The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S is the third lens released for Nikon’s Z-series mirrorless cameras, and one of the most important as well. In this in-depth review, we will take a look at the performance of Nikon’s first mirrorless “Nifty Fifty” and discuss whether it lives up to the high standards of Nikon’s other Z glass so far.
With a retail price of $600, the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S is the least expensive Z lens released so far, although it remains on the higher side for a 50mm f/1.8 prime. By comparison, the Nikon F-mount 50mm f/1.8 G is currently selling for just $177. Even the competing Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 lens is just $250. Only the Sony T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA is more expensive for a 50mm(ish) f/1.8 lens, selling at $1000.
So, in order for the Nikon to hold its own, it all comes down to performance. Otherwise, you might as well simply adapt the (still very solid) Nikon 50mm f/1.8G and be done with it. After all, the G weighs significantly less than the Z (185 g versus 415 g). Even with the weight and size of the 135g FTZ adapter, the F-mount lens is about 25% lighter and takes up no more space.
That’s one of Nikon’s difficulties with the new Z lineup: convincing buyers – many of whom already own excellent F-mount glass – that the S lineup doesn’t have your everyday f/1.8 lenses. And, as you can see from the specifications below, the 50mm f/1.8 S is more than an “everyday” lens in some important ways:
Handling and Build Quality
Like the previous Z-series lenses, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 S relies upon a smooth, minimalist design with primarily plastic construction. It only has a single switch, auto vs manual focus, as well as one ring to control focus (though you can program it for other tasks if desired).
The lens is fairly small and light in hand, but not to the same degree as other 50mm f/1.8 lenses on the market, some of which are borderline pancake lenses. It also is not quite Nikon’s lightest Z lens yet; the 35mm f/1.8 S lens weighs 370 g versus the 50mm’s 415.
As an aside – I personally hope that Nikon releases a line of pancake primes for the Z series, to take advantage of the lightweight cameras. For some genres of photography, f/1.8 lenses are overkill, even if they are high in quality. Why not make a very good f/2.8 or even f/4 version that weighs significantly less? Landscape and travel photographers would certainly find a lot of value in lenses like that, especially in combination with the excellent IBIS of the Z-series.
As for the 50mm f/1.8 S, if you’ve handled Nikon’s other Z lenses, you won’t be surprised here. The plastic construction is very sturdy, and I actually prefer it compared to metal in most ways. Plastic handles better in the cold, while reducing the weight of lenses and even increasing their durability against certain bumps. (Metal can dent in cases where plastic will bounce back.) Metal is still better for some photographers’ needs, but there are good reasons beyond just cost-cutting for manufacturers to use plastic lenses today.
The lens mount of the Z 50mm f/1.8 S, at least, is made of metal – including four locking ears for a very secure attachment without any noticeable wobble. The lens is weather-sealed at the mount, and Nikon claims a “dust- and moisture-resistant lens barrel” as well. I used this lens in rainy and sandy conditions without any ill effects. Because the lens has a rear focus design, the lack of moving parts also contributes to the 50mm f/1.8 S’s successful handling in difficult conditions. (Rotating the focus ring does not move anything else on the lens exterior.)
One favorable point about the 50mm f/1.8 S is its 62mm filter size, shared with that of the Nikon Z 35mm f/1.8 S. Currently, the Z-series includes two lenses with a 62mm filter size, one with a 72mm filter size, and two with an 82mm filter size. It remains to be seen if the rest of the S line will try to fit one of these three standards, or if they’ll spread more widely like F-mount glass did over time. Still, considering that many prime-lens photographers will get both the 50mm and 35mm f/1.8 S, it’s nice to know the same filters work for both.
The 50mm f/1.8 Z only has one switch on the side of the lens, controlling auto vs manual focus. The lens does not have built-in VR, but it does work with the Nikon Z-series IBIS to allow handholding at long shutter speeds. Personally, I wish Nikon had put a VR switch on the lens anyway (doing a menu dive or assigning a custom button to VR is not ideal) – but it’s not the end of the world.