The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G ($219.95 direct) is a modern take on the classic 50mm focal length. It’s a compact lens that provides a standard-angle field of view when used with a full-frame body like the Nikon D4. When used on a DX camera with an APS-C sensor like the Nikon D3200 the field of view narrows, turning it into a short telephoto optic that is better suited for portraiture than for everyday shooting. It isn’t the best 50mm lens we’ve tested, that honor goes to the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G, but this f/1.8 lens is half the price and you don’t lose too much in terms of sharpness or light-gathering ability.
Very light at 6.6 ounces, the lens measures just 2.1 by 2.8 inches (HD). Its filter thread supports 58mm filters, and a lens hood is included. Close focus is limited to just under 1.5 feet—you’ll be able to frame subjects tightly and open up the aperture to blur the background, but don’t expect this perform double duty as a macro lens. The lens doesn’t have any sort of image stabilization, as Nikon only puts that technology into zooms and telephoto prime lenses. There is an internal focus motor, so you can get the most out of the lens even if your Nikon D-SLR doesn’t have a screw-drive focus system, but there isn’t an aperture ring. This isn’t a concern to digital Nikon shooters, but if you’re a die hard with an old F-series manual focus SLR that stills sees the occasional roll of film, you won’t be able to use the lens with that camera—it will only fire photos at its minimum f/16 aperture.
I used Imatest to test the sharpness of the lens on the full-frame Nikon D800. The results were impressive. Even at its widest f/1.8 aperture the lens notched 1,795 lines per picture height of sharpness, just shy of the 1,800 required for a sharp image. Stopping down to f/2.8 increased the score to 2,276 lines, and the lens reached 2,669 lines at f/5.6. The more expensive 50mm f/1.4G is sharper—it resolves 1,955 lines at f/1.4 and scores an outstanding 3,689 lines at f/8. One area where the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G edges out its sibling is in terms of distortion—it’s practically nonexistent, where the f/1.4 lens shows some barrel distortion.
We awarded our Editors’ Choice to the 50mm f/1.4G due to its speed, impressive sharpness, and reasonable price tag. If you’re on a tight budget, the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G is a solid second choice. It’s sharp, just not impeccably so, and its maximum aperture manages to capture roughly 60 percent the light as the faster lens. DX shooters who are looking for a standard-angle lens will be better suited with something in a slightly wider focal length due to the smaller image sensors in those cameras—the AF-S Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G and the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ($200) are both excellent choices. Buf if you’re a full-frame shooter, or a DX shooter who wants an optic with a tighter field of view for portraiture, the 50mm f/1.8G is a bargain.
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