A compact, high-performance, large-aperture, single-focal-length lens for professional and advanced amateur photographers.Announced just before Photokina 2008, Nikon's AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens is the latest upgrade to a long series of classic primes and the first new 50mm lens from the company in more than 30 years. As an AF-S lens it is compatible with even entry-level models, such as the D40, D40x and D60 because it supports full autofocusing without requiring a drive motor in the camera body. But it can't be used on old manual focus film camera bodies. . . [more]
The compact size of this lens and its large maximum aperture make it ideal for travel, event and environmental photography and it also makes a great general-purpose lens when high-quality images are required. It is also ideally suited to low-light photography - particularly at night - and wide apertures provide great depth-of-field control for portraiture.
While not quite built to professional standards, the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G is nevertheless good for its class, despite carrying a 'Made in China' label. The outer barrel is of high-quality polycarbonate, which provides strength with light weight. However, the lens hood is clearly plastic and the bayonet mount can be tricky to fit and remove at times. In line with all G-series lenses, no manual aperture ring is provided.
The focusing ring, which is approximately 15 mm wide, is located roughly 8 mm back from the ring for the lens hood. Behind it on the lens barrel is a distance scale in metres and feet, with distance settings for 0.45, 0.5, 0.6, 0.7 and 1 metres plus infinity. Left of this scale is a slider with M/A and M settings for swapping between manual (M) focusing and autofocus - and you can fine-tune focus in M/A mode by simply touching the focus ring.
The relatively simple optical construction is typical of standard prime lenses, with eight elements in seven groups. (Its predecessor had only seven elements.) Despite claiming a 'new optical design', no use appears to have been of Aspherical or ED elements and Nikon's Nano Crystal Coat is not in evidence. An ultra-compact, ring-type Silent Wave Motor (SWM) provides fast, accurate and near-silent autofocusing.
The lens diagram for the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G showing its simple, almost symmetrical construction. (Source: Nikon.)
Although all lens groups move during focusing, the front element doesn't rotate and the barrel remains the same length, allowing use of angle-critical attachments (polarisers and graduates). This feature is also advantageous when the camera is used with Nikon's SB-R200 Wireless Remote Speedlites or for shooting close-ups, although with a minimum focus of 45 cm, this lens is far from ideal for close-up work.
A nine-bladed iris diaphragm closes to a rounded diaphragm opening that produces natural-looking out-of-focus elements. Supplied with the lens is a clip-on cylindrical hood, a flexible CL-1013 lens pouch, 58mm snap-on front lens cap and end cap.
With a diameter of 73.5 mm and length of 54 mm, the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G is slightly larger and heavier than its immediate predecessor. But ergonomics are generally good. The filter thread is also slightly larger (58mm instead of 52mm) and some weatherproof sealing has been added to please outdoor photographers.
The mounting plate is made from chromed metal and was easy to fit on the D3X body, which we used for our tests (the lens looked very small by comparison with this large body). Focusing has a plastic-on-plastic sound and feel.
The focusing ring can be moved through more than 180 degrees as you go from the closest focus to infinity in manual focus mode. However, during autofocusing, only the inner barrel moves. It can take almost a second for the drive motor to cover this distance in low light levels. Shorter distances place less demand on the system and focusing is, consequently, much faster, particularly in bright conditions.
Despite lacking built-in image stabilisation, we were able to use shutter speeds as slow as 1/10 second in the course of our tests, thanks to the very solid platform provided by the D3X body.
Resolution peaked at f/5.6 in our Imatest tests, which also showed centre and edge resolution to be very close throughout the test lens's aperture range. Overall resolution was best from f/2.8 to f/13 and lowest at the widest apertures. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.
Subjective assessment of test shots showed contrast to be slightly lower in the corners of the frame at f/1.4 and f/2. We suspected this may be due to sagittal coma flare, which produces smearing in bright areas near the corners of images. So we conducted further tests. Nikon claims the new optical system in this lens corrects this aberration and our tests showed the problem to be barely detectable, as shown in the images below.
The full test frame, shot at f/1.4 with bright subjects in each corner.
A 100% magnification of the ball in the lower right corner shows little in the way of smearing or coloured fringing.
Edge and corner softening were barely visible at f/2.8 and smaller apertures. However, diffraction produced marginal overall softening at f/16. Flare and ghosting were minimal with most backlit subjects - as long as the sun wasn't included in the shot. When it was, we observed some veiling flare - although not as much as we expected and it was relatively easy to counteract with editing.
Vignetting was evident at f/1.4 but gone by f/2.8. This shouldn't be an issue with DX -format cameras due to the smaller image sensor. The image below shows our test JPEG shot at f/1.4 - with no post-capture processing.
Slight barrel distortion was evident with the test lens - but it could be easily corrected with editing software. A sample shot is reproduced below.
While not being spectacularly smooth and luminous, the bokeh produced by this lens is more attractive than from lenses with multiple aspherical elements and foreground blurring is rather nice. The nine-bladed diaphragm produces circular out-of-focus blurring at all aperture settings, unlike its predecessor which had seven aperture blades and produces more angular septagonal blur circles.
Buy this lens if:
- You need a fast, standard prime lens and want excellent image quality plus value for money.
- You want a small, lightweight, well-built lens for general photography.
Don't buy this lens if:
- You want close-up versatility and performance.
- You require very high resolution at wide lens apertures.
Minimal flare when the sun is just out of the frame: 1/250 second at f/11, ISO 100.
Veiling flare: 1/10 second at f/9.5, ISO 100.
Close-up: 1/500 second at f/1.4, ISO 100. Note the circular out-of-focus highlights.
Close-up: 1/15 second at f/8, ISO 100.
1/30 second at f/16, ISO 140.
1/45 second at f/16, ISO 100.
1/60 second at f/4, ISO 800.
(Additional sample images can be seen with the review of the Nikon D3X.)
Picture angle: 46 degrees (31 degrees 30 minutes on an APS-C body)
Maximum aperture: f/1.4
Minimum aperture: f/16
Lens construction: 8 elements in 7 groups
Lens mount: Nikon AF
Diaphragm Blades: 9 (rounded)
Focus drive: Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
Minimum focus: 45 cm
Filter size: 58mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): Approx. 73.5 x 54 mm
Weight: Approx. 280 grams
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