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Seven 50mm prime lenses for Nikon F-mount compared by Cary Jordan

Nikon F-Mount 50mm lens comparisons by Cary Jordan
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There are many “normal” 50mm prime lenses available for the Nikon F-mount. So many, that it can be difficult deciding for yourself which lens is right for you. Differences in performance as well as price are abound. Our goal in this article is to compare the 7 most common 50mm prime lenses from Nikon and well known third-party manufacturers.

These lenses are all excellent in their own rights. In most cases, it really comes down to how you’ll employ the lens. What’s important to a landscape photographer is not usually important to a portrait photographer, unless the lens will serve as a multi-purpose lens. Each photographer will have different needs and thus be looking for different qualities in a 50mm prime. By the end of this article, we hope you’ll have a better understanding of what each of these lenses has to offer and which is the best value for you.

Because each lens was designed to be used on FX DSLR and 35mm film SLR bodies, this test was performed on a 12.1MP Nikon D700 FX (Full-Frame) DSLR camera. This is to show each lens’ true performance, corner-to-corner. If you're shooting on a DX (APS-C) body, you're using the “sweet spot” of the lens. The DX sensor crop will show less vignette and more corner sharpness due to said sensor crop of the image circle. Note for DX users: Due to a 1.5x crop of the image circle, a 50mm lens is actually 75mm in FX equivalency. This means a 50mm lens is no longer a “normal” prime and is now in the short telephoto range.

To keep article size as small as possible and easy to follow, we will only go over basic qualities in the “Size/Ergonomics/Build Quality” category. Focusing instead on the performance aspects of each lens. We'll close the article with a summary and rating of the lenses according to their performance, as well as offer our own favorite picks.

Lenses tested:

Size/Ergonomics/Build Quality

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM EX: The largest of our tested lenses, the Sigma features a 77mm filter thread (the only one in its class). Its ergonomics are great with a large focus ring at the front of the lens. The focus ring can be used at any-time, without the need to switch to MF mode, yet does feature a M/A switch. The HSM AF is very fast and very accurate. The lens is made of polycarbonate and features a nice matte finish. Weighing in at 1.11lb (505 g), this lens is the heaviest of the lenses tested. I find its weight and heft to be perfect and actually prefer a larger 50mm prime. It’s a substantial bit of glass. It also comes with a nice/large plastic hood. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 features a 9 rounded blade diaphragm.

      

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G | Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.8G: Both the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G and the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G feature a 58mm filter thread and are also about the same size. The 50mm f/1.4G does weight a little more than the 50mm f/1.8G, though. Ergonomics are in-line with Nikon’s typical AF-S primes. The lens is made of polycarbonate and features Nikon’s usual signature finish. Auto Focus is fast and accurate on both lenses; Although, the focus is significantly faster on the newer 50mm f/1.8G. As with most AF-S lenses, you can grab the focus ring at any time for MF. These two lenses are the only lenses to feature a rear mount gasket for improved weather sealing. The f/1.4G features a rounded 9-blade diaphragm and the f/1.8G features a rounded 7-blade design. Both lenses share the HB-47 lens hood.

   

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Manual Focus | Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Manual Focus: The Nikon Ai-S lenses are built like tanks. Due to being a MF lens, their all-metal construction features extremely smooth focus rings. These lenses are a real joy to shoot with and are some of my favorites of all time. As expected, the 50mm f/1.4 is slightly smaller than the f/1.2 version. Both have 52mm filter threads. Both lenses have aperture rings with an Ai coupler pre-installed. The f/1.4 features a 7-blade diaphragm and the f/1.2 version features a 9-blade design.

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Manual Focus: Like the Ai-S lenses, the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 lens is built from solid metal and is manual-focus. It’s also a real joy to shoot with and is very accurate due to its large ratio focus ring. This lens features a 58mm filter thread and comes with an all-metal bayonet lens hood. The Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 features a rounded 9-blade diaphragm.

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D: A classic 50mm prime, this lens is made of polycarbonate and features a matte finish. It is the lightest of the tested lenses and also the smallest. It features a 52mm thread. While it is the cheapest of the tested lenses, this lens is still durable - yet has a very plastic feel when compared to the others in this class. Because it doesn’t have an in-built Silent Wave Motor for AF and is screw driven, the focus speed depends entirely on the body you’re using it. The focus ring cannot be turned manually without disengaging the AF screw drive via the AF/MF switch on the body, unlike the AF-S lenses. On the D7000 and D700, focus is very fast and accurate. This lens features a 7-blade diaphragm.

