Sep 24 2007

Nikon 50 1.4 AF-D review

The Nikon 50/1.4 is practically the only choice within “normal” budgets to get an 1.4 Nikon AF lens. Since the Nikon 28/1.4 AF-D was discontinued, the only other AF choice is the Nikon 85/1.4, and in spring 2010 just appeared the new 24/1.4.

Nikon 50/1.4 AF-D lateral view

Nikon 50/1.4 AF-D

Apart from Nikon lenses, there are the Sigma 30/1.4 (a DX lens), the Nikon 35/1.4 (manual focus) and Zeiss ZF 50/1.4 and 85/1.4, both manual focus.

In this “digital era” and super zoom cameras abundance, most digital camera users are more interested in how many “X” has the zoom and less in other lens’ qualities.

So the fixed focal length lenses became specialty and niche tools: fast lenses for existing light photography, macro, exotic telephotos.

A perfect example is the Nikon 50/1.4, a very fast lens with interesting low light capabilities.

You can see the Nikon 50/1.4 at B&H.

Nikon 50 1.4 review – Specifications:

The long name of this Nikon lens is: AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D

Nikon 50/1.4 wide open at 1.4

Nikon 50/1.4 wide open at 1.4

Focal Length: 50mm
Maximum Aperture: f/1.4
Construction: 7 elements in 6 groups
Minimum Focus Distance: about 1.5 feet, 0.45m
Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.15
Number of Diaphragm Blades: 7 blades
Picture Angle: 46° (35mm format), 31° 30′ (Nikon DX format)
Aperture: 1.4-16
Filter Size: 52mm
Dimensions: 2.5 x 1.5 in., 64.5 x 42.5mm
Weight: about 230g

It comes with a 52mm lens cap and a (white plastic) rear cap. The optional hood is the HR-2 , but any 52mm “normal” rubber hood will do. Also, if the need arise, the 52mm filters are quite affordable.

This lens was designed as a normal high speed lens for the film cameras so on the DX cameras (Nikon and Fuji DSLRs), it will become a short portrait lens, similar with a 75mm lens on a full frame (FX) camera.

Nikon 50 1.4 review – Appearance:

Nikon 50/1.4 with lens hood

Nikon 50/1.4 with a generic rubber lens hood

The Nikon 50 1.4 exterior is plastic but the bayonet is metal. The lens is made in China and the build quality adequate, similar to other AF prime lenses: 35/2, 20/2.8, 24/2.8.

Being a normal lens, it doesn’t need, nor feature internal focus or CRC. This is a good thing because the lenses inside do not move relative to each other, ensuring good reliability over the lens’ life.

The mount is metal, the AF is the “screw type” and the lens has an aperture ring so it is compatible with all past Nikon cameras, only no AF on Nikon D40(x).

It has an IR compensation mark and a simplified DOF scale, only for F11 and F16.

Nikon 50 1.4 review – In use:

The lens is small and light so you will barely notice it on the camera and there is no “intimidation factor”, even with a lens hood fitted. On big cameras or with a grip on the camera it looks pretty small, as you can see in the images.

Due to the large aperture, the image in the viewfinder is very bright, which is very useful when shooting in dark environments.

The AF is fast and accurate, but if you want you can use manual focus with some confidence, due to the bright image in the viewfinder and the reduced depth of field.

Beware of the modern cameras’ screens, they were not designed for manual focus and the thin DOF at large apertures may put some problems.

Its main attraction is the speed, if you compare it with the DX “kit lens” Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, the 1.4 lens allows 16 times more light to pass through the sensor since there are 4 F-stops between 1.4 and 5.6

This means you can shoot with exposure times 16 times shorter, extremely important when freezing movement in available light is required.

Also, you can shoot handheld in quite low light, in normal lighted rooms at night you will have about 1/60s at F1.4 or 1/4s at F 5.6.

If at 1/60s you still have the chance to get sharp portraits, at 1/4s you can not shoot moving subjects at all.

