This is an in-depth review of the new, much anticipated Nikon 50mm f/1.8G prime lens that was announced in April of 2011. The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is a consumer-grade lens for enthusiasts and seasonal pros that need quality optics of a fixed portrait lens at an affordable price point. Its large aperture of f/1.8 is great for low-light photography and the shallow depth of field helps isolate subjects from the background, beautifully rendering the background highlights, also known as bokeh.
The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G replaces the older Nikon 50mm f/1.8D lens (introduced in 2002). Compared to the AF-D version that has 6 optical elements in 5 groups, the new 50mm f/1.8G has a modified optical design with 7 optical elements in 6 groups, one out of which is an aspherical element (reduces coma and chromatic aberrations). The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is the first Nikon 50mm lens that comes with an aspherical element; even the more expensive and higher-end Nikon 50mm f/1.4G does not have one.
Thanks to the improved optical design and larger lens barrel, the front lens element does not extend or rotate during autofocus operations, which makes the lens more durable and also makes it easy to use circular filters and filter holders. In addition to the above-mentioned optical improvements, the lens incorporates silent wave motor (AF-S), which not only provides near silent focus operation, but also allows the lens to be fully used on entry-level DSLRs such as Nikon D3100 and Nikon D5100 (the older Nikon 50mm f/1.8D cannot autofocus on entry-level DSLRs without a focus motor). In addition, the AF-S motor gives the ability to use autofocus with a manual focus override, which you cannot do on any of the AF-D prime lenses. Just like the older AF-D cousin, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G also has Super Integrated Coating, which helps reduce lens flare and ghosting. The lens is designed to work on both Nikon FX and DX sensors, although it is certainly better suited on FX sensors for everyday photography. On DX sensors, the lens is equivalent to a 75mm lens, which is perfect for portraiture, but a little too long for other types of photography. The lens retains the 7-blade diaphragm, which can result in heptagon-shaped bokeh at large apertures above f/2 (see bokeh examples below).
In this review, I will provide a thorough analysis of the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G lens, along with image samples and comparisons against other 50mm lenses such as Nikon 50mm f/1.8D, Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.4D and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM.
1) Lens Specifications
- Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) enables fast, accurate and quiet autofocus.
- Aspherical lens element virtually eliminates coma and other types of aberration, even when shooting at the widest available aperture.
- M/A focus mode switch enables quick changes between manual and autofocus operation.
- Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) enhances light transmission efficiency and offers superior color consistency and reduced flare.
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length: 50mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/1.8
- Minimum Aperture: f/16
- Format: FX/35mm
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 31°30′
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 47°
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.15x
- Lens Elements: 7
- Lens Groups: 6
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode
- Diaphragm Blades: 7
- Distance Information: Yes
- Aspherical Elements: 1
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 1.48ft.(0.45m)
- Focus Mode: Auto, Manual, Manual/Auto
- G-type: Yes
- Filter Size: 58mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions: (Approx.) 2.8×2.1 in. (Diameter x Length), 72.1×52.4mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight: (Approx.) 6.6 oz. (185g)
- Supplied Accessories: 58mm Snap-on Front Lens Cap LC-58, Rear Lens Cap LF-4, Bayonet Hood HB-47, Flexible Lens Pouch CL-1013
Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.
2) Lens Handling and Build
Similar to the recently introduced Nikon prime lenses, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G has a solid build, with a plastic exterior and a metal mount. The changes in optical and barrel design increased the size of the lens, which as can be seen below, is almost as big as the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G (Left: Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, Right: Nikon 50mm f/1.4G):
Besides the size and barrel layout similarities, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G also has a rubber gasket on the lens mount, which provides good sealing against dust making its way into the camera. The rubber gasket definitely helps not only in reducing sensor dust, but also in reducing the amount of dust that could potentially end up inside the lens. As I explained in my “what to do with dust inside lenses” article, it is quite normal for lenses to suck air in and out when focusing or zooming in/out. Although the front part of the lens does not move when focusing, the front lens element does move in and out inside the lens barrel (just like the 50mm f/1.4G). If you want to reduce the chances of dust and moisture making into the lens through the front of the lens, I would recommend to get a good 58mm clear/protective filter such as B+W 58mm MRC clear filter and leave it on the lens at all times. Not only will it help protect the front element of the lens and reduce dust, but it will also make it much easier to clean the lens when needed. It is definitely painful to clean the front element of the lens without a filter, because it is recessed deep inside.