Performance

Each lens was tested in the following 5 performance categories (click on each image for larger view):

  • Bokeh - The characteristics of the out-of-focus areas. Some lenses are smooth/creamy, while others have nervous/jittery characteristics.
  • Bokeh Highlight - The characteristics of the out-of-focus areas at bright points of light when stopped down. This test is intended to show how well the diaphragm keeps it's "rounded" shape at smaller apertures. Apertures tested: f/2.8, f/4.
  • Center Sharpness - Lens sharpness at the center of the frame.
  • Corner Sharpness - Lens sharpness at the corner of the frame.
  • Vignetting -  light falloff at the corners of the frame.

Bokeh

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Wide-open Bokeh Test

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Wide-open Bokeh Test

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Manual Focus Wide-open Bokeh Test

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Wide-open Bokeh Test

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Wide-open Bokeh Test

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Wide-open Bokeh Test

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Wide-open Bokeh Test

Bokeh Highlight (f/2.8)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Bokeh Highlight Test f/2.8

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Bokeh Highlight test f/2.8

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Bokeh Highlight Test f/2.8

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Bokeh Highlight Test f/2.8

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Bokeh Highlight Test f/2.8

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Bokeh Highlight Test f/2.8

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Bokeh Highlight Test f/2.8

Bokeh Highlight (f/4)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Bokeh Highlight Test f/4

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Bokeh Highlight test f/4

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Bokeh Highlight Test f/4

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Bokeh Highlight Test f/4

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Bokeh Highlight Test f/4

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Bokeh Highlight Test f/4

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Bokeh Highlight Test f/4

Center Sharpness (f/1.2)

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.2

Center Sharpness (f/1.4)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Center Sharpness 100% crop f/1.4

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.4

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.4

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.4

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.4

Center Sharpness (f/1.8)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Center Sharpness 100% crop f/1.8

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.8

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.8

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.8

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.8

Center Sharpness (f/2.8)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

Center Sharpness (f/4)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Center Sharpness 100% crop f/4

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/4

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/4

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/4

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/4

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/4

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/4

Center Sharpness (f/5.6)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Center Sharpness 100% crop f/5.6

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/5.6

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/5.6

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/5.6

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/5.6

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/5.6

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/5.6

Center Sharpness (f/8)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Center Sharpness 100% crop f/8

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/8

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/8

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/8

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/8

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/8

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/8

Center Sharpness (f/11)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Center Sharpness 100% crop f/11

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/11

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/11

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/11

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/11

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/11

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Center Sharpness 100$ Crop f/11

Center Sharpness (f/16)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Center Sharpness 100% crop f/16

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/16

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/16

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/16

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/16

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/16

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Center Sharpness 100% Crop f/16

Corner Sharpness (f/1.2)

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.2

Corner Sharpness (f/1.4)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Corner Sharpness 100% crop f/1.4

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.4

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.4

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.4

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.4

Corner Sharpness (f/1.8)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Corner Sharpness 100% crop f/1.8

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.8

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.8

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.8

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/1.8

Corner Sharpness (f/2.8)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Corner Sharpness 100% crop f/2.8

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/2.8

Corner Sharpness (f/4)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Corner Sharpness 100% crop f/4

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/4

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/4

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/4

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/4

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/4

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/4

Corner Sharpness (f/5.6)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Corner Sharpness 100% crop f/5.6

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/5.6

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/5.6

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/5.6

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/5.6

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/5.6

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Corner Sharpness 100%Crop f/5.6

Corner Sharpness (f/8)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Corner Sharpness 100% crop f/8

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/8

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/8

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/8

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/8

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/8

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/8

Corner Sharpness (f/11)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Corner Sharpness 100% crop f/11

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/11

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/11

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/11

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/11

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/11

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/11

Corner Sharpness (f/16)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG Corner Sharpness 100% crop f/16

NIkon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/16

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/16

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/16

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/16

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/16

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Corner Sharpness 100% Crop f/16

