Nikons 50mm Giant
When it comes to the Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 lens, I have to make a confession. I shoot with almost only ‘normal’ focal length lenses, so I am quite biased. I know telephoto use to be all the rage, and now wide angle has taken its’ place. But I’ve always found the ‘normal’ to be most to my liking. Maybe that’s because I mostly shoot people, but I don’t think this essay is affected by that bias in any way. Second, this is not a review in the normal sense. More of just some simple meanderings. After all, this is not really a review site in the purely technical sense. There are plenty of those around.
Of course, fast lenses come at a price. Too steep for some. And other than it’s formidable low light capabilities, razor thin DOF, and dreamy bokeh, what do you really get for your money? Other than bragging rights,….like driving a Hummer. (insert car of choice) The Leica Noctilux is $10,000+. (although it’s f/0.95!) When you put it in that perspective, the $700 Nikon seems cheap. Yes, the Contax 45mm and Leica 50mm Summilux are just as sharp. But they’re not f/1.2 lenses.
Wide Open Contrast
The Nikkor has a 9 blade diaphragm, making almost perfectly round out of focus highlights and an almost dreamy background, as previously mentioned. And, yes, it is sharp wide open! But focus wide open is critical, and I believe this to be the reasoning behind the false reports to the contrary. Where it does suffer slightly wide open is in contrast. That’s called “lens physics”.
But if you are to capture the unique strengths of this gem, take advantage of it’s otherworldly imaging, it’s drawing capabilities will amaze you. This holds true of ALL super fast lenses. To shoot mundane subjects under flat lighting conditions, or to stop it down any significant amount, is a waste. If you shoot everything at f/8,…you might as well use the much cheaper,…and excellent, 50mm f/1.8 AF. You will see NO significant sharpness, drawing or contrast difference. THAT’S NOT WHAT THIS LENS IS FOR! Sorry for shouting.
Ellen von Unwerth and the 50mm
By using only spherical elements in the 50mm f/1.2, and by building the same lens for more than 35 years, Nikon enables us to purchase this exotic lens for not much more than a 50mm f/1.4 lens. Of course this lens is not autofocus.
At other f stops, I have not found a sharper lens. Sure, some match it’s sharpness, but other than the Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux and 45mm Contax G Zeiss lens, you won’t find a purely MTF curve, pixel peeping, sharper lens at any f stop. So, I don’t want to give the impression that you are restricted in any way to only shooting wide open. However, that’s where its “drawing” capabilities shine. And that’s why you would buy this lens.
There is a small amount of chromatic aberration wide open, but is gone by f/2.8. (easily fixable nowadays,…although, some would say, that’s part of its’ charm)
Build is an A++
The mechanical build is without question up there with Zeiss, Leica and Voightlander. In fact, I would put all pre 80’s manual focus Nikkors in that category. Even the cheapest of Nikkors from that era blow away today’s crop of lenses. Sure, you have AF and VR,…and Chinese plastic. You owe it to yourself to experience the way lenses used to be made. Just the feel, precision and obvious quality make them a pleasure to use. Luckily, we still have Medium and Large format lenses. Sadly, their days are numbered.
The main reason Nikon can still offer up this exceptional lens is because it’s quite popular in Japan, where aesthetics and quality are still revered. Much less so in North America and Europe. Any old HR-2, (lens hood), works fine, and of course filters are Nikons’ standard 52mm. And the elements are not aspherical,…hence, the $700 or so pricing. Considering a used Noct-Nikkor is going for about $3500+ when you can find them, and Leicas’ version is about $7000+ used, I would say this lens is a bargain. Manual focus or not.
Dreamy images, anyone? Find Nikon 50 mm f/1.2 AI-s