November 15, 2013

review: Nikon 58mm f/1.4G lens

The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G (vendor) is an odd focal length. It’s not-50mm. More than that, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G (vendor) is only $440, and this new 58mm lens is $1,700 … yup, that’s a pretty hefty difference! The price of the 58mm lens is in line with the 85mm f/1.4G … so could one expect improved performance?

I have to admit that the 50mm f/1.4G is my least used lens, along with the fish-eye. I’m just not that excited about using it. The focal length is just not wide enough (like a 35mm might be), nor tighter like a 85mm lens might be. So while the 50mm lens is affordable, it doesn’t set my creativity alight. So here’s a new version, which from the outside, looks like it is only slightly different. So what would set this new 58mm apart?

Looking at Nikon’s info about the lens, a little more is revealed:

Its fast f/1.4 maximum aperture produces outstanding evenly lit images with edge-to-edge sharpness—virtually no sagittal coma or light falloff. Its unique design and rounded 9-blade diaphragm produce stunning bokeh and depth of field control from f/1.4 to infinity—equally useful in daytime portraits and nighttime cityscapes.

So we’d expect a crisply sharp lens with minimal optical aberrations when used wide open. This would make the lens geared towards low-light photography (with pin-point light-sources that are controlled well.) And this lens is designed to have great bokeh.

That it handles coma very well, would indicate that this lens might be seen as a successor to the Noct Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 which is a legendary performer.

I was fortunate in being able to try out the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G (vendor), and took some photographs at night in Manhattan. I also did a few comparison shots with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G (vendor). Now, I didn’t shoot that much because it’s cold out there! So I’m only posting a few images for now, but they should suffice to show the optical performance of this lens.

 

specifications of the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G

  • fast f/1.4 maximum aperture
  • rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm
  • two Aspherical Elements assist in the correction of distortion and coma flaring
  • Nano Crystal Coating helps to eliminate internal lens element reflections
  • Super Integrated Coating delivers accurate colors to your camera by minimizing flaring and ghosting
  • Silent Wave Motor
  • minimum Focus Distance of 1.9′ (.58 m)
  • 72mm filter thread
  • weight: 13.58 oz (385 g)

The lens is heftier than the 50mm, and would fit right in alongside the premier f/1.4 optics like the 24mm / 35mm / 85mm.

Auto-focusing speed is good – about on par with the 50mm f/1.4 which was also merely okay. But the 58mm lens has slightly more glass to move around since it is a bigger lens.

Optical performance – in short, this lens is sharper than my copy of the 50mm f/1.4G when used wide open. And really, the 58mm lens was meant to be used wide open.

Back to this image shown at the top. Aleona was kind enough to indulge me after a workshop, in a series of photos of her in Times Square late at night. Shooting with just the available light there – the wildly changing neon lights, I shot wide open. (The white balance is a little funky, but as close as I could get it in post-processing to look normal.)

Camera settings: 1/400 @ f/1.4 @ 800 ISO
(exposure bumped up 0.4 stops in post)

The 100% crop shows how sharp the lens is wide open.

While the lens is sharp wide open, it has a certain softness compared to say my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G. So if I had to choose a lens to shoot portraits in low light, I’d still settle for the stabilized zoom, even if the bokeh is not as smooth as the 58mm lens.

Now about the bokeh – the bokeh of the 58mm f/1.4G is noticeably smoother than the 50mm f/1.4G. And just to reiterate: shallow depth-of-field does not necessarily mean good bokeh!

The first image here is with the 58mm, and the second image with the 50mm. Look at how the out-of-focus building on the left-hand side is rendered in both images. Also look at the traffic sign. The jittery bokeh of the 50mm should be quite obvious there.  You can download the RAW files and the high-resolution JPGs to have a look for yourself. Right-click & save-as.

You can download the RAW files and the high-resolution JPGs to have a look for yourself. Right-click & save-as.