Here is how the lens compares against the older Nikon 50mm f/1.8D (Left: Nikon 50mm f/1.8D, Right: Nikon 50mm f/1.8G):
As you can see, the 50mm f/1.8 AF-D is both smaller and thinner in size and has an aperture ring. Please note that the older 50mm f/1.8D does not have a rubber gasket on the metal mount, so the new Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is better sealed against dust.
Despite the much bigger size, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is only 30 grams heavier than its predecessor and 95 grams lighter than the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. It also has the same 58mm filter size as the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G (the older Nikon 50mm f/1.8D had a 52mm filter thread). This is not good news for those who already own the older 50mm f/1.8D or the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G lenses and bought specialized filters – larger 58mm filters would have to be purchased separately.
I have received several inquiries from our readers about weather sealing on Nikon 35mm and 50mm lenses. The short answer is “No”, these lenses are not weather sealed. While I have been using my Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens in hot/cold/dry/wet weather conditions and never had any issues, Nikon lenses without gold rings are not designed to withstand tough weather as professional lenses. That’s why Nikon does not specifically mention weather sealing in their marketing materials on these lenses. If you take a good care of the lens and use a protective filter in front of the lens, you should have no problems with using it in various weather conditions. Just remember to take extra precaution when changing the lens in very dusty/windy conditions. Since the rear lens element moves in and out during focusing, get used to rotating the focus ring to the infinity mark before mounting or dismounting the lens.
As for the focus ring, it is conveniently located on the front of the barrel, making it easy to manually focus with a thumb and index fingers while shooting images or video. The lens comes with the same “HB-47” lens hood as on the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G (both 50mm f/1.4D and 50mm f/1.8D are not shipped with lens hoods). The hood snaps on the front of the lens and sits tight without wobbling like some other Nikon lens hoods. The M/A and M switch on the side of the lens allows autofocus with manual focus override and full manual focus operation. The latest Nikon DSLRs like Nikon D5100 immediately recognize the focus position and provide notifications on the information (“I” button) screen.
From left to right: Nikon 50mm f/1.8D, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, Nikon 50mm f/1.4D, Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and Sigma 50mm EX DG HSM.
3) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G autofocuses faster than the more expensive Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. When I first mounted both lenses on two different camera bodies and went from infinity to close focus and back (with the lens cap on), I was surprised to see the 50mm f/1.8G go almost twice faster. I then removed the lens caps from both lenses and tried to focus on my monitor from infinity to the closest focus distance and the time it took to acquire focus was much longer on the 50mm f/1.4G. Next, I performed a series of tests both indoors and outdoors to see how accurate autofocus on the 50mm f/1.8G is versus the 50mm f/1.4G. Again, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G focused faster and delivered equally accurate results. On the contrary, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is definitely louder than the 50mm f/1.4G when it focuses, but only by a small margin. Under very dim lighting conditions, both lenses had a hard time acquiring correct focus on dark subjects, which is normal. Switching to lighter subjects significantly improved AF accuracy. Turning the AF-assist lamp on in AF-S mode helped a lot and AF accuracy was good from that point on.
After I performed the AF tests against the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, I then mounted the older AF-D version on the second body and performed the same tests. Since all of the new AF-S primes I have tested so far autofocus slower than their AF-D counterparts, I assumed that the 50mm f/1.8D would focus a little faster. I was wrong – autofocus speed on both lenses turned out to be the same. AF accuracy is very similar as well, but the 50mm f/1.8D is much noisier.
