Current 50mm lenses comparison

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by jose_angel, Jul 11, 2009.

  1. After several posts debating about 50mm prime lenses, once again I feel the need of comparing them under "ordinary" conditions... it is not a test in deep but a fast dirt one for my own enjoyment (disclaimer). Perhaps anyone of you find it interesting.
    I have used what IMHO are the current most interesting 50mm lenses. The first image show the pics taken at f4, the second image at f8. I know it is more interesting a test at wider apertures, but it will take more time and I want to leave it for the next time.
    I have used my D700 in manual mode, neutral settings, all camera tricks off, converted in NX2 to TIFF with all the NX2 tricks off (I`m refering to CA correction, etc.). Then I stuck the crops in Ps and added the letters, saving for web at the highest resolution available under 100Kb (there is not a big difference between this "high quality"compression and no compression at all).
    Tripod, focus in Live View, 6feet focus distance, auto WB, the Elinchrom strobe power needed to be adjusted from lens to lens to keep the same histogram levels.
    Do you think there is a difference between this lenses at f4 - f8? I don`t think so... check it by yourself:
  2. First at f4,
  3. Now at f8.
  4. BTW, for those interested in manual focusing there is a huge difference in favour to the AiS lens. It is absolutely great, smooth and precise in comparison with the other lenses. I`d say Ai lenses are even better for manual focusing with Live View.
    The AFS50/1.4G is good for manual focusing too, of course several steps behind the MF lenses but still usable. No jumps at all, smooth and with reasonable precision.
    The 50/1.8AFD is ugly for manual focusing, too short throw, and the 24-70 is equally awkward because the typical focusing leap on zooms.
    Forgot to mention that these are 100% crops and originally taken NEFs. Next time, test at wider apertures.
  5. I have found the 50mm f/1.4G AF-S to be easy to focus manually as the image wide open is comparatively sharp and the movement is fairly long for an autofocus lens. I agree that differences stopped down are small especially on 12MP FX. I suspect 12 MP DX or 24 MP FX bodies show more differences in stopped down sharpness.
    When doing comparisons at wide apertures I think it is important to do it a few times instead of relying on a single shot. I know there is live view but still DOF at f/1.4 is very shallow! In real-world photography conditions I've settled on 50 AF-S for f/1.4-f/2 and the Zeiss 50/1.4 ZF for shooting at f/2.8-4 as giving the best results in typical people photography situations. I'm also very fond of the 50/1.8D AF except for its wobbly feel and viewfinder jitter when focusing; but image quality from f/2.5-f/11 is very nice and unlike the f/1.4 lenses, there is negligible distortion in the slower lens, lending it optimal for architectural applications and also photography in good light. Some tests suggest it may not have the corner sharpness of the 1.4G but I haven't found this to be a problem. The 1.4G has quite a bit of distortion at close distances - it is its most significant flaw; otherwise I might just use it for everything 50mm (well, in practice I almost do that ... being lazy).
    Good luck with your wide aperture tests and looking forward to your results.
  6. I don't think there is much of a difference from f/4 to f/8 for ANY decent nikon prime.
    The permormance difference between the different 50mm's is at apertures near wide open especially at the corners.
  7. I don`t know about other computers, but I see a distinct sharpness difference at 4 and 8 which suprises me.
    I have a 50 1.4 AiS, 50 1.8 Ais, 50 2.0 H, 50 2.0 HC 50 1.8 AF D. The 50 2.0 H is my favorite with the1.8 AiS a nice second.
  8. Ilkka,
    Did you compare Zeiss 50/1.4 ZF Planar to Nikon 50/1.8D? Would you recommend the Zeiss over Nikon? I am pretty tempted to add the Zeiss 50/1.8 ZF to my Nikon lineup.
  9. Any modern 50mm lense should be splendid at f/4 and f/8, so I wouldn't expect to see much difference. Anything you do see is more likely focus errors or camera motion. Try those wide open tests, and put something in the corners to look at. There might also be a flare difference. Try putting a deep black box or tube in the shot- something like shooting into a small coal bin. Look at the image file data and see how low those "black" pixels get. That might tell you more about coatings and lenses with a lot of elements. Not to drag the thread completely into confusion, but you could also put a specular object like a pile of brightly lit ball bearings in the shot, then knock the focus out, say by focusing on a closer object (to keep it the same for all lenses) and see what the out of focus quality is.
  10. functionally, I think they're all the same, which means that the sharpness is not really an issue when selecting one of these issues. Handling, bokeh, and focus speed should probably be more influential on one's decision.
    btw, is it just me or do the colors look way better at f4.
  11. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

