This is an in-depth review of the new, much anticipated Nikon 58mm f/1.4G professional prime lens that was announced on October 17, 2013 along with the Nikon D5300 DSLR. Similar to the legendary classic, the NOCT Nikkor 58mm f/1.2, the AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G is a specialized lens for such needs as portraiture, street, event / wedding photography and astrophotography. Thanks to its fast aperture of f/1.4 and a complex optical formula using aspherical elements, nano crystal coat and super integrated coating, along with a fast silent wave autofocus motor, the lens is also ideal for low-light photography needs. Unlike many of the Nikkor lenses that are optimized for maximum sharpness, the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is the first modern lens of its kind that focuses on producing aesthetically pleasing images, rather than purely focusing on sharpness. I had a pleasure of shooting with this lens for the last 3 months and I wanted to get a full understanding of its strengths and weaknesses, especially when compared to the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and f/1.8G lenses that I have been relying on for my photography needs. In this review, I will not only provide an in-depth analysis of the lens, but will also compare it head to head against Nikon’s 50mm prime lenses and the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 lens that I have been testing in parallel.
As I have stated above, the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is a specialized lens like the much older NOCT Nikkor 58mm f/1.2. Due to the high price tag, limited production and eventual discontinuation, the NOCT Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 has become a classic that is hard to find in good condition. Most used copies auctioned off on sites like eBay go for $3K and up, depending on their wear and tear. The reason why the NOCT rose to such popularity, was because of its distinct look in images and a fast aperture of f/1.2 that rendered exceptionally good-looking images. Nikon has not updated the lens for many years, so the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is meant to replace the long discontinued NOCT 58mm f/1.2. Although Nikon could not deliver the same fast f/1.2 aperture lens due to mount size constraints (electronic contacts for lens / camera communication and autofocus operation take up the already tight space), Nikon’s goal was to produce a lens with sharper wide open performance than the NOCT, while maintaining the distinct three-dimensional look that the NOCT was so famous for. Unfortunately, although I really wanted to do a head to head comparison between the new 58mm f/1.4G and the NOCT, I was not able to find a good sample for proper testing. Hence this review will primarily focus on comparing the 58mm f/1.4G against the two 50mm Nikon primes and the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 manual focus lens. Let’s take a look at the lens in more detail.
1) Lens Specifications
- High reproduction capability of point light sources even at the maximum aperture
- Sharp, high-resolution images can be reproduced even at the maximum aperture
- Delivers natural depth of subjects utilizing smooth and beautiful bokeh characteristics
- Controlled light falloff retains natural brightness across the entire frame even at the maximum aperture
- Nano Crystal Coat effectively reduces flare and ghost
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length: 58mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/1.4
- Minimum Aperture: f/16
- Format: FX/35mm
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 27°20′
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 40°50′
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.13x
- Lens Elements: 9
- Lens Groups: 6
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- Distance Information: Yes
- Nano Crystal Coat: Yes
- Aspherical Elements: 2
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 1.9ft.(0.58m)
- Focus Mode: Auto, Manual, Manual/Auto
- G-type: Yes
- Filter Size: 72mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions: (Approx.) 3.3×2.7 in. (Diameter x Length), 85x70mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight: (Approx.) 13.6 oz. (385g)
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
The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is built similarly as other recent AF-S prime lenses like the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. The barrel of the lens, the lens hood and the front extruded part of the lens are all made of plastic. The only metal component is the rear lens mount, which is protected by a rubber gasket to prevent dust from entering through the lens mount. The lens barrel is pretty thick, similar to the thickness of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G lens, but not as tall. The front element is recessed deep inside similar to other 50mm lenses, and it moves inside the lens barrel by about 10mm when the focus ring is rotated from close focus to infinity and vice versa. The front element is only about half in diameter as the size of the lens barrel. Because it sits so deep in, cleaning the front element can be rather painful, especially close to the borders. I would highly recommend to buy a protective filter to make the cleaning process easier, especially when working in the field. Speaking of filters, I don’t understand why Nikon chose a 72mm filter size for this lens. For a professional lens like this, the filter size should have been 77mm. The barrel is already quite large, so I don’t think adding 5 more millimeters would have made much difference. As always, I would recommend to buy a high-quality filter like the B+W 72mm MRC clear filter. Since the rear element does not move too much in, you do not have to worry about rotating the focus ring to infinity when changing lenses.