Next, I tested the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G against the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D for AF speed and accuracy. Once again, just like with the 50mm f/1.8D version, AF accuracy and speed seemed to be exactly the same.
My last test was to compare the AF performance of the lens against the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM that so many people rave about. I ran a number of different AF tests and found the AF accuracy of the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 to be equally good in daylight and in low-light conditions. The AF acquisition speed on the Sigma is the same as well, which makes the Sigma faster in AF speed than the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, but not the 50mm f/1.8G that I tested for this review.
Before using the 50mm lenses, I performed AF accuracy tests using the LensAlign lens calibration tool. None of the 50mm lenses from Nikon, including the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G required any adjustments and the AF accuracy was dead on.
My Nikon 50mm f/1.4G was already dialed at -2 and I did not need to readjust it. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 was somewhat heavily front-focused and I had to use +10 AF adjust to take care of the focusing issues. I personally get annoyed any time a lens has front/back focus issues like this. I do not understand why manufacturers cannot do more thorough QA tests before their products are shipped to retailers. We, as consumers, should be receiving properly calibrated lenses and cameras and not having to deal with testing our gear using focus charts. Unfortunately, these kinds of QA issues happen with all manufacturers, including Nikon. In my experience, however, third party manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron typically have more QA issues (although they both have gotten much better lately).
As with any other lens, be careful when shooting at very large apertures in low light situations. If you cannot consistently get accurate focus in daylight, your lens sample probably has a front/back focusing issue like explained above.
4) Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
As you can see from the below Imatest chart (tested on the Nikon D810) and as I reveal in my sharpness tests further down in this review, the performance of the 50mm is excellent throughout the aperture range. You can see many examples of lens sharpness taken in a controlled environment, along with comparisons against other lenses.
Bokeh is a very important characteristic of 50mm lenses. I would be ready to pay more for a lens that can yield better bokeh, even if it performed slightly worse than others at very large apertures.
Here is the full image from which I made the below bokeh crops:
You can see where I got the center and corner crops from. The corner crop is really not a corner, but rather an area taken from the left-center of the image. Let’s take a look at how the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G compares against other Nikon and Sigma lenses at f/1.8 away from the center:
When compared against the 50mm f/1.8D, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G clearly yields better bokeh – the borders are much less pronounced than on the AF-D. I would rate its off-center bokeh third after Nikon 50mm f/1.4D and Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. The Sigma definitely has the worst bokeh; it looks as if the highlights were cut on their right side and the bokeh refractions, also known as “Onion Rings” or “Onion Bokeh” are too visible when compared to other lenses.
Now let’s take a look at the center:
Here, you can clearly see how much better the bokeh on the 50mm f/1.8G is compared to the 50mm f/1.8D – take a look at the blue highlight on the right and you will notice a thick white edge. The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and Nikon 50mm f/1.4D start to show their 9-bladed and 7-bladed diaphragms, which is normal when both lenses are stopped down. At their maximum aperture of f/1.4, the highlights are circular, just like on the 50mm f/1.8 lenses. The Sigma, once again, is showing bad-looking bokeh. I am not sure why, but the background highlights are not even circular – take a look at the bottom right of each highlight to see what I mean. And again, the bokeh reflections inside highlights are the worst on the Sigma.
Let’s see what happens to bokeh when all lenses are stopped down to f/2.8. Here are the off-center crops again:
The benefits of a 9-bladed diaphragm start to become obvious when lenses are stopped down. Surprisingly, despite the fact that the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G has 7 blades like the older 50mm f/1.8D, the bokeh appears more round in comparison. I first thought that I confused the crops while extracting them, but then I checked again and it turned out to be just like I thought – the diaphragm blades on the new Nikon 50mm f/1.8G lens are slightly more rounded, while the blades on both 50mm AF-D lenses are straight. I was able to verify this by physically opening up the aperture on the lens mount and looking through.
