Everyone’s got that one photographer friend who carries way too much equipment around. You know the type. They’ve got a bag full of lenses on them at all times, changing among them rapidly based on what kind of shot they’re taking next. Sure, you could say that they’re just really, really into photography. Personally, though, I think that carrying so much gear on something like a photo walk kind of takes all the fun out of the whole experience.
Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned enthusiast, nobody needs that much gear just to get some fantastic shots. All you need is what they call a ‘Nifty Fifty’, like Nikon’s amazing AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens.
A Nifty Fifty is just a nickname for quick 50mm lenses. They’re a cost-efficient, versatile way to get great shots without having to carry around multiple lenses. They provide excellent mid-range clarity for portrait shots where center focus makes or breaks the quality of the photo. As an amateur, a lens like this will help you level up your photography without upgrading your camera. And if you’re a veteran, it’ll let you get incredible shots without relying on extra gear.
At first, the lens was accidentally leaked by Nikon online ahead of its release in April 2011. A couple of weeks later, the company officially announced the release of the lens.
Almost a decade later in 2020, Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G lens still sustains an excellent reputation amongst photographers. So in this article, we’re going to take a closer look at everything you need to know about this lens.
Performance And Functionality
Nikon released the Nikkor AF-S f/1.8G in 2011 as a replacement for the AF-D f/1.8D from 2002. In the first place, the f/1.8D was already a great lens. Still, the Nikkor 50mm does come with several design and performance improvements over its older sibling.
For starters, the 1.8G has an AF-S motor (the ‘S’ is for ‘Silent’) which allows you to enjoy silent autofocusing. With it, comes the ability for you to manually override the focus whenever you need to. The lens also has Super Integrated Coating on it, which helps you avoid any lens flare or ghosting that might affect your shots.
Nikon’s f/1.8 is what’s known as a prime lens. In simple terms, that means that the lens’ focal length is fixed (to 50mm, in the case of the f/1.8). That fixed focal length, combined with how Nikon built the lens, provides the Nikkor 50mm with many advantages over the older lens. Here are the top three key strengths of this lens:
- Super-sharp images The f/1.8 provides much sharper images compared to its predecessor. You can see how sharp it is mainly at the centre of the frame. The f/1.8 is said to be one of Nikon’s sharpest lenses! It’ll provide excellent clarity for those mid-range portrait shots.
- Lovely low-light performance Thanks to its large aperture, this lens helps you get great shots even in low-light conditions!
- Beautiful portraits and bokeh shots One thing that almost anyone will tell you about the Nikkor 50mm is how efficient it is at isolating the subject from the background. With the background blurred beautifully, the lens also picks up on the minor details on the subject. That makes the Nikkor 50mm ideal for portraiture photography. On top of that, the Nikkor 50mm also does a much better job at capturing bokeh shots thanks to the aspherical elements inside.
When you combine all of those qualities into the neat little package that is the Nikkor f/1.8G, what you have is a highly versatile and affordable lens. It doesn’t matter if you’re indoors or outdoors. Or if you like snapping photos on your commute or while you travel the world. If you can only bring one lens with you, the Nikkor 50mm is what you need.
Are you planning on taking portrait shots? This lens’ Super Integrated Coating does an excellent job enhancing light transmission, improving colour consistency, and reducing flare. Altogether, you’ll capture the high level of detail needed for a phenomenal portrait of your subject.
With the aspherical lens element inside the Nikkor 50mm, you’ll be able to capture some beautiful outdoor shots without being hindered by any adverse weather and limited lighting. You’ll get sharper pictures even at wider apertures without worrying about chromatic aberrations or other imperfections. That’ll be perfect for shots when you’re camping with the family or just out sightseeing.
Also, as mentioned many times before, this lens is perfect for bokeh photography. That’s a result of the Nikkor 50mm seven aperture blades. Unlike the f/1.8D’s aperture blades, the blades on the 1.8G are rounder, which produces much smoother bokeh images. Compared to its older sibling, the newer lens captures smoother, rounder bokeh shots with better correction. That’s very different from older lenses that often capture heptagon-shaped bokeh that doesn’t have the ‘dreamy’ feel of the rounder ones.
It’s hard to find something negative to say about Nikor’s f/1.8G lens. Still, don’t just take my word for it. A quick Google search of the Nikkor 50mm will show you plenty of excellent independent reviews by photographers all over the world. Most of those reviews have only the best things to say about the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G lens, especially in terms of its performance and functionality. Without a doubt, this lens is a darling of the photography community for both amateurs and professionals worldwide.
User Interface And Control System
One of the reasons this Nifty Fifty by Nikon is excellent for both professionals and amateurs alike is that it’s so easy to control. The Nikkor 50mm stays minimal and doesn’t have too many of the bells and whistles you’ll see on more complex lenses. Remember: this is a prime lens with a fixed focal length. Additionally, there’s a silent wave motor inside of the lens itself that handles the autofocus.
