50mm-lens-comparison-review

Nikon / Sigma 50 and 58mm lens comparison review

50mm-lens-comparison-review

If you have a DSLR, there is a good chance you have or had a 50mm prime lens in your camera bag,  After all, the 50mm standard prime lens is one of the most popular prime lens because of it’s close to human eye vision angle and it’s relatively affordable price.

There are quite a few different 50mm prime lens options available on the market.  So in this review,I am going to compare the three current model 50mm autofocus prime lenses available for Nikon DSLR:

  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G (Nikon 50mm f/1.4G)
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G (Nikon 50mm f/1.8G)
  • Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (Sigman 50mm f/1.4 ART, reviewed previously here)

We also included

  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G (Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, review here)

in this comparison test as the 58mm focal length is close enough for direct comparison.

So let’s start looking at the obvious things like size and build quality first.

 

Size and weight:

These are the four 50mm lenses (ok one is 58mm, but i’ll pretend it’s also a 50mm lens in this review), from left to right:

Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, NIkon 58mm f/1.4G, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART.

50mm-lens-comparison-review-2

As you can see from the photo,  the two Nikon 50mm lenses are smallest and of very similar size.  The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and f/1.8 lenses both have fairly simple design (8 elements/7 groups and 7 elements/6 groups respectively). They are pretty light weight at 185g and 280g respectively.
The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is noticeably bigger than the two 50mm Nikons and has a slighly more complicated design with 9 elements in 6 groups. But at 385g, it still doesn’t feel too heavy.  The heavy weight champion definitely goes to the Sigma which weights at 815g. It is almost as heavy as all the three Nikon lenses added together. Actually the Sigma is only a little bit lighter than the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and the size is almost exactly the same as the Nikon AFS 24-120mm f/4 VR.  The reason why the Sigma 50mm f/1.4ART is so big is because it has a really complicated 13 elements in 8 groups optics design. 

Results:

1. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G (The f/1.8G is lighter but the f/1.4G is 2/3 stop faster)
3. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
4. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART

 

Build Quality:

Just like most modern lenses, I didn’t find any build quality issues with any of these four lenses. The cheapest Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is clearly the most plastic lens out of the four and the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G has a more solid build than it’s 50mm Nikon brothers. But I just really love the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART’s build quality and design. I guess it’s 800g+ weight also help making you feel it’s a very solid lens as well.

[EDITED 21 Nov 2014] Our reader Guido points out an important fact that the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is the only lens that has weather seal.   Thanks Guido!

Results:

  1. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
  2. Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
  3. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
  4. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

 

Autofocus performance:

While Sigma have a reputation of inaccurate and inconsistent autofocus performance, surprisingly the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART’s autofocus accuracy is just as good as the Nikons and there is also the optional Sigma USB dock for fine-tuning the autofocus settings.
It’s actually the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G that I had some autofocus issues. Fortunately after a bit of AF fine tune adjustments on the D810 body seem to have fixed it.
Sigma’s autofocus speed appears to be slightly faster than the three Nikon lenses. The autofocus operation is quiet and smooth for all the four lenses.

Results:

1. Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
2. = Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
4. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G

 

 Maximum Magnification: 

magnification

All the photos above were took at the closest focus distance. You can see the Nikon  58mm f/1,4G is the last lens you would use if you want a small object to fill the frame. The two Nikon 50mm lenses have virtually same maximum magnification while it’s the Sigma that give you maximum magnification.

Results:

1. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART
2.= Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
4. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G

 

Price:

The easiest comparison in this whole review. All prices are based on local (NZ) price from official dealers
The Nikon 50mm f/1.8 is by far the cheapest lens out of the four. The Nikon 50mm f/1.4 is still quite cheap, but is approximiately double the price of it’s little brother. Sigma 50 1.4 ART’s price is almost the price of the two Nikon 50mm lenses added together. And last the Nikon 58 f/1.4, it is definitely the most expensive out of the four, and will cost you roughly the total of the three 50mm lenses (Nikon 50mm f/1.8G + Nikon 50mm f/1.4G + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART) in the review

Results

  1. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
  2. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
  3. Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
  4.  Nikon 58mm f/1.4G

 

 

Next we are going to compare the image quality from the four lenses.  All the comparison photos were taken at each lens’s maximum aperture, which is f/1.4 for the all the lenses except the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. This means the f/1.4 lenses has a 2/3 stop advantage or disadvantage over than Nikon 50mm f/1.8 depends on how you look at it.

