Review: Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

Specs and pricing info (buy here)

OK, coming off the heels of a review of the $6,000 200mm f/2, I figured it was time to look at something a little more practical, a little lighter, a little cheaper, and so…

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The lens on the right, next to the 200mm behemoth, is Nikon’s new 50mm f/1.8G, the latest iteration to the moderately fast normal lens, perhaps the most popular class of lens of all time because it’s versatile, light, and inexpensive. Even with modern-day coatings and modern-day pricing, this lens stands at just over $200. In other words, you could buy almost 27 of these for the cost of the 200mm.

When Nikon took the screw-drive autofocus motor out of entry-level bodies like the D5100, lots of people rightfully complained about losing AF in their old lenses. But one of the happy effects of this is that Nikon has been forced to update the designs of their cheaper lenses, and make new ones like the popular 35mm f/1.8. And so the old “nifty fifty” gets a makeover with new coatings and a new optical formula including an aspherical lens element to cut down on aberrations (especially at the corners of an image).

Can a new lens this cheap be any good? Happily, the answer is yes.

110619 190529 50mm f1 8

The first thing I noted when I put the lens on is that the autofocus is nice and zippy, faster even than my expensive 35mm and 24mm f/1.4 lenses. This is important because the most popular complaint about the “big brother” 50mm f/1.4G is that the AF is too slow for some uses. With that, and a price tag half that of the f/1.4, it’s a tempting option if you don’t need the widest apertures.

How are the optics?

Very good, with a great price/performance ratio. Wide-open it’s already sharp — not perfectly sharp, but more than sharp enough — as this shot at f/1.8 shows:

110619 190522 50mm f1 8

100 percent crop:

110619 190522 50mm f1 8 crop

In terms of out-of-focus rendering, I tend to give 50mm lenses a low bar, since the old, cheap optical design often lends to very choppy bokeh. The 50mm clears the low bar — it’s still a bit busy, perhaps not as smooth as the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 or as most fast telephoto primes, but it tends to look pleasant and not-distracting in real-world pictures. You can click on the two flower snapshots below for full-resolution samples at f/1.8 and f/8:

110719 183641 50mm f1 8

110719 183645 50mm f8

Here’s a shot that shows off the bokeh characteristics well:

110618 194013 50mm f1 8

Flare resistance is also really good, likely due to coatings and the tiny front element. Here is a heavily backlit scene as it appears out-of-camera:

110619 185633 50mm f1 8

For reference, here’s an out-of-camera photo from the same spot with the older 135mm f/2 D DC

110619 185549 135mm f2

Who should buy this lens?

I think this lens should be in a big percentage of modern photographers’ bags, simply because it’s cheap and incredibly light, and is guaranteed to autofocus with any current or upcoming Nikon camera. If you’re big into old manual film cameras, this isn’t the lens for you, but you can find plenty of manual-focus 50mm lenses that are virtually free on eBay. For amateurs on a budget, this is a great addition to a couple kit-zooms so you can trade off versatility for depth-of-field control and a big boost in low light, and you can stick it in a small camera bag without even knowing it’s there. With a small DX camera you have a decent half-torso portrait lens, and even with expensive pro line-ups it’s great to have a light, cheap normal lens you can toss in the bag as a back-up.

Even though the 200mm f/2 is just about perfect in every way on paper, this is the lens I want to keep around. It just works, it gets out of my way, and for my work I actually like most of the photos I get from it more. Buy it here.

Sample photos:

110703 113548 50mm f2

110618 222524 50mm f1 8

110619 174115 50mm f1 8

110719 195308 50mm f2

110619 175251 50mm f1 8

110619 185449 50mm f1 8

110712 201114 50mm f2 2

110719 194252 50mm f2 2

110628 214226 50mm f1 8

Eva Ho - Are these all shot at aperture wide open?

Ryan Brenizer - Most of them are close to wide-open, except the flower shot.

nadine - I’m tempted. How does the sharpness compare to the old 85mm 1.4, is it about that level or better?

James - Great review and I like the pics you took with the lens.
The lens is a nice match to my NikonD5100 although the Tamron 60mm f2 would be a better choice for portraiture due to it’s longer reach. But then the Nikon is so much cheaper. It’s a joy using it. Bright viewfinder and focusing is quiet and reasonably fast. Love the images at fast apertures.

Joe - Doug Levy_to your concerns about distortion. According to Photozone, the 1.8g lens has about 1.1% distortion in contrast to the 1.4g’s 1.4% while the older 1.8 AF-D has only 0.3%. Canon’s 50mm 1.4 USM also has 1.1%.

saheil ovi - wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!just amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!

LJ - Awesome review and your pictures are amazing! I really want to know more about your opinions regarding its bokeh. I have a Sigma 50mm 1.4 that I’m returning to B&H because it squeaks during AF.

My problems is I’m not sure if I should replace it with a new copy or get something else. Is the Sigma’s bokeh that much better than this 50mm 1.8G? Do you think I’ll be disappointed with this lens’ bokeh?

Pol - An excellent review!
I am an amateur photographer. I choose between the old lens 1.4D and the new 1.8G (same price). Which lens do you recommend?

Mohamad Mofakhami - wowowowowow

Kevin Pan - at first, I thought to myself: wow , all the pictures look so normal. Then I realized at 50mm , the pictures does look how we see it from human eyes. the creativity itself is fantastic.

ori - great review.
ryan – what do you think is beatter for D700’S – sigma 50 1.4 HSM or this 50 1.8G ?

Nathalie - Bryan, I had the 1.8 D and now the 1.8 G.
I shoot a lot of the dancing part during weddings, and I find the G much slower focus than the D. (or could it be that my AF fine tune of the D800 has something to do with this?)
(I have the same feeling with the 85 1.4 G, which focusses much slower than the 85 1.8 D).

Candy Kempsey - I enjoy your reviews so much… !! amazing work as well. Thank-you for sharing. This little lens is awesome.

Aleksander Miz Warski - Hi, i wanted to read your sigme 50mm EX review but i landed here, please fix the link on reviews site.