would be its size and weight.  I don’t mind this because I find these two characteristics to by synonymous with quality and durability.  In the end the SP (Super Performance) designation Tamron has given this lens is exactly that.  This lens is a super performer!

Nikon D780 +Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4Di @ ISO 320, 1/1600, f/1.4 with gold reflector.
Nikon D780 +Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4Di @ ISO 320, 1/1250, f/1.4 with gold reflector.

Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G

The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G has a lot of character and personality but can be difficult to use when compared to a classic 50mm focal length.  This lens has a longer minimum focusing distance than both the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G and the Tokina Opera 50mm f/1.4 FF lens.  This feature coupled with an 8mm longer focal length makes it hard to find the right focus range.

This is a specialty lens that produces images with artistic qualities.  The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is sharp at the point of focus when shot wide open.  The sharpness fades off towards the edges providing an extremely shallow depth of field, subject separation and bokeh that combine to produce a 3D look.  Nailing the point of focus is the key to success with this lens.   When you get it, the images stand out with a three dimensional dreamy look.

Nikon D780 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G@ ISO 320, 1/2000, f/1.4
Nikon D780 +Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G @ ISO 320, 1/160, f/4.5

Nikon AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED

This was my first outing with my newly acquired Nikon 105mm f/1.4E lens.  It is large and clunky with an 82mm filter size.  It creates an oddly weighted combination attached to my Nikon D780.  I can easily overlook that because this lens is another super performer!  I was most impressed at how sharp this lens is at f/1.4.  It grabs focus fast and hangs onto it producing tack-sharp images.

This lens creates dreamy images with a beautiful fall off that is different than my Nikon 85mm f/1.8.  The 105mm focal length really gives a true representation of facial structure with not too much compression or distortion.  It really renders skin well without over sharpening it.  The bokeh this lens produces is more toward the fairy-tale swirls and cat’s eye characteristics.  This lens definitely has the ability to lift your subject off the background. 

The Nikon 105mm f/1.4E is in the running for my top portrait lens!

Nikon D780 +Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED @ ISO 320, 1/1200, f/1.4
Nikon D780 +Nikon AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED @ ISO 320, 1/1600, f/1.8

Nikon D780 DSLR

I purchased the Nikon D780 for one reason only, Eye Auto Focus in Live View mode.  I am hesitant to make the jump to Nikon mirrorless cameras since I am an admitted F mount lens junkie, so this camera is a match made in heaven.   The fast responsive Live View mode was able to keep up with everything I threw at it.  I found the Eye Auto Focus to be superbly accurate grabbing the eye nearest to me and locking onto it.   Coming from my Nikon D750 operating the D780 in Live View mode is a completely transformed experience.

For this photo session I used Live View mode the entire time.  One battery lasted for 2 hours, around 1100 shots and it still had two bars left.  To say I am over-the-moon with this camera is an understatement.  It performed flawlessly with all 3 lenses and executed all tasks with speed and precision.  The Nikon D780 is the most well rounded DSLRs I have ever used. 

The Nikon D780 is the 2021 version of the Nikon D750.  It took everything I loved about the D750 and modernized it.  A huge shortcoming of the Nikon D750 for me was the top shutter speed of 1/4000s.   The Nikon D780 upgrade to 1/8000s is a huge improvement.    I was happy to see they kept the megapixels at 24.5.  I find this to be perfect for portrait photography.  While I love my Nikon D850 for landscape photography, 45.7 megapixels for portrait photography produces a file size that is way too cumbersome.

The Nikon D780 is my new go-to camera for portrait photography.

More images from the shoot.

Nikon D780 +Nikon AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED @ ISO 320, 1/320, f/1.4
Nikon D780 +Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED @ ISO 320, 1/1250, f/1.4
Nikon D780 +Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED @ ISO 320, 1/1250, f/1.4
Nikon D780 +Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED @ ISO 320, 1/160, f/1.4
Nikon D780 +Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED @ ISO 320, 1/1250, f/1.4
Nikon D780 +Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED @ ISO 320, 1/1600, f/2


Alan Trammel-Prints

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