50mm lens opinions: AI f/2 vs E series f/1.8

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by michael_harris|14, Jan 31, 2018.


Which do I keep?

  1. Nikkor f/2

    5 vote(s)
  2. Series E f/1.8

    1 vote(s)
  1. I've had two 50mm manual focus lenses fall into my lap, and need to decide whether to get rid of one, and which to keep.

    Both are in excellent condition, so that won't really matter. I know the best thing to do would be to go out and shoot a couple of hundred shots with each and make my own decision, but I don't think my skills or my eye are quite at that point yet. Also, it is kinda cold in Milwaukee for shooting a few hundred shots right now.

    So, between an AI Nikkor 50mm f/2 and a Series E 50mm f/1.8, which would be the better lens? I know build quality is better on the Nikkor, but if the optical formula used on the Series E is better I might put up with all the plastic.

    In searching for opinions, so many other lenses come into the discussion that I'm not clear where these two stand relative to one another.
  2. Both lenses fetch relatively little money. I'd keep both.
    For what it's worth, I have the 50mm f/2 pre-AI (which is optically identical) and find it a superb lens. No experiece with the series E lens.
    michael_harris|14 likes this.
  3. I've never used the f/2, but if it helps, both the f/2 and the f/1.8 have been discussed in the Thousand and One Nights series. The f/1.8 is, coatings aside, I believe the same formula as the 50mm f/1.8 AF-D - in which case it's awful wide open, has ugly bokeh, and has a cheap diaphragm - but it's very sharp at smaller apertures. I bought a series E not so long ago for use as a poor man's pancake lens (it's not quite as small as the 45mm f/2.8), since it makes for a system not much thicker than the grip on the body. I've not used it much, but it's the 50mm most of us lived with until the AF-S version came about; I used the AF-D somewhat more, and again its size is appealing (although the AF version has an irritatingly inset front element that makes it deeper than it needs to be).

    That's not really a review, though, especially if you're interested in optical performance rather than size. I hope it's a start!
  4. Since they;re both in excellent condition, it really comes down to sample variation. I'd say keep both or if you really must sell one, shoot a few images around the house if it's too cold to go outside. I believe the 50/2 has a closer min focus distance if that matters to you.
  5. I don't have an AI 50mm f/2, but have a pre-AI version.

    I find it to be quite good.

    With that said, the series E is good also, and I like the size and weight of it(it's the 3rd smallest lens Nikon has made).

    Ultimately, I don't think you can go wrong with either, although I'd lean toward the f/2 rather than the Series E. If you had a regular AI or AI-s 50mm 1.8, I'd say to choose that instead.
  6. What camera is it going onto?
  7. Thanks for the opinions so far. You're right about the selling value--I probably wouldn't bother selling either for its own sake, but might mount one on a stray camera body to make it sell faster on ebay. Might not even be worth doing that though. They take up hardly any space, and they don't eat much; maybe my wife will let them stay.

    I should have mentioned that, thanks for asking.
    I use a D300. My daughter shoots a D50, and that's a possible additional reason to keep both. Since it doesn't have an aperture coupling lever though, that is a little harder to do. I'm not sure whether it is really worth the trouble on her camera.

    I'm NOT trying to start anything, just want to clarify whether Andrew and Ben are expressing different opinions on the same optical formula (that is, that the AF-D 1.8 and the AI/E 1.8 are the same glass), or whether there are different lenses under discussion, apart from the obvious things like an AF motor.

    I'll have to check out the 1001 nights series. Thanks for the lead.
  8. The AI and pre-AI 50mm f/2 has a reputation as one of, if not the sharpest 50mm that Nikon has produced. Unfortunately my sample is pre-AI, so I'm unable to attach it to my Nikon DSLRs. However I've used it on a Canon 5D and it's certainly nice and sharp and contrasty on that old beast.

    If I had to ditch one of those lenses, it would certainly be the cheapo series E.

    FWIW I found a world of difference between a metal Ai-S 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor (good) and a plastic 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor (pretty poor). The optical formula might be the same, but the manufacturing tolerances are nowhere close.
  9. For me it's the f/2 lens for several reasons:
    1. Although I don't have it I heard it's a very sharp lens.
    2. The build quality is much better.
    3. Unless you use it on the EM the f/2 lens looks better on other cameras.
    4. I like full stop maximum aperture. One reason I don't like the f/1.2 either.
  10. I have not tried the 1.8, but I have two of the F2 AI lenses, and have used one of them extensively on film, less so on digital just because 50 is a bit narrow for DX format. . In my opinion it was always superb, with no bad habits, sharp and flat and with a nice rendition. IN recent years I bought a cheap film camera just to make sure I had another copy of the lens in reserve. I don't suppose any lens is perfect, but the 50/2 comes closer than most. I'm not sure why one would need to get rid of either lens considering how easy it would be to stash the spare in some drawer, but my inclination would be to keep the F2 unless there's something wrong with it.
    1. Michael it is not that cold today. About 40. I have used the f2 lens a lot and it is very good.
  11. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    My father has the 50mm/f1.8 Series E. It seems to be a decent lens. He bought it in 1979 with the EM body, shortly after Nikon had introduced Series E. Back then, the general comments were that Series E lenses were optically fine but the construction was not as good as the contemporary AI Nikkor lenses back then. Another small difference is that Series E lenses are actually AI-S, but that is probably a moot point today.
  12. It's AI-S and doesn't have the prong so won't meter at full aperture on pre AI camera.
  13. SCL