Vignetting

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM DG EX Fall-off test f/1.4

2_Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Fall-off Test f/1.4

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4 Fall-off test f/1.4

Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 Fall-off f/1.4

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Fall-off f/1.8

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D Fall-off f/1.8

Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 Fall-off f/1.2

Test Notes

  • The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG was the only 50mm lens that wasn't a true 50mm. The Sigma tested more like a 45mm lens. This didn't effect it's performance, but was worth noting.
  • The Nikon Ai-S Nikkor 50mm Manual Focus lenses don't have an f/1.8 aperture setting. Because of this, these lenses are absent in the f/1.8 aperture tables in the "Center/Corner Sharpness" categories.
  • Our copy of the Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2 lens over-exposed each shot by almost a full stop. This is not an issue, if you know to correct for it. We decided to leave the exposure compensation at "zero" during testing to show the lens' true performance without compensation. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 had over-exposure issues too, especially at small apertures.
  • The Sharpness tests were shot in the worst conditions possible - directly into bright sunlight. This was done on purpose to show the lens' sharpness and contrast characteristics in the least ideal conditions. This can actually be seen in the Nikon Ai-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.2/1.4 test shots when shot wide-open; there is a drastic loss of contrast, a massive lens flare and over-exposure. Another contributing factor: The Ai-S lenses don't come with lens hoods and their front lens elements are very close to the end of the lens barrel.  These lenses will perform much better in more ideal situations and with the addition of a lens hood.
  • All test images can be found also on flickr (grouped by lens):

Summary

As you can see, these lenses perform very differently at each aperture. If you shoot mainly wide-open and don’t need to go faster than f/1.8, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G is your best bet and was the sharpest of the lenses tested @ f/1.8. If you prefer a faster f/1.4 lens, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG is great, as is the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G - both are sufficiently sharp at f/1.4 and sharpen up nicely as you stop them down. If you’re a landscape photographer, you’ll be stopping down most of the time; the Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 and f/1.4 were absolutely excellent stopped down and had the best contrast as did the Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D.

Best Lens Overall (Best Combination of Sharpness, Contrast, AF Speed/accuracy, Fall-off, Bokeh and Price)

  1. Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.8G (best performance per dollar spent)

Best sharpness wide-open (f/1.4 lens)

  1. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM EX
  2. Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G

Best sharpness wide-open (f/1.8 lens)

  1. Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.8G
  2. Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D

Best sharpness stopped-down (f/4 and smaller)

  1. Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2
  2. Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4

Smoothest Bokeh (wide-open)

  1. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM EX
  2. Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.8G

Most Nervous Bokeh (wide-open)

  1. Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2
  2. Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D

Best Contrast wide-open

  1. Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.8G
  2. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM EX

Best Contrast stopped-down

  1. Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2
  2. Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4

Best Build Quality

  1. Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZF.2
  2. Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2
  3. Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.4
  4. Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G
  5. Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.8G
  6. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM EX
  7. Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D

My personal picks (if money is not an issue)

  1. Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.8G
  2. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM EX
  3. Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2
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  • http://www.kromatica.pe Fotografia Kromatica

    I was going to buy a Nikon 50mm F1.2 but this article made me hesistate! There is another 50mm 1.2 option??
    Rob

    • http://www.TheJordanCollective.com CaryTheLabelGuy [NR]

      Why the hesitation? The Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 is an amazing lens that tested really well. It’s slightly soft @ f/1.2-f/2, but still very acceptable. I’ve taken some great portraits with this lens, wide-open. There really is no lens like it. It’s one of my fave picks.

      • Just get it.

        Coincidentally I just sold my 50 f/1.2 Ai-S a couple of days ago, simply because I’m getting more work which “requires” AF, so when I get home I just feel like putting the camera down instead of putting a glorious Ai-S lens on it and having fun.

        I have the f/1.4G and I kept it because its focusing speed is more than good enough (on a D3S) and, actually, I like the bokeh. I also have the 50mm f/1.8 AF-D, whose resolution is probably a tiny bit better if you’re looking too closely, but the CA and harsher bokeh on that lens mean I don’t use it much for anything critical.

