Viltrox 85mm F1.8 II Review

Although Viltrox was a fairly unknown brand just a few years ago, they’ve recently put out some really high-quality and affordable glass for Sony’s full-frame lineup. One of these lenses is the Viltrox 85mm F1.8 II, a budget-friendly portrait lens.

Why You Can Trust Me

Chance (that’s me) has been practicing photography for 10 years and has been a paid professional for most of it. I bought my first Sony in 2018 so this website is the culmination of about 5 years of Sony experience (full site history). I rented this particular lens for about two weeks (read how I review/test gear).

To test whether or not this is a good lens (and how it compares to Sony’s 85mm), I rented it out for about two weeks. So, in this review, I’ll be sharing my impressions along with plenty of sample photos. Let’s dive in!

  • Excellent and consistent sharpness
  • Pleasant bokeh rendering
  • Very fast autofocus/EyeAF
  • Solid build quality
  • Lens hood feels flimsy/cheap
  • Lacks weather sealing
  • Struggles with non-human AF

Verdict: The Viltrox combines incredible bokeh with great center sharpness. A true portrait lens at a budget-friendly pricetag. Keep reading for my impressions or see what other’s have to say (affiliate link).

city skyline
Here’s a nice panorama stitch I took with the lens (it’s awesome for panos).

Size & Weight

Alrighty, to start off, let’s talk about size and weight. Now, the Viltrox is fairly average-sized when it comes to full-frame lenses, measuring about 3.7 inches (or 9.5cm).

This is pretty typical, but when I took it out of the box I was still a bit shocked. With the lens hood reversed, this thing looks HUGE. Rest assured, however, that it is (on paper at least) roughly the same size as any other 85mm F1.8.

Weight-wise, the lens comes in at about 17.1oz (484g). Definitely a bit on the chunky side, but you are getting a LOT of glass, so it’s no surprise (plus, the original Mark I version of this lens was still way heavier, so good job to Viltrox for slimming it down a bit).

Despite feeling like an absolute beast in the hand, when I threw the lens on my a7iii, I felt as if it balanced just about right. Plus, it (and the camera body) fit fairly comfortably in my camera sling.

me holding the viltrox 85mm f1.8
A rather goofy picture of me holding the Viltrox 85mm F1.8 (attached to my a7iii).

Build Quality

So it’s heavy and it’s huge, so it must be well built, right? Well yes, that is precisely the case. The Viltrox 85mm F1.8 offers a (nearly) all-metal build and is built with a LOT of glass. Seriously, looking into the front element is like staring into an endless, dark abyss of glass and metal (oops, was that too poetic?).

Besides the nearly all-metal body and copious amounts of glass, the lens offers two bog-standard caps. The front cap is a typical plastic pinch-style while the rear cap is just like any other rear cap (plastic that rotates and locks in).

My only beef with the build of this lens, if I’m being frank, is the lens hood. I’m not sure if I’m just stupid, but I had a tough time removing and reattaching the lens hood, whether that be for use or for storage (it’s reversible). I’m not sure why, but it felt like it just wouldn’t slide/click into place properly.

With that being said, the hood is still built well enough (though it is plastic) and it has saved the front element from occasional bumps and flaring.

Another small pain point is that the lens doesn’t offer any sort of weather sealing. Frankly. however, this is a budget-priced lens, so that shouldn’t be expected. If you’re looking for weather sealing with similar specs, consider the higher-priced Sony FE 85mm F1.8 (it offers a rubber gasket around the lens mount).

Still, though, I’ve used a LOT of non-sealed lenses and I have literally never had any issues. I’m not saying to take your setup out into a rainstorm, but all my non-sealed lenses (and bodies, for that matter) have never struggled with a light drizzle or snow. The unfortunate truth is that weather sealing adds both to the cost and size of a lens, both sacrifices I don’t think Viltrox wanted to make when designing low-cost glass.

Alright, so what do I think about the longevity of the lens? Is the Viltrox 85mm F1.8 built to last? Honestly, I think yes. Remember, you’re not paying the G-Master price, so you’re not getting absolutely Gucci-level of quality (is Gucci actually quality? I’m not a fashionista).

