Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AiS....a wonderful classic

May 20, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

For some reason I had a bit of a passion about this lens that is still in production after being introduced at the start of the 1980s.

 

It is a classic and fairly simple spherical element design with an ultra fast aperture and is still the fastest lens made by Nikon.  I knew what to expect in terms of rendering....loads of spherical aberration wide open, clearing up substantially by f2 and really very sharp and snappy from then on.  For the right images the very dreamy and painterly rendition wide open is much sought after.  The overall colour and contrast is typical Nikkor AiS family, being natural and perhaps slightly warm.

 

After considering Ebay, I made a pretty hopeless attempt to get one from an Amazon seller, who decided it was a great idea to post a precision optic in a jiffy bag and when it arrived the gold Nikon box was dinked on several corners (what a surprise!).  Needless to say they got it sent straight back to them but were hopeless when I tried to return, reorder or get any kind of customer service.  After I complained, Amazon just refunded me quite promptly.  For reference the supplier was TFG Portables and my experience of them was poor to say the least.

 

I then found another supplier who get these lenses in occasionally as, after all, in the modern world they are a bit of a niche product.  HDEW were very helpful, friendly and efficient.  I could not believe the bargain price of £339, which was well below what lots of used ones were going for on Ebay!  I had seem some dealers asking nearly £700 and just over £500 was quite average.  You cannot simply walk into most camera shops and get one.

 

I was thrilled to get it and it really is a pleasure to simply look at and feel the action of the focus and aperture rings.  It is one of those tools that is so satisfying to use as it has the feel-good factor, unlike many modern plastic lenses and is similar in user experience to the Zeiss SLR lenses.  Made of solid metal with engraved numbers, an enamel finish and lots of crystal clear glass.  In purely technical terms it will  be outperformed by some of the latest, greatest 50mm lenses at wider apertures, but that interesting rendering at or near wide open is the main reason to get this lens.  The lens is sharp wide open and there is loads of detail, but detail and contrast is dulled by the haze and ambiguity of spherical aberration that creates a glow and gives an almost painting-like rendering to defocused areas.  In some images it looks as if a Photoshop special affect has been applied.

 

Here is the lens

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Here is a good, non-technical illustration of the way the rendering changes between f1.2 and f2 with the images in that order. This is our little acer tree in fresh leaf.

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Here are 2 images from an aperture series taken on a tripod moments apart.  Note the almost ghostly, glowing rendition, vignette, central "hotspot" and haze at f1.2 compared to the snap in contrast at f2.

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Here is another f1.2 image taken the same day

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A great lens to own and I am so pleased that Nikon still make this little treasure among the millions of modern, mass produced plastic lenses that all the main players are churning out.  It is great that I can use it on my 35 year old film cameras as well as my bang up to date digital bodies.  Via a simple adaptor, I can use it easily on my Fuji X-system bodies too, as the lens has that wonderful invention....a real aperture ring!


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