This past week Nikon announced two new full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Z6 and Z7, as well as the development of a new flagship lens, the NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct. The press release carried much fanfare about the future of Nikon photography and nostalgia regarding the famous Noct-NIKKOR 58mm f/1.2 Ai-S. This post will not be about either of those fine lenses, rather it will focus on what I would consider to be the poor man’s Noct, the NIKKOR 50mm f/1.2 Ai-S.
The 50mm f/1.2 is Nikon’s fastest F-mount lens currently in production. That’s its only claim to fame; on paper this lens is nothing special compared to today’s modern lenses, but there is something unique about using a piece of glass from the 1980s.
One of the reasons I picked up photography is the joy and excitement of getting to explore new places in search of unique images. Walk-around photography is strolling the streets or wandering the woods with your camera.
You’re not in search of anything in particular, you just want to get out of the house and take some pictures. The point of walk-around photography is to relax and have fun, and the 50mm f/1.2 can help you achieve this goal.
Its compact size makes the 50mm f/1.2 easy to store in a bag or throw over your shoulder when you go out. Also, the build quality of this lens is outstanding, giving you piece of mind should it get banged around a little while you’re on the go.
Photography has become a highly automated experience in pursuit of the best image quality with the least amount of effort. As a sports photographer, I greatly appreciate the speed and easy-of-use of modern lenses. However, there are circumstances when you may want to spend a bit more time to find your subject and compose it properly in the frame. This is where manual focus comes in.
I’ve used quite a few manual focus lenses, and I have no reservations saying that the 50mm f/1.2 has the smoothest helicoid mechanism I have experienced; it feels great to focus. You might be wondering, how do you get sharp focus, especially at maximum aperture?
DSLR focus screens tend to prioritize image clarity over focusing aids, such as a split prism. Nevertheless, your Nikon viewfinder has a handy focus indicator to help you get sharp images with manual focus lenses.
The 50mm f/1.2 was built with the ISO limitations of film in mind. For this reason, it is an excellent night and indoor lens; perfect for walk-around photography without a tripod. When it comes to low-light photography, there is nothing better than a fast fifty.
One area where the 50mm f/1.2 really shines is making portraits. At maximum aperture you can get some unique images with very shallow depth of field. Stopping down to f/2 or f/2.8 yields very sharp results while still isolating your subject.
The 50mm f/1.2 uses a spherical lens design with seven glass elements. This simple construction has pros and cons. Instead of getting into a lot of technical terms, I’ll explain how images look in the real world.
Don’t try shooting brick walls with this lens because it has some distortion. If you’re a pixel-peeper, then you may be disappointed because this classic lens lacks the optical corrections that are standard in modern designs.
On the bright side, color rendition, contrast, and sharpness are excellent. Your images will appear really natural and vivid. When shooting wide open everything except the center focal plane will be a bit dreamy. At f/2 and above you’re looking at Nikon’s sharpest 50mm, at least in the center.
I hope that you have enjoyed this brief photo essay about what I consider to be the ultimate tool for walk-around photography. If you have any tips for walk-around photography or have used the 50mm f/1.2 in your own work, please leave a comment!