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Lens Reviews

Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 lens review

Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg)

Keywords: nikon, nikkor, 50mm, jonnadelberg

Fifty-millimeter lenses have always been a staple of SLR and DSLR photography.  They are very popular as they are small, inexpensive, and generally of very high quality. All camera makers make some version of this type of lens, and it originally was the lens you would get when you purchased a kit of camera and lens together. Nikon currently makes several versions of 50mm lenses:

And one more, the NIKKOR 50mm f/1.2.  This is a lens review of the f/1.2 lens. They began making the AI version in 1978, the AiS in 1981, and have never stopped making them.  This AiS manual focus lens is the fastest lens that Nikons currently makes, and it is also their most expensive 50mm at $725.  To compare, the f/1.4 G lens costs about $450.  The least expensive non-refurbished 50mm is the 50mm f/1.8 D at $175.  Between the two extremes you have a difference of over $500.  So what do you get for that money?

When you first take this lens out of the box, and hold it in your hand, you instantly see that this is not the same sort of lens that Nikon makes today, and you can see why Nikon for so many years meant top-tier for craftsmanship and quality.

This lens is an absolutely jewel to behold.  It looks and feels like something from another, better era when things were made to last, and were made with care and pride.  It is heavy.  It is made out of metal and a big hunk of glass, weighing nearly a pound (359g, with 454g to a pound) all by itself. The weight, though, is all strictly lens. No AF-S, AF, or VR to increase the weight.

The Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AiS lens. The colored numbers and hash marks are the depth of field gauge. The little red dot by f/5.6 is for IR focusing.


The movement of the focus barrel and aperture ring are buttery smooth, and have a solid feeling to them that current lenses just do not have.  The depth of field gauge on this lens is printed in multiple colors for instant ease of use.  It also has an IR focusing dot at f/5.6 which you just don’t see on lenses anymore, either. 

The lens is a beautiful mechanical marvel of seven lenses in six groups. This is fewer than the G series lenses.  The less glass in a lens usually results in a better image.  The f/1.8 D, for example has six lenses in five groups, and it’s a much sharper lens than the f/1.4 models. This lens is great for collectors, and it is the single nicest looking lens I have ever owned.  But what sort of images can it capture?

The closer you focus, the less depth of field you have.  Closest focusing at 1.7 feet with this lens gives a depth of about a quarter of an inch (6mm).  To put it in human terms, this is about half the size of an average human iris. While not good for some applications, there are many instances where this can be put to use.  Here are some examples of extremely shallow depth of field. 


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Einar Landre (elandre) on January 9, 2018

Great lens, great review. I have this lense, and have used it on FM2, DF, D810 and even on my Leica M (240) with an adapter. I find it useful that some of these old-timer lenses of hight quality are brought forward and given place. They are marvels pieces of kit that still does a good job.

Miguel Lecuona (miguellecuona) on January 7, 2018

Awarded for his generous contributions to Nikonians Articles

Thank you for posting this excellent piece. I have been interested in this lens, having purchased a few Zeiss manual lenses in 2017. The build quality and ergonomics of these old (and modern Zeiss Distagon) Manual lenses are a joy to work with, and they have their own impact on your work, independent of the lens itself. And you're absolutely right in comparison to today's amazing technology AF VR lenses, which you don't really have to touch, the feel of these is so precise and a joy to work with. Since the lens is so simple, and dependent on your own creativity and skill to use, it links you in a way to your subject that you can't appreciate in AF, so you approach assignments and opportunities with a different level of attention. The pacing, the interaction, the deliberation, all are critical elements to successful MF photography. And in my interactions with portrait subjects, it shows, as we have more dialogue and an interesting connection while shooting, as I am looking to achieve a very specific outcome and often need their attentiveness to be at a level it might not otherwise reach. I think this mindset also shows up in the final image quality. Makes me think Nikon has an opportunity to put forth a Manual Focus tuning kit for the D850 that includes focusing screens, viewfinders, and other features to encourage MF use. I would buy such a kit or a camera to get the most out of my growing collection of great old (and new) MF Glass. I need and use AF, but I want to use MF even more, for the sheer joy of the art of photography.

Robert L Howard (bobeck4950) on January 7, 2018

Have a 50mm f1.4 and still use it,

James Gould (jgould2) on January 6, 2018

Fellow Ribbon awarded for his excellent and frequent contributions and sharing his in-depth knowledge and experience with the community in the Nikonians spirit.

Nice review Jon. I love mine. JIM

KENNETH JACKSON (f5titan) on January 5, 2018

In the 1980's and 1990's in central North Carolina there was a wedding fad where the ceremonies would take place at midnight and the only light in the sanctuary was candle light. I had a Nikkor 55mm f1.2 SC lens that I acquired in the 1970's and none of my wedding photography competition could match what I could do with that lens! I'm about to acquire another FX body and I'm seriously considering the 50mm f1.2 to use with it. Using such a fast lens takes practice but the effort is worth it.

Alan Dooley (ajdooley) on January 4, 2018

Awarded for his frequent encouraging comments, sharing his knowledge in the Nikonians spirit. Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the 2017-2018 fundraising campaign Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas, especially photojo Ribbon awarded for his repeated generous contributions to the 2019 Fundraising campaign

I got into 35mm photography with a camera that featured ONLY a 50mm lens. For many of us, we composed and "zoomed" by moving loser or farther away. Every once in awhile, I put a Nikon 50mm f1.4 AF-D on my D4 and spend time out shooting with it. It takes me back to simpler days and makes me grasp how much the newer equipment has brought to photography -- but some of the pictures are really good with the "fixed" 50mm!