Nikon 50mm f/1.4G Review
Nikon 50mm f/1.4G Review
This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. For many years the focal length of 50mm lenses was considered a “standard” or “normal” focal length because it closely resembles the perspective of the human eye. These lenses were widely popular on film cameras and the focal length was ideal for portraiture and everyday photography. As digital SLRs and zoom lenses started taking over the market, the popularity of 50mm primes also decreased. The smaller size of APS-C sensors made the field of view of 50mm lenses narrower, while the flexibility of zoom lenses and their low price drove the demand towards convenience. Now that full frame digital cameras are getting more and more affordable, the once forgotten 50mm lenses are regaining their popularity among many photographers. In this review, I will provide a thorough analysis of the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens, along with image samples and comparisons against other 50mm lenses from Nikon and Sigma.
The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is a professional-grade lens for enthusiasts and pros that need a high-quality lens for portraiture, food and everyday photography. Its large aperture of f/1.4 is great for low-light photography and the shallow depth of field helps isolate subjects from the background, beautifully rendering background highlights, also known as bokeh.
The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G replaces the older Nikon 50mm f/1.4D model (introduced in 1986). Compared to the AF-D version that has 7 optical elements in 6 groups, the new 50mm f/1.4G has a completely different optical design with 8 optical elements in 7 groups. Thanks to this new optical design, the front element of the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G does not extend or rotate, making it easy to use circular filters. The lens autofocus motor has also been replaced with a Silent Wave Motor (SWM / AF-S), making it possible to use the lens on entry-level Nikon DSLRs like Nikon D3100, in addition to being able to manually override focus at any time. The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G features a rounded 9 blade diaphragm, which creates more circular bokeh shapes rather than the typical heptagon shape you see on the 7-blade 50mm f/1.4D version. Just like the older AF-D cousin, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G also features Super Integrated Coating, which helps reduce lens flare and ghosting. The lens is designed to work on both Nikon FX and DX sensors, although it is certainly better suited on FX sensors for everyday photography. On DX sensors, the lens is equivalent to a 75mm lens, which is perfect for portraiture, but a little too long for other types of photography.
NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/3.5
1) Lens Specifications
- Fast f/1.4 prime Nikkor lens that is perfect for low-light conditions, general and travel photography.
- Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) enables fast, accurate and quiet autofocus.
- Rounded 9-blade diaphragm renders more natural appearance of out-of-focus image elements.
- M/A focus mode switch enables quick changes between manual and autofocus operation.
- Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) enhances light transmission efficiency and offers superior color consistency and reduced flare.
- Close focusing to 1.5 feet for extended versatility.
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length: 50mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/1.4
- Minimum Aperture: f/16
- Format: FX/35mm
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 31°30′
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 46°
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.15x
- Lens Elements: 8
- Lens Groups: 7
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode, 35mm Film
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- Distance Information: Yes
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 1.5ft.(0.45m)
- Focus Mode: Auto, Manual, Manual/Auto
- G-type: Yes
- Filter Size: 58mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions: (Approx.) 2.9×2.1 in. (Diameter x Length), 73.5×54.2mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight: (Approx.) 9.9 oz. (280g)
- Supplied Accessories: 58mm Snap-on Front Lens Cap LC-58, Rear Lens Cap LF-1, Bayonet Hood HB-47, Soft Case CL-1013
Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.
NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/2.8
2) Lens Handling and Build
The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G has a solid build, with a plastic exterior and a metal mount. Size-wise, it is a little bigger than the newer Nikon 50mm f/1.8G(Left: Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, Right: Nikon 50mm f/1.4G):
NIKON D3S + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 400, 1/80, f/5.6
Like the other prime AF-S cousins, the 50mm f/1.4G comes with a rubber gasket on the lens mount, which provides good sealing against dust making its way into the camera. The rubber gasket definitely helps not only in reducing sensor dust but also in reducing the amount of dust that could potentially end up inside the lens. As I explained in my “what to do with dust inside lenses” article, it is quite normal for lenses to suck air in and out when focusing or zooming in/out. Although the front part of the lens does not move when focusing, the front lens element does move in and out inside the lens barrel. If you want to reduce the chances of dust and moisture making into the lens through the front of the lens, I would recommend to get a good 58mm clear/protective filter such as B+W 58mm MRC clear filter and leave it on the lens at all times. Not only will it help protect the front element of the lens and reduce dust, but it will also make it much easier to clean the lens when needed. It is definitely painful to clean the front element of the lens without a filter because it is slightly recessed inside.
NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 560, 1/100, f/4.0
As for weight, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is 50 grams heavier than its predecessor and 95 grams heavier than the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. Filter size also increased from 52mm to 58mm, which is not good news if you already own the older 50mm f/1.4D and bought specialized filters – larger 58mm filters would have to be purchased separately.
I have received several inquiries from our readers about weather sealing on Nikon 35mm and 50mm lenses. The short answer is “No”, these lenses are not weather sealed. While I have been using my Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens in hot/cold/dry/wet weather conditions and never had any issues, Nikon lenses without gold rings are not designed to withstand tough weather as professional lenses. That’s why Nikon does not specifically mention weather sealing in their marketing materials on these lenses. If you take good care of the lens and use a protective filter in front of the lens, you should have no problems with using it in various weather conditions. Just remember to take extra precaution when changing the lens in very dusty/windy conditions. Since the rear lens element moves in and out during focusing, get used to rotating the focus ring to the infinity mark before mounting or dismounting the lens.
NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/100, f/5.6
As for the focus ring, it is conveniently located on the front of the barrel, making it easy to manually focus with a thumb and index fingers while shooting images or video. The lens comes with the same “HB-47” lens hood as on the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G (both 50mm f/1.4D and 50mm f/1.8D are not shipped with lens hoods). The hood snaps on the front of the lens and sits tight without wobbling like some other Nikon lens hoods. The M/A and M switch on the side of the lens allows autofocus with manual focus override and full manual focus operation. The latest Nikon DSLRs like Nikon D5100 immediately recognize the focus position and provide notifications on the information (“I” button) screen.
NIKON D3S + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 400, 1/80, f/5.6
From left to right: Nikon 50mm f/1.8D, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, Nikon 50mm f/1.4D, Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, and Sigma 50mm EX DG HSM.
3) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
Despite having the new Silent Wave Motor, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, unfortunately, autofocuses slower than both its predecessor the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D and the new Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. When going from infinity to close focus and back (with the lens cap on), I was surprised to see the 50mm f/1.8G perform almost twice faster than the 50mm f/1.4G:
This is a huge disadvantage to the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, making it the slowest of the Nikon 50mm lenses. On the other hand, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is certainly the quietest of the group – the slower AF motor is literally near silent. AF is accurate and focus tracking works quite well in continuous focus mode (AF-C) once the subject is in focus. Under very dim lighting conditions, the lens has a hard time acquiring the correct focus, which is normal. Turning the AF-assist lamp on in AF-S mode helps a lot and AF accuracy is good from that point on.
My Nikon 50mm f/1.4G has a slight autofocus problem and had to be calibrated with the LensAlign lens calibration tool:
NIKON D3S + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/60, f/1.4
4) Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
The performance of the 50mm is generally good, but a little disappointing when compared to the new Nikon 50mm f/1.8G lens, as revealed further down in this review. Let’s take a look at how the lens did in the lab:
The optical performance of the lens at wide apertures is not particularly impressive – you can see how weak the lens is from f/1.4 all the way to f/2.8. Once stopped down to f/4 though, the lens yields very impressive sharpness across the frame. By f/5.6, the lens reaches its maximum potential, with very good center performance and fairly good mid-frame and corner performance. The sharpness distribution is fairly even at smaller apertures, which makes this lens a good candidate for environmental portraits and landscape photography needs.
NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/320, f/1.8
Bokeh is a very important characteristic of 50mm lenses. I would be ready to pay more for a lens that can yield better bokeh, even if it performed slightly worse than others at very large apertures.
Here is the full image from which I made the below bokeh crops:
NIKON D3S + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/30, f/1.4
You can see where I got the center and corner crops from. The corner crop is really not a corner, but rather an area is taken from the left-center of the image. Let’s take a look at how the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G compares against the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D and Sigma f/1.4 at f/1.4 away from the center:
The older Nikon 50mm f/1.4D looks the best, followed by the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. The Sigma definitely has the worst bokeh here; it looks as if the highlights were cut on their right side and the bokeh refractions, also known as “Onion Rings” or “Onion Bokeh” are too visible when compared to other lenses.
