Nikon Nikkor 50mm f1.2 manual focus REVIEW

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f1.2 manual focus REVIEW

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f1.2 manual focus is an old-school lens available even today for sale as new on the major retail networks such as Amazon or eBay. How good is the Nikkor 50mm f1.2 Ai-S manual focus and what is so special about it?

The Nikon Nikkor 50mm f1.2 manual focus is one of the very rare lenses available on the market with an aperture opening of f1.2 on a reasonable price, providing excellent image quality and is an absolute beast for any artistic photographers.

To understand better, the aperture is an opening (hole) which allows the light to pass through your lens into your camera sensor. Larger the opening = more light passes through = better night photographs = shallower depth of field = bokeh = one another step for taking artistic photographs.

In terms of optics, an aperture of f1.2 is a very large opening which not many lenses on the market are able to offer due to the negative sides and higher price rate.

The usual negative sides observed on lenses with the aperture of f1.2 are vignetting, barrel distortion and the possibility to reach your camera maximum shutter speed.

And in terms of Ai-S, this is referring to the automatic maximum aperture indexing.

Quick note: I have had created with my poor experience to speak on camera a review of this lens which is on YouTube. In this video, I’ve shared a few extra images, also I’ve put together a few clips recorded with the Nikon 50mm lens at f/1.2 aperture.

But how does this Nikon 50mm f1.2 manual focus works?

The first time you will mount your new Nikon 50mm f1.2 on your (full-frame) camera, you will notice the tiny and heavy lens on a giant body with manual aperture and manual focus. If you are not yet into manual focus, I would strongly recommend starting shooting in manual.

You will also notice is that first time when you attach the Nikon 50mm f1.2 to your camera, on the screen your aperture is displayed wrong (f/0). This can be quickly fixed following the next steps:

  • Go on Setup Menu > Non-CPU lens data
  • Select the following: Lens number (of your choice, I put No.1), Focal Length (mm) = 50 and Maximum aperture F1.2.
  • Then press OK to save. All done.

The aperture is also manual for this lens. That means that there is no such thing as setting the camera on auto mode. Yes, there is a second ring with the aperture which allows you to set it between f/1.2 and f/16.

Aperture stops: f/1.2, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16

Manual focus distance: Between 0.5m and infinite.

Nikkor 50mm f1.2 manual focus lens

The main pleasure of owning a fully manual lens is the ability to control all those functions, allowing you to reach a new area of creativity in no time.

Photographing with Nikon 50mm f1.2 manual focus is a real challenge in terms of …. focusing. The depth of field is so shallow and the focus area so small that you need good eyes and a bit of experience in terms of taking good quality photographs.

But this should not scare you away. This is the main lens I use for my D750 and is not that bad once you start using it.

fire pit photography, Nikon 50mm f1.2 aperture

The focus ring grip is nice and the focusing is very smooth. You can fine-focus with no issues. The aperture ring will be very close to the camera body but this should be no issues for changing occasionally the aperture

At f5.6 the lens is one of the sharpest ones in terms of sharpness. This prime lens is absolutely perfect in landscape photography at 50mm.

Oh. Going back to focus, this lens (at least my copy) at the moment you turn the ring to infinite/maximum, the lens is perfectly focused on the infinite leaving no room for any impairments.

As an instance, when I’ve done some astrophotography with this lens, all I had to do is turn the focus ring to maximum on infinite and all the stars were perfectly sharp. No other lens I owned had this “feature”.

Now, let’s get a bit to split this post into few sections for a better understanding, shall we?

QUALITY

In terms of photo quality, I’ve already mentioned above that this lens is one of the sharpest ones IF not the sharpest when photographing at f5.6 (plus / minus).

When photographing at f1.2 this is a challenge. The lens is still sharp, but no lens with this aperture will be perfectly sharp. This also reflects on focusing on your subject and the distance to your subject.

With a little bit of practice, you will realise that it is not too hard to focus on a very small area due to the very shallow depth of field.

And with a bit of ISO, you can take outstanding night photographs handheld even in challenging lighting situations.

But taking good quality photographs on high ISO really depends on your camera capabilities.

The below photograph is taken on ISO 50 and an f/5.6 with an exposure of 1/250 seconds. The image is NOT EDITED at all, so this is the natural sharpness resulted from using this lens at f/5.6

Click on it to be able to zoom in

NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY

I had the chance to take this “beast” out and test it on night conditions, both handheld and on a tripod.

In terms of using the lens during the night for astrophotography or photographing milky way, the sharpness is outstanding but there I’ve noticed a minor flaw on over capturing the colours of the stars, creating colour noise (hard to remove even on post-processing).

