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Monday, October 12, 2015

Speculative Reviews: Nikon Nikkor AFS 50mm f/1.2


Another article for the Speculative 'Reviews' series for today. Once again, to state the obvious: This lens does not exist as I'm writing this (October 2015), and it may never appear, either. I have no sources in Nikon (or elsewhere). This article is a product of my knowledge and experience, so, in other words, it is an educated guess. The purpose of these articles is to make us all think, what would this lens mean for Nikon photographers, how would it affect our shooting, and in which way would it affect the market.

Adding AFS to this would make hordes of Nikon photographers drool.


Yet another wishful-thinking kind of speculation. Nikon makes an absolutely lovey AIS 50mm f/1.2 lens, which is well loved by many Nikon photographers (btw, you can still find those new!). Wouldn't it be lovely to have an autofocus version of this superlative piece of glass? It surely would, but the problem (=reason why we probably won't see this any time soon) is that Nikon has already offered an AFS 58mm f/1.4 as the "top of the line" normal lens. It's not really that simple (the 58mm f/1.4 is an expensive - I'd dare call it 'overpriced' - lens for specific occasions), while the 50mm f/1.2 is something entirely different. Still, I'm not sure how many similar lenses they could squeeze into that bracket. Read my Conclusion below for more explanation.


Wow, where do we begin... Very low light photography, check. Drop-dead-gorgeous portraits (especially for DX format!), check. Stunning videography, check. The difference between f/1.4 and f/1.2 isn't chaotic, but any photographer taking such photos/videos will tell you that they'd take any aperture increase they could.


The AIS lens costs about $700 new. The 58mm f/1.4 costs about $1700. An AFS 50mm f/1.2 would cost somewhere (far) north of $1000, perhaps somewhere around $1500.

This is the kind of bokeh and isolation a 50mm f/1.2 can give you. This one is taken with the AIS 50mm f/1.2


Will there be a Nikon Nikkor AFS 50mm f/1.2?  I have to admit, it sadly doesn't look very probable, for the reasons I explained above. It is a personal opinion, but I think Nikon goofed with the Noct 58mm f/1.4 and here's why:

If you don't know what the "Noct" stands for, it's for "Nocturnal". Basically, it means that it's a lens designed to be used in the dark, with very small light sources in the frame (=in other words, it's designed for astrophotography) and it is indeed exceptional in rendering them without sagittal flare. Well, if you can find a reason why we needed an autofocus version of the brilliant AIS Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2, let me know - better still, let Nikon know. Every astrophotographer I know uses manual focus lenses with infinity stop - you simply turn the focus ring to infinity and voila! you have perfect focus for your milky way, moon, and constellation shots.

So, why did Nikon do that? Here's a speculation: They attempted to strike two birds with one stone (and ended up missing both of them); they wanted to offer a lens that was both a "Noct" lens and a "top of the line" normal lens that would compete against the Sigma Art line - or even the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4.
Err.. Sorry, no. The Zeiss is twice the price of the Nikon AFS 58mm f/1.4 Noct, but it's also probably the best, no-compromises, most-amazing normal lens ever made. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art is half the price of the Nikon and if not actually better (for general use anyway), is at least as good. Oops!

Just imagine this what-if (or rather if-only) scenario: Nikon leaves the superlative AIS Noct-Nikkor 58mm f'/1.2 alone, and instead uses every trick in their book to produce a stunning Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.2 - no, no "Noct"; just a normal normal (!) lens for general purpose use. At a price around $1500 and with the same or better exceptional image quality as the AIS version, it would definitely feel more interesting than the "hmm" kind of response the AFS 58mm f/1.4 created.

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