Monday, June 30, 2014

A Day with the Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G (on the D7000)

Let's be clear. The Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G is inappropriately matched on a DX body for everything other than portrait work. Though not heavy, the lens is big, fat and more importantly, expensive. It's obviously good for use at night and for gorgeous full-frame bokeh, but it's overkill compared to the 50mm f/1.4G on crop-frame. So with that in mind, this is an account of what street shooting with the 58mm is like on a D7000....

58mm on DX is the equivalent of 87mm on full frame. It's closer to the "ideal" focal length for portraits and head shots than the 50mm primes are. If it's the only lens that you have with you, it's both simultaneously awkward and enlightening to use for street shooting. The length is obviously a hindrance, but the perspective compression can gives people a flattering look that traditional 35mm focal length street photography doesn't have. However, for scenic shots, there really isn't anything that the 58mm does that other lenses could also do.

You'll also notice a predilection for shooting with this lens wide-open at f/1.4; in many of the following shots, there would be a strong case for why that would be the wrong choice for each specific circumstance. This was a conscious decision to try to bring out a "characteristic look" to this lens; otherwise almost all lenses look similar at f/8. This is a lens with a mixed reputation: it does not do particularly well on synthetic tests, but it tends to produce generally positive subjective impressions.

Regular readers will recognize this first set of images as being from Steveston Village (where "Once Upon a Time" is filmed). This was the weekend of the Ships to Shore Festival, during the lead up to the Canada Day holiday. (When the statutory holiday falls on a Tuesday, the Friday before feels like the start of a 5-day long weekend...)

Steveston Dock - ISO 100, f/9, 1/250s
Ships to Shore Festival, Richmond BC - ISO 160, f/8, 1/500s

Here's a head-and-shoulders example of what the 58mm is capable of. You get the same ultra-smooth background rendition that you would see on full-frame. Even though the lens looses contrast when shot wide-open, the overall rendition is very friendly towards people shooting. The problem problem with shooting at f/1.4 with older primes is that spherical aberration becomes distracting, giving a dreamy but nervous rendition. Less expensive modern primes are better at this, but can have harsh bokeh rendition. The 58mm does well (but is not perfect) in both regards, and can be shot at f/1.4 with confidence in most situations. The chassis of the lens is so deep that it's practically its own lens hood. In in harshly lit conditions, you hardly ever come across situations where flare is a problem.

"Portrait lenth" and wide-open: ISO 100, f/1.4, 1/6400s
Jolly Tars, Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy - ISO 100, f/6.3, 1/640s

However, there are circumstances where the 58mm really falls down is in longitudinal chromatic aberration. This type of artifact is different from lateral chromatic aberration, which is easily removed by software or the camera's JPEG engine.You have to be very careful when shooting detailed/busy/intricate subject matter that is backlit, as in this impromptu sword fight on the landing:

f/1.7, 1/8000s
Yes, you wouldn't ordinarily shoot this scene at wide-open aperture, but this was done for illustrative purposes, because the 100% crop looks like this:


Heading out into downtown Vancouver later that afternoon. There's always something going on during the weekends. This is Robson street just behind the Vancouver Art Gallery. It's been closed for the summer and converted to an outdoor art installation/lounge area.

"Urban Reef" by Bemner et al, Robson Street - ISO 100, f/2, 1/2000

"Gumhead" is Douglas Coupland's (of "Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture" fame) ostentatious public art installation just outside of the Vancouver art gallery. Sort of like a gigantic head of Lenin crossed with a Jackson Pollock work, it's exactly as the name suggests; you're supposed to stick your chewing gum onto the thing.

"Gumhead" - Douglas Coupland - ISO 160, f/1.4, 1/8000s

Heading down the stairs from street level: Sunday Afternoon Salsa at Robson Square. The 58mm, (like the 85mm lenses on full frame) is a nice focal length to work with if you are by the side of the dance floor. Similar mechanics at work for sports like basketball or volleyball.

ISO 400, f/2, 1/250s
Heading towards the entertainment district,  the Vancouver International Busker Festival held along Granville Street:

Beatbox bagpiper -  ISO 100, f1.4, 1/60s
Crowd participation with Jackie Sparrow - ISO 100, f/1.4, 1/50s
Lisa Lottie & Co - ISO 100, f/1.4, 1/250s
Crowded juggling with Street Circus - ISO 100, f/1.4, 1/250s

The last picture with the perched juggler highlighted the behavior of the 58mm's autofocus ability: generally very reliable at short to medium distances, but less precise and repeatable at longer range. Part of the reason is that in this case, the subject fills up proportionally less area of the image frame because of the distance; therefore, the AF sensors have a less well defined target to lock onto.

On the train back out of Vancouver towards the suburb of Richmond:

Richmond Centre, ISO 250, f/4.5, 1/200s

Concluding Thoughts

On a DX body, the 58mm is out of its element, but a case could be made for it as being a primary portrait lens if you find the AF-S 85mm f/1.4G to be too long on crop frame. If you work for it, the focal length on DX gives a flattering perspective for full-body shots, and the the ability to open up the lens (almost with impunity) gives just a little extra bit of subject/background separation. Outside of that, it's a bit cumbersome for ordinary shooting because of the worknig distance.

Is there a distinctive "look" to this lens, one that justifies its price? The answer is a definite "yes" if you are talking about nighttime shooting, but the answer is less clear during daytime. To be blunt, if you looking for something as razor sharp as the Sigma 50mm f/1.5 ART, then this isn't it. However, like the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G, the 58mm isn't tuned for the utmost in sharpness, but it does produce pleasing rendition that is sympathetic for people and skintones.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing it! I've just got my NikonD7000 today and I've already have 35mm f1.8, still thinking about buying another lens.