Comparison of Three 50mm Nikkors

Nikon D300, Nikkor 35 f/2 O.C

I love shooting with a prime 50mm lens, a so-called normal lens on a 35mm film or “full-frame” digital camera.  It has many advantages including a very natural look, not too compressed like a telephoto or warped like a wide angle.

I have an opportunity that I can’t pass up to compare three recent normal Nikkors: I own one, I rented another, and our current house guest my sister-in-law brought a third with her.

There are plenty of places to look up Nikon lens specifications as well as read reviews and comparisons of them, so I am just going to focus here on my impressions of their features and usability.

My AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 was the first lens I bought along with my N80 about ten years ago.  It has served me well and gotten as much use (if not more) than any other Nikkor I own.

It’s strengths are that it is the smallest and lightest of the three and it stops down the most to f/22 (the others stop at f/16).  Its primary weaknesses is its maximum aperture is 2/3 of a stop slower than the others so it is slightly less capable in the low-light and selective focus departments.

My sister-in-law brought along an AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D (on loan from my father-in-law, truth be told).  It has a faster maximum aperture (a plus) and only stops down to f/16 (a minus), but otherwise is almost identical to the f/1.8 aside from being a hair heavier and larger.

The third is an AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 G that I rented from for the week.  It is a dramatic redesign from the previous two and differs in many ways, but is not the clear winner I had assumed.

It does have a nicer feel to the focus ring which can be used manually at any time (the others require you to shut off the camera AF first).  It has theoretically better bokeh due to its 9 rounded diaphragm blades (two more than the others).  And it has a solid snap-on hood compared to the old screw in rubber type.

But its negatives weigh in heavily.  The AF-S focusing should be fast but isn’t.  It’s G designation means it has no aperture ring and doesn’t work with manual focus bodies.  Its filter ring is an odd 58mm which is a hassle.  And to add insult to injury it is dramatically larger than the others.

While I thought my rental might be a “try-before-I-buy”, so far I have to say I don’t see a compelling reason to retire my trusty f/1.8 in favor of either of the faster lenses.