I have no doubt that this lens will continue to survive and thrive over the years, even if you throw it through some rough situations. Most modern lenses are built like absolute tanks, even if they may not appear to be at first glance.

Ergonomically, I found the lens to be comfortable to use. Yes, it’s fairly big, but like I said, it balances quite well on my FF body.

The focusing ring (more on that later) is rubberized and acts as a nice place to rest your hand or grip the lens (when trying to be stable). Not only that, but the lens flares out (starts smaller at the mount and gets bigger) which naturally acts as sort of grooved “handle” for comfort and control (hopefully that made sense).

The longest shoot I’ve done with this thing was a couple of hours and, although it is fairly heavy, I didn’t really suffer from much hand fatigue. Plus, it’s still compact enough to fit in most camera slings and compact bags.

Aesthetically, I must admit, the Viltrox could be considered by some to be a little “boring”. The barrel is clean and minimalistic, free of any sort of features such as physical buttons, distance scales, etc.

Personally, as a fan of minimalist design, I like it. The barrel is sleek black, which contrasts nicely with the plain white text. There’s really no visual “fluff” with this lens (besides a small fancy Viltrox logo in red/orange), it’s just functional.

Even the lens hood, though it does feel a little cheap, looks awesome. It makes the lens look way bigger and way more “professional”, in a sense (which is why I generally kept the hood off when shooting street photos…).

Image Quality

Next up, sharpness! Although you might be unsure about image quality when it comes to a “budget lens”, trust me, there’s nothing to fear! When shooting wide open at F1.8, the center of the frame is razor sharp but there is definitely some substantial softness near the corners both in terms of sharpness and contrast.

But you know what, that’s ok! If you’re shooting at F1.8, you’re likely shooting a subject, so the softness around the edges actually just adds to the subject emphasis.

white car in gravel parking lot
Shooting wide open shows a bit of corner softness but like… that’s totally fine.

Now, if you’re not shooting portraits or any other center-subject-focused photos, let’s talk about performance when stopped down.

Stopping down to, say, F4, is where the Viltrox’s sharpness really starts to shine. Centers are still razor sharp but so are the corners. Seriously, this thing looks GOOD. I’ve actually shot a lot of my photos at 5.6-8.0 as I like to take telephoto landscapes and then stitch them as panoramas (there are a few posted throughout this article).

Overall, quite an impressive performance when it comes to sharpness. Some people might complain about the soft corners at F1.8 but… it really isn’t a big deal in 99% of situations. Seriously, this lens puts up a strong fight against Sony’s 85mm.

Alright, so sharpness is spectacular, but how does the lens handle optical quirks and flaws such as flaring, vignette, CA, and distortion? (spoiler alert: pretty well)

First up: flaring. When shooting into direct sunlight, the lens does suffer from some minor ghosting along with a slight loss of contrast.

I tend to shoot a lot of backlit photos and, frankly, it was never bad enough to where I was bothered. The loss of contrast can be problematic, but the ghosting was usually minor enough to where I could edit it out or even use it artistically. Oh, and the MASSIVE lens hood does, in fact, do a great job at blocking flare.

car at sunset with lens flare
Pretty much the worst possible flaring I was able to capture.

Next up, the Viltrox does suffer from a bit of vignette, but it’s again nothing that can’t be worked around or fixed. It’s really only noticeable when shooting wide open and, once again, a bit of vignette can often be a welcome addition to many subject-focused photos (as it draws more attention to the center of the frame).

As for chromatic aberration, they’re entirely a non-issue. Sure, if you pixel peep to the absolute extreme, you can see some very minimal fringing around high-contrast areas, but it’s largely virtually unnoticeable (and easily fixed in post).

Distortion, as well, is not a problem whatsoever. Telephoto lenses typically don’t suffer from much distortion, and this one is no exception. For a lot of lenses that I test, I tend to put a couple of sample photos of uncorrected vs corrected distortion, but I don’t think that’s even necessary for the Viltrox.