Let’s start by comparing the image sharpness.

 

Center Sharpness:

centre-sharpness centre-sharpness2

 

(click on the photo to see it at original size)

Looking at the 100% crops, you can see the two Nikon 50mm lenses are softer than the Sigma and the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G. Between the two Nikon 50mm lenses, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is slightly sharper than the 50mm f/1.4G. But remember the photos were taken at each lens’s fastest aperture, i.e. f/1.8 for the Nikon f/1.8G and f/1.4 for the Nikon f/1.4G respectively.  If the 50mm f/1.4G stop down to f/1.8, the sharpness is pretty much the same as the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G at f/1.8.

For the other two lenses, there really isn’t much difference between the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART in terms of centre sharpness. Both are really very sharp.

Results:

1= Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
3= Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

 

Corner Sharpness:

edge-sharpness

 

Once again, the two Nikon 50mm lenses are not as sharp as the more expensive Nikon 58mm f/1.4G and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART. The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G’s corner sharpness is really good, just marginally not as sharp as the monster Sigma. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART is amazingly sharp at the corner, almost as sharp as the two Nikon 50mm lenses at the centre. The amount of details the Sigma can capture at f/1.4 is really incredible.  That probably explain why the Sigma is such a huge lens with such complicated optics design!

Results:

  1. Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
  2. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
  3. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
  4. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

 

 

Bokeh:

It’s not unusual to use 50mm prime lens to shoot portrait. You can easily create foreground isolation by blurring the background. The quality of the bokeh is an important characteristic of the 50mm prime lens.

Here are some 100% crops comparing the bokeh from the different lenses. All photos were taken from the exact same location at maximum aperture.

Centre Crop:

boken-center

At wide open, all the lenses creates smooth circular  bokeh. The bokeh from the two 50mm Nikon lenses has strong highlight around the bokeh edges which could make bokeh look nervous. The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G and Sigma f/1.4 ART are both much smoother and a lot more pleasant looking in comparison.

Note: The bokeh from the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is the biggest because of it’s longer focal length

And below is a crop near the corner:

bokeh-corner

The corner bokeh is quite different from all the four lenses. The bokeh from the Sigma 50mm f/1.4G still look almost like a circle,  while the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is a bit more distorted but still roughly a circle shape.  The bokeh from the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G and Nikon 58mm f/1.4G are both rugby shape/cat’s eye. Once again, the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G and the Sigma bokeh have a smoother transition around the edges while the two Nikon 50mm lenses have pretty strong edge halos.

 

boken-centerf4

Above is a comparing when the lenses aperture is closed to f/4. The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G look relatively smooth and have minimal halo around the edges. The bokeh from the Sigma turns slightly into a polygon but it’s the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G that looks really like a polygon with all the hard straight edges. This is because the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G only has 7 diaphragm blades while the other three lenses all have 9 blades.  Interestingly, it’s the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G that renders the best looking bokeh that is round with almost no visible halo around the edges.

Results:

  1. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
  2. Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
  3. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
  4. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

 

Chromatic Aberration

ca

Chromatic aberration is quite visible for all the four lenses at maximum aperture. But this is pretty common for most fast prime lenses anyway and it is usually not a huge problem unless you are shooting very high contrast scenes.

Out of the four lenses, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G appears to have the most visible CA. The 50mm f/1.8G is slightly better than the 50mm f/1.4G, but it’s the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART and Nikon 58mm f/1.4G that have the best overall CA control

1.= Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
3. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
4. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

 

Flare Resistance:

flare

The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is the only Nikon lens that has the nano coating and the Sigma has something called “Super Multi-Layer Coating”. If you look at the comparison photos above, you can see the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART does have much better flare resistance than the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. But surprisingly, there isn’t much flare visible in the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G photo despite it does not having any fancy coating on the elements.

