Revisiting the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF in the digital era.
Apr 1, 2007
Review by jvandegr
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Very sharp throughout its range, fast focus, inexpensive, compact, light, reasonably durable.
Cons:Manual focus ring and aperture ring are poorly dampened. Otherwise, no cons for the price.
The Bottom Line: Thanks to the 1.5X crop factor of Nikon digital SLRs, this lens has come alive for me again - razor sharp, fast, light, compact, very inexpensive.
Recommend this product?
Nikon and Canon have long offered a fast 50mmm lens. Over the years, these have been available as manual focus lenses, autofocus lenses, and with apertures as wide as f/1.2. Nikon's 50mm f/1.8D AF has long been considered one of the sharpest prime lenses available. Since it can be found just about anywhere for a hundred bucks, most of us have ended up with one in our collection. Personally, I have found this "normal" focal length to be of limited use in photojournalism. I tend to shoot around it, either at wide angle or at least short telephoto. Today, with all of Nikon's digital SLRs utilizing a 1.5X crop factor, I've pulled this lens off my shelf again to use as a 75mm portrait lens.
- Focal Length: 50mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/1.8
- Lens Construction: 6 Elements in 5 groups
- Minimum Focus Distance: Approx. 1.5 feet
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.15
- Number of Diaphragm Blades: 7 blades
- Picture Angle: 46 degrees (35mm format), 31 degrees 30 minutes (Nikon DX format)
- Aperture: f/1.8-22
- Filter Attachment Size: 52mm
- Hood: HR-2 Rubber hood
- Included Accessories: 52mm Lens cap, Rear cap
- Dimensions: 2.5 x 1.5 in.
- Weight: Approx. 5.5 ounces
If traveling light with the smallest gear possible is your style, this lens is not to be missed on a digital SLR. I'm guessing this is the lightest interchangeable lens made by Nikon, and it certainly takes up minimal space in my pack (or on my camera) at a meager two inches, including a UV filter. Its light weight (less than six ounces!) balances much better on my Nikon D200 than on my F5, thanks to the comparatively low weight of the D200. Although I wish the D200 was heavier than it is for stability, here is an example of where its lighter weight provides more even counter balance with a lens.
All of the aperture and distance markings are bright and easy to read, and more so in fact than I've seen on some more expensive lenses.
For those of use who continue to shoot film in this ever-expending digital era, this lens floats nicely between my D200 and my F5 and my FM3A (fully manual). The aperture ring allows for manual adjustment of f-stop, while the small but easy to grip rubberized focus ring allows for manual focusing.
That being said, neither one inspires confidence. Manual focus can be accurately achieved with some effort, but the jerky movement of the focus ring takes some of the efficiency out of this process. The aperture adjustment ring clicks nicely into place at each f-stop, but certainly doesn't feel smooth between stops. Just a little more dampening could make this a much better manual focus performer for those low light shooting assignments when even the best AF-S lens on the best body can hunt for focus. Am I asking for too much from a $100 lens? Possibly.
The lens is constructed of mostly plastic, save the lens mount. Although there is a preference for metal over plastic among most professional photographers, I've never found the plastic construction of this lens to present any limitation. Its compact design greatly reduces the amount of surface area to suffer abuse in normal day-to-day use. In other words, it stays out of trouble nicely. Although Nikon does not claim any water resistance, I've used this lens in light rain on several occasions and I've never had a single problem. Despite its plastic construction, the fit and finish of this lens are decent. It appears to be better constructed than some of Nikon's other plastic-based lenses, but this is only a superficial assessment.
Autofocus speed on this lens is impressive when mounted on my D200 body. It may not be as fast as an AF-S lens but with a relatively short focal length in such a compact package, it doesn't need to have AF-S mechanics to get the shot. In fact, I've never missed a shot due to focus speed with this lens, regardless of what I was demanding of it. I've missed a couple due to focus accuracy, but this is most often a camera problem or user error.
Finally, the "standard" 52mm filter mount is nice because it keeps filter costs low and easy to find. So far, I haven't had any problems with filters binding to the mount. The optional Nikon HR-2 lens hood also mounts easily to the front of the lens and adds quite a bit of utility thanks to its collapsible rubber design.
This lens has developed a very favorable reputation over the years as a leading optical performer. Sharpness is one of the most notable strengths of this lens. Corner to corner, regardless of aperture, this is one of two lenses that I compare all others to (the other is the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S). Sure, it's not as sharp at f/1.8 as it is at f/2.8, but this is true with any lens. Personally, I've always considered f/1.8 surprisingly sharp on this lens.
Distortion is absolutely minimal on this lens. Normal focal lengths tend to be less prone to things such as barrel distortion in the first place. Nikon seems to have paid even more attention to reducing this problem and produced a lens that might be as close to distortion free as you can get. Again, enter the digital SLR and we get another nice little bonus. With the 1.5X crop factor, the sweet spot near the center of the lens occupies a great percentage of the image. At the same time, the distortion prone edges (what little this lens has of them) disappear. In other words, the already superb Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF just got better in the digital era!
Vignetting is not noticeable in any of my photos taken with this lens, even with a UV filter and a lens hood attached. Even at f/1.8, I've never had a problem with vignetting. Color rendition is very good. Not too saturated, but it still pulls the colors through and lets them "pop" when I need them to. I have found this to be true on both my F5 and D200.
No zoom lens, regardless of its price, can match the overall optical performance of the Nikkor 50 f/1.8D AF. In fact, no other lens that incorporates this focal length really challenges this Nikkor, not even the Nikon 17-55 f/2.8. If sharp, minimal distortion images are what you require, this one gets the job done time after time. For me, this means I can focus on getting the shot and not need to consider any of the optical characteristics of my lens when before I hit the shutter release.
For pennies (yes, $100 is pennies in the photographic profession), the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF offers incredible speed and razor sharp optical performance. Thanks to this low price tag, I am comfortable saying that there is no reason not to own this lens. With its compact size and extremely low weight, this lens is finding a new place for itself on my digital Nikon cameras, thanks to a 1.5X crop factor. Indeed, it is safe to say that this fixed focal length lens from the film era has proven even more valuable in the digital era, at least for this photographer.
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