Review: Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct

Hello, everybody! I was out with my friend Andrew and we’re talking about systems architecture and administration, its design, cost, implementation, security and maintenance. All that talk is good but we all agreed that these don’t mean a thing if we don’t have a vision for it, it’s just money wasted, a resource that’s finite. Making something through the guidance of a vision is not easy because you’ll have to know what it is first and that can come from a limitation or other constraints. The lens that we’re going to talk about was born from the need to have a lens that performs close to its peak wide-open and to surpass its legendary predecessor. That vision guided the engineers at Nikon and they have created a modern masterpiece.

Introduction:

The Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct is a proof-of-concept of what Nikon’s new Z-mount can do. It was announced around the same time as the new Nikon Z6 and Nikon Z7, it created a lot of buzz online and people were divided on how and why it doesn’t have autofocus and why it has to be so big and all. It is also controversial because it’s so expensive, costing almost $8,000 each. It is now on back-order due to the “demand” but I think that it’s just so hard to produce that Nikon can’t make more of these even if they wanted to. This is a true exotic lens that surpasses what Leica has to offer according to people online who were lucky enough to compare. The optical design is a complex 17-elements-in-10-groups one which is totally-new for Nikon, the elements are huge which makes this a really heavy lens and we’ll find out if the hype about this lens is real in this article.

The barrel is fat with most of the surface being covered by the focusing ring which has a really long focus throw with a minimum focusing distance just a bit below 0.5m or so. This is handy for shooting really blurry backgrounds for little things such as wedding rings or the dolls at the top of the cakes for those of you who shoot wedding photos or videos.

This is supposed to be the true spiritual successor to the Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 Ai-S, a legendary lens known for being fast, sharp wide-open, produces well-controlled comas at the corners of the frame wide-open, bokeh quality that can be considered one of the best in the optics industry and also being very difficult to produce due to the hand-ground aspherical front element. I love that lens to bits and it’s one-of-a-kind. The Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct inherited the name, too. I am not sure about the choice of font, it looks a lot like Cooke’s font face, the old Gothic font face would’ve made more sense if it’s for a Nikkor.

This lens is Nikon’s fastest so far, with a maximum aperture of just f/0.95 it’s something that “bokeh-lovers” lust for. Like the Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 Ai-S that preceded it, this was designed for high-performance wide-open so you can shoot with it under low-light conditions. You will be limited though, it’s only manual-focus so it can be hard to track moving subjects. This is not the lens that you want to use for sports unless you pre-focus, something people who have never went through the old manual days don’t know about and a lot of old-timers forgot due to the convenience of autofocus.

There is a helpful digital display that you can program to display different information depending on your needs if I am not mistaken. This convenient feature is new to Z-mount lenses. If there’s one thing that I can critique it is the front ring which sinks into the barrel, the front part of the focusing ring will prevent this lens from focusing to infinity since your filter attachments will hit the front part of the focusing ring, this is a bug design problem and I don’t know how or why this was approved, it may be for protection but this is also preventing this lens from being more useful. Needless to say, this is a heavy lens and you will soon get tired of carrying your setup with just your hands and attachments for a strap would’ve been useful here. I assume that this lens was designed for tripod-use exclusively but this does not make any sense. You will want to use a Nikon HN-38 with it to prevent the front from any damage or dirt, an expensive lens like this deserve protection. The lens itself is sealed from the elements with multiple rubber seals but this doesn’t mean that this is waterproof and you should handle it with care.

This is kind of a turn-off for me, the tripod collar rotates freely, while this is a nice touch when shooting videos using the “dutch angle” it’s not great for people who would want precise orientation of the frame such as landscape photographers and the like. There are 2 buttons that you can see in here in this video, one of which you can program to a different function. I think the other one labeled “DISP” can also be customized to something else. The iris can be controlled through the camera’s body instead of an aperture ring.

Let’s now see some sample photos from this monster. I couldn’t take this out of the room so I only have limited subjects to show. I would’ve loved to take photos outside at night but that I don’t have the privilege. I took these shots using my Nikon Z6.

Before we continue, this is more of a “first impression” article rather than a real review. I couldn’t take the lens out of the building despite being trusted by the staff and knowing some of the people for years. This article will be a short one and filled with commentaries from my experience with this lens, I would love to play around with this more if I have the chance and update this article in the future.

