Gear Reviews

nikon 58mm 1.4 review // in depth lens

This is my real world lens review of Nikon’s new 58mm f/1.4 lens. No boring photos of street signs, pets, and brick walls, One week, 2 weddings, 2 engagements, 3 portraits, one corporate lifestyle shoot, and over 5000 images later my mind has changed about Nikon’s newest full frame lens.

The Quick

50mm is my focal length. I can shoot nearly everything and anything with it and the Sigma 50mm 1.4 was my go to lens for years. 90% of my photos have been made with that lens and it knows me better than I know myself. My go to bag of gear consists of the Sigma 50 1.4, Nikon’s old 58mm 1.2 Noct, Nikon 45mm f/2.8 tilt shift, and a broken nikon 50 1.8 for freelensing… clearly I love the 50mm focal range. So, when I got my hands on a Nikon 58mm f/1.4 it had an uphill battle to fight.

The Build

Though this lens is metal… it feels light as plastic, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When mounted on a Nikon D4, my main camera, it feels incredibly lightweight and agile. It’s a bit unsettling at first. The difference is very noticeable from my usual sigma 50 1.4 lens but I’ve grown to love it as I have anything that puts less stress on my wrists.

You can see from this photo that the outer most glass element is really really deep into the casing. My initial guess was so that the lens could use the standard 77mm filters, but it actually takes 72mm filters. Anyway, I’d say you’re not likely to scratch this len’s outer element on anything at all unless you drop your keys in it or something.

the outer most element of nikon 58mm 1 4 lens

This lens has nano coating which makes a huge difference in the contrast performance. I’m only going to mention the pathetic excuse for a lens Nikon 50mm f/1.4 this one time solely to point out it does not have the magical nano coating and totally sucks in every way.

The focus ring feels really nice and smooth. Not anything close to the incredible focus ring of Nikon’s Noct-Nikkor 58 1.2 from the 70′s, but it’s still fantastic. Also, focus is ultra quiet which is a nice change from Sigma’s 50mm f/1.4.

and finally, here is a size comparison shot of the 58 1.4 against the classic 58 1.2 it’s based on and the sigma 50 1.4 lens which has been my go to lens for years. though the 58 1.4 is a tad larger it’s definitely lighter than the other two.

comparison of nikon 58 1 4 1 2 and 50 1 4

 

The Use

At first, I hated this lens. It never seemed to focus properly, I was always taking a step back from where I thought I needed to be, and the image quality didn’t seem to provide any noticeable difference.

But then I made this photo and I decided I should keep using it for at least another week or two.

wedding day portrait of bride next to lake

Since then I’ve calibrated the lens +4 on my D4 and taken over 5000 photos with it. Over time my opinion changed. It’s not because it’s noticeably sharper than the sigma 50 1.4 or the Nikon 58 1.2 Noct-Nikkor, but because it’s got the other essential thing that’s lost on most photographers… character. Character is the reason I continued to use the (designed from the 70′s) manual focus nikon 58 1.2 when I could. Not because of it’s f/1.2 aperture and certainly not BECAUSE it’s a manual focus lens. I used the retro Nikon 58mm f/1.2 because of its character. The new Nikon 58 1.4 is right up there with my 58 1.2 and that makes sense as it’s what it’s based on.

In my opinion when a lens has a special character it far outweighs any of the technical shortcomings. Yes, this lens isn’t the fastest to focus, it’s not the sharpest, it’s not even the most well built, but it creates images with a rare and unique quality that makes it a keeper for me. I’m essentially able to replace my 58 1.2 with a lighter, auto focusing version of itself and that makes me SOOOO happy.

The 58 1.2 is what i’ve used for most of my portraits (George Clooney, Alec Baldwin, Michael Phelps, Denzel Washington, and Maristka Hargistay are a few of them) because of its shallow depth of field but more so because of its character. So, a few days ago I had the last minute opportunity to photograph Alan Greenspan as a part of my series and though I didn’t have a background to demonstrate the dreamy bokeh to a large degree I think we can all agree this photo is oozing character from Mr. greenspan, and from the 58 1.4 too.

epic portrait of alan greenspan

I also had the opportunity to photograph the CEO of HONEST (tea) for the Washingtonian

16 40 01

Auto focusing

One of the things I love about wedding photography is that it gives me pretty much the best opportunity available to shoot in vastly diverse locations and genres like details, landscapes, photojournalism, portraits, indoor, outdoor, ambient light, lit light, pretty much anything we photographers come across. It’s the perfect testing ground for new equipment. There’s nothing I’ve encountered that the 58 1.4 hasn’t excelled at say for one thing… reception dancing photos. Here is an example of how it missed focus a few times before finally getting the moment that counts

nikon 58 1 4 dancing photo focus test nikon 58 1 4 dancing photo focus test jpg nikon 58 1 4 dancing photo focus test jpg

Now, the sigma 50 1.4 on a dance floor doesn’t exactly nail it often, but I have seen noticeably less keepers with the 58 1.4. Darkly lit and fast moving dance floor photos are pretty much worse case scenario for any lens and for mine I’m going to stick with the nikon 35 1.4 most of the time.

Comparison between the nikon 58 1.4, nikon 58 1.2, sigma 50 1.4, and canon 50 1.2.

SO being that I have access to a sigma 50mm 1.4, a nikon 58 1.2, a nikon 58 1.4, AND the legendary canon 50mm 1.2 I had to do a quick and dirty comparison of them. These are all shot w/ Nikon D4 (except the canon) at maximum aperture with same exact white balance settings. Everything else zeroed out in Lightroom 5.  Ignore the shorty composition for a moment and really pay attention to the bokeh and color rendering.

here is a portrait from the 58 1.4

1 4 comaprison portarit

and the 58 1.2

1 2 noct

the canon 50 1.2 (mark 5d iii camera body)

1 2

and the sigma 50 1.4

1 4

You’ll each draw your own conclusions, but for me the 58 1.4 and the 58 1.2 are so similar it’s negligible and the colors of the 58 1.4 are IMO better. The sigma 50 1.4 is a nice photo, however it’s lacking in that character thing I talked about earlier. I just plain don’t like the canon 50 1.2.

Quick Vignette Comparison

The top one is at f/1.4 the other at f/4.0 where the vignette disappears

10 12 47 10 12 50

Backlight

Wanted to trow in a note about the lens performance in heavily backlit situations. Over the years nikon’s nano coating has proved to be an incredible asset especially for backlit images. Here are three that held up perfectly well.

17 39 21 3 15 50 23 16 27 32 2

Here are a handful of other images (Click on an image to view it in a high resolution)

The Conclusion

By now it should be clear to you where this is going. I do recommend the Nikon 58 1.4 as the go to lens for the 50mm range of lenses available to you. However, at nearly $1700 I cannot justify the price. I have no clue why it costs Nikon so much to make this lens. As someone that makes their living from photography full time I see price as a very different thing (less concerned with it) than most photographers and my only guess is that Nikon knows that. It’s priced to be ultra pro. If you’re a semi-pro on a budget, or avid amateur I’d absolutely recommend the Sigma 50 1.4 over this lens purely on a matter of cost. But if you’ve got the cash or the position to pick up the 58 1.4… absolutely do it.

I’ll leave you with a nice handful of other images and a few full res unsharpened jpeg links for you pixel peepers to review

Nikon D800 Camera Samples

high res sample 58 1.2 https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4854870/never%20delete%20review%20high%20res%20samples/58%201.2%20sample%201.jpg

high res sample 58 1.4 https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4854870/never%20delete%20review%20high%20res%20samples/58%201.4%20sample%202.jpg

high res sample sigma 50 1.4 https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4854870/never%20delete%20review%20high%20res%20samples/sigma%2050%201.4%20sample%203.jpg

 

actual image from this post:

high res 1 https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4854870/never%20delete%20review%20high%20res%20samples/1-58mm-f%3A1.4-high-res-sample.jpg.jpg

high res 2 https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4854870/never%20delete%20review%20high%20res%20samples/2-58mm-f%3A1.4-high-res-sample.jpg

high res 3 https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4854870/never%20delete%20review%20high%20res%20samples/3-58mm-f%3A1.4-high-res-sample.jpg.jpg

Here are a handful of other images (Click on an image to view it in a high resolution)

Summary

Rating

Not worth the money, but has more character than anything that costs less.

  • Price
    $1696
  • In my bag?
    Yes
  • Usage
    Weddings, Details, Portraits, Landscape
About Sam Hurd

Sam is a professional wedding and editorial photographer based in the Washington DC area. He photographs 40+ weddings a year, press events, commercial portraiture, and regularly hosts workshops in his Baltimore MD studio and around the world. His work has been published internationally including the Wall Street Journal, the NYTimes, and the Washington Post. He's available for commissions worldwide.

Blog Comments

(Show/Post Facebook Comments)

  1. Glad to hear you came around, the lens definitely exudes character in your images. I noticed a distinct lack of character in the canon version of the sigma 50, very sterile.

  2. I’m glad you stuck it out with this lens, the images definitely exude a huge amount of character.. can’t wait to see what else you do with it.

  3. Really helpful review and terrific images to illustrate your point. I’m in.

  4. Best review yet.

  5. Excellent review!

  6. By far the best review out there in this lens. If I shot with Nikon, I wouldn’t hesitate to get this lens after seeing your review. This lens looks to have that ‘special something’ that only a handful of portrait lenses have. Over the years, I’ve bought into systems solely for a specific lens- Canon(85/1.2), Pentax(fa 77 & 43 ltd), even a got a sony a850 for the za 135/1.8. This is a lens that now has me considering getting a Nikon(DF) lol.

  7. Wow, your photoshop skill are really good.

  8. Thant’s a truly awesome piece of glass! It can be even better than Canon 50mm 1.2, that’s also a cool toy :)

  9. Being a lover of character I’m surprised you’re not into the old Nikkor 5.8cm f/1.4. Not much to speak of wide open, but incredible character.

  10. Sam- The most useful review yet on this lens, and wonderful imagery to boot. Your line- ‘Not worth the money, but has more character than anything that costs less.’
    I’m a wedding and portrait photographer in San Francisco. I love my Nikon lens package but was aware something was missing- and it’s that character you talk about. This lens has so little to do with its tech specs and MTF curve- it’s about that juice it provides.
    One question- could you be so kind as to share what your apertures were for the couples images in this review? Wide open or stopped down a bit? I’m well aware this decision can change shot to shot, but I’m looking for what you see as the sweet spot of then lens- both in terms of look- which I’d assume to be 1.4, but also reliability of capturing focus and so on. Thanks in advance- John

  11. liveltra 58 says:

    When Nikon announced this lens as a ‘replacement’ for their specialty 58mm Noct-Nikkor discontinued in 1997, it was a no-brainer for me to buy (especially with all the new technology built-in (and the fact that Nikon hasn’t really made a pro-grade 50mm-range lens for decades)). I’m so happy to have it as a bread & butter lens for my D800E. It’s definitely got an artistic quality about it that can’t be matched.

  12. hey john! i’m pretty sure virtually every photo in this review is wide open at 1.4. All except the photo of the tree where is specifies it’s been stopped down to f/4

  13. hi sam as well! Thanks much for sharing the aperture info. I received my lens the other day and have begun testing out. 1.4 is indeed sharp, most of the time. And the dreamy, emotional character of the lens is fantastic.
    I AM seeing strong red CA in overexposed backlight edges wide open, however I think this might be indicative of all 1.4 lenses wide open. True? I’m also finding focusing on the edges of frame very tricky wide open- center focusing and reframing doesn’t seem to work, probably focus shift. And focusing with the edge sensors doesn’t quite seem to work either. I’m thinking Live View and tripod would be the way to go, but just starting to test.
    Excited to add this lens to my arsenal. Cheers!

  14. Christopher Eden says:

    A very informative review, as ever. As an ex-Leica M shooter I know precisely what you mean by lens character (the Summicron M 28mm f2 is one of the best examples of this in my opinion) and I’m interested to see Nikon make this change in tack toward higher quality but smaller niche products, rather like the Df. Bravo, Nikon, for having the courage to do this, although I’m sure that the boys in Marketing and Sales think that it makes sense to have Nikon stand out from the rest of the herd in this way too. Great images and a great blog, Sam.

  15. Hey Sam,
    Really well written, and I appreciate your time putting this together. Recently picked up this lens myself, and so far, love the “buttery” feel. It is unique for certain, and that’s why it’s a great lens. ( I really enjoy your photography by the way)

  16. What a great review!!!!!!!!! A refreshing voice at last! Focusing on what make photos more interesting instead of arguing about DxOMark nonsense. Keep it up!!!!!!!! This is great. By the way, if you sell all your lenses and you only kept your 35 1.4 would you rather go for the 85 1.4 or for this 58 1.4?

  17. Any idea how this lens would compare to the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 ?
    I have this one, it’s (a lot) cheaper, it’s however also manual focus and always overexposes by +- 2/3 stops, but gives a lovely image everytime, like you say “character”.

  18. The quick comparation is a little disadvantage for the sigma as it is 8mm short. I would stay closer for the same frame since we try to compare bokeh

  19. Sold! Brilliant review! =)

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