There are other images in that folder where you can check central sharpness, as well as how light-sources are handled.

Look at the sharpness of detail on this monument in the high-res images. The 58mm lens is better in my opinion.

With this photo, check how the highlights are rendered, and how the three light sources at the bottom are handled. The 58mm lens looks better here as well.

 

summary

I really like this lens a lot more than the 50mm f/1.4G … it is better in every respect than the 50mm f/1.4G. But is it $1,200 better? That I can’t answer for you. Everyone has their own needs and criteria for lenses. So that’s a decision you’d have to weigh for yourself.

You can purchase the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G from this affiliate link.

 

related articles

 

Nikon 50mm lenses

 

{ 21 comments. } Add a Comment

1 denton November 15, 2013 at 9:47 am

I wonder how it compares to the Canon 50mm 1.2L…

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2 Karlo Bonetti December 19, 2013 at 9:52 pm

And how is that relevant, if I may ask? Especially to a potential buyer of this lens who would be a typical Nikon shooter…

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3 Arved November 15, 2013 at 9:59 am

Thanks Neil.

The market wants the return of the 58/1.2 Noctolux. Others try to compare this lens to the 58/1.2 Noctolux. It’s an f/1.4 lens, like the others you mention, sitting inbetween the 50/1.4 and the 85/1.4, just as you said. Nikon needs to either make a 58/1.2G Noctolux, or tell us all why the old 58/1.2 Noctolux can’t be made in an AF version, so everyone can put the issue to rest.

As to “is it worth it?” Well, my 50/1.4 AF-S is also my least used lens. I bought it used for $225. I can’t see upgrading it the 50/1.4G, so going to the 58/1.4G is even less likely. I have to look at “return on investment.” Is upgrading to the 50/1.4G or 58/1.4G going to make me more money than my 50/1.4 AF-S? Is there substantial added value to my client if I used this lens over my 50/1.4 AF-S? Could I charge more if I had this lens in my arsenal? I doubt it, and even if it did, the break even point is so far in the future, I think there are better places for *me* to invest my money.

To the hobbiest where something like this is a toy rather than a tool – sure. Go for it. If it makes you have more fun with your hobby, or inspires you to do greater and more creative things, more power to you. For a working pro who has to watch his finances, well, we have other things we need to worry about. At least, I do.

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4 Jeff Weeks November 15, 2013 at 1:33 pm

I’m certainly not going to drop $1.7k for it, and I don’t shoot Nikon APS-C, but for someone who does, this focal length gives them an 87mm f/1.4 equivalent FOV, which would be useful for anyone shooting portraits with a D7100, and the bokeh is quite nice.

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5 oscar campos November 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Neil,

Thank you for the review. I always look forward to what you have to say, as I greatly respect and admire your photography. I think that you are always honest and don’t pander to the brands.

For me, a D7100 shooter, amateur, looking to make money from his hobby, I wouldn’t spend the money. I own a 50mm 1.8g (my most used lens) and a 85mm 1.8g (which I love) but I do find a little long in doors. I have been contemplating selling my 50 1.8g and getting something wider, a 35mm most likely. Which of the 35′s would you recommend? I am not interested in DX lenses, as one day I will upgrade to FF (when I feel I need it).

Thank you sir for all the great content, specially the books!

Oscar

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6 john kraus November 15, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Thanks for taking the time to do this little test, Neil. One of most useful reviews I’ve seen so far on the new 58, and the first useful comparison to the 50mm 1.4G.
The lens definitely has a magical quality to it. Interestingly, I tried sharpening someone else’s file shot at 1.4. 2 things I noticed- 1) the plane of focus sharpened up really nicely, all the detail was there and 2) I liked all the OOF BG much more unsharpened. That started explaining to me how/why this lens was designed as is. It’s all about the creaminess, and you can sharpen up the plane of focus easily if wanted. Micro contrast is purposely set low for the creaminess of the transitions, thought easy to selectively bring back. My opinion FWIW at the moment.