        The image quality overall in the f/1.2 Ai-S was the best of the three, though. I’ve never used a better 50mm lens at f/2 than the Ai-S f/1.2, and, obviously, if you shoot night-time landscapes or long exposures, the 9-bladed aperture means spots of light are spectacular.

        p.s. – If it’s your thing, the 50/1.2 is unrivalled for DSLR video. In that case, the Ai-S is probably better than the Ai because the focusing isn’t so stiff.

        p.p.s. – Another reason I kept the 50 f/1.4G is that it works well with extension tubes.

  • Jimmy

    Big thanks to Cary for an excellent review and NR for publishing it on this site. Really good to see this sort of stuff in between all the rumors.

    • http://thejordancollective.com CaryTheLabelGuy [NR]

      Thank you for reading and enjoying the article! Like we’ve stated several times, there are many more reviews in the works. Next up: A comprehensive comparison of six 85mm prime lenses for Nikon F-Mount as well as several other articles.

      Big thanks to Nikon Rumors for making all of this happen!

      • http://www.del-uks.com Del-Uks

        The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 sounds like a nice alternative here too… I’m looking forward to read your comparison/review…

  • Mike

    Arguing about the bokeh of 50mm lenses is pretty pointless since every one of them produces pretty poor results compared to just about any 85mm, 105mm, 135mm, 200mm, 300mm that any of the manufactures mentioned in the comparison produces.

    • Mike

      Comparing them to the lenses you mentioned is pointless since those are different focal lengths.

      • Mike

        Thats a pretty oblivious statement. We’re talking about the quality of bokeh. Still with me? Ok, good. The bokeh of 50mm lenses are always less desirable than the bokeh from ANY of the focal lengths I mentioned. Say you like boken in a portrait, ANY of the 50mm lenses will pale in comparison to those other focal lengths. Thats the point. When discussing 50mm lenses the real issues are AF speed and accuracy, build quality and wide aperture performance. If you want to add nice bokeh to a photo which would you choose? An 85mm 1.4 or a 50mm 1.4? Or how bout a 105mm 1.8 or a 50mm 1.8?

        • Jabs

          @Mike

          That is exactly the point too. The old bokeh argument is a throwback to the Leica rangefinder days when they had no real long lenses capability in their lineup, so people discussed to death the bokeh of basically short or normal lenses to try and prove Leica superiority over other brands – LOL.

          Got you too, as I also believe that ‘real’ bokeh is a mere function of a longer focal length with their shortened depth of field and thus many use the 180mm F2.8 Nikkor and above just for that too.

          Bokeh used to be a so-called determining point or point of argument in lens quality, while I always looked upon it as some pseudo mystery that made part of the person’s face of a portrait in focus and not the whole face, so sort of a useless throwback to the old days to me.

          I shot portraits with two basic lenses:
          55mm F2.8 Micro-Nikkor with a Tiffen soft filter as needed
          180mm F2.8 ED-IF Nikkor

          And occasionally a 135mm F2.8 Nikkor or the 135mm F3.5, as they were all sharper wide open than the higher speed lenses. Sometimes even a 50mm F1.8 over say a 50mm F1.4 wide open too.

          Best bokeh I ever saw on a shorter lens is the one from the 58mm F1.2 Noct, as the aspherical lens elements and nine blade diaphragm would give you out of focus round elements that were actually round.

          In portraits, I usually filled the frame mostly, so could not care less – basically!

          In Nikon’s current lens lineup, I would use their two DC lenses (105 and 135mm) to adjust the bokeh to my liking, as it is suited perfectly for that purpose.

    • http://shaun.zenfolio.com/ Shaun

      well all I can say is I shoot an 85 1.4 nikon w weddings and obviously love its bokeh..The 50g I just sold was no stable mate for that lens. I feel the sigma has definitely closed that gap bokeh wise from quick testing. As far as af accuracy and keeper rate Ill explore that side of the sigma at next event. Before coming back to Nikon 3 yrs ago I shot canon 50L on FF and that lens was gorgeous imo so I think your statement on all 50′s being pale in comparison bokeh wise to longer focals is a baseless claim.

  • DanY

    Own both 1.8G and 1.2 AiS, love it

  • http://www.sinclairvisual.com/cognitions ChriSin

    It would be more accurate to use T stops and ignore this whole click stop mumbo jumbo

  • http://www.sinclairvisual.com/cognitions ChriSin

    Also no love for the 50 1.8 series E?

