Ever since I published my Nikon 50mm f/1.8G review, where I showed that the lens outperforms pretty much any other Nikon 50mm lens, including the more expensive Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, I have been getting a lot of questions from our readers. Some wonder if perhaps I made errors in my assessment of the lens – it seems hard to believe that a cheaper lens would outperform its bigger brother. Others wonder if the 50mm f/1.8G truly is that good, why Lola and I continue to use the 50mm f/1.4G lens for our work (it is also listed in the outdated “Our Gear” page).
After many years of dedicated service, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G finally went kaput on us (it has all kinds of focus issues, probably as a result of field abuse, so it is on its way to Nikon for repair). I had no intention of selling the older 50mm f/1.4G, because it shows a lot of wear and tear and I knew I wouldn’t get much for it anyway. Since Lola cannot live without her favorite 50mm lens, as soon as this one died, I knew that I would be getting the 50mm f/1.8G version.
When the lens arrived, I decided to run another comparative test, but this time in a much more serious and demanding environment. Since all of my previous tests were done on Nikon D700/D3s bodies with 12 MP sensors, this time I decided to test the lens on the Nikon D800. There have been a lot of talks lately about the D800 and its high requirements when it comes to lenses. With a 36.3 MP sensor, the Nikon D800 shows the true resolving power of lenses, making their weaknesses more obvious than on lower resolution sensors. In addition, I have been spending quite some time working with Imatest software, which helps a great deal in quantifying lens resolution, along with providing all kinds of tools for measuring optical problems such as chromatic aberration, distortion, etc. Coupled with the two amazing high-tech tools, I tested both lenses in a controlled environment.
As it turned out, on average, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G still outperforms the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G on a high resolution sensor. It offers great performance wide open throughout the frame and once stopped down to f/2.8, produces very impressive results that the bigger f/1.4G cannot match. At f/4 it reaches its peak performance in the center and its corners also significantly improve. Starting from f/5.6, however, the lens takes a hit in resolving power and that’s where the f/1.4G takes over, giving slightly better performance in the center, as shown in the below graphs:
The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G used for the above test was a brand new sample borrowed from a friend.
Looks like the strength of the 50mm f/1.4G is above the f/5.6 range, where it shows slightly better performance throughout the frame. In summary, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G resolves a little more at f/5.6 and smaller, but fails to provide good sharpness at large apertures.
When shooting with a normal to telephoto range lenses, why would you want to stop down a lens to get the best out of it? Bokeh always looks the best at the widest lens aperture. When photographing weddings and events, the working apertures for both Lola and myself are typically f/1.4 to f/2.8. We rarely stop down beyond f/2.8 – only when more depth of field is needed. Hence, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G with its impressive wide open performance makes a lot of sense for us.
Sure, there is a 2/3 stops of light difference between the f/1.4G and the f/1.8G lenses, but considering that the 50mm f/1.4G delivers rather soft images wide open, I avoid using f/1.4 anyway. So despite the aperture difference, the 50mm f/1.8G is still a better lens. On top of that, the 50mm f/1.8G autofocuses faster than the 50mm f/1.4G and I find its autofocus accuracy to be better as well. Distortion, ghosting/flares and chromatic aberrations are controlled better on the 50mm f/1.8G as well.
As I have already pointed out in my Nikon 50mm f/1.8G review, Nikon shot itself in the foot when it announced the 50mm f/1.8G lens. Not only is it a better buy than the f/1.4G version (costing less than half), but it also outperforms it in most aspects, making the older Nikon 50mm f/1.4G obsolete.
The intent of this article is not to bash the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens or its owners. We have been using that lens for years and we have made many beautiful pictures with it. If you do not have a 50mm Nikon lens yet, then we are simply recommending to go with the new, cheaper version. But if you already have a Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, there is really no need to replace it, unless you are very dissatisfied with its wide open performance…
P.S. Lola and I will be shooting a couple of weddings this weekend, so I will ask her to post some pictures from the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G next week. She is loving it so far!
P.P.S. Going forward, I will be testing all lenses with the Nikon D800/D800E. Very soon I will put a list of recommended lenses for the Nikon D800, as requested from our readers.
P.P.P.S. Another Nikon 28mm f/1.8G sample will be arriving next week. This will be the third sample that I test for the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G review. If it shows the same performance, then we can safely conclude that all 28mm f/1.8G lenses suffer from heavy focus shift and field curvature issues…