Would the professional Nikkor 50 mm 1.4G on a camera with a DX sensor be better than the Nikon 50mm 1.8 that we tested on a Nikon D3200 at the end of 2012? That inexpensive standard lens performed very well and additionally offered a very good price/quality ratio. Both lenses have a built-in AF motor. That's great for owners of cameras with a DX-format such as the Nikon D3200 or the Nikon D5200, which have no AF motor. Before seeing it, we can already predict that the scores of this lens will be higher than the scores for vignetting in our Nikon 50 mm 1.4G test on a Nikon D800E. But how will it compare in overall performance?
Nikon 50 mm 1.4 G & Nikon D3200 review
On a camera with a DX sensor, the image angle of a 50 mm lens changes from a standard lens to the image angle of a 75 mm telephoto lens. That is a rather useless focal point, because it's a bit too short for a full-screen portrait and possibly somewhat too long for street or reporting photography.
The Nikon 50 mm 1.4G comes with a lens cap in a stylish black bag. The Nikon 50 mm 1.4 G is solidly built with a housing and mount of metal, while the cheaper Nikon 50 mm f/1.8g has a plastic housing. The 50 mm 1.4 version is therefore also 100 grams heavier than the 50 mm 1.8 version, which of course also comes from greater volume of glass in the 50 mm 1.4G version. The connection on the body is sealed with a small rubber edge to protect against dust and water splash.
Focusing with AF goes very fast and is very reproducible. The front lens is sunken and moves during focusing, but the filter mount (50 mm) fortunately does not. You can thus utilize orientation-sensitive filters such as polarizers and gradient filters without difficulties. From the shortest distance setting to infinity, you have to turn the distance ring about 180 degrees and can focus very precisely by hand. That's also needed because at maximum aperture, the focal depth is naturally much reduced. There is no aperture ring; you control the aperture with the setting disk on the camera. There is a distance scale, and a slide switch with the settings M and MA. In the latter, you can manually override the AF, for example, to let your creativity run wild.
The Nikon D3200 offers the possibility of correcting for lens vignetting. In our tests, we always let the jpg files be corrected by Nikon cameras with this option in the "Normal" setting. Comparing RAW files without correction with corrected jpg files reveals that the vignetting in jpg files is indeed lower. But that is only just visible at 1.4 apertures – and then only in very critical situations, with 0.58 stops vignetting for RAW files (which is a very good value) and 0.41 stops for a jpg file. From a 1.8 aperture it becomes an academic discussion: the jpg files have measurably less vignetting. In practice, you don't see any vignetting, neither in jpg files nor in RAW files.
For Nikon lenses, the Nikon D3200 can also perform corrections for distortion in jpg files. In RAW files we measured a distortion of -0.55% (very light barrel distortion) and in the corrected jpg files -0.65%. You can just as well leave these corrections out, as you won't notice them if you leave them out. The distortion is so low that it won't bother you.
Bokeh Nikon 50 mm 1.4G
A bright lens offers the advantage that you can also maintain a clear viewfinder in situations with low light. The Nikon 50 mm 1.4G captures four times as much light compared – for a zoom lens – to a bright zoom lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8. At maximum aperture, you take the same picture at 400 ISO (fixed focal point, f/1.4) as at 1600 ISO (zoom, f/2.8).
But an even greater difference is the bokeh of this lens. This is just as beautiful as the bokeh of a great number of good lenses with – calculated for full format – the same focal distance on a camera with a full-size sensor. Here, zoom lenses clearly lose to the Nikon 50 mm 1.4G. With respect to the bokeh of the Nikon 50 mm f/1.8, we found the difference to be really quite small.
Flare Nikon 50 mm 1.4 G
This Nikon 50 mm lens includes a lens hood. That's good, because in our practice shots we encountered both flares and ghosts in shots where the sun was located just outside the frame. If you photograph directly against the sun, the lens hood doesn't help and the effect is clearly visible.
At maximum aperture, this lens is much softer. A bit of aperture reduction does wonders for the sharpness. The highest center sharpness is reached at aperture 4 and from aperture 5.6, the sharpness in the outer corners is just as high as the sharpness in the center.
Lateral chromatic aberration, recognizable as green and purple colored edges at sharp contrast transitions in the corners of the image.
As with many bright lenses, the Nikon 50 mm 1.4G also shows longitudinal chromatic aberration/color bokeh at maximum aperture. The light fades depending on the color just in front of or just behind the sensor, whereby green edges appear at sharp contrast transitions behind the focus point, and magenta edges in the bokeh at sharp contrast transitions that lie in front of the focus points. This form of CA does not only appear in the corners of the image, but in the whole image. Aperture adjustment is the remedy. Above apertures 2.8, you don't see it any more.
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens when you store the files in the camera as jpg, with all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens when the file is stored in the camera in RAW format. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera.
Very high image quality
Solidly built and extra sealed against dust and water splash
Fast and very reproducible AF
Does not differentiate itself in terms of image quality from the more modern and cheaper Nikon 50 mm 1.8G
Sensitive to flares
In the eternal discussion over higher image quality of lenses with a fixed focal length, the Nikon 50 mm 1.4G, echoing the Nikon 50 mm 1.8G, shows that the best lenses with a fixed focal length even on a camera with a DX sensor are still just a bit better than the vast majority of zoom lenses. This is just a a particularly good lens. The question of Nikon 50 mm 1.4G vs 1.8G naturally arises. For me personally, the advantages of a heavier metal construction of the lens body, better sealing against dust and water splash and the higher brightness of the Nikon 50 mm 1.4G don't outweigh the difference in price with the Nikon 50 mm 1.8G. On the other hand, I'm also not a professional photographer who has to work under extreme conditions.
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.