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It's interesting that until very recently, there hadn't been a premium 50mm ("normal") offering in the Nikon autofocus DSLR lens lineup. The AF-S 50mm F1.8G ($220) and 50mm F1.4G ($440) lenses, while excellent performers, are clearly not in the same league as other fast primes such as the 24mm, 35mm, or 85mm F1.4G, all of which feature Nano Crystal Coating and are made in Japan. With the AF-S Nikkor 58mm F1.4G, though, things have changed: this lens brings the latest and greatest of Nikon's optical technology at a price tag similar to other premium lenses: $1699.
Click on any thumbnail to enlarge
When I first read about this lens, I considered it to be a must-have: corner-to-corner sharpness and low aberrations sounded like the perfect combination for a walkaround lens that could also come in handy for astrophotography. But is all this worth the huge price premium compared to the 50mm F1.4G? To find out, I went out in the field and shot with both the new 58mm and my 50mm, and then compared them side-by-side in the studio.
Note that this review is based on my impressions of these two lenses when used on an FX-format Nikon D800. I will be making a few comments about this lens on DX, but my conclusions about image quality will primarily apply to FX. In addition, rather than basing my conclusions on test charts or formal tests, this review is based fully on real-world photographs.
The full specifications for the 58mm F1.4 lens are available in our lens database. Key specifications:
- Minimum focusing distance: 58cm
- Max. magnification: 0.13x
- Field of view: 40.5 (FX) / 27.2 (DX)
- Aperture blades: 9, rounded
- Filter size: 72mm
- Diameter x Length: 85 x 70mm
- Weight: 385g
- Weather sealing, nano crystal coating, full-time AF override
What's in the Box
In the box, you get a standard suite of accessories.
- HB-68 lens hood
- CL-1015 lens pouch
- LC-72 front cap
- Rear cap
- USA: 1 year warranty / 5 year Extended Service Coverage (not pictured)
- Manual (not pictured)
Construction and Handling
The Nikon 58mm F1.4G is made in Japan, unlike the 50mm F1.8G or F1.4G. The build quality doesn't differ much, however: the lens feels very solid, but its barrel is still made of plastic.
The focusing ring accounts for about 1/3 of the barrel's length, and it provides plenty of friction, almost like an older manual focus lens. The 120-degree focus throw makes it very easy to focus manually with this lens.
Looking at the lens mount, you can see the 9-bladed aperture diaphragm as well as the rubber gasket that helps keep out dust and moisture.
[attachment=1819:58mm_mount.jpg]Even though the lens barrel is somewhat long, the front element is actually very deeply recessed, like on a macro lens:
[attachment=1818:58mm_front.jpg]The design makes the barrel itself act as a type of lens hood, blocking and absorbing stray light. The front filter thread has a diameter of 72mm, which makes the 58mm lens unique in Nikon's G-series prime lineup. This filter size is only shared with a handful of other current Nikon lenses: the 105mm D, 135mm D, 180mm D, 24-85mm G and DX 18-200mm G.
When focused to infinity, the front element is about halfway between the front edge of the lens and camera. Focusing is not internal, so at the minimum focusing distance, the front element moves forward by about one centimeter. This focusing design is very similar to that of the 50mm F1.4.
Compared to the 58mm, the 50mm is physically much smaller. Even though the 58mm is heavier overall, most of the weight is toward the back of the lens, where the glass is located. Thus, the lens isn't quite as well-balanced as say the 85mm F1.4 portrait lens.
The 58mm comes with a petal-shaped hood rather than a round hood. This design allows it be larger and thus keep out more stray light than the round hood. The hood doesn't lock too firmly in place, and there is a slight wiggle.
The size of the 58mm lens is appropriate for a large DSLR like the D800, and it would also suit DX-format bodies well when used for portraiture. If you're just looking for a walkaround lens, though, I would recommend the 50mm over the 58mm anytime, as it's simply much more compact.
D800 with 50mm F1.4G
The 58mm is very narrow near the lens mount but quickly reaches its maximum diameter just beyond the tip of the camera's flash.
D800 with 58mm F1.4GI think these pictures speak for themselves as far as size goes. Typically, you wouldn't expect a normal lens to be this large, even for FX. In my opinion this takes away slightly from the overall appeal of the 58mm, as it is physically just as wide as the 85mm F1.4, which has a much larger front element and twice as much glass inside.