Not an actual issue at all during the day or in any other scenarios, but it is something I wanted to mention.

milky way taken with 50mm f1.2 prime lens

The lens also presents a bit of barrel distortion. But hey, we are talking here about a prime lens with an aperture of f1.2 which tries to defy the laws of optics right?

The above photograph is just a simple exposure of 8 seconds of the night sky with ISO at 2500. The below one is the same.

stars and clouds nikon 50mm f1.2 prime lens

On the below photo I’ve managed to capture the Andromeda Galaxy

The point is that this Nikon 50mm f1.2 lens is able to take some outstanding night sky photographs. Moreover, none of the pictures presented has resulted in a series of long exposures, but a single exposure.

Night sky and clouds taken with Nikkor 50mm f1.2 manual focus lens

As I’ve displayed a few photographs taken with the aperture of 1.2 during the night on a tripod, I wanna show you the quality of the long exposures on a lower aperture.

The following light trail is taken on F4, ISO 125 and an exposure of 13 seconds. You can click it for a full-screen option.

Light trail photograph, taken with Nikkor 50mm f1.2 manual focus lens

FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY

Although every photographer sees the fine art differently, this is my conception of fine art: Is the ability to work with photography as being an form of art, to create art with what you see in your mind as an artist and what you photograph, to send a message through photography, emotions, to express creativity.

rusted flamingo photographed with Nikkor 50mm f1.2 manual focus lens

With this lens working with a wide aperture of 1.2, you can create this type of specific photographs, to express an emotion with a very shallow depth of field. I am not saying that if you will buy this lens you will be able to create fine-art photography as easy as 1,2,3 but it is a good approach for a type of photography out of the ordinary.

Nikon 50mm f1.2 manual focus lens – OVERVIEW, PRICE AND NICHES TO USE.

The Nikon 50mm f1.2 has 7 elements in 6 groups with a 9-blade diaphragm. It does not have autofocus or auto-aperture. It is a Non-CPU manual lens and it has been in production for over 30 years.

A long-lasting production line for this lens is because of the lovely aperture of 1.2 at a relatively cheap price (£/$ 700 NEW) at the time of writing this review.

I did not try this lens on a DX (APS-C camera) although I have also Nikon D500. I do not see the point on using on it other than testing it, but as a real point, this lens is made for full-frame cameras, although using it on a DX will probably work on a crop factor of 1.5x, you will never achieve the true side of a 1.2 aperture.

If you are an artistic person looking to extend your knowledge, bank of photographs and to reach a new level in photography, I would definitely recommend this lens for any full-frame Nikon cameras.

If you are taking photographs only as a business and you are not much involved in the artistic side of photography, then look elsewhere. This lens is a masterpiece and further, I will try to write down a few niches in photography where I used the Nikon 50mm f1.2 manual lens, with my personal score rating.

  • Nature photography – 9 out of 10

I had used the Nikon 50mm f1.2 manual lens in nature photography and the bokeh / very shallow depth of field will make the nature photographs look more natural.

nature photography with nikkor 50mm f1.2 manual focus lens

At f5,6 the lens is so sharp that the sun rays going through the branches will look absolutely unique, creating 9 rays as the diaphragm. (click the above photograph to zoom in)

The above image was also NOT EDITED other than boosting the shadows (e.g. the sharpness is natural).

  • Macro photography – 2 out of 10.

This lens may be one of its kind, but you simply cannot do any macro with it. Still-life and close-up photography are different stories.

  • Close-up photography – 10 out of 10

In terms of close-up photography, this is one of the absolute reasons we are seeing this as being a “god” among other lenses. Due to the aperture of 1.2 and a very shallow depth of field, close-up photography just reached a new area of creativity.

  • Night Photography – 9 out of 10

Due to the very wide aperture of 1.2, the Nikon 50mm f1.2 manual lens will be able to work and obtain sharp and amazing photographs during the night, even handheld under difficult conditions.

The aperture of 1.2 allows plenty of light to come into the camera sensor.

Boosting ISO to obtain extra light for your low light or night photographs will totally depend on your camera capabilities, so I cannot promise you that your photos will look good on high ISO during the night.

Using the lens with D750 will work just fine. Actually, more than fine. Will work flawlessly.

  • Astrophotography (photographing the night sky) – 7 out of 10

Owning a lens with this wide aperture is above the recommended setup for astrophotography, but I had to cut the score a bit for two reasons:

One of them is that the lens is a 50mm. You won’t be able to capture more than a small part of the night sky, so to be able to photograph the milky way I would recommend a lens under 24mm (even under 18mm) with a large aperture.