The rubber focus ring is easy to rotate and does not feel too loose like on some of the Nikkor lenses. Similar to modern Nikkor AF-S lenses, the focus ring continues to rotate beyond infinity and close focus. There is a single switch on the side of the lens to go from Autofocus with Manual Focus override (M/A) to Manual Focus only (M). As with other pro-grade lenses, the lens has a gold ring on the front of the barrel and the engravings are also done in gold colors. There is a large letter “N” on the right side of the distance scale, which indicates that the lens is equipped with Nano Coating technology to reduce ghosting and flare.
Here is how the lens compares against the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G and Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 (from left to right):
As you can see, the 58mm f/1.4G is the biggest of the group. At 385g, it is also the heaviest. As a comparison, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is twice lighter at just 185g, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 is 105g lighter at 280g, while the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 is a tad lighter at 320g.
The lens comes with a new petal shaped “HB-68” bayonet lens hood, which mounts easily on the lens and locks in place pretty tight without wobbling. To save storage space, the hood can be mounted in reverse position.
3) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
The autofocus speed of the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is about the same as on the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens, so it is not a speed demon like some of the professional f/2.8 lenses. Being a slower lens with a smaller aperture, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G acquires focus much faster and takes less time to travel from close focus to infinity. Focus accuracy is pretty similar to what you would get with the 50mm f/1.4G, which is average. The lens starts to suffer in very dim lighting conditions. While the lens does not necessarily hunt for focus, it can result in slightly missed focus, especially when shooting at large apertures that result in very shallow depth of field. To be honest, I cannot see much difference in accuracy between the 58mm f/1.4G and the 50mm f/1.4G lens. If you have challenges with autofocus in dim light, make sure to switch to AF-S mode, which will turn on the AF-assist lamp and make it much easier to acquire accurate focus. Using an advanced Nikon speedlight like Nikon SB-910 can also help quite a bit, since the speedlight will fire red beams that can be used by the AF system to lock focus.
I primarily used the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G on the D600 and Df camera bodies. Both were dead accurate, which indicates that the lens did not have any front or back focus issues. If you have autofocus accuracy issues, make sure to perform AF accuracy tests and calibrate your lens, if necessary.
4) Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
When the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G lens was released, Nikon specifically pointed out that the lens was of a different optical design, one that was not concentrated on sharpness alone. The 58mm f/1.4G was optically optimized to yield a three dimensional look with beautiful bokeh and that’s its main selling point. Through these words, Nikon wanted to point out upfront that one should not expect to see tack-sharp images that we are so used to seeing on such expensive and exotic lenses, but rather concentrate on aesthetics. After I looked at the MTF chart of the lens initially and compared it to the 50mm f/1.4G, I came to a conclusion that the lens would be a little sharper than the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and would have more consistent performance across the frame, with better corners. Here is the comparison of the MTF data between the two:
Please see my detailed guide on how to read MTF charts if you need some guidance with understanding the above.
As I have said a number of times before, MTF charts provided by manufacturers are mostly simulated and do not represent the real picture. In addition, such simulated tests typically show performance at infinity, which is not very valuable, especially when looking at macro and portrait lenses that are rarely ever used at infinity. In the case of the 58mm f/1.4G, the above MTF does not show its biggest optical issue – curvature of field at short distances. As you can see from the below Imatest chart (tested on the Nikon D800E), the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G yields pretty good sharpness in the center, but its mid-frame performance is not good – worse than the corners at close range. The big reason for this is the wavy field curvature of a “sombrero” type, where the center is sharp, mid frame falls off quickly and the area towards the corners pick up again. As you get closer to the subject, the curvature changes in shape and it negatively affects the corners, making them appear even softer. Take a look at the below sharpness test results:
As you can see, there is a huge difference in performance between the center frame and the rest of the image. At the maximum aperture of f/1.4, the wavy / sombrero field curvature is pretty evident, since the corners are sharper than the mid-frame. As the lens is stopped down, the effect of the field curvature diminishes significantly and the mid-frame picks up to good levels at f/2.8. By f/5.6, the mid-frame reaches excellent levels. However, the extreme corners never really improve to good levels, even when stopped down to f/8.
A very important fact to point out here, is that the above test was captured at a distance of about 11 feet. As I have indicated above, the field curvature issue of the 58mm f/1.4G actually worsens at closer distances. As you move away from the subject, the effect of field curvature diminishes and gets to acceptable levels towards infinity, which explains why the MTF chart looks pretty consistent. Unfortunately, it is impossible to test lenses at infinity using test charts – they are simply not large enough to handle such distances. An expensive optical bench setup is required to see what the lens is capable of achieving at infinity.