    You can't go wrong with either, particularly if you don't shoot wide open all the time. I've had 4 series E ones (both versions) and still have one - nice and compact. It also does a good job ob my m4/3 body. Last year I had an AI and pre-AI f/2, both of which were also fine lenses, better built than the Series E, but not producing noticeably different images. I'd suggest taking some indoor shots in different lighting situations and see if you have a preference after reviewing the tangible evidence. About 2 years ago the Series E ones were going for $80-120 on the big auction site after several reviewers touted them as "forgotten gems", today much less. As far as sharpness goes, they're about equal in central sharpness wide open. Close the E down to f/2 and I think it has a slight edge...but IMHO sharpness isn't everything...edge contrast is the thing these days. Coloration wasn't significantly different in my samples, nor was vignetting or that stupid term "bokeh". So in the end, I think it depends on which lens performsmore agreeably on your camera body for the circumstances in which you are shooting....landscape vs portrait, contra-jour vs front/side lighted subjects.
  14. I have, and gave a fair bit of use to, the 50mm f/1.8 AF-D. I have an E series, but haven't used it very much yet. I'm reasonably confident that the formula is unchanged, but coatings did, and I could believe the tolerances differed. Mine also crunches a little (I'm guessing something in the focus ring), but it was cheap enough that I'm not fussy about it since it seems to be working.

    The AF-D version is very sharp stopped down, but doesn't have particularly nice bokeh. I used mine a fair bit on my D700, partly because it would fit in a small pouch designed for a teleconverter that I could tie to the handle of my toploader bag, leaving the front pocket of the bag free for my 135 f/2.8. When I got a D800e, the first thing I did (at the store) was check for the autofocus misalignment issue by trying to shoot wide open and testing an off-centre AF point. The second thing I did was look at the image, which was a smooshy mess. The third thing I did was buy the 50mm f/1.8 AF-S (which isn't perfect, but is a lot better wide open, and has nicer bokeh, although DxO claim its corners don't sharpen up as quickly as the AF-D). I strongly suspect the E series is at least no better than the AF-D. While I'm not a great shooter at 50mm, I now have the f/1.4 Sigma Art lens; until someone gives me an Otus, that's the standard by which I judge "good 50mm prime". The E series is likely extremely good for its price, but the state of the art has moved on. If you're happy to shoot at f/5.6, it probably doesn't matter much; if you want to shoot wide open, it probably does. But it'll depend to an extent on how closely you want to look.

    I don't know enough about the f/2 lens to know whether it's better behaved, I'm afraid. For what it's worth, the older 50mm f/1.4 Sigma HSM is quite a good lens on DX - decent bokeh and quite sharp within the DX image circle at wider apertures (although it's been a while since I tried). The corners on FX are awful, though.
  15. True! I guess I was thinking about the forecast for the next week. Sadly, today was a missed opportunity for photography for me.
  16. I don't have any f/2.0 version, and am not sure which f/1.8 lenses share the same formula. Something I would do before making any decisions is shoot a very bright scene, say beach or snow, with a bright sky, at a medium to small aperture. Look in the center of the shot for a small circle that's a bit lighter than the image. I've had this happen with, I think, the series E, and the curvature of the rear element might be different. I think the circle might be a reflection off the rear surface. It was on film and I don't know if it happens with dSLRs or not.

    My experience with the f/1.8 is the central resolution and contrast are excellent wide open, but the corners not as much. It still gives very respectable images.
  17. As far as I'm aware, every 50mm f/1.8 up to, but not including, the AF-S has the same formula. Not coatings, though.

    Historically it's worse with DSLRs - the sensor is more reflective than typical film. This has probably improved a bit with sensor coatings, but the alleged justification for Sigma's "DG" lens range was that they were getting reflections off the rear elements because of the sensor reflectivity, so "DG" lenses got coatings on the rear element.

    I wasn't particularly aware of this being a problem with my AF-D (I've not shot enough with my E-series to know), but I've probably not been using it to shoot candles in a dark room...

    The AF-D version of the 50 f/1.8 is certainly iffy off-centre; I'm not sure it was all that hot even centrally, wide open. It does clean up nicely as you stop down (although the bokeh and the aperture shape don't improve things). The AF-S is sharpen all over, but especially in the centre, wide open, but takes longer to improve as you stop down (especially in the corners). In practice I find it the better lens, but it's bigger (especially compared with the E) and more expensive.
  18. Have 50/2 Ai, 50/1.8 AiS and 50/1.8 AF.
    50/2 best of all, from fully open, obviously, by large margin.
    Tested on D700.
  19. Assuming that most review sites wouldn't have covered the AI lens, I forgot to suggest looking at Bjorn's older set of reviews. He likes both of these (possibly more the f/2, mostly down to coatings on the E series), although he recommends stopping both down a bit. Skimming the 1001 nights articles, they seem to have quite different characteristics, so it depends rather which behaviour you prefer. (After all, the 50mm f/1.4 AF-D, like the 85mm version, has very soft borders wide open, but some people like that because it frames the subject - if your subject is in the middle of the frame.)

    From what's been said here and what I've read, I could understand a slight leaning towards the f/2. It's also more unusual, since the f/1.8 is basically the same as the common and fairly current AF-D lens. It depends why you want it, though - since I was specifically after a pancake (and would have lived with a smaller aperture), I'm happy with my crunchy E series. Have fun experimenting (or at least keeping both!)

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