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Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4 G

The Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G prime lens is another lens that should find it's way into your photo bag considering its price and performance. A prime lens is one that is not a zoom lens, and historically, the 50mm focal length approximates what your eye's see - hence it is called a "normal" lens.

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G

Lens Type: Prime
Format: FX (Full Frame)
Maximum Aperture: f/1.4
Minimum Aperture: f/22
Focal Length: 50mm
Autofocus Type: AF-S
Minimum Focus Distance: 1.5ft
Maximum Field-of-View: 46 deg
Filter size: 58mm
Manufactured: China
Lens construction: Professional
Street Price: $460


Overview: The lens is single focus-length, i.e. not a zoom lens. In addition, the lens was originally designed for 35mm cameras, so using it on a DX format DSLR (i.e. D3xxx, D5xxx, D7xxx) gives you the same angle of view that a 75mm lens would give you in a full frame camera.

So with almost all kit zoom lenses today having the ability to focus at the 18mm~55mm range, why would you even want this lens? First, at an aperture of f/1.4, it is an exceedingly fast lens, and it is among one of the sharper lenses that Nikon makes. In addition, the large aperture means this lens can be setup for a limited depth-of-field, something that many portrait photographers desire. The primary use of this lens would be for low light photography in normal situations.

I classify this lens as professional level lens due to it's fast f/1.4 maximum aperture. This lens is AF-S type focusing, meaning that it will also autofocus on lower-end Nikon cameras such as the D40, D3000, D3100, D5000 and any other cameras that require AF-S. However, an alternative is the less expensive Nikon 50mm F1.8G (or AF 50mm f/1.8D for those cameras with an internal focus motor), which is nearly as fast, and a lot less expensive.

Use: Force yourself to mount this lens and use it. You will be amazed that the lack of a zoom function is not really that much of a problem. Experiment with different depths-of-field as well as late in the day when lighting has that magical color. Use of this lens may force you to get closer to your subject, but that is the norm for professional photographers anyway, so being an accomplished amateur, you should get comfortable doing so.

Testing: How does this lens do in sharpness? One simple way to determine that is to test the lens for optical clarity. While to be more accurate, I should have measured the center and all 4 corners of the lens, this simple test provides a basic idea of the lens performance.

The test was conducted photographing this scene at different focal lengths; all using an aperture of f/5.6. The yellow box in the lower right is the cropped area for each photo shown below.

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4.

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/2.

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/2.8.

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/4.

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/5.6.

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/8.

At f/1.4, the lens clearly is a bit soft - but this is not unusual for fast primes. However, at f/2.0 the lens is sharp, and continues to be so through f/8.

Nikon D7100 - 50mm f/1.4 @ 1/60sec f/4.5 ISO 800.

Nikon D7100 - 50mm f/1.4 @ 1/60sec f/4.5 ISO 800.

Detroit Zoo - Detroit, Mi

Penguin Exhibit - Detroit Zoo - Detroit, Mi

Summary: While I use this lens primarily for low light, it's usefulness cannot be understated. Once upon a time (in the 1970s), there were not many zoom lenses, so fixed-length lenses were the normal, and the 50mm was probably the most used lens. With the proliferation of today's slow aperture zoom lenses, it sure is refreshing to use a lens that not only has a bit of nostalgia, but also a lens that works very well.