What does this all mean? Does it present a huge problem for photographing portraits or the night sky? No, not really. Field curvature is not always a bad thing. It simply means that the lens cannot bring everything on the flat plane into focus. In the case of the 58mm f/1.4G, the subject that you focus on will be very sharp, but the area around the subject on the same plane won’t be. So if you need to photograph something flat, like a picture or a painting at distances closer than 15 feet, the area where you focus will be sharp, but everything around it will be blurry. Hence, this lens is obviously not a good candidate for that type of photography. However, if you photograph people, you will rarely ever notice the effect of field curvature, because you will be concentrating on a single area to bring into perfect focus. In fact, this optical issue can be an advantage for portraiture, as it effectively helps to blur the outside area even more. As reviewers, we tend to praise lenses that perform well in the corners and do it even for portrait lenses, over-emphasizing something that actually often does not matter for portraiture. I am guilty of this myself! There are some great lenses out there that do not do well in tests, but yield very pleasing images. A number of Zeiss and Leica lenses fall into this category.
If you are wondering what sharpness looks like at pixel level at f/1.4, take a look at the below 100% crop from the Nikon Df camera (unsharp mask applied in Photoshop):
The above crop is from the same image of the model from earlier. As you can see, the detail level one is able to get from the lens is very good. You just have to make sure that you focus accurately on the subject. The Nikon D800 does not yield the same sharpness at pixel level, but it is still plenty enough for most needs.
Another important factor that you need to keep in mind, is that field curvature affects the image differently depending on where you focus. In the above case, the lens was focused in the center. If you were to focus in say mid-frame, then the mid-frame would appear sharp, while the center and the corners would lose their sharpness. So when you see such poor corner performance in lenses with field curvature problems, the corners are not necessarily as bad as depicted in these charts. Some reviewers focus in the corners separately from the center or mid-frame and provide such results, but I always only focus in the center of the frame. If I were to employ the same practice of focusing in different areas, then Imatest numbers would look too good for all three and I would never be able to show optical issues such as field curvature.
What about astrophotography? Well, since the field curvature issue on the 58mm f/1.4G is greatly diminished towards infinity, photographing the night sky at large apertures should not be a problem. I would recommend to stop the lens down a little to yield maximum sharpness – even f/2 will make a huge difference.
Bokeh is a very important characteristic of the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G lens and one of its main selling points. As you can see from the many image samples in this review, the lens has exceptionally good subject isolation capabilities and beautiful bokeh. One of the main requests that I have been getting from our readers, has been to compare bokeh performance between the 58mm f/1.4G, 50mm f/1.4G and 50mm f/1.8G lenses. Since I also have the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 lens, I decided to include it in the below comparison as well. Let’s take a look at how the four lenses compare at their maximum apertures:
When judging the quality of background highlights, it is often said good bokeh does not have well-defined rings around highlight shapes. In that regard, the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G definitely delivers – it practically has no rings and very smooth transition. This smooth transition is what results in exceptionally beautiful background rendition that transforms one background element into another. If the rings are too defined, it can lead to something commonly referred to as “nervous bokeh”, where background elements have sharper edges. Take a look at the below image that demonstrates the smooth transition of background elements:
From my experience, the only other modern prime in the Nikon line under 100mm that is capable of producing bokeh that looks this pleasing in images is the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G.
The second factor in bokeh quality is the cleanliness of the inner area and that’s where the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G suffers the most. Since the lens design includes aspherical elements, the inside of the highlight has a ring pattern known as “onion bokeh”, which can look rather distracting. Note that the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G also has these inner rings, because it contains an aspherical element as well. Since the 58mm f/1.4G has two aspherical elements, its onion rings are more defined than on other lenses in the group. Please note that these onion rings are only typically visible in very bright circular background highlights. They are never visible when looking at out of focus areas or when the out of focus highlights are less bright. Take a look at the below photographs of Christmas lights, where onion shapes are practically invisible in highlights:
Please keep in mind that the above comparison only shows one side of bokeh, which is just defocused highlights. I highly recommend to refer to the many image samples used in this review for understanding the bokeh characteristics of this lens.
