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Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G Review

nikon58mm01

Nikon released the Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 lens in 1977. Apart from it’s really fast f/1.2 maximum aperture, it is also a lens specially designed for night photography and hence the word “Noct” in it’s name.

Because of it’s exceptional image quality, the Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 is considered one of the legendary Nikon lens by a lot of Nikon users. Only around ten thousands copies were ever made (including the original and the later Ai-S version) and if you really want to get one today, prepare to pay at least NZD$5000 for a good condition second hand copy. In comparison, a brand new Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS can be bought at around NZD$1000.

So what is so special about this “Noct” lens and what does it mean when they said it’s designed for night photography?

Take some photos at night time with a fast prime lens at it’s maximum aperture, you will notice all the tiny point light sources near the corner of the photo are rendered as comet-shape blurs. It’s called coma and to reduce that problem you usually have to stop down your lens quite a bit.

nikon58mm16

Is it a bird? Is it a bat? No, it is coma!
(And it’s NOT from the 58mm f/1.4G)

Having to stop down the lens to get rid of coma really affects how you can shoot your night scenery photos especially when you don’t have your tripod with you. But it’s not a problem tho if you are shooting with the Noct-Nikkor. Even when shooting at maximum aperture, you get very good image quality without those nasty looking coma . But it’s not an easy task to achieve, one of the thing Nikon did was putting a large hand polished aspherical (read expensive) lens element at the front to assure optimum correction for coma.

Nikon discontinued the Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 in 1997, just when the Nikon DSLR era began. Since then a lot of people has been waiting for a new Noct lens from Nikon, but it’s not until late 2012 we knew a new 58mm lens could be coming soon as Nikon had submitted quite a few 58mm f/1.2 and f/1.4 design patents. Finally, at the end of 2013, Nikon announced the new AF-S 58mm f/1.4G. While there is no “Noct” word in the official name, Nikon told us the AF-S 58mm f/1.4G is indeed paying homage to the legendary Noct-Nikkor.

As mentioned above, Nikon has submitted patent for a few 58mm f/1.2 and f/1.4 design, and in the end they decided to go with the f/1.4 instead of the f/1.2. This move must have disappointed quite a few people. But I believe Nikon have compared all the various prototypes and options and there are some solid reasons why they picked the f/1.4 design and not the f/1.2. So let’s have a look at this new “Noct” lens.

Build and Design:
The Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G looks quite similar to the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G but on steroids. It is a bit bigger and a bit heavier. If you are concerned about the weight and size, don’t worry as it’s still one of the smallest golden ring f/1.4 lens. It’s nowhere as big as the ginormous Sigma 50 f/1.4 ART.

nikon58mm15

The optical formula is more complex than the typical 50mm lenses. It consists of 9 elements in 6 groups including two aspherical elements. The shinny golden N label on the lens reminds you about it’s Nano coating element.
Build quality is typical Nikon professional quality, solid and well made. With the front element deeply-recessed in the barrel, it’s quite unlikely you’ll damage the front glass even if you don’t use the supplied lens hood.
Just like most Nikon lenses, a lens pouch and lens hood are both included in the box.

Sharpness:
Before doing this review, I’ve read quite a few comments saying the 58mm f/1.4G is just not sharp at all. Some even said it’s little brothers Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G and AF-S 50mm f/1.8G are both sharper than this 58mm lens. Is the 58mm f/1.4G really such a softy?
To test the sharpness, I used the highest resolution and most demanding DSLR that is available on the market today, the 36MP Nikon D810. I also took a number of comparison photos with other 50mm lenses, including the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART and load them all up on my computer and compared them side by side. (A more detailed 50mm lenses comparison review comparing a number of latest 50mm lenses is coming soon to www.nikonjin.com ), so how does the Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G perform?
The AF-S 58mm f/1.4G is a pretty sharp lens and contrary to what some people said on the internet, I found it definitely sharper than the AF-S 50mm f/1.4G and the AF-S 50mm f/1.8G. But it is not the sharpest 50mm (50ish) lens available as the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART is really a monster in terms of sharpness so the 58mm f/1.4G can only take the second place in terms of sharpness. Having said that, the Nikon isn’t doing too badly even when compare to the razor sharp Sigma that is nearly twice it’s size. What really shines about the Nikon is it’s edge-to-edge sharpness. Even at the extreme edge or corner, the sharpness still remain pretty good at maximum aperture. Stop down slightly to f/2 and the corner sharpness becomes excellent.

nikon58mm16Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G  – f/4 1/1250s ISO64

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 100% crop from the picture above

Coma:
At f/1.4, there is a tiny amount of coma at the edges but it’s really well controlled and there is no crazy big comet or crazy shape coma.

nikon58mm08Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4  1/6s ISO64

nikon58mm19100% crop near the left edge. At f/1.4, there is a little bit of coma, but it’s so much better than what you typically see from other lenses  (For comparison, see an example of bad coma near the top of this review)

“AF-S 58mm f/1.4G has definitely live up to it’s “Noct”  heritage”

Once I stop down to f/2, pretty much all the coma has disappeared. Also, if you are shooting with a DX camera, I don’t think you can see any coma at all even at maximum aperture.

While it’s not perfect, the AF-S 58mm f/1.4G has definitely live up to it’s “Noct”  heritage and has really good coma control.  I would be happy to shoot at f/1.4 if I don’t have my tripod with me.

 

Vignetting:
Vignetting is a common problem with most fast prime lenses. For example, the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G has very obvious vignetting issue at wide open. This is another area that the AFS 58mm f/1.4G performs really well. There is only very limited light falloff at the corners even at maximum aperture.

