Are you looking for a lens with both phenomenal sharpness and fantastic blur? An ultimate available-light lens for which flaring and ghosts are a thing of the past? Then a Nikon 58 mm f/1.4 G AF-S isn't a crazy idea. If it falls within your budget, at least. In terms of focal length, this is the successor of the illustrious Nikon 58 mm f/1.2 mm Noct-Nikkor lens. That was a big, heavy beast, which at maximum aperture delivered not-too-sharp images, but a fantastically beautiful bokeh. Nikon may have chosen a maximum aperture of f/1.4 for its successor because of size, weight and production costs. The Nikon 58 mm 1.4 G is an exceptional lens for night shots and portraits where you leave more space around the subject (a "half-total portrait"), where the bokeh comes into its own.
Nikon AF-S 58 mm 1.4G AF-S (N FX) and Nikon D800E
Nikon 58 mm 1.4G AF-S @ f/2, 800 ISO, 1/15 sec
This 58 mm lens from Nikon is, of course, meant for use on a camera with a FX-sensor, but it may work better on a camera with an DX sensor. Precisely because the Nikon 58 mm 1.4 will often be used in available light situations, some will see the lack of built-in image stabilization as a shortcoming. On the one hand, the weight of 385 grams would only be more with built-in image stabilization that you only sometimes use. On the other, the chance of a successful, sharp ambiance shot at a shutter speed of 1/15 second is considerably increased.
Construction and auto focus
This lens is a tribute to Nikon's legendary Noct-NIKKOR lens. The housing of the Nikon 58 mm f/1.4 is larger than the 50 mm f/1.4. The finish and materials used are better, but we wonder whether you'll ever notice that in practice. What is striking is that the lens is recessed deeply. As a result, even without using the included lens hood, the chance of flaring or damage to the front lens is already hugely decreased. The SWM (Silent Wave Motor) autofocusing is smooth, quiet and fast. In some modern lenses these days, the focusing turn is so small that it's difficult to accurately focus manually. Manual focusing of the Nikon 58 mm f/1.4 G goes well. The focus turn of the Nikon 58 mm f/1.4 is about 120 degrees, which is quite nice. The closest focusing distance is only 0.58 m and therefore the maximum reproduction ratio is limited to 0.13x. A detachable lens hood and a soft bag are included.
Given the high brightness, the Nikon 58 mm 1.4 G puts forward a good performance here, though you can sometimes encounter at maximum aperture vignetting in shots with a uniform background. We have here a worst-case example. At apertures from f/2.8 vignetting is absent (move your mouse over the image on the right). In terms of vignetting the Nikon 58 mm 1.4 G scores slightly higher than the Nikon 50 mm 1.4 G and on par with the Nikon 50 mm 1.8 G. The latter has lower brightness, whereby the vignetting at maximum aperture is lower.
The Nikon 58 mm 1.4G has a barrel-shaped deformation of a little over 1%. In many cases, that isn't visible, and such an amount is easy to correct with software. The Nikon D800E offers the ability to correct jpg files, but we didn't apply these in the test of the 58 mm 1.4. That is the reason that the Nikon 50 mm 1.4G (where we did apply that correction) in terms of distortion scores better than the Nikon 58 mm 1.4 G. If you ignore software corrections, then there are no substantial differences in terms of distortion between the 50 mm 1.8G, 50 mm 1.4G or the 58 mm 1.4G.
The Nikon 58 mm f/1.4 consists of 9 elements in 6 groups (including 2 aspherical lens elements). Different lens elements have the Nano Crystal Coat to reduce flare. These elements don't only improve the brightness and contrast of the image, but they also effectively prevent flaring and ghosts. That makes this an ideal lens for available light photography, concert pictures, night shots or other forms where a strong light sources in frame could cause disturbing reflections. On this point, Nikon really put up a top performance down: we didn't manage – even under extreme conditions – to get a picture with ghosts or flaring.
Usually we show the results for the resolution measurements of jpg files straight from the camera. The sharpness from f/4 is so high that the bar charts shoots off the scale. In this particular case, we show a picture of the resolution measurements of an unsharpened RAW file. Because the image is not sharpened, the number of lines per picture height is lower than for sharpened jpg files. Nikon says that this lens is designed so that it performs optimally at maximum aperture and then offers ground-breaking image quality. We have not been able to confirm that. The sharpness in the center and at the edges is visibly lower at maximum aperture than the sharpness from f/2.8 to f/11. The sharpness in the outer corners increases the more you open the aperture. We saw the highest sharpness in the corners at f/11. The Nikon 50 mm 1.4 test on Dpreview shows the same trends.
If you want to take sharp images, then the Nikon 50 mm f/1.8 is a lot more attractive: because it's cheaper, lighter and offers a higher sharpness at maximum aperture. And if you attach great importance to a larger aperture, then the Nikon 50 mm f/1.4 G is a cheaper alternative. When it comes to sharpness, the Nikon 50 mm f/1.4 G and the Nikon 58 mm f/1.4 G keep pace with each other in our testing.
If you stop down to f/4-f/11, then you get fantastically sharp images. Of course, with shots taken by hand, you need to choose a shutter speed of 1/125 second or faster to prevent motion blur.
This lens is perfectly corrected for lateral chromatic aberration (purple and green fringing at sharp contrast transitions in the corners of the image). Nikon cameras correct jpg files for lateral chromatic aberration, so we see many lenses with high marks for chromatic aberration. But the RAW files are not automatically corrected for chromatic aberration. And then you see that the Nikon 58 mm f/1.4 on this point is among the very best lenses. Here the lens design comes into its own and this lens shows what it's worth.
Nikon 58 mm 1.4G AF-S @ f/2.2, 800 ISO, 1/8 sec
With 9 rounded aperture blades and a large f/1.4 opening, the Nikon 58 mm 1.4 G delivers a refined bokeh without rings. For the most beautiful bokeh, choose the largest possible opening. From f/3 the bokeh of a point light source starts to change from round to angular. The course from sharp to out of focus is very natural and the background blur is exceptionally beautiful. Nikon calls it "a three dimensional impression in a two-dimensional image". It would not surprise me if that property led to an enthusiastic user group that makes images with the same enchanting atmosphere of the Noct-Nikkor shots from yesteryear.
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.
Visible color bokeh (longitudinal chromatic aberration) and distortion
No built-in image stabilization
We believe that if you often use photography forms where you need to get a sharp picture, then you'd do better choosing a Nikon 50 mm f/1.8G lens. That is – obviously – a cheaper and lighter lens, that when it comes to sharp pictures delivers the same image quality. If you compare the sharpness at maximum aperture, then the Nikon 50 mm f/1.8 even beats the Nikon 58 mm f/1.4. We must also confess, that both in our test shots and in our practice shots, we see no difference in terms of sharpness from the image quality of the Nikon 50 mm 1.4G, which offers the same brightness for a lower price than the 58 mm f/1.4. Nevertheless, this lens ideal for available light: night shots, concert photography and portraits. The complete lack of flaring and ghosts and the enchanting character of images at maximum aperture will appeal to many people. I would not be surprised if this is the very feature of the Nikon 58 mm f/1.4 G that leads to an enthusiastic user group, making those images with the same enchanting atmosphere of the Noct Nikkor pictures of yesteryear. And if you stop down a little to f/4-f/11, you make fantastically sharp images with the same lens.
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.