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Nikkor 1.2/55 vs 1.2/50

Oliver Thoma , Feb 24, 2004; 05:03 a.m.

Hello, I love my Nikkor SC 1.4/50mm lenses at F 1.4 for portraits and people photography and think about buying a F 1.2 lens. What would You recommend from Your experience an old Nikkor 1.2/55mm or an (old)AI 1.2/50mm? The Noct 1.2/58 is too expensive for me. Thanks in advance. Oliver


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Brian Sweeney , Feb 24, 2004; 06:31 a.m.

I have used the Nikkor 55mm F1.2 lens for quite a long time and have never had a complaint. Reading "net reviews", this lens is described as a "Dog". I went back and read the May 1976 Popular Photo reviews of the lens and was surprised to learn that:

1) It is a true F1.20 and a T1.25

2) Over the central 2/3 of the image it was slightly sharper than the 50mm F1.4 out to F5.6. At F5.6 the F1.4 lens had a slight edge.

3) Coma was no worse than the hailed 50mm F2.

4) As it is a multicoated 7/5 formula it is probably the fastest T-Stop Nikon lens made for consumer cameras. The 50mm f1.2 and 58mm F1.2 are 7/6 formulas, so two extra air/glass surfaces. I am not sure if the 9element 50mm F1.1 RF lens can beat a T1.25.

The Olympus F1.2 did slightly better, but it was a F1.31 measured and T1.42.

The Leica F1.2 aspherical has the sharpest center, the worst 1/3 out, the best 2/3 out and the worst edge. It was F1.20 but slower at T1.30.

Reading a later October 1976 announcement of the 58mm F1.2 Noct-Nikkor, it was clear that this lens was made for low-light only work. The lens was optimized for best performance at 5~10LP/mm. That is a far cry less than the 50LP/mm that the 55mm F1.2 was blasting away wide-open.

I do not know if this is a case of users comparing lenses that have taken a beatingand getting misaligned optics over the years OR a case of if it's that fast it can't be any good unless its aspherical.

Martin Patek-Strutsky , Feb 24, 2004; 11:56 a.m.

Using the search function you will find several discussions on this topic.

Personally I had no chance to compare the two lenses, but I was in the same situation like you some weeks ago and decided for the 1.2/50 AIS.

Most of the people seem to agree that the 50mm lens is significantly better. Also some comments indicate that the 55mm lens is prone to lens misallignement and from there you need to be more careful in checking a used sample.

Brian Caldwell , Feb 24, 2004; 04:17 p.m.

"Reading a later October 1976 announcement of the 58mm F1.2 Noct-Nikkor, it was clear that this lens was made for low-light only work. The lens was optimized for best performance at 5~10LP/mm. That is a far cry less than the 50LP/mm that the 55mm F1.2 was blasting away wide-open. "

Its true that the Noct was apparently optimized for high MTF at 5-10lp/mm (i.e., high contrast), but it also has very good resolution near the image center. I've measured 125lp/mm on-axis wide open on an optical bench. The Noct gives a noticeably clearer image at f/1.2 than the 55/1.2 because it has much less oblique spherical aberration. The 55/1.2 does have a flatter field than the Noct, however.

Eric Bogaerts , Feb 24, 2004; 06:22 p.m.

^^^ Brian S. - With all that you had to say about the 55mm f/1.2, what do you feel are the true reasons why it is sometimes referred to as a "dog"?

Did Pop. Photography ever do an examinaton of the 50mm f/1.2 AI or AIS?

Brian Sweeney , Feb 25, 2004; 06:22 a.m.

Brian Caldwell: Thankyou. The release article from Photokina '76 just about suggested that the aperture was there for emergency use only. When looking at the performance tests of the Canon and Leica ashperical F1.2's they showed great center, lousy 1/3, great 2/3, lousy edge. It was almost like they got the polynomial for the aspherical element off. A senior optical engineer at work tells me "oh, you have to have the polynomial to 5 decimal places. 3 places does not do it". I do not have a comparable test of the Noct-Nikkor.

Eric: I have not seen a comparable test evaluation of the 50mm F1.2. I have to think that pop Photo tested it, but than again they missed the N8008! I have not seen a bench test of it on the web.

I was hoping to see some Pictures posted by some 50mm F1.2 users.

I picked up my 55mm F1.2 AI lens in Mint condition for under $200 at Penn camera, and the older Nikkor-SC there for $125 in Mint. They do run a lot less than the 50. They live on an F2AS and Nikkormat EL. If I see a 50mm F1.2 at a good price, I would snag it and put it on my F3AF (DE-3 on it for a long time).

Eric Bogaerts , Feb 25, 2004; 01:44 p.m.


I will try to get some images put up into my gallery with the 50mm f/1.2, as I do use it a lot and quite often wide-open. However, if you are interested in *one* example, you can see one picture I took with it wide-open here:


Brian Sweeney , Feb 25, 2004; 05:08 p.m.

I love the look of Fast lenses.

Here is one more with the F2As and the 55mm F1.2 wide-open.

Dan Brown , Feb 25, 2004; 06:04 p.m.

It's tough to judge a lens with Internet postings, but the 55/1.2 doesn't look sharp anywhere in those pics. Go over to the Leica forum and search around for some Noctilux pics shot wide open, now there is one sharp lens and f1.0 to boot.

I recently bought a used 50/1.2 and I hope, maybe concerned now, that it is sharper than these 55/1.2 pics.

Brian Sweeney , Feb 25, 2004; 08:46 p.m.

I would not get too upset. I have the 5x7's and they are not bad. Even these 200K~300K postings that I am hosting can;t do it justice. Decimated, JPEG'd, displayed on a screen.

If you go to an 8 MPixel full-size CCD array the best you can resolve is 50LP/mm. I suppose this lens would be right at home on the "D2X". 30MPixel is required for 100LP/mm, and I wonder if they can even pull of a decent 5um detector.

The very limited DOF throws you if you have not seen a lot of F1.2 and faster pictures. I also have the 55mm F2.8 Nikkor, 55mm F3.5 Nikkor, and 60mm F2.8 AF-Nikkor that define sharp in the Nikon line.

Here is a Very Sharp lens: My Type 1 Rigid Summicron just CLA'd, set at an optical F-Stop of F4 and on the M3. Decimated and Compressed the same factor at the above shots. think of it as a metric.

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