Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nikon Df with AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D

Many DX Nikon shooters accumulate FX lenses for a possible jump to full frame sometime in the future. For many people, that day never comes; FX being more affordable than it used to be, is still more expensive than what most DX shooters can justify. However, some lenses are comfortable doing double duty on either format, and that is certainly true of 50mm primes, which are often used as portrait lenses on APS-C cameras.

The AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D is one lens that is widely owned by many DX Nikon shooters, and is a prime candidate for renewed life as a "normal" prime on full frame. However, as a f/1.4 lens, the rendition isn't quite up to expectations of modern shooters... it has a reputation for being soft wide-open, which isn't exactly the case. Charitably, the rendition could be described as having the "dreamy" look of the old film era lenses when used wide open, whereas the modern Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G version produces a more "perfect" rendition that many shooters have come to expect. 

To that end, a lens with a design dating to the film-era would naturally fit well on a film-era throwback camera, the Nikon Df.
At one time, the 50mm f/1.4D  was the "reference lens" of the earlier part of the DSLR boom. You only had to see how often it was photographed by DPReview on a Nikon body to remember how well regarded it was before the G-type primes started taking over. When it is stopped down, the 50mm f/1.4D version is just as flawless as the newer G version once you hit f/4 to f/5.6, and is sharper than the f/1.8D lens at all apertures below f/5.6. However, even at equivalent apertures, the f/1.8G lens is more consistent across the frame than the f/1.4D.... except that it is 2/3 of a stop slower and the whole shallow depth of field thing that comes with it.

The 50mm f/1.4D fits on the Nikon Df with more purpose than the kit Df lens (a modified f/1.8 G) by the utter virtue of its functional aperture ring. Though AF-D lenses are from an previous era, they are quite in keeping with the retro-aesthetics of the Df. However, the plastic build of the Chinese made 50mm AF-D means that you wouldn't want to be using the aperture ring on a regular basis. As with most things on the Df, the nostalgia eventually gives way to the  modern way of doing things. In other words, even with the aperture ring, you will likely prefer to lock the ring and control the f/stop by way of the command dial on the the camera body. 

Here is what bokeh looks like as you go through the aperture range on the "figurine" test. This is an ad hoc way of getting a general sense of how a lens renders backgrounds relative to the plane of focus (~4 feet). If you've been following along, you might have noticed that the colour temperature and brightness of the courtyard varies from post to post on this blog. There's a skylight at the very top of hte courtyard, so even though the artificial lights predominate, the lighting conditions vary according to the time of day and weather.


For comparison, here is a similar setup shot with the kit AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G at f/2.


Comparing the f/1.4D lens against the f/1.8G lens at f2, the overall rendition is close, but the G lens is better. Though both lenses use 7-element designs, one of the elements in the G-lens is aspherical and the blades are curved. Consequently, spherical aberration is reduced and out-of-focus highlights are rounder.

For the intended target of the Nikon Df, those relatively small optical differences likely won't matter. Even though it's not the top-end lens that it once was, many users will probably find joy in the fact that their trusty 50 f/1.4D lenses can continue to serve them as camera technology marches on. To that end, it's a lens that will feel right at home on the Df.

With thanks to Broadway Camera.


  1. I use both the 50 1.4d and the 50 1.8 AI on my Df. I actually prefer the old AI for sharpness and the smooth manual focus. Bokeh seems about the same on both.

  2. it's 2018 now and i just purchased a new nikon 50mm 1.4D AF for my Nikon DF. I love the aperture ring. hell with the Nikon Z series