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7 Motti November 15, 2013 at 11:59 pm

@Arved, well said. My thoughts exactly!!

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8 Motti November 16, 2013 at 12:00 am

Thanks for the review Neil. It was objective a to the point.

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9 Steve November 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Arved, which 50/1.4 AF-S lens do you refer to (if not the G)?

Nikon’s F mount, introduced in 1959, has a much smaller diameter (44mm) than the Canon EF mount (54mm) which came out in 1987 along with the new wave of autofocus lenses. This extra size allows Canon to create f1.2 AF lenses that still have space for the electronic contacts. An f1.2 Nikon lens would require a throat size so large that it couldn’t use AF contacts hence why there are f1.2 manual focus lenses but no AF versions.

A big shame, but I guess Nikon is reluctant to force its loyal customer base to replace all their lenses if a new mount was released.

For the record I had the 50/1.4G but sold it as I felt it too soft wide open.

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10 Arved November 18, 2013 at 9:08 am

Sorry Steve (and others). I have the 50/1.4 AF-D. The AF-S *is* the G. Nice explination why the NOCT can’t be done in an AF version, but, as I said, Nikon needs to come out and say this officially to put the issue to rest. Until that happens, people are going to continue to complain about not having the NOCT.

Thanks Motti. :-)

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11 parhad November 18, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Hi
I compared the 58 mm 1.4 g along with the 50 mm 1.4 G on my D 800 E at “Le salon de la photo” in Paris last week.
I must say, I was quite disappointed. The 50 mm at 1.4 performed at least as good as the 58mm apart from the bokeh wich is very good on the 58mm.
Considering that I don’t particularly like the 50mm1.4 (The 50mm 1.8 G is a much better lens in every point of view) I let you imagine how I felt about the 58 mm.
I had the chance though to try the 35mm 1.4 G on the new DF. This is certainly a combo that will blow the mind of any good (or bad) Photographer.
Hope this will help you to buy or not to buy the 1700 euros lens.

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12 InTheMist November 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Great review. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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13 Sten Rasmussen November 21, 2013 at 3:50 am

Nice, sound review.
Re. CPU contacts; a few people (myself included) have successfully added a CPU to both the 50/1.2 and Noct. This proves that Nikon could make a 1.2 AF-S lens if they wanted to. But light fall-off towards the corners would be significant There is a reason why the Zeiss Otus is “only” an f/1.4 lens as well.

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14 EDL November 23, 2013 at 11:32 am

Nikon explained why this is not a 1.2 lens like the Noct. It was modeled after it but the 1.4 was the best combination combination they came up with to achieve the best image quality. It’s not a matter of whether it’s technically feasible, it’s a matter of quality. And a quality lens it is, it blows the Noct out of the water, by a long shot. Here are some comparison shots between the 1.2 Noct and the 1.4 58mm:

http://nikonrumors.com/2013/11/02/more-nikon-58mm-f1-4g-sample-images-few-comparisons-with-the-noct-58mm-f1-2.aspx/

This is why this lens was built and it performs like no other lens ever built. It may not be for everyone but somehow people always feel that every new product has to be made for them and with their requirements in mind. It doesn’t work like that. Ferrari will never build a car for $30k just so everyone can buy it. It’s meant for a select group of people and for those, it will bring value. Just like the 58mm.

Given its performance, I think the price is justified and therefore, I don’t think it makes much sense to compare it to a $200 lens. I would like to see comparisons with other lenses in this price range, namely the 85mm 1.4G. I personally shoot more indoor glamour portraits and a 58mm focal length would be more useful to me. The 85mm is great but better suited for outdoors with enough room. So I might swap my 85mm for the 58mm.

Bottom line is, don’t whine about the aperture (seriously, 1stop difference and you are unable to compensate this with shutter or ISO?) or price, it is apparently not meant for you. It will be for others and I’m sure they’ll appreciate it for what is and does.