All in all, the 58mm feels solid and handles well. Even though it has an odd weight distribution, its large barrel makes it easy to hold, and the focusing ring is comfortable, stiff enough, and thus easy to use for manual focusing. When comparing this lens directly to the 50mm F1.4, though, the difference in build quality is not apparent- except for the gold ring, of course.
The 58mm features a SWM AF motor that delivers smooth and silent autofocus. For everyday shooting, this lens's autofocus feels very fast, and there's nothing to really complain about. When shooting close-ups I observed that the focusing throw is actually a bit longer than you'd expect, and going from minimum focus to infinity does take a noticeable (but still very small) amount of time. Overall, the AF performance of the 58mm is about the same as that of the 50mm.
Now, with our discussion of the physical aspects of the 58mm out of the way, let's move on to its most important aspect: the image quality.
Whenever I review lenses, I look at five key aspects of image quality: sharpness, distortion/aberrations, vignetting, bokeh, and how all these things come together in everyday shooting. The sub-sections that follow will each be dedicated to one of the five aspects.
One would expect a prime lens like the 58mm to be exceptionally sharp in general, as at this focal length, the optical design doesn't need to be very complex (5 elements in 4 groups). And that's indeed the case. As soon as you stop the 58mm lens down to about F2.5, all the way through F10, it is razor-sharp (in the center) based on what my I've seen in the photos I got from this lens. F11 is still very good, and a noticeable drop in sharpness doesn't occur until you stop the lens all the way down to F16, the minimum aperture. At F2, the sharpness is comparable to what you see at F16. Here's a photo taken at F7.1 and an accompanying 100% (unscaled) crop.
[attachment=1791:IMG_6114s.jpg]Even though the corners never fully catch up to the center in terms of sharpness, I haven't had any complaints about the corner sharpness except when wide-open. And that brings us to the most important test: how sharp is this lens at F1.4? Below is one of the test scenes that I shot to find out:
Scaled crop at F1.4 (58mm)
Scaled crop at F2.8 (58mm)
Above you can see that while F1.4 is softer than F2.8, it still very good. After applying a small amount of sharpening in post, you'll certainly be able to use F1.4 for prints.
There's a catch, though. The results above are for a landscape photo, but what about close-ups?
Close-Up Test Scene
100% crop at F1.4 (58mm)
Even though the details in this photo are sharp, notice how everything that's just slightly removed from the focal plane is affected by a prominent glow (spherochromatism), which looks like a blur in practice.
The same photo from the 50mm F1.4 looks much better simply because the fringing is not as prominent when wide-open, at least at this particular shooting distance.
100% crop at F1.4 (50mm)
Let's take a look at another example.
Close-Up Test Scene
100% crop at F1.4 (58mm)
At certain shooting distances, it therefore seems that the 50mm F1.4 will be better for close-ups. Granted, cacti are not your typical test subject, so in practice you might not be as annoyed by the out-of-focus glow that the 58mm sometimes produces.
Based on other test photos that I took, if you were to pixel-peep, in the center the 58mm is a bit sharper than the 50mm across the board, except when wide-open, where the 50mm has a very slight advantage. In the corners, the two lenses are neck-and-neck. In practice, while you might benefit from the 58mm's higher sharpness, at times it's hard to tell the two lenses apart. If you want the best sharpness you can get overall, then the 58mm is the winner in this section.
One of the first things I noticed when I picked up this lens is that the bokeh is just fantastic. Sure, bokeh is a high-subjective matter, but one can't deny that this lens is able to turn even some of the ugliest, busiest backgrounds into something potentially pleasing (as you will see in the sample gallery to follow).
Bokeh at F2: Click to Enlarge
The 50mm F1.4 also delivers very nice bokeh, though I'm tempted to lean toward the 58mm in this area.
The 58mm exhibits the same minimal barrel distortion as the 50mm. On DX, it's virtually impossible to notice, even in the corners. On FX, it probably won't ever bother you, but you might want to use lens profile corrections in certain circumstances. Refer to the first pair of photos below to see a corrected JPEG and an uncorrected JPEG developed from RAW.
