I used to run with a 50mm f/1.8; I got one when I got my hands on my first Nikon autofocus camera, the F80. And you know that was a great lens if you want a cheap and fast lens go for the 50mm f/1.8. But if you need something a little speedier or want something with a large front element and don’t care too much about having that f/22 aperture, then go with the 50mm f/1.4. Now I got my first experience with the 50/1.4 with a manual focus version I got with my Nikon F3 and immediately thought this lens superior. It isn’t really, but that’s splitting hairs. So when I went to pick up a Nikon D300, I decided that with an improved camera I needed to up my lens game and found a 50/1.4D used for a reasonably low price. And you know, it’s an excellent lens, it hits all the right notes and cuts a beautiful figure. Is it better than my 50/1.8? I honestly cannot tell the difference, but it certainly helps make the camera look good.
Model: AF Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4D
Focal Length: 50mm
Focal Range: ∞ – .45m
Aperture: f/1.4 – f/16, 7 Blades
Structure: 7 Elements in 6 Groups
When it comes to the build quality, the 50/1.4D the lens is the perfect blend of plastic and metal. And I don’t say that as a bad thing. The most important part is that the lens mount is metal and while the barrel and filter ring is plastic but is far from fragile. It also keeps the weight down and fits and balances perfectly on any camera. I’ve mounted the lens on an F80, F90, D300, and the F5. The filter ring is a standard 52mm, similar to all other lenses of the D-Types, making it easier to swap filters without having to carry a tonne of different sized filters. The only trouble is that the lens does not have a built-in autofocus motor, rather has a direct mechanical linkage to the motor in the camera body. Which means the lens is only good on cameras that have an internal motor at least for autofocus.
I love the image quality that I get out of this lens, and it’s that quality that is why I have stuck with the older D-Type lens over updating to a G-Type, but also for backwards compatibility with older Nikon cameras. That said there are some flaws, first is the barrel distortion which again could be due to distance or my hack job of mounting the test chart. I’m working on a better version and more control over placement. That said once you get some distance, the distortion does go away. When you shoot the lens wide open at f/1.4 there is some fall off at the corners, nothing too serious but noticeable against plain backgrounds. Thankfully by the time to stop down to f/2 that fall-off goes away. The lens performs admirably between f/5.6 to f/16, which is the true sweet-spot for the lens. While there’s nothing super-special about the out-of-focus elements rendered by the lens, I find they rather smooth and pleasing in a ‘normal’ sort of way. But out in the field, it does start to produce amazingly sharp images starting at f/2 and only increases from there.
As a low-light lens within affordable means for the Nikon system, there is no better lens than 50/1.4D. Nikon only has one lens faster in the F-Mount, and that one is the AI-S Nikkor 50/1.2 (I’ll have to borrow that one for review). Plus you have a lens that will fit on any Nikon camera, yes, even manual focus ones that are designed around the AI-S system thanks to the maintaining of the aperture ring. Nikon does have the flare for backward compatibility. The 50/1.4D is perfect for low-light situations and as a portrait lens if you need excellent subject separation with a narrow depth of field. But be on target with your focus when working at f/1.4. The lens also makes for a good poor man’s macro lens with a close focusing ability. And while it does only stop down to f/16, it can handle landscapes like a champ. And does make for a good general use lens. I personally always bring the 50mm along when travelling with the Nikon kit.
The Low Down
Honestly, if you’re starting in your journey of autofocus Nikkor glass, you don’t need this lens. I mean there’s nothing wrong with the lens it’s amazing and produces excellent images, but it’s not a need lens. You have to want it, but if you do want it, you won’t have to pay too much. Sure some examples are above 300$ I mean that’s how much you pay for the lens new, but you can have one on the used market for between 150-200$ for a good example. That is thanks to the release of the AF-S G-Type lens. However, if you are running older Nikons or adapting the lens to a mirrorless system, the D-Type is the lens you want as it maintains that aperture ring. But no matter which way you go, the 50/1.4D is a solid addition to any prime lens kit with professional cameras and offers excellent image quality, a powerful portrait or carry around lens without breaking your budget too much or you back.