Results:

  1. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART
  2. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
  3. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
  4. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

 

 

Coma:

coma

One of the biggest selling point for the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is the lens is highly optimized for handheld night landscape photography because of it’s excellent coma control. And it does show in the comparison photo above.

Not as good as the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, but coma is still reasonably well controlled with both the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART and the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G.

Unfortunately, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G shows some pretty nasty  comatic aberration, it’s almost like the city was under attacked by lots of glowing bats!

Results:

  1. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
  2. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART
  3. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
  4. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

 

Vignetting:

At maximum aperture, vignetting is quite obvious for all the four lenses. The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G has the least amount of vignetting compare to the three 50mm lenses.  But this is pretty common for most fast prime lenses anyway and can be improved by stopping down to around f/2.8-f/4.

Results:

1.Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
2. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART
3.= Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

 

vignetting

 

 

 

Conclusions:

I was going to added up the result from each individual comparison and use the total score to rank the four lenses. But I decided not to do that in the end as even though they are all 50mm lenses, each of them were created with very different goals and requirements. So to pick the “best” lens, one must understand what are the pros and cons of each lens and depends on what is most important to you then you can find the most suitable 50mm lens for you.

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
The cheapest, smallest lens out of the four, and the only f/1.8 lens in this review. The price is definitely one of the most important design factor when Nikon was creating this lens. So it’s not really a surprise that this lens doesn’t give you the best picture quality or build quality when compare to the three more expensive 50mm lenses. But it’s sharpness is not bad at wide open and easily beat the three other lenses in terms of size, weight and price.  If you have a very tight budget and don’t mind a slightly plasticky lens, this is probably what you should get. For the best bangs for your buck, you can’t beat the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G.

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G
The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is an interesting lens. It is the cheapest f/1.4 lens in this review, and is also the smallest, lightest (current model)  f/1.4 lens for your Nikon DSLR. This alone is already a very good reason for you to get this lens. But on the other hand, the picture quality  doesn’t really stand out and you can even argue the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G gives you better overall image quality at the maximum aperture. One thing you need to remember is that the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G offer you an extra 2/3 stop of speed when compare to the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G . And with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, you can always stop down to f/1.8 and get better image quality while you can’t do the reverse with the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. This lens doesn’t have exceptional image quality, but it is exactly what a 50mm lens should be, small, light and cheap (for a f/1.4 lens).

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G
If you have read my Nikon 58mm f/1.4G review (here), you should know I absolutely love this lens. It renders picture beautifully and it is a lens with special characterisitc and look.  While the Sigma maybe a tiny bit sharper, the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G beats the Sigma in terms of bokeh, coma control, I think the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is the best lens out of the four in terms of overall picture quality. Unfortunately it’s huge price tag means not many of us can afford this beautiful lens from Nikon.

 

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
The Sigma delivers exceptional image quality and is sharp like a Japanese sword. If you want the sharpest possible photo with your D810, you don’t need to look any futher, this is the lens you should get. (Unless you can afford the mega expensive Zeiss Otus 55 1.4)
Autofocus was one of the biggest problem with the old Sigma lenses, but it appears Sigma have completely nailed it this time in terms of autofocus accuracy and consistency.
Before Sigma announced their new ART series lenses, it was hard to imagine a Sigma lens that is more expensive than the equivalent lens from Nikon. But the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART is more expensive than the Nikon equivalent and by looking at the comparison photos in this review, you will agree the price is well justified. The Sigma’s picture quality is simply exceptional. Amazingly sharp, with decent bokeh (but not as good as the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G) and performs very well in pretty much every area. The biggest problem (no pun intended) with this lens is it’s enormous size and weight.  A 50mm lens that is as big and heavy as a med size zoom lens means the lens may end up sitting on your shelf instead of travelling everywhere with you.

 

 

So which is the best 50mm lens?

It really depends on what you want.  They are all good in some areas but none of them are perfect.

 

 

 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo magazine and Pro Photographer magazine.

 

 

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