Review: Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S

There has been a lot of fanfare about the Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S, it’s the most exciting Nikkor in recent months because it’s the first 50/1.2 Nikkor with autofocus. It’s expensive but not unrealistic and you could buy one of these without hurting your finances unlike the Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct. Today, I’ll show you some photos that I took with it and give you my opinions based on my observations. I was only allowed to use it within the perimeters of the Nikon office since it’s a preproduction model so my subjects won’t be interesting but at least it’s better than nothing.


The Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S is a much-awaited lens. Nikon shooters have always envied Canon shooters because they have the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM for a long time but it’s nothing compared to this one, far from it. The gap has been bridged recently thanks to the introduction of the Z-mount which offers lots of possibilities. This was announced since the launch of the Nikon Z series and people have been anticipating its release since. We now have the chance to play with it since it’s now in the market.

It’s a big lens but it’s not quite as heavy as I expected. In fact, it feels light in my hands or well-balanced to use a better description. Your hands won’t miss the broad focusing ring but the customizable ring near the throat is a bit thin for my taste. You could program it to suit your needs. The LED display panel is convenient, too.

The complicated 17-elements-in-15-groups made everything possible. There’s 2 ED elements and 3 aspherical elements used on it, too. To top it off, it also has Nano Crystal Coating and ARNEO applied to it for exceptional resistance to ghosts and flare. The 9-bladed iris has curved blades, ensuring that the discs remain round. The minimum focusing distance is 0.45m which is handy for taking details shots. The specs sound impressive and I can tell you that this lens could deliver what it promises.

For those who are new to Nikon, here’s a recap of the 50/1.2 family:

These are the first, true 50/1.2 Nikkors. For decades, these were all we had and none of these could autofocus. These are generally great lenses if you could get a good copy.

These are honorable mentions, they’re not 50/1.2 lenses but they’re considered to be in the “normal” category. They’re considered to be cutting-edge for their time and the Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 Ai-S has gained legendary status these days. Of course, all of them are manual lenses. I own them all and I could tell you that they’re nice lenses when used correctly.

It’s recommended to always attach the hood for protection, you don’t want to scratch the front element. It will also help shield the front element from light hitting it at an angle, causing flare and ghosts. It makes the setup even bigger but it’s something that you’ll have to deal with. You’ll need 82mm filters for this, they’re not cheap but it’s what Nikon is using these days in terms of filter sizes for their professional line.

It’s sealed from dust and moisture but it doesn’t mean that you could abuse it. There’s also a function button if you decide to program it with another function at your convenience.

Let’s examine how it performs. I shot these from f/1.2, f/1.8, f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6. These are the most meaningful values when using it as it’s pointless to shoot with it at smaller apertures because there are many alternatives to it that could do just about the same from f/8 on. These were merely shot for fun and my observations aren’t expert opinions, I’m just giving you a first-hand look at what this lens could do. I shot these with my Nikon Z6.

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Distortion seem to be well-controlled but don’t trust what you see here because I couldn’t turn off what Adobe does which is basically applying automatic lens-correction. This is the same for vignetting, what I can tell you is that it’s visible wide-open but improves considerably by f/1.8 and is insignificant at f/2.8.

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It flares when there are bright light sources within the frame but at least it only appears around the lights. It won’t fill the whole frame. It seems resistant to ghosts as far as I could see. I am not sure how well in controls coma but I couldn’t see much of it while I was playing around with it.

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Chromatic aberration is well-controlled but it doesn’t mean that you won’t see it. Whatever you will find won’t be noticeable at first glance and it doesn’t look ugly, too. I know that Adobe corrects this as well during import but I didn’t get to see any of it in the RAW files when viewing them using another software. This is impressive, I generally tolerate a little bit of chromatic aberration, not seeing any of it makes me feel awkward. You’ll see some spherical, which I consider to be more pleasant than the former but in small amounts, too. This is a well-corrected lens in terms of controlling common optical aberrations.

