Friday, April 17, 2009

Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS vs Zeiss 50mm f/1.4

I have had the opportunity to use these two lenses. Obviously the question is which is better. Let's see the qualities of these 2 lenses.

Wide open:

The Nikon is f/1.2 while the Zeiss is f/1.4 and the Nikkor is eminently usable at this aperture. The view through such a lens through a full frame camera is a real joy to use. You also get the one half stop advantage which may prove to be very significant in extreme low light situations.


The Nikkor and Zeiss run head to head in resolution but the Nikkor achieves it's top resolution by f/2 whereas you have to stop the Zeiss to f/2.8 or f/4 to match the Nikkor resolution.


Mostly they are comparable with no definite advantage to one or the other.


There is no contest here. The Nikkor has a superb bokeh while the Zeiss bokeh is average at best. Please see my Nikon 50mm lens review (link below) for a detailed description.

I wanted to write a detailed comparison but after using these 2 lenses extensively I do not think there is any question that the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS is better in every respect compared to the Zeiss. Zeiss does produce some excellent lenses like the 35mm and 25mm lenses but certainly the Planar 50mm is not one of them. Apart from the Zeiss brand name there is nothing that goes for the Planar 50mm compared to the Nikkor 50mm. I will definitely recommend the Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AIS to anybody looking for a manual focus lens. IMHO the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS is the best 50mm lens available currently (with the caveat that it is manual focus only).

For a review of Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS click here

For a review of Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 click here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS review

The Nikon D700 is an incredible low light camera. When I started using this camera, I started to yearn for a super fast lens capable of extremely low light work. Naturally I stumbled upon the fastest Nikon lens in production. This is the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS. I already had the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 so this Nikkor had serious competition.

The Lens:
This is a superb manual focus lens well worthy of Nikkor name. The lens build quality is simply superb with a nice feel to it. This is not weather sealed like modern lenses, but would survive rough use. The lens lineage comes from the Nikon 55mm f/1.2 and the Nikon Noct Nikkor 58mm f/1.2. The lens is completely manual focus with specifications of 52mm filter and close focusing distance of 0.5m which is decent for its class.

Image quality:
I have had surprises from unexpected quarters in the Nikon camp and I did expect this lens to perform to an exceptional degree but even then I was stunned by this lens. The lens is very good wide open at f/1.2 and in conjunction with the D700 this lens sings. Any 50mm lens is going to be sharp, even a $25 50mm f/2 Nikkor, but this lens has a certain look, a class that is very rare. It just is about perfect in rendering skin tones. The only lens that is as good or better is the Nikon 105mm DC, which is saying quite a lot. Caucasian skin tones are very difficult to capture easily. You might have read many times complains of digital look or "plasticky" look. This is partly due to difficulty in the lens/digital combination to capture the Caucasian skin tones. This lens does not suffer from this and renders skin tones in a very natural fashion. Stop down this becomes razor sharp and stop to f/4 or f/5.6, you get a dreamy image that is superb for a portrait and you can easily create a 3D effect. No this is by no means a portrait only lens. This is superb for any use. The colors are natural with just adequate contrast wide open and it is a joy to use this lens and review the images captured.

The bokeh of this lens is exceptional. It is just about right. It is creamy with a beautiful transition of out of focus areas. Superb. This is a big contrast to all other 50mm Nikkors which have a tad harsher bokeh.

Chromatic Aberration:
The lens has CA which is about average for its class but is easily removed. It is gone by f/2 or f/2.8.

Vignetting and Flare:
The lens has mild light fall off. from f/1.2 to f/2.8 and is negligible to gone beyond this level. This is again easily corrected with software.
Tip 1: Do not use the hood it worsens the vignetting. The lens is very good in handling flare and you do not need a hood unless you are shooting directly against a bright light source which is not a common situation.
Tip 2: Please do not use a filter, especially UV filter. It creates filter flare easily. This happens especially if you shoot in the dark with a point source of light anywhere in the field of view.

Typical of a fast lens, this lens exhibits Coma aberration. This is present from f/1.2 to f/2.0. It is negligible by f/2.8. The only lens better than this one is the Noct Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 which was specifically designed with aspherical element to control coma.

This lens has a very shallow Dof. At f/1.2 and near focusing distance, the Dof is 4-5mm. This very thin and very difficult to focus. This is the single most important reason that this lens did not achieve the status it deserves.

You need 2 things to be happy with this lens.
1. A camera with an excellent viewfinder.
2. A split prism screen for focusing.

If you have these 2 then this lens is a real joy to use and I highly recommend the screen like Katz for accurate focusing. The money is well worth it.

Overall I would describe this lens as a sleeper for manual focus users. If you buy it used, it is unparalleled for its price performance ratio. As with any lens there is a caveat. This is a manual focus lens and this is definitely not for AF users especially considering that even with experienced MF users this lens is difficult with its thin Dof. But if you put in the effort you will be rewarded with exceptional images.

(Comparison with Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 and photos coming shortly)