Thursday, July 31, 2014

Nikkor AI-S 50mm f/1.4

Preparing the next article for the Wedding Photography Tips, I had the chance to experiment with an old AIS Nikkor 50mm f/1.4. Take a look at my findings - Part 3 of the Wedding Photography series will be ready at some point next week. If you haven't done so yet, you can subscribe to the Amateur Nikon newsletter and get an email notification every time there is a new article on Amateur Nikon (~ once per week; you can unsubscribe any time)

I got one of these wanting to compare it with the AF versions. I suspected it would be much better optically (not to mention mechanically), but with manual focus lenses you should always take ergonomics into the equation.

+ optically flawless between f/2.8 and f/8. Quite good wide-open (better than the AF in any case)
+ construction quality. This lens eats modern lenses for breakfast when it comes to that.
+ specifically about bokeh: It seems a bit better than the AF 50mm f/1.4 & f/1.8.

- heavy for its size. The downside of being built like a tank
- manual focus will always be an issue, especially with moving subjects
- value considerations. It's not expensive, but it's not cheap either.

Wide-open. It's definitely sharp, even in close distance

Intended Users
Great for:
  • If you have less than $400 to spend and you're looking for the best f/1.4 normal lens, I think this is it.
  • portrait photography, obviously (although 50mm is slightly short on FX)
  • f/1.4 and an incomparable focus feel makes this an awesome lens for DSLR videography.

Not for:
  • manual focus means it's pretty difficult to use with moving subjects
  • If you're looking for overall balance rather than absolute image quality, something like the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.4 might be a better option for you
  • I don't recommend for entry-level cameras. Having to guess the exposure, combined with small viewfinder (hence, hard to see focus) makes this less attractive compared to an AF version.

Final Verdict
This is a very, very good lens. Optically, it's stunning. Mechanically, even more so - the focus ring in particular is like a whole other experience compared to modern lenses. But it all boils down to what is important to you. If you're after absolute image quality (at this price range anyway), you just can't beat this lens. It's superior to modern AF lenses - perhaps not by much, and not in all situations, but there is a very clear difference.

But if you're after a lens that is much friendlier to the user, with autofocus, lighter, perhaps more suited for an entry-level camera, then you might wanna opt for one of the modern options

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