Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G review

The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G is a fast-aperture standard-angle lens for Nikon D-SLRs. It's tack sharp, even at f/1.4, and earns our Editors' Choice award.
Photo of Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G

The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G ($484.95 direct) is the company’s most recent standard-angle D-SLR lens. It offers improvements over previous versions, including improved coatings, and an internal focus motor, but it eliminates the aperture ring so you won’t be able to use it on older manual focus 35mm cameras. Full-frame Nikon shooters will appreciate its classic standard-angle field of view, and it works equally well as a short telephoto portrait lens when paired with an APS-C Nikon SLR. The lens is an excellent performer with sharpness that is excellent at f/1.4 and off the charts as you stop down, easily earning it our Editors’ Choice award for standard-angle prime SLR lenses.

Typically, 50mm lenses are rather compact when compared with wide-angle or telephoto SLR lenses, and this Nikkor lens is no exception. It measures just 2.1 by 2.9 inches (HD) and weighs a mere 9.9 ounces. A lens hood is included—it twists via a bayonet and adds some height to the lens, but is reversible so you can save space when storing it. An internal focus motor provides very quick focus—it’s faster and quieter than screw-drive lenses like the Sony 50mm f/1.4 Prime Lens.

The minimum focus distance is 1.5 feet, so you can get fairly close to your subjects, but this is by no means a macro lens. You can use 58mm filters with the lens, and the front element is stationery so using a polarizer is no problem; but you will have to remove the lens hood to adjust it. There’s no in-lens vibration reduction, but that feature it typically reserved for zoom lens and telephoto prime optics—the shortest prime lens with a VR system in Nikon’s full-frame lens library is a 105mm macro lens. The fast f/1.4 aperture is great for available light shooting—it gathers four times the light as a professional f/2.8 zoom lens.

Imatest shows that the lens is capable of impressive sharpness when paired with the full-frame D800. At f/1.4 it scores 1,955 lines per picture height; we use 1,800 lines as the cutoff for an acceptably sharp photo. Stopping down to f/2 boosts the resolution to 2,567 lines, and it jumps all the way to 3,308 lines at f/2.8. The scores increase gradually as you stop down from there, peaking at 3,689 lines at f/8. Canon’s similar 50mm f/1.4 USM, isn’t quite as sharp—it hits 1,874 lines at f/1.4, and peaks at 2,672 lines at f/5.6. Nikon also markets the budget-friendly AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G. It doesn’t capture quite as much light and isn’t as sharp—it hits 1,795 lines at f/1.8 and peaks at 2,669 lines at f/5.6—but it is smaller and priced at a modest $220.

Distortion is typical for a 50mm f/1.4 lens, about 1.6 percent. Straight lines will curve slightly outward, but a quick adjustment in Lightroom can correct it if you’re using the lens for architectural work; a macro lens of a similar focal length would be a better choice if your work requires an optic with minimal distortion. Every 50mm f/1.4 SLR lens that we’ve tested, including the Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1,4/50, has exhibited a similar distortion pattern.

Before zoom lens were commonplace, the 50mm lens was the standard bundled kit lens with 35mm SLRs. There’s a good reason for this—it offers a very natural field of view, is fairly compact, and the f/1.8 f/2 lenses that were paired with these cameras weren’t expensive to make. Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G isn’t a budget lens, but it’s priced in line with its competition and is tack sharp at every aperture. It’s an excellent optic that will enhance any Nikon SLR kit, although it’s most useful when paired with a full-frame camera. Nikon APS-C shooters should consider using the excellent Nikon AF-S Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G or the inexpensive AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ($200) for standard-angle shooting. If your budget is tight, don’t count out the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G—it’s not quite as sharp or fast, but still a solid performer—but if you have the money, get the 50mm f/1.4G.

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Verdict
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G is a fast-aperture standard-angle lens for Nikon D-SLRs. It's tack sharp, even at f/1.4, and earns our Editors' Choice award.
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