Here’s a quick review of my 50mm 1.4 lens, it’s full name is the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G, the 50mm is a standard focal length and with an aperture of f/1.4 it’s classed as a ‘wide aperture’ lens. So, how does it perform?
Before i give my full opinion let’s take a look at some of the technical specifications of the lens. If you’re used to Nikon lenses then you’ll probably be familiar with the naming conventions, the ‘AF-S’ part of the description confirms that the lens can automatically focus on your subject and that it uses Nikons ‘Silent-Wave’ motor, this means that when it does auto focus it does it almost silently. The ‘G’ after the aperture number indicates that the aperture is set by the camera and not manually on the lens, all Nikon lenses should now be shipping with ‘G’ lettering so this should be fairly standard.
Whilst the lens supports auto focus, there is a manual override, so as soon as you touch the manual focus ring you can take creative control over the focussing, i rarely use this but it can come in handy if you need to tweak the focus a little. As well as having manual override you can use the lens in complete manual mode and it does have a distance meter window to show where the lens is focussing, this is handy if you’re setting it manually and want to get the range right, or know where the ‘infinity’ focus point is.
As mentioned before, the lens offers a focal length of 50mm which is considered a fairly standard focal length, great for most situations, especially portrait, street and even landscape photography. The lens doesn’t zoom so is described as being a fixed focal length or prime lens. The closest focussing distance of this lens is 1.5ft and it will provide you with a 46 degree angle of view. If you want to read some more detailed specs you can on the official product page here.
The lens is pretty small and thats one of the things i love about it, you never need to decide whether or not to take the lens, whether it’s too heavy or too big. It’s really compact and lightweight. For these reasons it makes me and my photography feel a lot more subtle when i’m using it, which is great if you’re wandering round a city or grabbing some street photos in busy areas. It doesn’t have the look of Nikons more professional lenses either, whilst some might not like this, i feel safer knowing its not attracting any unwanted attention. As you can see from the below photo, mounted on my D7100 it’s really small. The lens i’ve used for comparison is the much larger AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED.
Don’t be fooled by the size of the lens though, the optical quality is brilliant. The maximum aperture of f/1.4 is perfect for low light situations and has helped me out loads of times when my slower f/2.8 lenses have struggled with the available light. It’s really fast to focus as well, I’ve used this lens loads of times for live music and it’s never let me down, it can lock on to subjects even when there’s hardly any available light. I’ve used the cheaper AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G lens a few times in low light and it seems to take forever to focus and half the time fails to find a focal point which in my opinion isn’t acceptable and would mean me not using it for live music photography where missing THAT photo can be really annoying. When i grab my 50mm and stand in the photo pit at a gig i’m confident i’m not going to be let down.
Having an aperture of f/1.4 also helps create a really shallow depth of field and isolate the subject from the background, perfect for portraits and photos where you really want to draw attention to the subject, the bokeh generated by this lens is great, it has a really smooth circular pattern yet isn’t too distracting.
Whilst it might not be Nikons sharpest lens it certainly doesn’t disappoint, slightly softer around the edge of the image but this is to be expected, if you’re concerned about sharpness then i’d recommend shooting at an aperture of f/2.8 or f/4 to make sure you get the best results. When you’re shooting wide open at f/1.4 you can occasionally notice some vignetting as well, but that can easily be corrected when you’re processing the images, sometimes it can even add a nice natural effect to the image so i wouldn’t worry about it too much.
The focal length of 50mm is acceptable for landscape photography and i use it quite a bit for just that as well as minimal portraits where it gives a nice flat look with minimal distortion.
This lens is compatible with Nikons FX and DX cameras, if you’re using it on a DX body then don’t forget it will have a focal length equivalent to around 75mm which is still great for portraits but not ideal for general purpose, don’t let this put you off though.
This is one of Nikons cheaper lenses and you can pick it up new for around £275, given the optical performance i would have to say it’s easily my best value lens. If you’re concerned about the focal length then why not pair it with another prime, perhaps the AF-S Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED, taking both of these away for the weekend or longer will give you a perfect combination of wide and standard focal lengths. In my opinion this lens is a must have.