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Nikon 50mm f/1.4G — what avian species?

I have the new Sigma 50/1.4 and Nikon 50/1.4G in for testing, courtesy of LensRentals.com—give them a try, it’s a great way to try out equipment at reasonabl prices and great convenience.

I’m not a birder, but I’ve seen this bird before: sagittal coma flare, the infamous “bird’s wings”. This aberration is hard to correct optically, but what’s the use of an f/1.4 lens if you cannot shoot stuff at night without this sort of ridiculous rendition? Perhaps if software could fix it that would be an acceptable compromise. This effect occurs off-center, worsening as the edges and corners of the frame are approached.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 sagittal coma flare
Sagittal coma flare
Nikon D3x + Nikon 50mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4 (middle, right edge)

Especially wIth the 24.4MP Nikon D3x, such aberrations aren’t acceptable anymore; ignoring point light sources as shown here, that optical point spread function smears any and every subject—it’s for the birds, it’s bird poop! Earth to Nikon: some of us are shooting overpriced 24.4MP cameras now!

Well, maybe it’s not all that bad, but it does mean that we can’t expect too much of the new 50/1.4G at f/1.4 outside the DX sensor area. And certainly the 50/1.4G might be an outstanding performer in other ways and stopped down slightly, this was one of the very first shots with it.

Correcting sagittal coma flare generally requires aspheric elements (eg NOCT-Nikkor), but at about $439 for the new 50/1.4G, this sort of performance is disappointing. I’ll be covering the new Nikon 50/1.4G in more depth in DAP and investigating how the Nikon-mount Sigma 50/1.4 compares in this regard.

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