In 2008 the Nikon 50mm f1.4G introduced a new benchmark for affordable performance from an f1.4 standard Nikkor lens. It easily outperformed its predecessor. But how does this lens hold up today, is it still a worthy investment to photographers who are seeking a large aperture normal lens (on FX-bodies) or short telephoto lens on DX-bodies? Well, Nikon itself sort of gave the answer to this question with the release of the gold-ringed Nikon AF-S 58mm f1.4G. So it must think that performance of the 50mm f1.4G could be improved.
I’ve shot now over 6000 images with various lenses from 50mm to 58mm focal length from Nikon, Sigma and Zeiss and I came to respect the performance of the cheapest of them all: the Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.4G! Let me sum up the strengths and weaknesses of this lens before coming to my recommendation:
– Resolution is quite impressive even wide open, but covered under a haze that makes the lens soft at f1.4 and f2.0. But at least the detail is there and you can bring some of it out in post-processing if you wish or use the softness wide open as a welcome rendering style for your type of photography.
– Bokeh is good. Unfortunately more so in the foreground where it is seldom needed than in the background. But if your background is either of normal-to-low contrast or sufficiently far away from the focus-plane you’re good to go. And f1.4 blur-circles are larger than from an f1.8 lens.
– Resilience under adverse contra-light situations is pretty good. If you’re shooting against strong light-sources this lens behaves quite well and there’s not much you have to watch-out for – except for correct exposure under these conditions.
– The AF operation is reliable but needs to be fine-tuned to deliver best results. But this is true for almost every large aperture prime. So you could turn the dictum around: If you don’t know how to focus precisely with an f1.4 lens you’d be disappointed.
– It’s smaller, lighter, cheaper and better weather-sealed (at least at the lens-mount) than it most immediate competitor, the Sigma 50/1.4 – which performs comparably. It’s also 5 times cheaper than Nikon’s 58mm f1.4G which mainly has two major advantages: much less coma and much less vignetting. And as I’ve already stated in my review of that lens: the performance-advantage of the Nikon 58mm f1.4G does not justify five times the price of the Nikon 50mm f1.4G.
Rolling it all up, I think the Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.4G shows a very appealing optical performance that alone would earn it a Recommended. But factoring in its small size, light weight, weather sealing and price/performance ratio I’d upgrade this lens to Highly Recommended!