As a prime lens, you don’t have to worry about zooming in and out just to get the perfect shot. Without the convenience and control provided by a zoom lens, amateurs using the Nikkor 50mm will have to move around more to frame their shots perfectly. Indirectly, using the Nikkor 50mm becomes sort of a learning experience for new photographers. Even if you’ve got years of experience under your belt, making use of this prime lens will help you exercise your fundamental photography skills. Zoom deteriorates detail and introduces noise, so it’s not a feature you want if you’re only doing portrait work, especially professionally. However, if you’re looking for a camera that can switch from portrait shots to bird shots (where zoom is essential), it’s probably not going to be your best choice.
One thing that the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens does give you full control over is the focus. That is excellent news for users with entry-level cameras like the D3100 or other models which typically don’t have built-in focus motors. You want full focus control for portrait shots – you’ll get that here, which will provide you better subject clarity and depth control.
For those who might not know, Nikon produces two types of DSLR camera bodies: one with a focus motor in the body, and one without it. So, the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G undoubtedly makes a great companion for those without built-in focus motors.
Despite all this talk about its abilities, the Nikkor 50mm also allows users to override the autofocus at any time manually. Doing so is quite easy thanks to the well-damped manual focusing ring on the lens, which makes it easy to grip without your fingers slipping.
Build Quality And Design
At this point, there’s no question that Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G lens is fantastic in its performance and functionality. The reason for that is simple: Nikon built this thing amazingly well.
Here’s what you the top five things you need to know about the Nikkor 50mm build and quality:
- This lens is light as a feather The Nikkor 50mm weighs only 185 grams. Sure, that’s a tad heavier than its older sibling, the f/1.8D, but that’s still pretty light. The weight balances well with most Nikon DSLR bodies. So, you won’t have to worry about your hands getting too tired trying to keep your camera level, especially if you’re shooting with one hand for whatever reason.
- The lens is compact Other than being light, the Nikkor 50mm is also compact at only 72 millimetres in length. Again, that’s slightly longer than the earlier f/1.8D, but it’s still very much compact. Combine this with its lightweight nature and you’ve got a lens is perfect if you’re mobile. If you’re travelling, for example, your entire setup could be packed safely in your carry-on luggage.
- Nikon made the f/1.8G’s barrel out of sturdy polycarbonate plastic When you wrap your hand around the Nikkor 50mm, you’ll notice that its made from plastic and not metal. Still, don’t judge it until you’ve held it in your hands! Nikon seems to have used high-grade, sturdy polycarbonate plastic to build the lens barrel. That gives it a high-quality, professional feel when you’re handling it. Of course, you should always be cautious about dropping your lenses. However, something tells me that the polycarbonate plastic barrel on the f/1.8G offers it just a little bit more protection than other materials would.
- It has aspherical lens elements The Nikkor 50mm is Nikon’s first aspherical 50mm lens. What that means is that the glass inside the lens has one or both non-spherical surfaces. These lens elements help you get rid of some kinds of optical aberrations. Nikon has put a lot of research and development here, as far back as the 1960s. So you know that if it’s aspherical and comes from Nikon, you’re buying it from the right people!
- Super Integrated Coating (SIC) Last but not least, Nikon has applied Super Integrated Coating (SIC) to the lens. This coating is made exclusively by Nikon as a multilayer coating. According to the company’s official Glossary, Nikon claims that this coating “effectively reduces high transmittance in a wider wavelength range”. What does this mean for you? Well, as mentioned earlier, this optimizes the light transmission and helps you avoid the ghosting and flaring you’d typically get in backlit environments, which is typical of portrait shots.
So what’s the bottom line when it comes to Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G lens? Well, the answer is simple: you should get one. The Nikkor 50mm lens might cost just a little bit more than its predecessor, the f/1.8D. Still, most photographers consider it to be inexpensive. It’s performance, the handling, and just the way Nikon built this lens makes it all worth the price tag and it’s one of he best portrait lenses on the market today.
If you’re relatively new to photography and you want to learn how to get great shots, the Nikkor 50mm is a great and affordable starter lens for you. As mentioned before, it’s a prime lens that doesn’t allow you to zoom in or zoom out. That gives you a steeper learning curve, forcing you to pick up photography skills that go beyond just the camera. You’ll naturally learn to move around more, gaining a deeper appreciation and understanding of how to frame your shots. Of course, the performance of the lens is also amazing, so it’ll let you capture higher quality images without you having to buy a better camera just yet.
Whether you’re an amateur or a photography veteran, this lens will serve you well. It’s light and compact, so you can pack it in your briefcase if you’re on the move, or in your backpack when traveling. That way, you don’t have to go through the hassle of carrying several lenses with you as you move. Better yet, you don’t have to worry about losing or damaging all those lenses!
With all of that said, let’s not forget that the Nikkor f/1.8G was released a long time ago in 2011. It’s been on selling for almost a decade now! The fact that we’re even talking about this lens is a testament to what an excellent reputation it has earned for itself. So, whether you buy a new or used one, you definitely need this lens as part of your photography gear.