This also calls the rule of 500 in astrophotography. To take night sky photographs without obtaining star trails (for the stars to remain sharp), you need to divide the number 500 to the focal length of your lens (e.g. 500/50 = 10). Ten seconds is a maximum length of exposure before starting to get star trails. But for safety, I always cut two extra seconds, therefore this is the main reason I had to take only 8 seconds exposures.

But as you notice on the night sky photographs I took with my Nikon 50mm f1.2 manual focus lens, the ISO was set to 2500. I could boost to ISO 6400 with no issues and then remove the noise by merging multiple exposures in photoshop, but the amount of light was more than enough to be able to obtain those results.

The second reason is that this lens will have two flaws (as I noticed) when taking long night sky exposures: barrel distortion and colour noise. Cropping and fixing in Lightroom and photoshop cannot completely eliminate those issues.

Other than that, the night sky photographs taken with the Nikon 50mm f1.2 manual focus lens are fantastic.

  • Landscape Photography – 7/10 and 10/10

In the case of landscape photography, I gave two scores for this lens. A first 7 out of 10 is for the same reason of using a 50mm to take landscape photography. Some photographers do not like to shoot landscape with a 50mm. I don’t mind.

But the second score is eliminating the 50mm “issue” for some photographers. If you love to take landscape photographs with a 50mm, then I have to give this a score of 10 out of 10 due to the above perfect sharpness and vivid and beautiful colours on an aperture of 5.6.

  • Street photography with a 50mm – 10 out of 10

Although you can do street photography with 28mm and 35mm, some photographers also prefer street photography with a 50mm. This lens is nothing but a beast in terms of that.

I have had mentioned the term “beast” before, expressing the inimaginable thousand of good words willing to describe it as being more than a perfect lens which gives you vibes!

If you are looking to buy the Nikon 50mm f1.2 manual focus lens for street photography, I will definitely recommend it.

In the case of black and white photography, I cannot give a clear score. It is more like how you see the concept of black & white with this lens if you are a B&W photographer.

The conclusion of using Nikon NIKKOR 50mm f1.2 manual focus lens

At the time of writing this review, I had not taken more than a thousand photographs with this lens, but it is more than enough to give me a clear conclusion: This lens is well worth every single penny, and became my main favourite lens of all of them, even after using and testing a dozen of.

If I would have to give up this lens and use any others I own, I would see the photography very limited on this aspect.

Although the difference between f1.4 and f1.2 is just half a stop, I would still recommend going for the 1.2 version. The price difference is not that great but I know for sure that nothing beat the sharpness of this lens at 5.6, and the shallow depth of field obtained at f1.2 is outstanding.

Only one another thing to mention, it is quite difficult to use the f1.2 opening during a sunny day. Your camera will overexpose above your maximum shutter speed if you shoot in sunlight. An ND2 filter can solve this problem, but not yet tested so I cannot tell for sure.

I like to write more facts and fewer opinions. If you own this lens and you tested with an ND2 filter, please leave the comment below. Other way, I shall say THANK YOU for sticking up to the end of this post, and I wish you all the best in the future.

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The Nikon Nikkor 50mm f1.2 manual focus is one of the very rare lenses available on the market with an aperture opening of f1.2 on a reasonable price, providing excellent image quality and is an absolute beast for any artistic photographers.
Here is my in-depth review for the Nikon 50mm f1.2 manual focus lens.

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About Gabriel Mihalcea

Howdy! You’re here! Great things to start! Hi, I’m Gabriel I live in the UK in the beautiful town of Hastings. I am a photographer, and I do DSLR and drone photography. I always loved to capture everything I could see through the eye-finder of my Nikon, or the bird-eyes of my drone. My expectations are to share everything I learned about photography and help anyone in need to reach their potential. Honestly, nobody ever reached their maximum potential as there would always be more room for improvement, more information to achieve or new technologies in photography released on the market. But leaving that aside, I am here to help anyone in need.

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2 comments

  1. Gabriel,
    Please accept my sincere gratitude and appreciation for this write-up. It is mindbogglingly informative and educative. I learnt more from your blog than the last 30 odd articles I read about the nikon 50/1.2.

    Please write more. Your style of writing is very engaging.

    Cheers,
    Imtiyaz

    • Thank you so much and I really appreciate for being helpful. I will definitely keep writing in-depth articles and reviews, and this means so much to me!

      All my respect!
      Gabriel

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