We are back again at reviewing some of the lens classics and this time we have the Nikon NIKKOR-S Auto 50mm f/1.4 (Ai modified), which was first manufactured way back in 1962. One of our readers, Joe Ridley, was kind enough to send a number of Nikkor classics, and this lens is the second one that we are reviewing. Nikon has made so many different 50mm lenses its in 80 years of optical history, that the list of just 50mm lenses can get quite overwhelming. Many of us look at the modern 50mm primes without realizing that among all manufacturers, Nikon has the longest history of making these lenses. In fact, the very first Nikkor 5cm lens was made in 1937 specifically for Canon rangefinder cameras! And it is also worth pointing out that Nikon invented the very first 50mm f/1.4 lens after the World War II. This particular NIKKOR-S classic was designed for Nikon’s rangefinder cameras. Today, it is hard to find a converted version that works on modern DSLRs (mostly non-Ai versions), but you can snatch one for about $50 and get it converted for another $20-30. Or if you bought the new Nikon Df, you will be able to use this lens without having to convert it!
1) Overview and Specifications
The NIKKOR-S Auto 50mm f/1.4 is one of the early, Pre-Ai Nikkor manual focus wide angle lenses for the F mount. With its standard focal length of 50mm, the lens was designed as a general-purpose lens on early manual focus rangefinder cameras like Nikon S2 and S3, although its fast maximum aperture of f/1.4 also made it very suitable for low-light situations (especially on B/W film). With 7 optical elements in 5 groups, the NIKKOR-H 50mm f/1.4 has a simpler optical design than the new Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. However, similar to some of the old Nikkor classics, this lens is not about top notch sharpness and rich features. Its corner vignetting, beautiful bokeh and a boatload of optical imperfections is what gives the lens a certain “character” that is so hard to find on modern lenses. As one of our readers pointed out, it is interesting that some people try to imitate such imperfections in post-processing today, because their lenses are so sharp and corrected. Still, despite all its flaws, the lens can produce excellent sharpness results even on some of the best DSLRs like Nikon D800E, once stopped down to f/2.8 and smaller, as demonstrated further down in the review.