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15 Chad November 25, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Non of the Nikon pro line primes around $1500 – $2000 are worth their money if relatively compared to their 1.8 counter parts.

They are priced that high simply because Nikon knows there is the market of pros or hardcore hobbiest that would always pay for the best equipment. Even if it’s only 20% better but still costs 4 times more.There is no compromise for the people in that market. I am sure Nikon makes the most profit in these pro lens – while they are selling it for 4 times more, the cost of it to make for them I’m sure is not 4 times more.

On the flip side you don’t always have to see it that you have spent $1700 for the lens as when you sell it, the price will still be there and you might sell it for $1400. So in a sense you are only really paying $300. It’s nikon thats making the full $1700 (minus cost).

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16 Eric November 30, 2013 at 10:33 pm

“To the hobbiest where something like this is a toy rather than a tool – sure. Go for it. If it makes you have more fun with your hobby, or inspires you to do greater and more creative things, more power to you. For a working pro who has to watch his finances, well, we have other things we need to worry about. At least, I do.”

This quote by Arved seems to suggest that the 58mm f/1.4 is not capable of producing professional results – particularly the “toy” comment. I would like for Arved to explain to me why it is considered a “toy” and not a professional tool.

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17 Chris December 1, 2013 at 1:42 am

I’d sell a kidney for the 85mm 1.4g, it’s interesting your thoughts on the 50mm1.4. If the building was on fire and I could grab just one lens that’s the one it would be. Sadly living where I do there is zero chance to try out gear. Thanks for the review Neil.

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18 Eric December 13, 2013 at 2:20 am

From the article;

“That it handles coma very well, would indicate that this lens might be seen as a successor to the Noct Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 which is a legendary performer.”

Virtually all lenses made today (except things like Newtonian Telescopes) are corrected for coma. Coma is an exceedingly easy thing to correct for. What this lens and the Noct correct for is sagittal oblique spherical aberration. It is not coma.

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19 vishal singh December 16, 2013 at 2:24 pm

untill unless you have very specific requirements go for 50mm f/1.8 D for FX format and 35mm f/1.8G on DX format. both of them are very cheap and incredibly sharp. you can refer to http://pixelarge.com/nikon-50mm-f1-8-af-d-nifty-fifty-2/ for more details. good luck?

Vishal Singh
http://www.PixeLarge.com

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20 suraj December 22, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Although now it has been replaced with the newer Nikon AF 50 mm f/1.4 G AF-S but one must know that this lens held its top position for over a decade and is still a more desired and cheaper alternative to the newer model which is just marginally ahead in terms of performance. If the price for even the second hand version of this lens feels like a budget spoiler to you then i would recommend the cheapest yet one of the sharpest and well performing Nikon 50mm f/1.8 D for you. And trust me it not more than a feet behind in the race for image quality.

Making good photographs is the job of the person behind the camera-lens system and not the responsibility of the equipment, which are merely the means to the cause.But having a good equipment at your disposal is a blessing .

more more info do check out http://pixelarge.com/nikon-af-nikkor-50mm-f1-4d/

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21 Richard December 28, 2013 at 4:31 am

I’ve got the Leica 50 FLE ASPH Summicron and due to the need for auto focus in some street and candid portraiture I have bought this for a Df. It is good but not great and whilst buying the Leica lens hurt more than can be imagined, (i sold my car) I don’t question its qualities – they cannot be disputed. However this Nikon lens has superb bokeh but is no where near as sharp. Some of this can be dealt with in post – and even automated perhaps to save time. But the bottom line is – it’s not worth 4 times the 50mm 1.8 and even with the ‘nano’ coating is no where near the manual focus Leica glass. And I’d very much doubt it would therefore go near the new Zeiss Otus. But – and its a big BUT – it will deliver in lower light with greater accuracy and sharpness than the manually focussed Leica. which is what it was bought to do.

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