Now let’s take a look at the center:
Very similar results in the center as well, with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D taking the lead in terms of “cleanness” of the background highlights. It is worth noting that the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D looks much different when stopped down beyond f/2.0 – its bokeh shape takes a form of a heptagon, due to the straight 7-blade diaphragm of the lens. Here is a more comprehensive bokeh comparison with lenses stopped down to f/2.8:
The benefits of a 9-bladed diaphragm start to become obvious when lenses are stopped down. As you can see, lenses with straight 7-blade diaphragms have a defined heptagon shape. Here is the center area crop from all lenses at f/2.8:
Which bokeh rendering do you like the most? All lenses seem to now have pronounced edges that look more or less the same. The AF-D lenses have a somewhat smooth bokeh on the inside, while refractions on both AF-S lenses are visible. When it comes to bokeh shape, I do prefer the rounded bokeh of the AF-S lenses. The heptagon-shaped bokeh on AF-D lenses looks a little distracting to the eye. But that’s me – I know some photographers actually prefer heptagon-shaped bokeh. The Sigma, again, is the worst here.
NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 1250, 1/800, f/2.8
Most prime lenses heavily vignette when shot wide open and the same is true for the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, so no surprises here. The good news is that as you stop down to f/2.0, vignetting decreases significantly. At f/2.8 vignetting is almost invisible and by f/4.0 onwards it is completely gone. Take a look at lens vignetting at different apertures shot on FX:
This type of behavior is expected from large aperture lenses, especially when they are mounted on full frame cameras. Other Nikon 50mm lenses and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 also show heavy amounts of vignetting at maximum aperture. Enabling lens correction in Lightroom will take care of vignetting issues.
When mounted on a DX camera, the amount of vignetting is much less pronounced, with only a slight darkening of the edges at maximum aperture.
Here is how Imatest measured vignetting levels:
Here is the worst case scenario, shot at f/1.4:
NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 1600, 1/640, f/1.8
7) Ghosting and Flare
Ghosting and flare are controlled well, but worse than on the new Nikon 50mm f/1.8G – see the comparison below. I performed a couple of tests with the sun in the frame and both AF-D lenses show some nasty ghosting and flares, while the newer AF-S lenses almost have none. I specifically removed the lens hoods from the AF-S lenses during this test, to show how well they perform in comparison. Part of the reason why the AF-S lenses are so much better, is because the front element on the new 50mm lenses is recessed much deeper inside the lens barrel.
If you keep the lens hood on the lens, you will get even better results when shooting against a bright source of light. Please note that the above images were taken without any filters. Using UV and other filters can potentially introduce more flares and ghosting to your images.
NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/2.8
Unfortunately, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G has a rather strong amount of distortion, which is very noticeable in images with straight lines. Imatest measured 1.41% barrel distortion, which is quite high for a 50mm prime (the older Nikon 50mm f/1.4D has much less distortion in comparison). The good news is that Lightroom’s Lens Corrections module or Adobe Camera RAW can take care of the distortion issue with a single click. Here is how the image looks like without any distortion corrections applied:
NIKON D3S + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/800, f/1.4
Note the curved lines on the top and on the bottom of the image.
Is distortion a problem? No, not at all – it can be easily fixed in post-processing software like Lightroom and Photoshop (as explained above) without losing much of the original image.
NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 320, 1/160, f/2.8
9) Chromatic Aberration
Lateral chromatic aberration is controlled well, even in high-contrast situations. The amount of longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA) is moderate (which is the effect of color fringing in front of and behind the focused area). Take another look at the LensAlign crop:
NIKON D3S + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/60, f/1.4
The above image was shot at f/1.4 and lit with 100-watt directional lamps. Stopping down the lens to f/2.8 and beyond dramatically reduces longitudinal CA.
When compared to other 50mm lenses, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is on par with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D in terms of LoCA and slightly worse wide open when compared to both 50mm f/1.8 primes. Sigma is again the worst performer here.
Here is how Imatest measured chromatic aberration levels:
NIKON D700 + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 400, 1/800, f/2.8