The Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G in on the way and I expect to have it on Friday.
Update: the good news is that I have located a good copy of the famed 58mm f/1.2 NOCT-Nikkor (now a collector’s item long out of production), a lens that I can compare directly to the 58/1.4G.
The reaction to an about $1697 “normal” lens can be a bit odd: expectations seem to run lower on price. Yet building a high performance 50mm or 58mm or 55mm normal lens is similar in cost to building a high performance 85mm or 35mm f/1.4 lens. Accordingly, pricing will naturally fall into a similar range, which is also well above the pricing for an ordinary-speed lens of the same focal length (e.g. 50mm f/1.4G). In short, the proper value context is the high-speed and higher performance designs of other focal lengths: the existing 50mm f/1.4G is a good lens, but not especially notable.
For example, the Canon 50mm f/1.2L is about $1620 and its similar pricing is no accident: it would be easy enough to make an $800 or $3200 lens also with a corresponding decrease or increase in performance: certain optical aberrations at f/1.2 are around 9X more difficult to control than at f/1.8. The higher optical efforts to correct well for f/1.2 greatly increase the cost, and the same applies at f/1.4 when the target is higher performance (f/1.2 is considerably more of a challenge than f/1.4, but so-too with f/1.4 and a high performance bar). The only question is how strong the efforts and quality control, and whether the market will accept the offering.
The new 58mm f/1.4G AF-S lens uses a more complex 9-element design with two aspherical elements to correct focus shift/spherical aberration and various optical aberrations, along with nano crystal coating and autofocus. Those two latter points alone are a real inducement for some applications. By giving up half a stop (f/1.4 vs f/1.2), going slightly longer to 58mm, and using two aspheric elements, we can hope to see a notably higher performance level than the f/1.2 Canon or Nikon, or the 50mm f/1.4G. But this remains to be experienced of course.
50/1.2 AIS, 58/1.2 NOCT-Nikkor and AF-S 58/1.4G
Nikon still makes and sells the manual focus Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS (about $650), though 50mm is notably wider in angle of view than 58mm, and the slightly longer 58mm focal length is a bit easier to design with for higher performance. And of course f/1.2 is a half-stop faster and some aberrations are much harder to control than at f/1.4 by factor of 4-5X.
The 50/1.2 AIS is a much simpler 7-element spherical design with loads of hazy spherical aberration and hence focus shift. It offers the classic soft-focus look typical of spherical designs, but it should not be considered high performance at wider apertures in a technical sense. Shooting in the f/2 - f/4 range is also a challenge because of the focus shift.
Even the Nikon 58mm f/1.2 NOCT-Nikkor with its custom ground front aspheric unlikely to perform to the level of the new 58/1.4G (at one point I had cherry picked a best-of-4 sample of the NOCT, which I regrettably sold). The fact is that f/1.2 is “hard”—very hard—and that the newer 58/1.4G design is likely to easily outperform it, though this remains to be seen via testing.