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A Fast and Compact 50mm for Nikon (or Canon or Sony NEX)

Nikon’s only f/1.2 lens is the venerable 50mm f/1.2 AI-S. It is still being made, but who knows how long that will continue.

At about $700, it’s not inexpensive, but it bears a look—

  • It is Nikon’s fastest prime (fixed focal length) lens.
  • The design is a classic optical formula, with loads of uncorrected aberrations, especially spherical aberration that give images a look you won’t get with more technically well corrected current optical designs. In short, if you want a soft dreamy look for portraits, this is your lens. And it’s very sharp when stopped down (though watch out for focus shift).
  • It has a high quality manual focus helicoid.
  • At 360g, it weighs no more than many Leica M lenses, and is thus a good match for the Sony NEX-7.
  • If the goal is use on the NEX-7, the Nikon lens is half the price of the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.1, and the Nikon lens also works on Canon and Nikon camera bodies (adapter required on Canon).
  • As an AI-S lens, Nikon bodies (excluding certain low-end ones) recognize the aperture in use so long as one sets the maximum aperture in the Non CPU Lens setup in the camera.
  • The Nikon 50/1.2 has an aperture ring, so it can also be used on Canon EOS or Sony NEX with a lens adapter.
  • Canon users can use the Nikon 50/1.2 with an adapter (manual focus, manual aperture). The Canon 50/1.2L is better corrected, but twice the price and heavier and bulkier and has autofocus. If just shooting on Canon, I’d go with the EF 50/1.2L, though it also has significant focus shift, leading naive users to think it is “soft” at f/2 - f/4. The advantage of the Nikon is that one can focus and shoot f/2 or f/2.8— just rotate the aperture ring— this eliminates focus shift as an issue.
  • The 52mm filter size is very convenient.

Although I would prefer the aspheric 50mm f/1.2 NOCT-Nikkor, Nikon no longer makes it, and used it sells for an exorbitant price, if one can find one (I owned one for a time, but sold it, to my later regret).

Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AI-S
Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AI-S

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