Review : Nikon 58mm f/1.4G

I’m not anywhere close to a gear-head, and I’m far from an expert in the area, but there seems to be enough interest in the performance of this new lens that I thought I’d share my first impressions.  Nikon’s re-creation of the legendary Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 (which was selling for over US$4,ooo USED) has stirred a lot of excitement, and there doesn’t seem to be a huge supply of them “in the wild”.  I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy from the great peeps at Camera Canada.  This is the summary of my subjective assessment of the lens – all of the technical specs can be found on the Nikon website.  I’m sure more competent people will be reviewing it as soon as more are available.

Price:  This seemed to be a big point of contention upon launch.  At roughly US$1700, yes, it’s not cheap…and yes, it’s far more expensive than any “Fifty” (with the exception of some exotics).  That said, it’s almost a bit of a bargain compared to the price of other Nikon’s premium primes, like the 24, 35, 85mm.

Size:  The size is fantastic.  As you’ll see below, it’s quite a bit larger than the 50 f/1.4G lens from Nikon, but it’s a nice size, and lighter than I expected.  It balances well on both pro-sized bodies like the Nikon D4, and feels equally at home on the smaller bodies, like the D800 or D600.

Left to Right:  50mm f/1.2 AIS, 50mm f/1.4G, 58mm f/1.4G

Left to Right: 50mm f/1.2 AIS, 50mm f/1.4G, 58mm f/1.4G

AutoFocus:  This is the real question mark that always looms over a “blind” purchase at launch, and probably the detail that people are most curious about.  The AF is very good.  It’s nothing close to a 24-70, but it’s very much in-line with Nikon’s other recent “premium” primes, like the 85, 35 and 28.  Note that I excluded the 24mm.  I did a very rough test of the AF speed, simply by putting the lens cap on and seeing how quickly it can rack from infinity to minimum and back to infinity.  I compared it to the Nikon 35mm f1.4, and it was identical as far as I could tell.  The focus doesn’t hunt (like the virtually unusable 50 f/1.4G does), it’s smooth, and locks-in quickly…even in low-light and backlight situations.  The manual focus ring is perfectly placed, and operates very smoothly, as you’d expect from a “premium” Japan-built Nikkor.

Test Photos:  It’s Hallowe’en night and raining.  I was only able to grab a few shots with a couple I know before it was too miserable for them.  The real lust for this lens is its performance at night – this lens earns its price tag by how it resolves in high-contrast & low-light, even at wide-open apertures, and focused at infinity.  I wasn’t able to do any tests at infinity before the rain/wind sent me packing (I also lost a SB-900 tonight due to the wind…grrr), but I’m incredibly impressed with how it handled focusing in very dim, backlit scenes.

All of these test photos are deliberately taken at f/1.4, because that’s really what this lens is about.  They’re also ambient light only to show true tone/contrast characteristics of the lens, and what you see is basically straight out of camera on Auto White Balance (except for the B&W, obviously – which was converted to B&W and had shadows lifted).

Nikon 58mm f/1.4 sample photo

Nikon 58mm f/1.4 @ ISO 1600, f/1.4, 1/100th

Nikon 58mm sample photos

Nikon 58mm f/1.4 @ ISO 1600, f/1.4, 1/100th

Nikon 58mm f/1.4 @ ISO 6400, f/1.4, 1/80th

Nikon 58mm f/1.4 @ ISO 6400, f/1.4, 1/80th

Verdict:  I’m definitely keeping it.  I like it so much I might use lens caps with it.

I’m sure there are MANY things that weren’t covered in this brief review…feel free to hit me up on Twitter (@christianflee) if you have a question.

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