Compared to Nikon 50mm f/1.4D (AF-D)
I loved the classic Nikon 50mm f/1.4D and used it for years until the 50mm f/1.4G came out. It is a great little gem that many photographs still rely on for everyday photography and videography. Although it has the same 7-blade diaphragm as the 50mm f/1.8 AF-D, it has a good solid build, making it heavier and more rugged than both the new 50mm f/1.8G and the older 50mm f/1.8D, but not the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. Let’s take a look at how it compares to the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G.
13) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.4D Center Frame
Let’s see how both lenses compare wide open. Before you even click on the below crops, you can see right away that the image on the left (Left: Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Right: Nikon 50mm f/1.4D) looks much better and clearer than the image on the right. This shows that the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D is very weak wide open and lacks contrast:
When stopped down to f/4.0, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D actually seems to perform better than the 50mm f/1.4G – the image looks a little sharper, because there is less chromatic aberration visible on the AF-D:
The same holds true for apertures of f/5.6 and smaller, although the difference at these apertures is negligible:
The perceived difference in sharpness at smallest apertures is primarily because of chromatic aberration/color fringing that the 50mm f/1.4G seems to have a little more than the 50mm f/1.4D.
14) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.4D Corner Frame
Let’s take a look at what happens in the corners. The wide open corner performance of the 50mm f/1.4G is sharper and clearer, just like in the center (Left: Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Right: Nikon 50mm f/1.4D):
Overall, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is better than the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D in both center and corner frames.
15) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.4D Vignetting
Both lenses have about the same amount of vignetting, although the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G seems to be a tad worse at large apertures:
16) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.4D Distortion
Distortion is clearly visible on both lenses, although it is more severe on the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G:
Again, just using Lightroom’s “Lens Corrections” sub-module will take care of the distortion and vignetting problems.
17) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.4D Conclusion
In general, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G shows stronger performance than the older Nikon 50mm f/1.4D classic, especially at large apertures. Chromatic aberration at smaller apertures is a problem, but it is not bad. I always hesitated to shoot the 50mm f/1.4D wide open, because I knew that it produced images with much less contrast and sharpness when compared to smaller apertures – the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is much better in that regard. At f/2.8 and onward both lenses seem to perform about the same, but since these are portrait lenses, their performance at largest apertures is more critical than the stopped down performance. The whole point of getting a prime portrait lens is to be able to shoot at maximum apertures. Sharpness-wise, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D clearly falls behind the 50mm f/1.4G at large apertures. On the other hand, it has less distortion + vignetting and its bokeh also looks a little cleaner, despite its heptagon-shaped background highlights (I personally prefer the more circular nature of the rounded 9-blade aperture on the 50mm f/1.4G though). Overall, there is no reason to buy the AF-D model over the newer AF-S model in my opinion. If you are thinking about upgrading your 50mm AF-D to an AF-S model, you would be better off getting the newer Nikon 50mm f/1.8G instead, since it performs better than both of these.
Compared to Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 has been quite a popular lens among many photographers ever since it got introduced to the market. As you have seen from the first page of this review, the lens is the biggest of the 50mm bunch that I tested and has some impressive features that sets it apart from the competition. It is a large aperture f/1.4 lens with a quiet autofocus motor, a large front element with a 77mm filter thread (which is unusual for a 50mm lens – even the Canon 50mm f/1.2 has a 72mm filter thread) and is available for all major DLSR mounts including Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, Sony and Four Thirds. I decided to do a thorough comparison of the Sigma against the new Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and other 50mm primes, so let’s see how it performs.
Before I go over the test results, I would like to point out that the Sigma 50mm has a wider field of view compared to Nikon 50mm primes – equivalent to approximately 45mm in focal length. I had to move my setup about 6 inches closer to the target in order to get a similar field of view.
18) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Sigma f/1.4 Center Frame
Overall, the center performance of both lenses is about the same, with Sigma lagging behind wide open and slightly sharper stopped down.
19) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Sigma f/1.4 Corner Frame
The Sigma looks much worse and muddy in the corners, which is disappointing and nothing changes at f/2.0:
The corner performance of the Sigma f/1.4 is clearly its weakest point – it performed worse than all other Nikon primes, including the older Nikon 50mm f/1.8D.
20) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Sigma f/1.4 Vignetting
As I have pointed out before, the Sigma’s strength is in the low amount of vignetting, due to the large front lens element and lens barrel. As you can see below, the vignetting levels wide open are like the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G stopped down to f/2.0. Sigma leads all other 50mm lenses in terms of vignetting here:
It is also worth noting that vignetting is even less pronounced on DX sensors – all of the above tests were performed on an FX sensor.
21) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Sigma f/1.4 Distortion
Barrel distortion level on the Sigma is low in comparison to the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G:
22) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Sigma f/1.4 Conclusion
While being the largest, heaviest and the priciest of all 50mm lenses I have tested, The Sigma f/1.4 EX DG HSM simply fails to deliver. Its high levels of purple fringing and low sharpness in the corner frame are disappointing. Longitudinal chromatic aberration levels are the highest as well, and as you have seen on the first page of this review, the bokeh just looks ugly in comparison to Nikkor primes. In addition, the Sigma f/1.4 I tested was the only lens in the group that was heavily front-focused, which shows just how bad the QA of third party manufacturers can be. I would personally send it back to Sigma for readjustment and calibration right away, but I did not bother, since it was loaned to me for a month anyway. Sure, its vignetting/distortion levels and AF performance (when properly calibrated) are impressive, but those are the only positives I can think of. Considering the size and weight, it almost feels like an 85mm prime rather than a 50. Its corner sharpness looks better on a DX camera, but not by a huge margin.
Don’t waste your money on this lens – it is simply not worth the $500 Sigma is asking for.
Compared to Nikon 50mm f/1.8D (AF-D)
Let’s see how the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G compares against the older Nikon 50mm f/1.8D lens, which is still in production as of today (11/15/2011).
23) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.8D Center Frame
24) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.8D Corner Frame
Let’s see how the lenses compare in the corners. Wide open, both lenses look somewhat similar, but the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D lacks some contrast (Left: Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Right: Nikon 50mm f/1.8D):
Please note that I had to increase the exposure by up to a full stop for the first two corner shots. Otherwise, vignetting significantly darkens the images at largest apertures.
25) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.8D Vignetting
As can be seen below, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vignettes slightly more than the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D at maximum aperture in the extreme corners:
Vignetting levels are about the same at f/2.0, disappearing at f/2.8-f/4.0 on both.
26) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.8D Distortion
The Nikon 50mm f/1.8D is a champ among the 50mm lenses – it has no visible distortion:
27) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.8D Conclusion
As you can see from the above comparisons, except maximum aperture, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D is a very sharp lens when compared against the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. Lack of contrast is evident wide open, flares and ghosts are more problematic to deal with and heptagon-shaped bokeh is not as pleasant in comparison. Other than that, it beats the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G in distortion, vignetting levels and AF speed, which is pretty impressive, considering the 50mm f/1.8D is currently the cheapest Nikon lens available. Autofocus accuracy on both lenses is pretty good, but the AF-S is less noisy (as noted earlier). Construction-wise, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D obviously has a much cheaper feel to it, because it is mostly made of plastic (with a metal mount). The lens barrel comes out during focusing, but unlike the 50mm f/1.4D, does not rotate. Like all other AF-D lenses, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D will not autofocus on entry-level DSLRs.
Compared to Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
I have already pointed out earlier that the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is in many ways a better lens than the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. Although I have been using the 50mm f/1.4G ever since it came out and I have been extremely happy with its performance, I was surprised to see the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G outperform it in sharpness, vignetting, distortion and flare/ghosting tests.
28) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.8G Center Frame
I was a little shocked when I saw the above results. The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is sharper than my favorite Nikon 50mm f/1.4G at large apertures.
29) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.8G Corner Frame
Again, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G performs better at largest apertures, although the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G gets sharper between f/4.0 and f/8.0. Please note that I had to adjust the exposure on corner crops at largest apertures, since the effect of vignetting was too high, especially for the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G (I had to add +1.5 exposure to the f/1.4 crop).
30) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.8G Vignetting
While the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G has a very heavy amount of vignetting at f/1.4, the effect of vignetting is less pronounced at f/1.8 when compared to the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. Similar to the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D, vignetting is heavily reduced at f/2.0 and completely disappears by f/4.0:
31) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.8G Distortion
Again, it is not a big deal – small amounts of distortion as above can be quickly fixed in post-processing software like Lightroom and Photoshop. Enabling lens correction in Lightroom or Camera RAW painlessly fixes distortion issues on both lenses.
32) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.8G Conclusion
Once again, it is shocking to see the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G outperform the supposedly better and more expensive 50mm lenses, including the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G that Lola and I have been heavily using for our photography. As you can see from the above crops, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is sharper than the 50mm f/1.4G at pretty much all apertures in the center and at largest apertures in the corners. The two thirds of a stop difference between the lenses is simply not worth the price difference. I do not know what Nikon was thinking when they released this lens – the sales of the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G will be severely impacted by the 50mm f/1.8G once everyone figures out that the latter is a better buy. Although the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G has a 7-bladed diaphragm versus 9 on the 50mm f/1.4G, the bokeh it produces is very comparable to the bokeh on the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G (thanks to the rounded blades). So, it is not like the f/1.4G renders a much better background either. In addition, LoCA seems to look worse on the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G.