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Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D

by Nick Coury, March 2007


Basic tools are a necessity in any field of work. Construction workers have circular saws. Painters have primer coats. Mechanics have socket sets. And good photographers have fast, sharp and ideally inexpensive lenses. These are tools good tradesmen require. Nikon photographers should always have a 50/1.4 on hand.

The 50mm normal lens is the most versatile lens for all-around use with a film camera or full-frame digital body (sadly Nikon doesn't make any of these). You can buy the Nikon 50/1.4 right now from amazon.com.

Portraits

With a Nikon digital body, this lens gives the equivalent perspective of a 75mm lens on a film camera, making it a good length for portraits in the field, such as senior pictures, weddings, etc. The quality of this lens makes it a superb choice for a variety of situations and settings. From the elegant bokeh to the sharpness of facial features, it is terrific for all types of portrait work.

General Use

Low-light images can be achieved with clarity and quality due to its fast aperture, especially for photojournalists working where flashes are not allowed. This lens is great for travel photography, given its small size and fast response. Overall, it is a great lens for all situations, and renders distortion-free images with excellent resolution, contrast, and color. Minimum focus distance is 18 inches, yielding a maximum magnification of 1:6.8.


Image Quality

This lens is sharpest between f/4 and f/8, but still amazingly sharp wide open at f/1.4.

Aside from its unbelievable sharpness, the 50/1.4 has the nicest bokeh among all the Nikkor lens. An image will show a very smooth and subtle background to surround a well-placed subject.

Flare is minimal due to the simple optical formula: 7 elements in 6 groups.


Mechanical Construction

This lens is very lightweight and compact, at nine ounces, and the size of a fist. The body is built from a plastic shell, but is sturdy for a lens this size.

Using a lens hood with any lens will increase contrast by reducing the scattering of non-image-forming light within the lens. The Nikon 50/1.4 has only 7 elements in 6 groups, so the potential for flare and light scattering is less than with a zoom lens, but using a hood will still improve image quality and it helps protect the front of the lens. The Nikon HR-2 and HS-9 hoods fit this lens.

Like many of other Nikkor primes, the 50/1.4 accepts 52mm filters.


Alternatives

Conclusion

The Nikon 50/1.4 is a high quality, sharp and inexpensive lens with a fast aperture. It is a basic lens and an essential tool for any Nikon film photographer. It is a great portrait lens for a Nikon small-sensor digital SLR photographer.

Where to buy?

Adorama sells the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor, (compare prices).


Nick Coury is a freelance photojournalist who lives and works in Monterey, CA. He can be contacted at ncoury@gmail.com.

Text ©Copyright 2007 by Nick Coury. Images from the photo.net gallery are copyright the photographer.

Article created March 2007

Readers' Comments


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Carsten Bockermann , April 13, 2007; 01:05 A.M.

Nick,

more than a decade ago I had an AF Nikkor 50/1.4 and used it (obviously) on film bodies like the F3 and F90X. It wasn't all that great wide open and I didn't care much for its bokeh, so I sold it again soon.

Last year I bought another one (AF-D this time, but the opics are the same) for use on my digital Nikons. I find it to be an excellent performer even wide open and yes, the bokeh is also very nice.

I use an old HS-4 hood on it which was originally intended for the 105/2.5 (first version). On the DX bodies this works just fine without any vignetting.

Carsten

Giuseppe Circhetta , April 16, 2007; 05:48 A.M.

50 mm f/1,4 is the lens I mount most of the time on my D200. It's sharp and it has really nice tones. An example here: http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=5630616 . I disagree on it being sharp open wide and about its bokeh which is too harsh for my tastes. For portraits, it must not be used too close in order not to make nose bigger(i.e. it is not meant for headshots...). Apart from this, best bokeh of nikkor prime lenses is 85 1.4's IMHO.

Arieh Liebman , April 21, 2007; 06:03 P.M.

Nice review. It might be important to mention that this lens will not autofocus on a D40 or D40x. Whereas the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 should, because it has HSM. Am I correct about this?

I own both the 50mm 1.8 and the 50mm 1.4, and to my surprise I very much prefer the 1.8 over the 1.4 as a walkaround. Mine is sharper, gives more consistent autofocus results on my D80, weighs even less than the 50mm 1.4, and its lens is so deeply recessed in its tiny body that there is no appreciable risk of flare, nor chance of damage to the lens when going filterless. For almost every use, the small decrement in maximum aperture has been no appreciable disadvantage. (f/1.4 yields such a tiny DOF that, in my use, 1.8 or 2.0 is preferable for almost everything).

Of course samples vary, and my 50mm f/1.4 might just be a dud, but still....the Nikkor 50mm 1.8 might be a better place to begin at only $100 street price.

Carsten Bockermann , April 22, 2007; 04:20 P.M.

