The Nikon d3100 is a great entry-level DSLR that has plenty of attractive features. It’s generally great for beginners looking to get into photography. Of course, like any other camera, it needs to be paired with a good lens in order to really shine.
Our recommendation for the Nikon d3100 is the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 prime lens from Nikon. This lens was introduced in April 2011 and is designed for both FX and DX camera bodies. The “G” in the product name indicates that this camera has no aperture ring.
This means that the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G is best used with a modern camera body, like the d3100. Older manual focus SLR cameras will have no way to set the aperture on this lens. The lens is non-zoomable but can focus in manual or auto with an exclusive Nikon silent wave motor.
The lens performs well in a variety of light levels and focal lengths. Although it cannot be zoomed, it does retain its dimensions at any focus setting. The autofocus works very well and the silent wave motor ensures that the lens is very quiet when autofocusing.
This lens has a great reputation as an entry-level lens for portrait shooting with the Nikon d3100.
Performance And functionality
The design of the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G is quite simple. The lens has seven elements split into six groups. One of the elements included is aspherical. The iris has seven blades and closes into a round aperture.
Similarly to other Nikon prime lenses, the minimum aperture on this lens is f/16. A special coating has been applied to help the transmission of light, as well as minimize the occurrence of lens flare. The silent wave motor (SWM) from Nikon makes the autofocus nice and quiet.
The lens is only about 72mm long, and it weighs in at 185 grams. These dimensions make the lens quite light and portable, making it a good match for the d3100. No matter what focus setting you are on, the lens remains the same fixed length.
Aside from the barrel on the inside, there are only two moving parts on the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G. The focusing ring is about 12mm wide and sits close to the front of the lens. The grip band is rubberized and turns around 55 degrees with soft stops at either end.
Since the lens has a fixed length at every focus level, angle-critical attachments can be used without readjustment. Although the length of the lens remains fixed, the inner focus ring shifts inside the camera when focusing. It gets closer to the front of the lens the closer the subject is.
Behind the distance scale on the side of the lens is a switch that will allow you to shift between auto and manual focus modes. The autofocus is quick and quiet, allowing you to easily focus and snap without having to fumble with the manual mode. There is also manual focus if you want to have more control over the focus.
This lens works with every digital Nikon body, both FX and DX. The lens also works perfectly on cheaper digital cameras from Nikon. The d3100 is a perfect fit for this lens, being a mid-range entry-level Nikon camera.
The lens features a small amount of barrel distortion. Although it won’t generally be a factor, the barrel does have a much greater distortion than some other Nikon lenses. The distortion can be corrected in post-processing.
The lens doesn’t seem to have a vignetting problem, even with different thick filter combos. 58mm is plenty of filter space, so it never creates a problem with space. The filter ring itself does not actually move, the glass simply moves back and forth inside the barrel.
The lens is very good in terms of flares and ghosting. Tests have shown that it gets very minimal lens flare even when shooting the sun directly from the shade. If you want to know more, there are plenty of independent reviews of this lens that you can read online.
User Interface And Control System
There is a protective pouch included with the lens, as well as a hood with a bayonet mount. Even without the hood, the lens is very deeply housed and already quite well protected. The lack of aperture ring means that the aperture cannot be set on older manual focus lenses. As long as you’re using this lens on a newer digital body (like the d3100), you should be fine.
The front element doesn’t rotate at all, leaving this lens open to be used with a polarizer. You can manually override the autofocus at any time by simply adjusting the focus ring, even in autofocus mode. The autofocus is quick enough that you can use it with a wide variety of subjects.
One thing that deserves a mention is the fact that this lens is not weatherproofed. If you are using it in conditions like rain or snow, you will want to make sure it is adequately protected. It is quite common for these entry-level Nikon lenses to have no weatherproofing, but if you’re responsible with your lens, it typically does not create an issue.
One thing to remember is that the rear element in this lens moves in and out while focusing. What this means is that if you are removing this lens from your camera, there’s a possibility that dust and such could creep in. This can be avoided by moving the focusing ring to the “infinity” mark before removing the lens from your d3100.
This lens has faster autofocus than some of the other Nikon lenses. Even some of the more expensive models tend to be slower in terms of autofocus compared to the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G. Although the autofocus tends to work quite well, it can have some trouble in very low light conditions, which is to be expected.