The 58mm does exhibit vignetting on FX, but chances are that you won't even notice it unless you're shooting in low light. In-camera lens corrections do an excellent job of removing it in JPEGs.
The following sets of photos include the corrected JPEG followed by an uncorrected version developed from RAW. Click on any photo to enlarge.
In this area, the 58mm is a better than the 50mm as not only does it exhibit less vignetting wide-open, but when stopped down the vignetting almost negligible, even in low light. I still would have expected the 58mm to have less vignetting wide-open, however.
Ghosting, Flare, and Fringing
As I've already shown above, the 58mm F1.4 does exhibit prominent spherochromatism in out-of-focus areas at F1.4. This fringing vanishes when you stop the lens down. Overall, traditional chromatic aberrations (as promised by Nikon) from this lens are virtually indiscernible. Chances are you will never spot any coma in everyday photos, and even if it is there there it won't have significant impact on the final product. The most prominent fringing occurs in areas with lots of highlights, as with other lenses.
The 58mm's nano crystal coating, when combined with the large hood and recessed front element, promises to do an extremely good job of reducing reflections and suppressing ghosting and flare. And that's indeed the case as evidenced by the samples below.
There is a bit of flare and ghosting in both photos, but it's faint. So, if pointing the camera directly at the sun is your thing, the 58mm had got you covered!
Comparing the 50mm to the 58mm in this area allows us to appreciate the advantage of the 58mm's larger hood and improved coating.
This is the only area in which the 58mm blows the 50mm away: but that's not to say that you'll have ghosting/flare issues in all your 50mm photos.
General Image Quality
The results I obtained from the 50mm F1.4 and 58mm F1.4 in the field are comparable. In low light, the 58mm has an advantage because of its milder vignetting and better sharpness when stopped down. For close-ups, I prefer the 50mm because of the 58mm's annoying green glow.
In harsh light, the 58mm gives you a bit more contrast, likely thanks to the larger hood and perhaps the coatings:
Harsh light test scene
There's one last item on the agenda that I haven't yet covered, and that's field of view. The 50mm gives you 5.5 degrees more coverage on film/FX, which in my opinion is more important than it might seem. It makes the 50mm feel a bit more "normal", while the 58mm is a tighter crop which might require you to zoom with your feet if you're a fan of the 50mm focal length. The 50mm also lets you shoot closer: as close as 45cm versus 58mm (surprise) on the 58mm. The 50mm has a slightly higher maximum magnification, too.
For portraits, the 58mm gives you approximately the same field of view on DX as an 85mm would on FX, so I can't help but recommend it for that purpose.
I have plenty of sample photos from both the 58mm and the 50mm posted in my Nikon Forums gallery. LinksConclusion
The new Nikon 58mm is unquestionably a nice lens. When it was first announced, I didn't hesitate to pre-order it, as on paper it seemed like it would be a wonder. After testing it and comparing it to the 50mm F1.4, however, it certainly didn't blow my old fifty out of the water. The 58mm's flare and aberration control is impressive, but the distortion, vignetting, bokeh, and sharpness are all very similar to what the 50mm offers in practice. The 58mm is also bulky: almost as large physically as the 85mm F1.4. This lens will therefore not be replacing the 50mm in my lens cabinet, as the difference in price isn't warranted in my opinion.
Modern Nikon lenses are already very good compared to older manual glass, so perhaps I'm just being overly-picky in my expectations. Optical technology has really come quite far. But from a $1699 lens with a longer normal focal length, I expected nothing short of corner-to-corner perfection. To me, it seems that the gold stripe on this lens is more of a marketing trick than a testament to its image quality. At the end of the day, if you're looking for a professional portrait lens for DX or a top-notch normal lens for low-light photography, the new 58mm may be your best bet. For everyday shooters, the 50mm F1.4G will certainly suffice.
- Virtually no chromatic aberration
- Excellent flare and ghosting control
- Sharp wide-open, extremely sharp when stopped down
- Low distortion
- Beautiful bokeh
- Focusing ring makes manual focusing easy
- Small improvement over the 50mm F1.4 in most areas
- Very large lens barrel
- Tighter field of view than a true fifty
- Astrophotography / low-light photography
- Portraiture (primarily on DX)
Build Quality: 4/5
Overall: 4.25 stars
- Nov 22 2013 04:39 PM
- by Adam