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Foreground and background blur rendering appears to be quite good. This is some of the smoothest that I’ve seen but it doesn’t mean that this is a perfect lens as you’ll soon see later.

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It renders exquisite, blurry backgrounds with a smooth character. It could do this even with challenging items and details at the blurred areas. While it’s generally near-perfect there are rare times when it renders some of the details with a little bit of roughness. Even with that said, this is one of the best that I have seen, certainly a new standard in smoothness amongst 50mm lenses. Its clean discs even wide-open is something to marvel at, they stay circular most of the time, too. It’s hard to find another 50mm lens that could do this.

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This is sharp wide-open but the thin depth-of-field could make it appear a tad soft but that is not the case at all if you know what to look for. Resolution seems adequate but the thin depth-of-field makes it a little difficult to appreciate it. Stopping it down to f/1.8 improves center resolution and sharpness improves a bit. You won’t see a huge jump since it’s already sharp wide-open. The wider depth-of-field makes it easier to see how sharp this lens really is. It appears that it’s already operating at near-peak levels even at this aperture. Shooting it at f/2.8 will give you a very sharp center, it’s some of the best I have ever seen. It’s the same at f/4 and f/5.6, you won’t see a lot of improvement at the center except that the deeper depth-of-field making it appear a lot sharper. It’s an impressive lens in that it reaches near-peak performance at such a wide aperture at the center. It’s like it’s begging to be used below f/1.8 in very lowlight situations.

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Making the center sharp isn’t difficult these days, the battle is won at the corners. They’re sharp even at f/1.2, a very impressive feat. They’re only a little bit behind the center in terms of sharpness, they’re almost identical. Resolution seems to be quite nice, too. It looks great even at the extremities. Stop it down to f/1.8 and you’ll get even better sharpness due to the improved resolution. Contrast won’t improve much since it’s already good at f/1.2. The deeper depth-of-field will make it easier to see how sharp it really is. The corners will improve even more by f/2.8 and appears to be at near-peak performance even at the extreme corners, very impressive. The image quality won’t improve much as you stop the iris even further, you’ll only get more things in-focus.

I couldn’t get my camera to track this, Nikon made it so difficult to access the damn mode so I pre-focused. It’s not as fast compared to the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART but it’s capable in most cases.

The razor-thin focus is difficult to manage at this distance but you could get it to work with practice. There’s a few traces of chromatic aberration here when you view the unedited photo but it’s merely traces of it, this is not something that I will worry about, it’s near-absent even at f/1.2.

There’s really no point in shooting with it at wider apertures at this distance to be honest. It’s not practical at all but it’s possible when the occasion calls for it.

This is a perfect example of what I was referring to. Its ability to blur things is pointless for mundane things, I would like to have a chance at shooting with it on real-world themes such as portraiture.

Its clarity is astonishing and it’s going to give you great-looking photos when used properly.

Have a look at what Nikon has to say in this website, it shows comparisons between competing brands. It’s all in Japanese so just use Google to translate it for you.

This is the king of 50mm lenses. The fact that it autofocuses makes this a dream-come-true for some people. It is an amazing lens by any standard and it isn’t expensive either. You could get one for less than $2,700.00, it’s even cheaper than what the German companies will ask you for their equivalent lenses. That money is not a small sum in today’s economy but people who make a living shooting at lowlight situations will want one of these. Astro-photographers will definitely want them, events photographers won’t consider other options if they have tried shooting with it. This is the best lens in its class. Sure, it won’t give you that special “look” that the German company could offer but it does other things much better for a lower price. If I were shooting for a job I would definitely buy one of these. There’s so much potential in it for people taking photos or videos. It’s a new benchmark for Japanese lenses, something that people would compare everything in its class to. If you are a professional shooting with Nikon mirrorless cameras this will be the best investment you could make in the coming years. If you couldn’t afford the Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct this is the next-best-thing.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

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