Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G lens. A big winner – Peter Gregg

I recently acquired Nikon’s latest full frame FX lens – the Nikon 50mm 1.4 G lens and am very impressed with the nice quality of this lens. I have read a fairly mixed list of reviews of the lens, and having owned one of the coolest 50mm lenses, the Canon 50mm f/1.4 L lens, I have grown a fondness of the 50mm focal length and have been hunting for the best purchase option for my Nikon gear bag. Let’s see how the 50G did on a little family home birthday party.

More after the jump.

The Canon 50mm L lens is the current king of the hill for auto focus 50mm lenses on the market. Most of the camera companies have a 50mm lens as this is a very popular focal length. It was extremely popular in the 80′s and 90′s, lost a little favor at the turn of the decade and recently has seen a rise to even surpass it’s former popularity. I happen to be one of the fans of the 50mm focal length and is why I was keenly searching to find something special for my Nikon side of my gear bag.

Other contenders were Nikon’s own 50mm f/1.4D lens, Sigma’s 50mm 1.4 EX lens, and Zeiss’ 500mm 1.4 lens. The Zeiss is the the best of the best and surpasses Canon’s 50L lens, but it not being an autofocus lens puts it out of the running for me. Lot’ of people sing it’s praises though and rightly so, a non autofocus lens is just not my cup of tea.

To get right to the point, the 50MM G lens from Nikon is my winner and I also now has it’s place in my gear bag, and is usually the lens that is sitting on my D3X most of the time.

Even though it is a 1.4 lens, there is enough of a difference between the small move from f/1.4 to f/1.6 for me to shoot the lens at 1.6 as a standard MO (mode of operation).

I took the lens with my as my only lens on the D3X to a small family birthday party and purposely did not bring a hot shoe flash to force myself to work in ambient light and see how the lens would perform. Inside a home is not the best place to work ambient only especially at night and I soon found I was kicking myself for not at least having the flash in the car as an “emergency”. This was before I started to take any pictures.

After I started to take some shots I was thinking this was not bad at all, in fact I was liking it. And when I got back to my home studio office and looked at the pictures on a calibrated monitor I was more in the WOW department.

Here is some shots using the50G on th D3X with ambient lighting. I set the camera to A mode, the lens to f/1.6 and the ISO to AUTO and let whatever was to happen – happen.

Ambient light f/1.6 D3X 50G

This one didn’t need to be here, but it was interesting how the close shots and the far shots are equally razor sharp. All the shots are processed thru Lightroom. This was in very tight quarters in the kitchen area of the house with me backed up against a wall – I kind of wish i had the 35mm lens with me too.

Completely different lighting here. Actually there is no overhead lighting and only a room lamp and the chandelier from the adjacent dining room area. Focus was quick and deadly accurate. Look at the out-of-focus area, I am starting to think Canon 50L here. Color and contrast are very good.

Okay, we are really talking top of the line glass here now. The G lens is able to pop-off a very 3-D look with a very precise shallow depth of field and do it time and time again. It separates the men from the boys and delivers that pro look that we get paid the big bucks for :)

One of the things important to me is to be able to “pick-off” a top notch portrait shot while on the move – a fast move – in wedding and event photography. These portrait shots are consistently good sellers after the event with online sales. The Canon 50L lens does that in a terrific way, the Nikon 50G will see the canon’s 50L and raise it up a notch with more consistent focus sharpness and still deliver the creamy goodness that the 50L does on the spot. This was already set up for me, all I needed to do was tell them to look at me for a second and touch foreheads. It’s almost magic every time, the lens needs to perform quickly at the event and deliver high quality files when you get to your darkroom – err, computer :)

I found I can get pretty close with this lens and it still works well. that is not true of all lenses. I took this shot pretty much automatically out of reflex action and I was able to think about the shot AFTER I took it. The 50G handled it with ease while there, and look at this delicious result – great color, sharp image, contrast at pro levels. I may buy me a second one of these!

These next three shots are not taken or selected to show off the 50G lens, but were taken for a different reason. One of their cousins came with his Nikon D40 and was doing a little gloating until he shrunk up from the cold water really quickly when the D3  was using had an X after it. It is amazing how much respect the D3X commands and it makes me chuckle sometimes. Here he is shooting with the D40, this is a heavily cropped image (having the D3X I can do that – lol):

The conversation was about the D3X’s ability to focus on a target – by itself, selecting the right spot more often than one would think. This got challenged really quick and the point was it would be easy to fool the camera’s “scene recognition” abilities and therefore was not worth even considering using the thing. The following 3 shots are in succession, one immediately after the other and allowing the D3X to choose the focus point on it’s own without help from me. He made attempts to fool the camera by asking me to offset a picture severely, then putting up a hand closer than his face and then on an equal plane o his face. These were my suggestions (of course) as to something I thought he would accept as sufficient to fool the focus system. We did each of these shots 3 times and I will save you the pain of seeing all the pix by showing the first set. All 3 attempts resulted in exactly the same images. I still have his jaw sitting on my shelf after it fell off his face as a memento on how well the Nikon’s focus system can do :)

The D3X focused properly, accurately and sharp every time. YES!!! I am not saying you can run in this mode all the time, but I would love to see the computer power of this camera unleashed with the addition of face detection technology getting put into it. As it is, it’s the best of anything out there at the moment.

The 50G has other settings besides wide open, this is shot at f/2.8 and auto ISO took it up to ISO 6400 at 1/80 shutter speed:

For fun, I would sure want to see a pixel-peeping 100 percent shot of that one. This is unprocessed straight out of Lightroom before I added my Photoshop magical action cocktail to the shot. For those that can’t read 100 percent crops of 24.5 megapixel camera, it would make a stunning 16×24 print:

I am a happy camper, as I now have something in the Nikon 50mm G lens that I consider the equal too, and even better than my Canon 50mm L lens was. As good as the L lens is, there are some issues documented with the L lens that the Nikon G does not have. This makes the Nikon 50G the king of the hill in my bag. For those thinking about the Sigma 50mm lens and how it would do, I purchase one, and changed it twice never achieving that goodness a lot of people talk about. The Nikon 50G is so good that I no longer have an interest in chasing down a good sample of the Sigma. This Nikon lens is a big winner.

One more comment though, I had a friend that was interested specifically on updating his 50mm D lens to the 500mm G lens specifically with focus speed in mind. Don’t bother. Yes, there is great reasons to upgrade to the newest G lens, but the focus speed is not the lightening fast focus speed a lot of people associate with AFS lenses. It is quick – yes. But it is deliberate and not amazingly fast. it is not annoyingly slow either, like the Canon 85mm L lens that has a lot of glass to move back and forth. But Nikon did not put the super fast stuff into this G lens where you would smile every time you use it because of it’s quickness. You DO smile however at it’s image performance and are also grateful that it at least falls into the “normal” range of focus speed.

Happy shooting and see you online,
Peter Gregg

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