Alright, this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for: what’s the bokeh like? My goodness, ladies and gentlemen, this thing is a bokehlicious beast! Subject isolation is incredible and the bokeh renders in such a lovely, beautiful way. The last time I saw bokeh this good, it was with my amazing APS-C Sigma 56mm.

Though, admittedly, the beauty of bokeh is entirely subjective, so I’ll drop a small sample gallery below so you can get an idea for yourself.

Here’s a bokeh gallery (F1.8, 5.6, F8, etc.). Swipe through ’em to see comparisons.

Autofocus

Alright, this is where we dig into the “dirty” parts of this lens. There’s actually a lot to talk about here.

Before we delve into the performance itself, I want to first mention a weird anomaly I observed with this lens. It seems to be entirely designed to photograph humans. Let me explain. Taking portraits of people is a breeze. EyeAF is (almost frighteningly) accurate and autofocus is stupidly fast and precise.

However, I also shoot a lot of architecture and cars. While the lens was certainly no slouch, I did notice that it didn’t lock focus as well on non-human subjects. Again, it wasn’t bad by any means, but I had a lot more hunting issues with non-humans versus humans.

So yeah, that’s a weird observation, and, upon researching more, it seems like other people have noticed this issue as well. It seems like Viltrox released a firmware update at some point that addresses this, but I’m not sure if my copy of the lens had it.

That being said, I still have very few complaints. The focus is still typically good enough for non-human subjects (buildings don’t move lol) and focus tracking for cars worked great. For portraiture, I think the only lens that could rival this would be an OEM Sony. Seriously, I mentioned it before but EyeAF was INSANE, even in tough lighting.

Manual Focus

Next up, let’s discuss manual focus. The lens, like most modern AF glass, is focus-by-wire so don’t expect an incredible manual focus experience that rivals a classic lens.

However, Viltrox did a great job at making the focusing ring feel decent. Although there are no hard stops, it’s well-dampened, huge, and easy to grip. It plays well with all of Sony’s excellent focus assists such as peaking and magnification. Overall, not a Voigtlander, of course, but still a joy to manually focus.

rollerbladers with towers in background
Manual focus actually feels great despite this being a low-budget AF lens.

Final Thoughts

So yeah, I like this lens a lot, but before I finish out my reviews, I always try to offer a few alternatives for your consideration.

My first suggested alternative would be the excellent Sony FE 85mm F1.8. With the Sony, you’ll get similar build quality, sharpness and autofocus. However, the Sony also offers partial weather sealing, a fully customizable lens button, and is also a bit smaller. If you think those features are worth paying extra for, the Sony is a fabulous alternative. Definitely check out my review on it.

Decided that you still want to save some money (aka not by GM glass) but want something a little better and pricier? Consider that Sigma 85mm F1.4. You can expect similar image quality, but you’ll get a bit more of a better build (seriously, new Sigma lenses are built sooooo well) along with a brighter max aperture. It’ll cost A LOT more, however. You get what you pay for, right?

white car in field
Seriously, if you’re looking for a beastly portrait lens at a low price, the Viltrox might just be the way to go.

Despite there being a wealth of options within the 85mm space, the Viltrox 85mm F1.8 offers a value that’s hard to compete with. The lens typically hovers around $400, and you get excellent image quality, gorgeous bokeh, and a nice build. If you’re looking for a great portrait lens for full-frame but aren’t looking to spend a bunch of money, this is the way to go.

If I’ve ranted and raved enough and convinced you to pick one up yourself, I’ll leave purchase links below. Thanks for reading!

Buy from Amazon <– affiliate link, which means I get a (very) small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for the support.


Additional Viltrox 85mm F1.8 Sample Photos

panorama stitch of downtown milwaukee
A nice high-detail pano stitch of downtown Milwaukee.
portrait of a cat
Animal EyeAF ain’t bad either.

Wow, thanks for scrolling this far and checking out the rest of the sample photos! If you’re looking to purchase, please consider clicking my link. I get a (very small) commission which allows me to write more of these genuine reviews! 🙂