I first saw this lens mounted on the front of a Nikon F3 with an MD-4 motor drive attached and I can honestly say it would be the first time I ever saw f/1.4 glass. Most of my past 50mm lenses were either f/1.7 or f/1.8. And while it’s not too much difference between the two apertures, there is plenty different between the two lenses. The AI-S Nikkor 50/1.4 carries forward the tradition of the fast Nikon 50 Nikon would be the first camera company to introduce such a lens back in 1950. And while optically, the formula has changed, the AI-S version is the third and final version and is still used in the autofocus version used today. When it comes to this lens, it doesn’t come down to need it comes down to want like any fast glass, unless you’re into portraits where the subject’s nose is in focus. But as a general carry around for low light, this is the lens I reach for on any of my Nikon manual focus cameras.
Make: Nippon Kōgaku K.K.
Model: AI-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4
Focal Length: 50mm
Focal Range: ∞ – 0.45m
Aperture: f/1.4 – f/16, 7 Blades
Structure: 7 Elements in 6 Groups
The Nikkor 50/1.4 is a big chunk of metal. From the lens mount to the lens body, it is all-metal construction, and it shows. The result is a heavy piece of glass, but not overly so, as it doesn’t affect the balance of most cameras I’ve mounted it on, from the Nikon F3 to the FA and even the FE. The only camera it doesn’t suit well is the smaller EM; there is throws off the centre of gravity. The focus ring does have a rubber grip material around it, and focusing is smooth. The aperture ring operates on full clicks so you cannot have mid-way points between the stops. While the lens is an AI-S version, the addition of the ‘claw’ allows you to mount the lens on older Nikon bodies; it works flawlessly with my Nikon F2 Phototomic. While I would not purposefully go and drop the lens, it could easily take a fall and come out with little damage that could affect the operation of the lens. One thing that the lens does have is the standard 52mm filter size, like almost all Nikon prime lenses of the era and even later AF and AF-D lenses. You only need one set of filters, a bonus in my books.
The image quality out of the lens is excellent. As you can see, at a distance of 4′ you have no distortion what so ever, but there will be a noticeable barrel distortion on your straight lines if you get any closer. At wide-open you will see that fall off in the corners which is still slightly noticeable at f/2 but is gone by f/4. The out of focus elements are what I would describe as buttery. While there is a softness even in the in-focus sections, that is completely gone by the time you stop it down to f/4, and you start to see that buttery edges in the areas that are out of focus. Now once you get to f/4 and up to f/11, you get to see how sharp the images that can be produced out of the lens, and the sweet spot is at the f/8 in my view. Sadly, the lens does only stop down to f/16, which makes keeping everything in focus difficult, but not impossible. One thing that I do like about this lens is that it doesn’t tend to flare with off-axis light sources, and while you can get a lens hood, you don’t need one. The lens doesn’t add or subtract from any contrast inherent to the scene or the film, and it renders colours wonderfully both when working with film or digital.
No one needs a 50/1.4 unless you want that razor depth of field with the lens wide open to f/1.4, again like all my 50mm lenses rarely do I shoot them beyond f/2. But if you want fast glass on your Nikon manual focus camera, then the AI-S 50/1.4 is certainly for you! If you do lots of low light photography, portrait work, even street and event photography, then this lens is an excellent addition to your kit. And up until I picked up a 35mm lens in AI-S, the 50/1.4 was the lens of choice for any manual focus Nikon. The lens has a decent close focus to give you a poor man’s macro lens, and it will even do well in a landscape application, although you can only stop down to f/16. And while there are plenty of versions of this lens out there, the Pre-AI, AI, and AI-S versions are all excellent choices, and it does all depend on the age of the camera you’re mounting them on. If you’re jumping around, then the AI-S or AI versions are your best choice as they have both forwards and backwards compatibility. The ‘claw’ allows for direct mechanical links on the Nikon F, Nikkormat, and F2 camera meters, plus the F-Mount allows for mounting and in many cases metering in later model Nikon cameras even digital. Plus with adapters, the Nikkor 50/1.4 is a great lens on your mirrorless camera. I use it a lot with my Sony a6000 on a Fotodiox adapter.
The Low Down
While you don’t need an f/1.4 lens, if you had to get one, the AI-S 50/1.4 is one that I certainly would miss if mine broke. I even would go as far as to say I like this one better than my autofocus version. As strange as that sounds because optically and specifications the two are nearly identical. But there’s a certain weight to the AI-S version a feel that the AF-D version lacks. As a lens you get sharp images with a wide sweet spot in apertures, it balances well on almost all cameras and can be used on almost all Nikon cameras, back to the Nikon F to modern Digital cameras. And here’s the thing, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on one, sure there are some out there in the high-price range of 250-350$, but you can also get ones in good shape in the 100-150$ range. Just make sure that the lens is in good condition, and the aperture blades are snappy and free of oil. This lens is the one you want to sit on your Nikon F3, FA, FE(2), FM(2(n)), FM3a, and others, it just works, it just fits, and it will look oh so good!
Don’t just take my word on the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, check out these other reviews.
Ken Rockwell – Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 (AI-S) Review
Moment Corp – Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI-S Review
Imaging Resource – Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI-S Review
Adrian Wagner Studio – Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI-S Lens for a Day Review
Photography.Kinja.Com – My Thoughts on the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI-S