Here is the center area crop from all lenses at f/2.8:
Which bokeh rendering do you like the most? All lenses seem to now have pronounced edges that look more or less the same. The AF-D lenses have a somewhat smooth bokeh on the inside, while refractions on both AF-S lenses are visible. When it comes to bokeh shape, I do prefer the rounded bokeh of the AF-S lenses. The heptagon-shaped bokeh on AF-D lenses looks a little distracting to the eye. But that’s me – I know some photographers actually prefer heptagon-shaped bokeh. The Sigma, again, is the worst here.
Overall, the quality of bokeh on the new Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is very good. I like the rounded 7-blade diaphragm, which very closely resembles the rounded 9-bladed diaphragm on the 50mm f/1.4G.
Here are a couple of examples of bokeh when shot at f/1.8 (top) and f/2.8 (bottom):
EXIF data for both shots is embedded into the files.
Most prime lenses heavily vignette when shot wide open and the same is true for the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, so no surprises here. The good news is that as you stop down to f/2.0, vignetting decreases significantly. At f/2.8 vignetting is almost invisible and by f/4.0 onwards it is completely gone. Take a look at lens vignetting at different apertures shot on FX:
This type of behavior is expected from large aperture lenses, especially when they are mounted on full frame cameras. Other Nikon 50mm lenses and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 also show heavy amounts of vignetting at maximum aperture. Dialing +15 in Lightroom (under Effects->Post-Crop Vignetting->Amount) for the f/1.8 shots will fix the issue.
When mounted on a DX camera, the amount of vignetting is much less pronounced, with only a slight darkening of the edges at maximum aperture:
The bad news, is that the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D vignettes more when compared to the older Nikon 50mm f/1.8D at f/1.8 and f/2.0. Stopped down to f/2.8 and beyond, both lenses perform about the same. The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and Nikon 50mm f/1.4D vignette more at f/1.4, but less when stopped down to f/1.8 in comparison. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is the winner here – due to its large front element, vignetting is very minimal at large apertures.
Here is how Imatest measured vignetting on the 50mm f/1.8G:
Here is the worst case scenario, shot at f/1.8:
7) Ghosting and Flare
When compared to previous generation Nikon 50mm lenses, ghosting and flare are controlled very well – see the comparison below. I performed a couple of tests with the sun in the frame and both AF-D lenses show some nasty ghosting and flares, while the newer AF-S lenses almost have none. I specifically removed the lens hoods from the AF-S lenses during this test, to show how well they perform in comparison. Part of the reason why the AF-S lenses are so much better, is because the front element on the new 50mm lenses is recessed much deeper inside the lens barrel.
When compared to other Nikkor lenses, the 50mm f/1.8G performs the best here. If you keep the lens hood on the lens, you will get even better results when shooting against a bright source of light. Please note that the above images were taken without any filters. Using UV and other filters can potentially introduce more flares and ghosting to your images.
Unfortunately, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G has a slight amount of barrel distortion, which is not too bad, but definitely noticeable. The older Nikon 50mm f/1.8D had no noticeable distortion in comparison. Adobe already has a built-in lens profile in the Lens Corrections module, so you can easily take care of the problem with a single click. Here is how the image looks like without any distortion corrections applied:
Note the curved lines on the top and on the bottom of the image.
Is distortion a problem? No, not at all – it can be easily fixed in post-processing software like Lightroom and Photoshop (as explained above) without losing much of the original image.
9) Chromatic Aberration
Lateral chromatic aberration is controlled well, even in high-contrast situations. Surprisingly, compared to expensive lenses like Nikon 35mm f/1.4G, “LoCA”, or longitudinal chromatic aberration (which is the effect of color fringing in front of and behind the focused area) is controlled better. Take another look at the LensAlign crop:
The above image was shot at f/1.8 and lit with 100 watt directional lamps. Stopping down the lens to f/2.8 and beyond dramatically reduces longitudinal CA.
