Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
So how does the Noct 58mm f/1.2 perform optically when it comes to sharpness? Nikon says each sample was thoroughly tested for sharpness, but there are a couple of dilemmas – first, at the time the lens was made, Nikon did not have a digital camera, which means that the sharpness of the lens was optimized for film rather than digital. If you are wondering why this is a problem, here is a quick recap – film surface is quite different compared to digital image sensors: it is not as flat and there is no low-pass filter in place, which basically translates into potential sharpness issues anywhere outside the focused area (particularly in the corners). Second, modern high resolution digital cameras like the Nikon D810 are much more demanding in terms of resolving power. At the time Nikon was evaluating sharpness, it was impossible to see how a lens would do on such cameras in the future. So you have to keep all this in mind when looking at classic lenses like the Noct. I would not expect such lenses to do well evenly across the frame on digital cameras, particularly at wide apertures.
So let’s see where this leaves the Noct 58mm f/1.2 in terms of resolution. I put my copy on the Nikon Z7 + FTZ adapter and carefully measured its performance at all apertures using Imatest, just like I do with other lenses:
And exactly as I expected, the Noct NIKKOR 58mm f/1.2 does indeed perform accordingly – the center resolution is very high, but mid-frame and the corners look very weak. This is due to the pronounced field curvature, in addition to the fact that the lens is not designed for digital, so the low-pass filter thickness, along with the lack of curvature of the sensor have direct impact on anything out of the focused area. In a way, you can think of field curvature as intentional part of the design, because this particular lens (similar to the 58mm f/1.4G) is optimized for only one area of the frame to be sharp, while everything else disappears into smooth blur.
Now let’s take a look at how the above data compares to that of the Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G:
We can see a drastic departure in numbers here – being a much older lens, the Noct 58mm f/1.2 completely overruns the modern 58mm f/1.4G at the maximum aperture – this lens is sharper at f/1.2 than the other lens at f/1.4G, which is pretty incredible. The Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G never really gets sharp at any aperture, while we can see that the Noct is pretty amazing starting from f/2 and reaches its maximum resolving power at f/4. At the same time, that older film design definitely leaves a mark on the mid-frame and corner performance – the Noct looks far worse in comparison for that reason. The 58mm f/1.4G reaches excellent mid-frame performance at f/2.8 and although its corners don’t look very good (again, by design), it still out-resolves the Noct at larger apertures.
But does any of the corner performance data matter? Not really – both of these lenses were made for portraiture and I personally find the corner data to be completely irrelevant for most people. What’s more important is the resolving power in the focused area and that’s where the Noct clearly excels.
When it comes to color rendition, the Noct 58mm f/1.2 yields very pleasing images and the colors appear very natural – something to expect from such classics.
When it comes to rendering background highlights, the Noct 58mm f/1.2 surely does not disappoint, particularly at the widest aperture. I specifically wanted to showcase images in this review at the maximum aperture to demonstrate the rendering capabilities of the Noct and as you can see, such smooth and pleasant rendering of background highlights is only reserved for high-end, large aperture prime lenses:
There is a bit of an outline for subjects appearing in the front-focused area, but it does not bother me at all:
And when the background has some colors and outlines, you can see just how soft and smooth those transitions can get:
Let’s take a look at how the lens does in terms of vignetting:
The lens certainly does show pretty significant amounts of vignetting, but that’s only true when one focuses at subjects focused at infinity. At distances near close focus, which is where you will be using the lens mostly, the lens exhibits pretty moderate amount of vignetting – the extreme corners get at most 2 EVs of darkening compared to the center. That’s not bad, although the newer Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G certainly does a bit better in this regard, showing 1.52 EV at the maximum aperture. Still, one should not necessarily look at vignetting as something negative on portrait lenses, because it can actually be translated as a “characteristic” of the lens. I personally rarely ever remove vignetting in post, because I love the look it gives to images.
When it comes to lateral chromatic aberration, the Noct Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 certainly does not look as good as the new generation Nikkor lenses:
The Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G clearly shows better CA handling, particularly at large apertures. The Noct needs to be stopped down to the f/8 range to yield CA lower than a pixel. Chromatic aberration is not a huge issue though and it can be dealt with in post-processing.
Distortion on the Noct 58mm f/1.2 is a non-issue. Imatest measured barrel distortion at 1.33%, which is lower than 1.45% the 58mm f/1.4G measured at. If you want a distortion-free lens, you should take a serious look at the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art.
Ghosting and Flare
If you are worried about ghosting and flare, you should avoid the Noct and most other Nikkor classics. There are several reasons for this – Nikon in the past did not have advanced coating technologies like Nano-coating to apply to lenses and as a result, ghosting and flare can certainly present some serious challenges. In addition, if the copy you have has a lot of dust between lens elements, light will bounce all over the place and give you some crazy results. If you like photographing back-lit subjects, I would watch out for very bright sources of light reaching the front element directly – you might need to reframe your subject to reduce ghosting and flare.
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