Unfortunately, one of the few camera and photography shops near me is closing. On the bright side though they are selling off everything in the store, from neon lights and shelves to lenses and camera bodies. I happened to have been in the area on Saturday so I stopped in to see what they had. I found a couple of items at decent prices. One of those items was the 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor.
This is a pretty basic prime lens, that is to say it does not zoom at all. It’s a very small, light weight lens and quite fast as lenses go. One equally important fact is that it is also cheap, usually around $100.
The reason I was interested in this lens is for an upcoming trip to Nashville. I’ll be attending a conference that will take place partly in a darkened sanctuary. The area where the seats are will be very dimly lit with a bit of light happening on the stage. It’s going to be an ideal time to take pictures but a horrible time to actually take pictures. Cameras, as it turns out, like light…
I don’t have a ton of cash sitting around to keep dumping on my camera so I needed something that would make the best of my situation for a reasonable price.
I did a bit of research into a number of lenses. Some reasonably fast, such as the one I bought and other very fast lenses like this 30mm f/1.4 Sigma lens which sells for about $429 or this amazing 85mm f/1.4 Nikon lens that sells for $1025. After I did all of the research that I could I came to the conclusion that I still don’t want to buy Sigma lenses and that I did not have time to budget for a $1000 expenditure.
The only reason I actually considered the Sigma lens is because it is the only fast lens I could find that would auto focus on my Nikon D40. As a cost/weight/space saving measure Nikon did not include an on camera focusing motor in the D40. It’s a legacy feature that all of the other Nikon camera bodies still have but most (if not all) newer lenses Nikon makes have the focusing motor inside the lens. This new way of focusing is faster and as I understand it more accurate way to focus then using a motor built into the camera body. As of this posting Nikon is offering at least 25 lenses that are 100% compatible with the D40, certainly plenty of pro and amateur choices for a beginner in this world. The only hole in their line up is for these fast prime lenses, not something most people are looking for.
So, based on price and my limited and near term need for this lens I opted for the inexpensive version.
Onto the review.. finally. The lens is great, it’s even lighter then my kit lens and sharper. It’s certainly the sharpest lens I own. The lens is very tiny, more so then I had been expecting. When I have the lens cap off it almost looks like the lens had an unfortunate run in with a guillotine. It is a bit on the ugly side as a result. It has a no nonsense look to it. Tube of plasic, focus ring on the front, aperture in ring on the back and plenty of white text on the black matte finish.
As I mentioned auto-focus is not supported on my camera but everything else is, including the little light in the viewfinder that tells me if the image is in focus. I have no trouble controlling the aperture from my camera and all the metering is correct. One note though, when attaching the lens, make sure the aperture is set to it’s maximum (f/22) otherwise it will yell at you to do so. You can change the setting with the lens on or off, but the camera won’t shoot till you do it.
Here are a couple of shots to illustrate the differance the F/1.8 makes. One image was shot with the 50mm lens at F/1.8 with a 100/sec shutter speed, the other was shot on my 18-55m kit lens set at 50mm and it’s largest aperture at that focal lengh f/5.6 with the same 100/sec shutter speed. Both were at ISO 200. I was in an unlit room looking out into a lit hallway. Very interesting.
Overall I’m very happy with the lens and I’m glad I didn’t spend a ton of money on the Sigma. I can’t believe the sharpness this lens has. The manual focus was a bit of a hassle at first but now that I’ve shot a few hundred images with it I have to say I don’t really notice it anymore. Focusing myself feels the same as when I grab the zoom ring on my other lenses. The time to shoot is about the same and it’s easier to frame shots where the item in focus may not be lined up with one of the focus markers on my camera. The D40 has 3 point on the viewfinder that it will use to focus with. If the subject you are trying to focus on is not lined up with one of these spots you have to point the camera at the subject, half press the shutter release to focus and then re-frame your shot while holding shutter-release halfway. This needs to be repeated for each shot. 99% of the time I don’t have an issue but it’s nice to not have to think about it with this lens.
In the future I will be sure to pickup a camera that can auto-focus this lens as I can see the benefit to that but, in the mean time I’m happy focusing on my own. Since you have to focus, it forces you to see the image grossly out of focus at first which has led me to some interesting shots. I see something random in focus that really strikes me or like the way the shot works when it’s all very blurry. Something else that I have enjoy is how narrow the depth of field is at F/1.8. When you are close to something it’s amazing what you can put into focus. You can make something very small jump out at your simply because everything else in the frame is a soft blur… it helps that this lens has great bokah as well.