When compared to other 50mm lenses, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is on par with the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D in terms of LoCA. The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and Nikon 50mm f/1.4D are slightly worse wide open and about the same at f/1.8, while the Sigma is again the worst performer, even when stopped down to f/1.8.
Here is how Imatest measured chromatic aberration levels:
10) Nikon 50mm f/1.8G vs Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
Let’s take a look at how the 50mm f/1.8G does compared to the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens:
The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G starts out very strong with much better center, mid-frame and corner performance than the 50mm f/1.4G, as evidenced by the graph data above. It continues strong all the way until f/4, where it seems to have the sharpest center frame. From there on, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G seems to take over in terms of resolution in the center, but the corners are still better on the 50mm f/1.8G. Overall, there seems to be a very slight resolution advantage on the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, but it only shows at f/5.6 and smaller and only in the center. Since these lenses are mostly shot at largest apertures, we can conclude that the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is better overall in sharpness performance.
11) Nikon 50mm f/1.8G vs Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
Although the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM is a higher-class lens than the 50mm f/1.8G, let’s take a look at how the two compare optically:
The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM starts out rather weak at the widest aperture. At f/1.8 its sharpness improves a bit, but it is still not as good as what the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G delivers. But take a look at the corners – the Sigma is much worse in comparison, even when stopped down. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 improves significantly at f/2.8, where it outresolves the 50mm f/1.8G in the center. However, its corners are far worse in comparison. At f/4, the Sigma reaches its peak performance, but it is still not as good as what the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G can deliver. Overall, it looks like the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is a sharper lens.
The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G sets new standards in 50mm fixed lens performance for Nikon mount – it is sharper than all of the predecessors, including the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G at largest apertures. I was quite surprised to see such results in my lab tests. I can only guess that the performance is this good due to the added aspherical element in the lens, but I am sure other lens design factors also add their share. The only weakness I could find on the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is its distortion, but then the more expensive primes like Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and 50mm f/1.4D also have a moderate amount of visible distortion. I really enjoyed shooting with this lens in outdoor environments and it performed great even in challenging light. Its AF performance is impressive and the lens delivers accurate results when mounted on both top of the line DLSRs like Nikon D3s and on entry-level DSLRs like D5100. The bokeh looks very soft and creamy at maximum aperture and takes a semi-round heptagonal shape when stopped down. In comparison, the older AF-D lenses have a hard-edged heptagon-shaped background highlights, as shown in this review. Vignetting is somewhat heavy at maximum aperture, but gets significantly reduced by f/2.0, so it is easy to deal with in post-processing software. Colors and contrast are also very good; I could not see any difference when compared against the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. Due to its light weight and relatively small size (when compared against zoom lenses and longer primes), the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G handles great on any Nikon DSLR. My only suggestion would be to buy a 58mm filter for this lens, as it can get difficult to clean the front lens glass element. The front element is recessed deep inside the lens barrel, which is tough for cleaning, but good for controlling ghosting and flares. If you keep the lens hood on the lens at all times, you should have no problems shooting against very bright sources of light.
The lens is great for portraiture, street, event and wedding photography and it will work great on FX or DX cameras, although I would recommend to use the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX for everyday photography on DX sensors instead, due to the shorter focal length (the Nikon 50mm has an equivalent field of view of a 75mm lens when mounted on a DX camera).
When compared to other 50mm lenses currently available on the market, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G definitely has the highest price-performance ratio. I am a little confused by this move by Nikon and I hope it is an indication that another 50mm prime update is coming soon to deliver even better performance for the demanding professionals.
13) Where to buy and availability
B&H is currently selling the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G lens for $216.95 (as of 07/05/2013).
14) More Image Samples
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Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Size and Weight
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