Nikon also specifically pointed out that the 58mm f/1.4G has very low vignetting levels. Let’s see what Imatest was able to measure at different apertures:
Indeed, vignetting levels are impressively low for this lens. While there is some visible vignetting wide open at about 1.8 stops in the extreme corners, vignetting drops significantly at f/2 to below 1 stop. Stopped down to f/2.8, vignetting disappears almost completely and stays that way all the way to f/16. As a comparison, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G has strong vignetting even at f/2.8.
Here is the worst case scenario, shot at f/1.4:
7) Ghosting and Flare
None of the Nikon 50mm lenses have Nano coating, so the 58mm f/1.4G is unique and the first of its kind in that regard. While Nikon says that Nano coating reduces ghosting and flare, over years I discovered that Nano coated Nikkor lenses also greatly enhance colors and overall contrast. This is especially true when working with back-lit subjects and high-contrast scenes. While Nano coating certainly reduces internal reflections, it cannot fully cope with direct sunlight, especially at longer focal lengths. When the light source is very strong, it is expected that some ghosting and flare will appear in images. To reduce direct exposure to the sun, Nikon already moved the front element deep inside the lens. Let’s see what happens with ghosting and flare when the lens is pointed directly at the sun without a lens hood (shot at f/8):
As you can see, the lens seems to handle ghosting and flares well, even when pointed directly at the sun. Stopping down to very small apertures like f/16 can introduce blue streaks of light at certain angles, but it is not a huge problem, since you can eliminate them by re-framing the shot or opening up the aperture. Shooting directly at the sun while taking portraits can yield results like the following:
Unfortunately, the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G has a visible amount of barrel distortion. When photographing straight lines, it will be noticeable to the naked eye. Imatest measured a barrel distortion of -1.45, which is pretty close to distortion on the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G (-1.42). In comparison, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G suffers from less distortion at -1.02, while the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 has the least amount of barrel distortion at just -0.60.
Is distortion a problem? No, not at all – it can be easily fixed in post-processing software like Lightroom and Photoshop without losing much of the original image. Adobe already has a built-in lens profile in the Lens Corrections module for the 58mm f/1.4G, so you can easily take care of the problem with a single click.
9) Chromatic Aberration
Lateral chromatic aberration is controlled very well, even in high-contrast situations. Below are the CA levels measured by Imatest:
Anything below 1 pixel is considered to be very good and the Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G surely does not disappoint here. Averaging around half a pixel, the lens outperforms both the 50mm f/1.4G and the f/1.8G lenses.
“LoCA”, or longitudinal chromatic aberration (which is the effect of color fringing in front of and behind the focused area) is very similar to what the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G yields, which shows a noticeable change in color in front and behind the focused area.
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – lens comparisons.
10) Compared to Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
Let’s see how the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G compares in terms of sharpness to the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens, which has been in production for many years now:
The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G looks a bit weaker in the center and in the mid-frame when compared to the 50mm f/1.4G. However, in the extreme corners it comes out a bit sharper than the 50mm f/1.4G at large apertures. Stopped down to f/2.8, the 58mm f/1.4G is visibly sharper than the 50mm f/1.4G, but at f/4 the latter takes over with a huge jump in performance. Stopped down to f/5.6, the 50mm f/1.4G delivers better center and corner performance. Let’s see how the new 58mm f/1.4G compares to the 50mm f/1.8G.
11) Compared to Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
Without a doubt, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is one of the most valuable lenses offered by Nikon today. Its overall performance is better than what the 50mm f/1.4G has to offer and at just half the price, it is an amazing buy even for professional needs. My wife loves this lens and it is her primary tool for photographing weddings and events (see this article on its use for wedding photography). Let’s take a look at how the two compare side by side:
Here we can clearly see that the 50mm f/1.8G is optically superb – it is sharper at every aperture, from center to the corners. The only exception is mid-frame performance when stopped down to the f/5.6 range, but the corners make up for the loss here. Due to the field curvature issue discussed earlier, the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G does not do well in the corners, even when stopped down.
12) Compared to Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4
Let’s take a look at how the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G compares to the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 at similar apertures. Here are the Imatest results from the two:
The Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 is slightly sharper in the center and much better in the mid-frame, but not in the corners at f/1.4. Stopped down to f/2, the Nikon 58mm f/1.4 leads the way and by f/2.8, it is sharper across the frame. The Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 reaches its peak performance in the center at f/4, but takes more stopping down to get to more even performance in the mid-frame and the corners. Similar to other 50mm lenses though, it does improve in the corners significantly at small apertures, while the 58mm f/1.4G never gets there. Once again, this is due to the fact that the 58mm f/1.4G has wavy field curvature issues that diminish its performance at close distances. As you move away from the subject, its performance evens out and gets to very good levels towards infinity. The Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 has a typical field curvature, where the performance quickly decreases from center to corners. The effect is more pronounced at closer distances and it certainly diminishes towards infinity, similar to the Nikkor.