Ari,

you're right about the D40(x).

I also had a 50/1.8 AF-D but find the 50/1.4 to be far superior in terms of bokeh. Didn't run any real sharpness tests, but both lenses were very good in that respect.

Carsten

Heinz Anderle , May 06, 2007; 10:20 A.M.

50 mm: full frame or cropped?

50 mm is a rather tedious focal length (for full frame cameras), especially in comparison to 55/57/58 mm and its geometric half, 40 mm.

On an APS-sensor digital SLR, 50 mm is cropped to a perspective equivalent to 70 - 80 mm, with a result quite different from the ordinary normal lens.

Richard Lewis , May 09, 2007; 11:28 P.M.

Tested this lens extensively in comparison with other alternative 50mm prox choices, including the Nikkor 60mm f2.8 micro, and zooms with this range included. Unfortunately, I encountered extensive CA throughout the range from f2.8 to f5.6 on strong backlit images. Not only was the 60 micro much better in this regard, but even my 18-70 DX lens had no CA at widest aperture shooting the same scenes, as well as the 28-70 AFS.

Richard Lewis , May 09, 2007; 11:29 P.M.

Tested this lens extensively in comparison with other alternative 50mm prox choices, including the Nikkor 60mm f2.8 micro, and zooms with this range included. Unfortunately, I encountered extensive CA throughout the range from f1.4 to f5.6 on strong backlit images. Not only was the 60 micro much better in this regard, but even my 18-70 DX lens had no CA at widest aperture shooting the same scenes, as well as the 28-70 AFS. Here's an example.

Richard Lewis , May 09, 2007; 11:39 P.M.

In the above image, the stained glass framing should be all black, with NO blue. This is the extreme extent of the CA visible with this lens.

Daan Barnhoorn , May 15, 2007; 03:04 A.M.

I find the Nikon AF-D 50mm f/1.4 perfectly usable from f/2 to f/11 as far as sharpness and contrast are concerned (excellent IQ). From f/1.4 to f/2 it lacks contrast and it is not sharp enough (IMHO). Bokeh is smooth, unless there are highlights in the bokeh present. They have the shape of the 7 diaphragm instead of nice circles (also unevenly illuminated). Sometimes the lens hunts for focus on my D200 when the subject has little contrast and is in low light. I really do like the 50mm FOV on a D200. I use it mainly for portraiture under natural lighting conditions. It is a joy to use this lens.

Michelle Maor , November 18, 2007; 03:20 P.M.

I have used both the f1.4 and the f/1.8. I find the f/1.8 sharper than the f/1.4 iat f/1.8 most of the time. However, at low light situation I can see the benefit of the f/1.4, however I personally don't think it's worth the added price.

Lindy C. , August 10, 2008; 04:26 P.M.


nose in focus

I recently purchased the 50 1.4 nikkor lens for children's portraiture work. I chose this lens because of the beautiful bokeh it produces when opened up to f/1.4

However, I could use some help please.....

When I take a picture of a child's face at f/1.4, only a small portion of the face is in focus (either the eyes or the nose, etc.)

I will try and post an image.

I understand the concept of DOF, however, if this lens is so great for portraits with the great bokeh, what is the point of even shooting at f/1.4 if I cannot get the whole face in focus?

John Ilic , September 14, 2008; 07:57 P.M.

I've bought it recently and started testing on my D300 but I'm not so satisfied.

CA is really unbereablew from f 1,4 to 3,5 and it is so poorly sharp.

But what's more disappointing to me is that autofocus always works wrong at short and middle distances.

Vincent Stanford , July 31, 2009; 10:17 P.M.

I have one and use it on a D200. I agree that the lens is soft at f1.4. But I have done some wedding photographs in light so low that the guests remarked that something must be wrong because there was no flash. They came out soft but well exposed, so the low light potential of this lens is very good. When photographing middle aged people, a little softness can be a good thing. Bokeh? Definitely not thrilling. Worth it if you want to shoot in really low light. Otherwise get the f1.8 for one third of the price.

Declan Howard , October 15, 2009; 05:05 P.M.

Hi all - I'm new here, so bear with me please. I've only just purchased a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 (top left of the box says Nikkor F AF, don't know what this means) and I use a D200. I was so excited to get it on the camera, then disappointment kicked in when 'fEE' was flashing on my control panel - The only way I can get this lens to work at all is to dial the F-stop up to 16 and when it works at this, the biggest aperture I can get is f/2.8. I'm gutted. Is there any way around this, as I have a photo shoot this weekend and was hoping to try it out? Sorry for being so long-winded. Maybe I was sold the wrong type of lens for my camera? Cheers, Declan Howard

nilesh parmar , November 07, 2011; 12:08 A.M.

I have the same issue using it with a D200.  The lens works only at F16 setting and else gives the FEE error.  Can anyone help?


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