The fast aperture will also help when very thin DOF is required, allowing for better subject separation from the background.

Nikon 50 1.4 review – Performance:

Nikon 50/1.4 at F5.6

Nikon 50/1.4 at F5.6 you can see the "pretty" aperture shape

At F1.4 Nikon 50/1.4 gives good sharpness, especially in the center of the frame, but the contrast is quite low.

This can be a good thing under harsh lighting, as in shows and other stage lights and in a lot of available light situations.

From F2.0 the contrast is high and the sharpness is outstanding.

To avoid disappointments, do not forget that at open apertures the DOF is extremely thin so in many cases where you may suspect low sharpness there is a case of (slightly) missed focus.

For example, if the subject is at 2 meters, the DOF at F1.4 is about 7.5cm (3″) and at F2.0 is about 10cm (4″) so the focusing must be spot on.

To maintain the contrast a lens hood is required especially because the front lens is quite exposed and the lens may be prone to flare.

The Nikon 50 1.4 is very useful for portraits taken in the available light, since it is sharp enough for portraits from 1.4 in the center, and with the portraits the corners are not important at all.

Also, the thin depth of field helps with the impression of sharpness, since the main subject will look much sharper on a blurred background.

The Nikon 50 1.4 bokeh is not the greatest, the lens have 7 aperture blades but unfortunately they are pretty straight so the light sources in the background, if any, will look like polygons at some apertures, especially around F4-F5.6.

The distortion is low but visible in critical applications but it can be easily corrected with PS, Panorama Tools, or even easier with PTLens from Thomas Niemann.

Lens kits:

Nikon 50/1.4 on a Fuji S5 Pro, same size as a Nikon D200

Nikon 50/1.4 on a Fuji S5 Pro - you can see the coating's color

The Nikon 50/1.4 is an excellent low light addition to any zoom outfit, be it the versatile but not very fast zoom as the Nikon 18-70/3.5-4.5, but even to a Nikon 17-55/2.8.

It can also fulfill the gap between a (ultra) wide zoom and a telephoto zoom lens, or in a prime lenses setup:

Nikon 50/1.4 + Nikon 18-70/3.5-4.5 or Nikon 15-55/2.8, Tamron 17-50/2.8 – versatile solution for social events

Nikon 50/1.4 + Tokina 12-24/4 + Nikon 80-200/2.8 – complete kit for demanding assignments, less versatility for press photography.

Nikon 50/1.4 + Nikon 20/2.8 + Nikon 85/1.4 or Tokina 100/2.8 macro – small but comprehensive prime lenses kit. You may add a Nikon 180/2.8 to cover the need for more focal length in a prime lenses setup.

Nikon 50 1.4 review – Conclusion:

Nikon 50/1.4 mounted on a Fuji S5 Pro with grip

Nikon 50/1.4 on a Fuji S5 Pro with Nikon MB-D200 grip - see how small the lens looks

I find the Nikon 50 1.4 lens a very high quality lens, especially considering the very fast F1.4 aperture.

If you are addicted to zoom lenses, a prime lens may look limiting to you, but this one has a lot of advantages:

Price

For a 1.4 lens this lens is extremely affordable. It is less than a decent quality zoom and the only more affordable option is the Nikon 50/1.8.

Image quality

This lens is sharp from 1.4 and extremely sharp when closed up a bit. Some say the Nikon 50/1.8 is sharper at middle apertures, but the whole point in getting a 50mm prime is to shoot at wide apertures. If you are using consumer grade zooms, the Nikon 50 1.4 will show you what a sharp lens means.

Large aperture

Even it is not at its best at 1.4, from 2.0 you will get very good results. And if you are in a situation when getting the shot is more important than absolute sharpness, the Nikon 50 1.4 will get the image you can’t take even at 2.8 with a pro zoom.

Small and light

Compared to any zoom, this lens is really small and light.

Buying the Nikon 50/1.4 AF-D

You can get the Nikon 50/1.4 at B&H, here.


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