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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