Friday, December 18, 2015

Review: Nikon Nikkor-S Auto 50mm f/1.4


As we're approaching Christmas, it's perhaps a good time to offer a... retro review. There are dozens of normal primes out there (if you're on a budget, you might wanna take a look at this), and this little fella has been around for decades. It's pretty cheap, too, especially if you find an original, non-ai'd version. Let's take a look at it.

Closed-down to f/2.8, it's razor-sharp


+ optically superb, with one footnote (see below)
+ matchless built quality, it will survive a thorough beating.
+ smooth focusing, with infinity stop.

- wide-open it suffers from significant coma.
- non-ai'd versions can be mounted only on entry-level cameras (such as the D3300, D5500, etc.)
- questionable scope (considering the presence of the AFD 50mm f/1.8)

Wide-open it's also very good - at least in regular scenes.

Intended Users

Great for:
  • If you own a film camera such as the FM, this is a great match (especially if you're on a budget).
  • As a portrait lens, it can offer some really dreamy results. Use it wide-open and be amazed!
  • The cheapest way to get f/1.4

Not for:
  • low light and especially astrophotography, sadly. Too much coma wide-open
  • if you don't absolutely need f/1.4, the AFD 50mm f/1.8 will be far easier to use
  • Non-ai versions will only mount on entry level camera, where they don't meter (although, read below)
Here's what to expect in terms of wide-open coma flare. It's not very good, but it's significantly improved down to f/2.8

Final Verdict

There are several issues you need to be aware of regarding this lens. Optically, the only downside is the pronounced coma flare wide-open. In regular use you won't notice it, and in portraits you will actually like it. But in low-light photography or astrophotography (in other words: when you have plenty of light spots in the frame) it is visible. Then again, newer "ordinary" f/1.4 lenses aren't much better either - you'll need to spend some serious $$$ and get a Noct-Nikkor if you need good coma control wide-open.

The other issues have to do with scope and ergonomics. Non-Ai'd versions cannot safely mount but on entry-level Nikons, where you kinda lose metering. I say kinda, because you can use live view to meter. Simply go to M mode (the only mode you can use non-chipped lenses with entry level cameras), judge/pick the exposure, and go to live view. If it's too dark/bright, either change exposure of change ISO.

Bottom line, however, and as I mentioned in my review of the AIS version, although f/1.4 is awesome and this lens is optically brilliant, most people will probably be better served by modern versions. Yeah, they're plastic, yeah, they're perhaps not necessarily any better, but autofocus and metering are two important advantages, at least for some kinds of shots.

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