 

Distortion:
The 58mm f/1.4G doesn’t suffer too much from barrel distortion. The distortion is quite minimal and definitely won’t bother you much unless you are a serious chess board photographer.

 

“Through this lens, everything is awesome.”

Colours, Flare, Contrast:
Colours are rendered beautifully by this lens. Through this lens, everything is awesome. Even a boring scene looks stunning with vivid colours and good contrast! Thanks to the Nano coating, flare is very well controlled and contrast remain pretty high even when shooting directly towards a strong light source.

nikon58mm05Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/ s ISO 00

 

Autofocus:
The AFS 58mm f/1.4G’s autofocus is driven by a ring type ‘Silent Wave’ ultrasonic motor which allows manual adjustment at any time. You can also flick the “M/A – M” switch to “M” position if you want to operate in full manual mode. The manual focus ring is well dampened, but not as smooth as the one on a high quality manual focus lens.

nikon58mm13Autofocus is fairly accurate once I adjusted the AF microadjustment settings
(Performance by Last Aid Kit – Last Aid Kid Facebook page  ) 

The autofocus operation is quiet and the autofocus speed is decent. With a high resolution camera like the D810 and narrow DOF from a 58mm f/1.4 lens, it’s always a big test on the autofocus accuracy. During the review period, I did notice some of photos were slightly misfocused. I suspect it was because my review lens was not calibrated properly.  Once I spent a bit of time to adjust the camera’s autofocus micro adjustment settings, the autofocus accuracy seems to have improved significantly.

 

“If you are a bokeh junkie, this is definitely the best 50mm autofocus bokeh machine you can buy for your Nikon.”

Bokeh:
Nikon’s marketing material emphasis this lens bokeh quality and out of focus area indeed look nice and pleasant . At maximum aperture, there is some swirly bokeh which adds a bit of character and I personally really like. The lens handles some of the more challenging scenes easily without producing any ugly nervous bokeh. The transition between in focus and out of focus area is also handled smoothly.
When you close the aperture a bit, the bokeh remains relatively circular and smooth thanks to the 9 rounded blades diaphragm design.
If you are a bokeh junkie, this is definitely the best 50mm autofocus bokeh machine you can buy for your Nikon.

nikon58mm04Bokeh junkie would love this lens

 

Chromatic aberration:
Chromatic abberration is really handled very well. At maximum aperture, there is a bit of CA mostly near the edges of the frame and only a very tiny amount near the center. Most of the CA disappears when you stop down to f/2.8.

nikon58mm06You don’t see much purple fringing with the 58mm f/1.4G

 

Conclusions:
Some products are easy to review. Unfortunately the Nikon AFS 58mm f/1.4G is not one of them. If you look at the MTF chart, aperture size, and compare it with the AFS 50mm f/1.4G then it you may wonder why it is such an expensive lens.

The night shooting capability is definitely one big selling point for this lens. If you want to shoot night scenery without or can’t carry a tripod, this lens is probably your best friend. The lens delivers very good edge to edge image quality at maximum aperture. Combining this with the excellent high ISO performance from the latest FX cameras, you can pretty much just handheld the camera, shoot any night scenery photo and get very decent results.

But there is something more about this lens.

After taking over a thousand photos with this lens on a wide range of subjects, I’ve to say there is some magic dust inside this lens that you can’t see if you just look at the spec of the lens.

Is it the creamy and swirly bokeh? Is it the fantastic color rendering capabilities? Or is it the slightly unusual 58mm focal length? I don’t really know but I just love the photos I took with this lens. There is some special characteristic that the ordinary 50mm lenses don’t have.

nikon58mm09The Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G has some special characteristic that ordinary 50mm lens doesn’t have

I wouldn’t hesitate this lens to put it on my camera if I’m shooting a wedding or doing a portrait session tomorrow. The images from this lens are just beautiful.

While I do have a bit of concern about the lens’s autofocus accuracy, the main issue I see with this lens is the price. If it’s a f/1.2 lens, I think most people would say immediately yes it’s worth the price. People would pay for the brag factor even if at f/1.2 the lens is very soft and unusable. . But it’s “just” a f/1.4 lens, and it’s more expensive than the fantastic AF-S 85 f/1.4G which is pretty much the standard professional portrait lens.

If you give this lens to a photographer to try, especially a portrait or wedding photographer, I’m sure most of them will come back and tell you they fall in love with this lens. Now if you ask me does the AF-S 58mm f/1.4G really worth the price?

Beautiful photos are priceless isn’t it?

 

Pros:

  • Excellent edge to edge image quality from f/1.4
  • Well controlled coma
  • Bokeh!
  • Good build quality
  • Some special characteristic that other 50mm lenses don’t have

Cons:

  • Price
  • Some concerns about the autofocus accuracy (could be my review sample was not calibrated properly)

 

You can find the spec and details of the Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G from Nikon’s website

 

Sample Photos:

(Either unedited JPG straight from camera or RAW -> JPG using Lightroom 5.6   Edited to taste)

nikon58mm14Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1250s ISO64

nikon58mm10Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1/60s ISO900

nikon58mm03Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/ 8 1/250s  ISO64

nikon58mm02Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1/640s  ISO64

nikon58mm07Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/7.1 1/3200s ISO64

nikon58mm11Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1/60s ISO100

nikon58mm12Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1/60s ISO 1800

 

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 and ProPhotographer magazine.

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