Shooting brighter subjects greatly increases the speed and accuracy of the autofocus, making this lens good for portraiture with a Nikon d3100. There is an AF assist lamp that can help improve the autofocus further. The autofocus performs well even on professional autofocus accuracy tests.
Build Quality And Design
Although this is a lower-priced alternative to some of Nikon’s higher-end lenses, this lens feels very solid and performs nicely, even after hours of shooting. As long as you remember to slide the focus to “infinity” before demounting the lens from your camera, you shouldn’t have any issues with dirt or dust getting into the lens.
If you’re concerned about protecting the lens, it comes with a hood that can be mounted on the front to protect the lens without affecting the shot. Even without the hood, the lens is housed quite deeply and is very well guarded.
Aperture Blades And Bokeh
Something to be aware of is that when the lens is stopped down, the bokeh in the background can become geometrically distorted. This happens because of asymmetrical aperture blades on the AF-S 50mm f/1.8G. This is a little bit of a drag for some portraiture, as you won’t be able to get a very pronounced bokeh effect.
That being said, the lens performs well in a variety of aperture settings; and gives good results for a wide range of general portraiture. You will want to be careful with small highlights behind your subject when you have the lens stopped down, as they will blur and stand out.
Aperture And Sharpness
At maximum aperture, which is where you’ll probably be using the lens mostly, the sharpness is average-to-good. If you want to get the absolute sharpest picture you can out of this lens, you will have to stop down the aperture a tad. F/2.8 seems to be a good sweet spot for the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8.
This lens has good build quality. It is made of durable plastic components with a lens mount made of metal. There is a rubber gasket around the lens mount, which helps to protect the lens from moisture or debris. The barrel is finished in semi-rough black.
The rubberized grip for the focus ring has a comfortable ridged pattern on it, making it easy to adjust the focus. The rounded aperture blades are supposed to help with the bokeh. The optics also include an aspherical lens element, which means that the lens is more complex, sharper, and typically smaller than spherical lenses.
The focus ring is nicely dampened and feels nice and smooth when you adjust it. It’s tight enough that you won’t be getting any accidental focus shifts. There are no hard stops on the focus ring. The lens actually focuses a tiny bit past infinity. Although there are no hard stops anywhere on the focus ring, there are soft stops on either extreme of the focus.
Silent Wave Motor
The silent wave motor technology that Nikon has applied to the autofocus on this camera is a great addition. It ensures that the autofocus performs quickly and quietly on the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8. Although the autofocus seems to perform a bit slower than some of Nikon’s other prime lenses, this one is very quiet and is by no means useless.
The AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G is a great lens for shooting portraits with the d3100. The only real weakness with this lens is the slight distortion, but this is something that can be easily corrected. Even Nikon’s more expensive prime lenses have similar problems with distortion.
The bokeh with this camera looks very smooth at the maximum aperture setting. It gets a bit of a geometric shape when the aperture is stopped down. That being said, the colors and contrast on the camera are very good.
The sharpness seems to peak around f/2.8, making this camera decent for mid-range portrait photography. It’s an overall good match for the d3100 since it’s basically made for entry-level AF DSLRs like the d3100. For the best results while shooting portraits, try to keep the aperture size around f/2.8.
Try A filter
One thing you may want to do is get yourself a 58mm filter for this lens. The front glass element on the camera is very deeply housed and can be a bit of a pain to clean. Putting on a filter will help protect the lens from moisture and debris. Keeping the lens hood on as well will reduce the risk of damage or dirt.
The lens also works great for event or wedding photography. The bokeh effect that it gives you at wider apertures is very pleasing, and the autofocus performs well in a variety of lighting situations. The autofocus is also quiet, which is better than having a constant mechanical whir going as you try to focus.
As a low-cost solution, this is a great lens for beginners who are looking to get started in portrait photography. The lens pairs well with the d3100, which is practically made for this lens. If you want to use the lens on older manual focus camera bodies, however, you will run into trouble.
The optics on the camera are not anything to write home about, but they do produce a nicely sharp autofocusing lens that fits great for entry-level digital camera bodies. The inclusion of an aspherical element is a nice touch.
The Nikkor line has had some very great lenses, so this lens has a lot to live up to. Luckily for Nikon, they seem to have done a good job with this lens. The refined design makes this lens very comfortable and effective to use.
The build quality is excellent, and the camera handles well, even in a wide range of conditions and after long-term use. It’s a perfect match with the d3100 for portrait photography. The lens has a great reputation that it truly lives up to.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to fire away in the comments section!