This is how sharp it is wide-open, notice how high the resolving power is, it is able to resolve the details of his hat beautifully but wait until you’ve seen the next photo.

This is a near-1:1 crop, you can appreciate the details of the weave. It’s hard to believe that this was taken wide-open! I expected it to produce plenty of sphero-chromatic aberrations but it seems that it handles those pretty well. I’m impressed by what I saw. Did I get you excited? Well, you should be. Let us look at the next set.

I took these pictures with the iris stopped-down from f/0.95, f/1.2, f/1.8, f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6 (left-to-right). The succeeding photos are just near-1:1 crops and should give you a nice idea of what’s really going on. Some of the shots are blurred (f/4 or f/5.6) or may have missed-focus, this is due to the slow speed of the shutter and the difficulty of focusing with such a sharp lens. The guy in the photo, Andrew is kind enough to participate in this exercise. Andrew bought himself a Nikon Z6 shortly after this, needless to say.

(Click to enlarge)

This lens is super-sharp even wide-open it’s hard to believe what I saw until I zoomed-into the photos at home on a larger monitor, the field seems flat it makes there resulting photos look like they were shot at a smaller aperture. I couldn’t believe that something like this could be engineered. Usually, you will get a small part where things are in-focus and the rest is blurry but not with this lens, it’s makes photos taken with it wide-open more than usable. I am still in disbelief as I write and inspect the photos. There are subtle traces of chromatic aberration which looks good because they blended really well into the rest of the photo, making this more of a feature than a flaw. This is easily seen on the set with my Nikon S2 but you won’t see much of it or any at all in the other samples. The character of the bokeh is exquisite, it’s really smooth wide-open, it’s some of the best that I have ever seen, even rivaling what the magnificent Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 Ai-S produces which I consider one of the best in this subject matter. Contrast looks pretty good, too. It’s hard to believe that these were shot wide-open, look at the details of the skin, hairs and letters if you don’t believe me. The transition between what’s focused to what’s not isn’t as wide as what many classic lenses do but it’s not terrible at all like what many over-corrected modern lenses tend to do, giving you this “wall-of-focus” that I dislike. Resolving power is amazing, the best I’ve seen from a lens that was shot wide-open. Vignetting can be observed wide-open and I think this is something that’s more difficult to correct rather than the optical aberrations associated with such a fast lens.

At f/1.2 the photos look much better as expected due to the better resolving power and wider depth-of-field. The bokeh character remained the same as far as I can tell, the discs now have a subtle angular-look to them but that’s not a problem because it has plenty of iris blades so they look circular and not polygonal. I wouldn’t say that it has reached its peak but it looks like it. I can’t believe what I’m seeing because this is the best-looking f/1.2 photo that I have ever seen so far. The corners don’t look as dark as vignetting is better controlled but you will still see it.

Stop the iris down to f/1.8 and the corners look much brighter. Sharpness or contrast improves a bit only because you’re getting more depth-of-field but I can only assume at this moment. The discs look more defined now but they still look more circular than angular. I must say that the rendering looks the same throughout the aperture range which is kind of boring, I should shoot for observing coma next time instead since that’s where all the buzz is.

Stopping the iris further only gives you deeper depth-of-field. It looks like it has reached its peak at f/1.4, this lens was designed to be shot wide-open so this reflects that philosophy.

This is an incredible lens and is one-of-a-kind. The engineers succeeded and they have produced a lens that reflected their vision. This is a specialty lens, an exotic item for rich collectors and people who know what they’re doing. I can see this used for demanding projects such as shooting movies at night, nocturnal wildlife and other specialty fields. I wouldn’t want to use this for portraiture despite that potential, I would prefer something more practical like the Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ED Ai-S or the Nikkor 105mm f/1.8 Ai-S instead. I do admit that I would love to own a Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct but this is a very expensive lens and I have plenty of alternatives to it. Just think of this like Blondie (Deborah Harry), everybody wanted to have a partner like her, I sure did, but she was an ideal that was too-high for most of us but she gave us all a standard to strive for. Reaching for the stars is a good thing, getting to one of them is a matter of luck, resources and effort.

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