An important difference here is autofocus vs manual focus. While modern DSLRs provide guidance for focusing manually, it is extremely difficult to get accurate results at large apertures between f/1.4-f/2. This is especially true for photographing dynamic subjects that constantly move.
As I have already pointed out, the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is a very specialized lens that is targeted at a specific group of photographers. With its price of $1700 MSRP, it surely raised some questions from the photography community regarding its value and use, since the standard 50mm f/1.4G lens from Nikon costs almost four times less, while the f/1.8G version is almost 8 times less in comparison. What makes the Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G so special? And the main question is – is it really that much better than the 50mm lenses Nikon makes today? To answer these questions, one must first understand why some lenses are so expensive and what makes exotic lenses so special.
In the case of the 58mm f/1.4G, it is not made to be a general-purpose lens like the 50mm primes. As you have seen from this review, the Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G does not shine with exceptionally good optical performance and its general optical characteristics do not make it anything special in comparison to other similar lenses. In fact, considering how bad it is at close distances outside the focused area (thanks to its wavy field curvature issues), the lens could be regarded as a poor performer, if one were to look at it purely based on lab tests. But as I have always said, lab tests only reveal part of the story. One has to look at other important factors such as craftsmanship, colors, depth and other often non-quantifiable features. One of those non-quantifiable features is the three dimensional look that the Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G is able to produce in images. Nikon specifically used these words in its marketing materials and even called the 58mm f/1.4G “three-dimensionally high-fidelity lens”. The three dimensionality is a very subjective factor. For some, it is a very important characteristic of a lens that gives images a distinct look, while for others it is simply a myth. Having shot with a wide variety of lenses over the course of the last 7 years, I have come to a conclusion that some lenses just never do well in lab tests and yet are able to achieve beautiful results. Aside from the 58mm f/1.4G, many of the old Nikkor classics and some modern Zeiss and Leica lenses are designed in such a way.
For me, the three dimensionality is a combination of a number of optical features or sometimes even problems that contribute to yielding aesthetically-pleasing images. Sometimes it is a combination of lens coatings, aperture blades, field curvature and vignetting that make images look different; sometimes it is optical aberrations such as field curvature and distortion that cause subjects to be “wrapped around” in two dimensional photographs. In the case of the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G lens, strong field curvature, Nano + Super Integrated Coating, distortion, moderate vignetting and optimized optical design collectively contribute to rendering of images with perceived depth, beautiful colors and superb bokeh. In fact, I specifically chose not to use any of the lens corrections in Lightroom for images in this review, because I found the corrections to be too strong for my taste. As soon as optical problems were corrected, images became too flat and too “ordinary”. I only used distortion correction on a couple of architectural images to make straight lines, but aside from that and some cropping, they are basically how they came out of the lens.
The 58mm f/1.4G is now one of my favorite portrait lenses next to the equally excellent 85mm f/1.4G Nikkor. What sets the two apart, however, is the field of view difference. The 85mm f/1.4G is much longer and therefore can be considered a more specialized lens for portrait photography, while the 58mm is more suitable for general and everyday photography. Those, that shoot weddings and own the 85mm f/1.4 know very well that the lens can be limiting when photographing indoors in tight spaces. My wife loves 85mm lenses for their subject isolation capabilities and exceptional bokeh, but she often ends up using her “nifty fifty”, since it is more versatile on a full-frame camera. So the 58mm f/1.4G would fit her needs much better in that regard.
Overall, I am very impressed by what the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G can deliver. Taking into account everything I have said above, it is surely the finest Nikkor lens in the standard range that is capable of producing beautiful images that stand out with a distinct, three dimensional look and feel. I am glad that Nikon chose a different path for optical design this time around and concentrated more on aesthetics, rather than on pure optical performance. I believe that was much needed for the 58mm f/1.4G to stand a chance against its predecessor, the NOCT 58mm f/1.2.
One last thing I want to point out, is that I did not want this particular review to focus just on optical performance and features. I believe images that accompany this review illustrate the capabilities of the lens much better than words…
14) Where to buy and availability
B&H is currently selling the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G lens for $1696.95 (as of 01/04/2014).
15) More Image Samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating