Sunday, November 24, 2013

AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G Review

Some people can never have enough. Not enough resolution. Needs more high ISO power. Dynamic range is inadequate.  Bokeh is not creamy enough. The Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G is not for those kinds of people. Many people overbuy... you find D800 oweners that would have been better off with a D610, or a full frame user that would have miles to go with a D7100. On the face of it, the 58mm f/1.4 seems like an amped up version of the 50mm f/1.4G, but that's not the case. These are two different lenses with two different purposes. Nikon advertises that this lens has almost no sagittal coma or light falloff. It's a lens that can be used wide-open with no reservations. Though it is very good at many things, it is excellent at one particular thing, and for that reason, this is truly a "noct" lens.


The images taken at night with this lens are are stunning. The quality that you see at f/1.4 with the 58mm is what you would see with a more pedestrian 50mm  stopped down. There are minimal amounts of spherical aberration a coma distortion. It's not perfect, but if they EXIF data was not present, you would think that these were shot at f/2.8 or higher with a 50mm. What you get is a consistent across the frame rendition with minimal distortion of light sources... and you get it at f/1.4 You'll have to forgive the glare and reflection; this was taken from behind a window (which can't be opened on a modern high rise.) Funny thing about $1,700 lenses; they won't let you just wander off outside with it...

Nikon D610, ISO 800, f/1.4, 1/25s

The image is rendered very cleanly. There is almost no "nervousness" that you see with some fast lenses when shot wide open. Had it been taken in the open air, the contrast would have been better, but otherwise, the positive qualities of this lens are still apparent:

Lateral chromatic aberration doesn't appear to be too much of a problem. Looking through the windows of the office tower next door, you can see that the lens is able to maintain the shape of the ceiling lights without too much surrounding haze. The detail that the D610 can pick out with this lens at this aperture is a nice surprise.

Turning to the middle-left of the scene, you can see that the distance city lights show a bit of coma distortion, but barely enough to be noticeable at normal viewing distances. The far light sources have a somewhat triangular shape, but they aren't being stretched out into the exaggerated coma-shaped blobs that you would see with other fast lens shot wide-open.

Further out into the corner at the lower right. The weird double exposure effect on the store sign is due to the reflection off of the window in the building that this was shot out of. Otherwise, good corner performance with the lens wide open. Objective testing of this lens indicates that the corners aren't especially sharp when testing with flat targets, but that's because of field curvature; the test results don't completely describe how a lens will produce an image in a real world scene.


In purely logistical terms, the depth of field on the 58mm f/1.4 is just as unforgiving as it is on the 50mm f/1.4. Background (and forground) blur are creamy, but the plain of focus is razor thin.

Nikon D610, ISO 1000, f/1.4, 1/250s

Nikon D610, ISO 1000, f/1.4, 1/250s

However, if you can set up a subject that sits mostly within the plain of focus, the results can be pleasing:

Nikon D610, ISO 800, f/1.4, 1/160s


This is an astoundingly good lens for what it does, but it's also an expensive one at that.  This lens will probably do to the 58mm f/1.2 Noct what the 24mm f/1.4 did to the 28mm f/1.4; both of the older lenses are exotic, rare and expensive, but the newer counterparts are better and will be available to a larger section of the population. That doesn't mean that the 58mm will become a widely available lens; a good majority of Nikon users may have never even see a 58mm f/1.2 in person, it's so rare. Likewise, the new 58mm f/1.4 isn't an upgrade from the 50mm G lens; it's a whole different tool.

It's the sort of lens that if you have to ask if you need it, then it's not for you. The problem is that it doesn't produce astounding test chart numbers. That's not the point. People looking for more (of everything) than what the 50mm f/1.4 G can give are going to be disappointed. Forum dwellers who pour over the DxOMark numbers are going to be especially disappointed that this lens costs so much and and apparently gives so little extra. This isn't a lens like the Zeiss Otus; it wasn't designed to be "the best" at a disregard for cost and practicality, it was designed to be a specialist nighttime tool, and with that, it does the job well.

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