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Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S

Introduction

The purchase of my Nikon 50mm f/1.2 is by no doubt the most impulsive I've ever made, but nevertheless one I'll never regret. Ultimately i bought this prime because of the cool colors and the old fashioned design that I felt quite attractive. In Denmark the lens has not been for sale as new since 2010. Mine I've bought used for 606 dollars in mint condition. I then became the third owner. Nevertheless the lens is still in production, hence a new lens can be imported from US at the cost of about 915 dollars.

he mere fact that the lens is the brightest of all Nikon lenses with a maximal aperture at f/1.2 makes the lens interesting for experimental photography with extremely narrow depth of field. A curiosity that undoubtedly deserves this review. Nikon has furthermore produced 2 commercial lenses with F-bayonet with the same maximal aperture. These are the Nikkor 55mm f/1.2 and Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 which both are without autofocus. The 55mm was preoduced undtil 1967, when Nikon stopped the production by introducing it's successor the 50mm f/1.2. It's said that the 58mm is the sharpest of the three primes. The lens is constructed with an aspherical element that reduces abberations when using the maximal aperture. The production of this lens lasted from the 1970-97 and today the lens is still sold used at Ebay for the remarkable price of 2500 dollars.



Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AI-S


Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AI-S at f/1.2

Specifications


Forcal length 50mm
Mount type F-bayonet
Aperature steps f/1.2, f/1.4*, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0, f/11, f/16
Compatible formats FX, DX og 35mm film
Dimensions 68.6x48.3mm (diameter x length)
Weight 359g
Filter size 52mm
Focus mode Manual
Lens elements 7 elements in 6 groups
Aperture blades 9
Minimum focus distance 0.5m
Smallest possible frame 24x36cm
Years of production 1981-2010
Availability Used
Price 500-670 dollars

*Please note that f/1.4 isn't marked on the lens.


Test photos

Here a test of the vignetting of the lens (with FX). In my experiment I've only had the opportunity to use approximately coherent light which has made the results less exact than desired. The light isn't perfectly uniform which makes the upper part of the photograps lighter than the lower parts. Nevertheless the test photographs give an impression of the extent of the vignetting for the biggest apertures of the lens. Vignetting is not visible for apertures smaller than f/2.8.



f/1.2


f/1.4


f/2.0


f/2.8

The above photographs are convertet to 256-bit images in graytones. The are furthermore edited such that the lightest pixel has the highest possible light intensity. The graph below illustrates how the light intensity is distributed throughout the picture sensor at different apertures.



The light intensity decrease moving out from the center.
Blue f/1.2, green f/1.4, red f/2.0 og yellow f/2.8.

General review

The lens is originally produced for analog cameras and therefore it works with both FX and DX cameras. I've used the lens at my Nikon D3s. The best camera models from Nikon can record the aperture of the lens by adding the lens to "Non-CPU lens data" in the menu called "Setup". The aperture number will then occur on the display and the aperture is stored in the metadata. Since it's an old lens the aperture is adjusted by rotation of the aperture ring and hence not by setting the aperture in the camera. The lens does not affect the light measurement system which makes the aperture and shutter priority mode works as usual.

The lens is a manual focus lens which obviously means, that every photograph should be focussed manually. Therefore the lens is designed with a very precise manual focus with a pleasant focus ring. Especially the width (1.3mm) makes it easy to adjust. Through focusing from infinity to the minimum focus distance the front moves about 9mm. This can sometimes be annoying when using an old macro lens, but here it doesn't matter since this distance is small compared to the distance to the motif.

The focal length and the minimum focus distance at 0.5m result in a smallest possible frame at 24x36cm. This fits quite well to a portrait of a little child. I've not yet experienced that the minimal focus distance has been a problem in a situration were I considered the 50mm as the most suitable lens.

One of the main reasons why the 50mm f/1.2 is considered a good lens for portraits is the beautiful bokeh. Usually lenses have 5-7 aperture blades, but this lens has 9 blades, which gives a nearly cirkular aperture and a beautiful circle of confusion.



Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AI-S


The 9 blades of the aperture


I will not make any precise conclusion of the sharpness at different apertures since I can't find a MTF-chart produced by Nikon. However I'll recommend that you pay attention to the links found below. Both links describes a lack of sharpness at f/1.2 which is especially in the corners.

In my opinion f/1.2 should only be used in low light conditions or if the shapness is used as a creative tool. The corners will often be unsharp. Often this is not a problem since the motif is centered, but it's quite problematic to use the lens for landscapes photography og astronomic photography at f/1.2. For portraits I use f/2.0 since the sharpness is stunning. I get a sharp photograph and the bokeh makes the background uniform and calm.

Other lenses

Today Nikon produces two 50mm's at f/1.4 and f/1.8 with the prices respectively 420 dollars and 300 dollars. Iøve never used these lenses, but the image quality of the lenses with aperture more than f/2.0 should be the same. At f/2.0 the f/1.2 is a bit sharper. Furthermore it should be mentioned that it's not possible to set the f/1.2 to the aperture number f/1.8. It's possible with the f/1.4 lens. The new lenses have autofocus which is a huge advantage when photographing moving objects. This is one of the biggest disadvantages with the f/1.2. To compensate for a sllightly wrong focus I've tried to shoot with smaller apertures, but then you don't use the advantage of the lens been bright. Finally the new lenses are smaller and made of plastic. The difference in weigth is respectively 129g and 203g because of the aluminium used to build the f/1.2.

Conclusion

Don't you want to miss a single portrait or an exciting situation which can't be caught without autofocus. Do you wan't cheap lenses of good quality? Then buy a new f/1.4 or f/1.8 available in every Nikon store.

Nevertheless I would prefer the f/1.2. The design, the pleasant focus ring, the manual adjustment of the aperture and a perfect sharpness makes the lens to my favorite lens for portraits. I enjoy shooting manually at f/2.0. It's somehow a challenge to get the right parts in focus. You just have to accept that every photograph is not perfect, but then real good photographs will show up between the misses. I'm the first to admit that my confidence with the lens may affect my comparison with the other 50mm's. But I can guarantee that f/1.2 will not disappoint you. You should just have time to experience the potential of this great lens.

Examples

When using f/2.0 you get a narrow DOF. The girls eyebrow seems unsharp, but the eye is in focus.

Nikon D3s, 1/500s, f/2.0, iso 400

Unedited crop

For more photo expamples please visit the galleries below:

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