    • paf

      50 1.8 has all my love. I don’t like the 50mm length to begin with, but if I was to keep one of my 50′s I’d make it the E series. Compact, sharp, light… Has to be the chrome ring though.

  • craig

    Nitpick: Lenses cannot ‘overexpose’, they are either at f/whatever or they’re not.

    But, different lenses can certainly be brighter or darker than others at the same f-stop owing to various material or design differences that affect light transmission.

    This is a big deal in the film world where changing lenses could change the exposure of the film and thus appear distractingly darker or brighter as cuts are made, requiring costly fixes. This is why cinema lenses are rated in T-stops, T for transmission, which are set standards.

    • jsa

      “Nitpick: Lenses cannot ‘overexpose’, they are either at f/whatever or they’re not.”

      Thats the problem ‘they’re not’ at the requiered f/ setting.

      “But, different lenses can certainly be brighter or darker than others at the same f-stop”

      Trouble is, while they are quite similar T values wide open, stopped down they are a lot different.

      Surely once a baseline For T/ is determined wide open any further large error is an aperture positioning error.

      On G lens’ there is no F/ setting ring, the body moves the lever to some required position.

      In the case of my Tokina the stopped down error is different on my D200 & D300, so that can’t be T/ stops.

  • stevo

    I found the bokeh comparisons the most interesting. The Sigma was really nice here.

    I have the Nikon 18-200 VR1 that came with my D300 and the bokeh is horrible!, especially with straight lines (like long grass) in the background. I’ve noticed really bad bokeh can sometimes ruin a shot, it is distracting and I’m thinking of getting an 85mm Nikon 1.4 for portraits (my 2nd lens) but now I’m thinking the Sigma 50 1.4 might be a better buy and more useful all round.

    • http://www.ianivey.com Virginia Wedding

      The 85 is generally considered focal length that produces a more flattering perspective (assuming you fill the frame to the same degree) than does the 50, at least for portraits.

      I’ve got the Sigma 50, and like it quite a lot. Extra handy to have the 77mm filter screw, so I don’t have to buy extra filters. But I wouldn’t generally use it for portraits unless I’m shooting a small group of folks and need the wider angle.

  • Marian Kostadinov

    Nice comparison but badly presented. I think that direct 100% crops would have been better there.
    Also, f/2 was not tested for some reason but it would have given some interesting results. And finally, Ai-s lenses do have lens hoods and I suppose there performance would have been much better if tested with their hoods.

  • Natan Lorenzi

    Really, the Carl Zeiss is the best. It has the best colour transition and contrast. Sigma has the best center resolution @ f/1.4, and nikon f1.4G best corner resolution @ f/1.4.

  • Brian

    Would’ve been nice if instead all the images were placed onto one picture, so there is no need to separately click each image just to view it

    The way that it is set up right now makes it very hard to compared different lenses.

  • Precious

    This has been such an informative review. I have learned a lot. I have two of the lens tested and the review is accurate concerning the two lens I have. I am glad that I chose the ones I have. Makes me feeling like shooting; although it is snowing. Thank you

    • Mike Svitek

      Who cares if its snowing? Any DSLR can handle a bit of snow: Just brush it off and continue on shooting! Cheers!

      • http://www.facebook.com/robin.edgar Robin Edgar

        Or you *could* shoot film which will handle the contrast a lot better than digital. . .

        • Mike Svitek

          I was talking about weather sealing, not dynamic range. The dynamic range on film is lower than that of a digital sensor, btw… Most modern sensors have their range at 12-14EV while film is still stuck at whatever manufacturer you use (Although Ilford film has some impressive range which beats digital sensors… for now).

  • Mike Grimes

    i have the Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 that was given to me by my uncle, great little lens, use it on my d3200.

    • http://www.pictureexposure.com/ neodion

      nice lens to be given :) wow ! this is my fav lens expensive though.
      i have been using mine for film lately with my d7000 its great.

  • Jeff Starrbukz

    The Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens is the best in the bunch.

    1) Cost of a used one is very cheap.
    2) Zeiss glass is fantastic but most of their lenses are over $1000. If you just compare the MF Zeiss 50mm with the AF Nikon 50mm 1.8D, I think you will see that Zeiss might be better-but not $900 better.

  • Jeff Starrbukz

    Hey, thanks for your review, it was very informative and must have taken some time to do.

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