  12. Shun,
    Yes, I missed that thread indeed, I also see the older 50/1.4 ZF thread too, good info, thanks.
  13. Do you think there is a difference between this lenses at f4 - f8? I don`t think so... check it by yourself:​
    to my eyes, both tests show the same results:
    1. 24-70
    2. 50/1.8
    3. 50/AIS
    4. 50/AF-S
    but what i'd really like to see, jose, is a test at wide open to 2.8 with those same four lenses.
  14. Jose,
    There will not be any difference in the small center portion of any current Nikon lens at f/8, a better test would be to shoot a scene with lots of detail an compare the corners and edges for sharpness, vignetting, distortion and CA at wide open settings as well as stopped down.
  15. I too would rather see f1.4 to f2.8. Why would I buy an f1.4 specialty lens and shoot f8 with it? I also have come to think that considering sharpness to the exclusion of all the other important factors of lens quality is a big mistake in the real world. For example, I bought the Nikon 85mm f1.8 because it's sharp. However, it's the very worst lens I've ever owned when it comes to flare, and for the lens was not even usuable. Other issues such as CA drive me nuts too. I'm now using the Sigma 30mm f1.4 as my low light lens. I had it out last night taking shots of a small town softball game to see how it does. I've had the lens for about two months now and have a very favorable opinion. Don't think I've yet taken a shot with it slower than f2.8, LOL. Eventually I'll sell the 30mm when I end up getting an FX. At that point I'll be looking for a 50mm f1.4. This is the order I'm currently leaning: Zeiss ZF, Sigma, Nikon G.
    Kent in SD
  16. Testing really fast primes at f4 to f8 is really rather pointless, because their reason for existing is how they perform from wide open to f2.8. I would be shocked if any modern normal to short tele lens could not perform outstandingly at f4 to f8.
  17. Bogdan, it depends on the look you want and how important autofocus, manual focusability, and mechanical quality are to you. Optically the 50/1.4 ZF is superior to the 50/1.8D at wide apertures, but so is the Nikon 1.4G AF-S. I use the 50/1.4 AF-S most often these days but the 1.8D and 1.4 ZF have both their advantages. I think the Zeiss has the best control of flare and ghosting and the best image quality at f/2.8 which is a nice aperture for available light portraits, but then for following a moving subject at f/1.4 the 1.4G AF-S is better. Also, the 1.4 AF-S has the best wide open sharpness of these three and nicer bokeh wide open than the Zeiss so for low light it's my preferred choice (although it has more vignetting wide open than the Zeiss). I find the distortion of the 1.4G AF-S annoying so I try to avoid it for architectural shots. The 60mm AF-S is my preferred choice for architecture (has the lowest distortion) and the 50/1.8D my second choice.
    When looking at batches of images taken with each lens, it's easy to see that each of them has its own "look". I think if I were to do this again I would choose the 50/2 ZF macro for stopped down work e.g. landscapes, architecture, and close-ups (as it has almost zero CA, distortion and gets very high MTF ratings stopped down), and the 50/1.4 AF-S for available light work (it has the best wide open sharpness across the frame while providing convenient autofocus which is important for e.g. wedding work), if money were not an issue. Despite its shortcomings the 1.4 AF-S is my favorite 50 and gets the most use but as you see it is always a matter of choosing based on your priorities and use - both companies know how to design lenses but make different design decisions based on different priorities. As a user you need to weigh your use and which characteristics you find most important and decide based on that.
  18. To add to the above, the 50/1.2 Ai-S is excellent at f/1.4-f/2 so for low light work and DOF effects it should be considered. However, it has lower contrast stopped down so it may not be the best choice as a general purpose 50. I have not made a direct comparison with the 1.4 AF-S but the 1.2 Ai-S was significantly better than the Zeiss at f/1.4.
  19. Actually I`m also much more interested in wider aperture performance, the reason of not to make that test right now is lack of time... it will take much more time than this fast one where my intention was only to know if there was a clearly noticeable difference at the "sharp" apertures in real life shooting. Thank you all for your valuable suggestions.
    To be sincere I`m surprised with the 50AiS which I considered a soft, almost not usable to the current standards at any aperture... I was absolutely wrong. Probably my problem with this lens has been my growing faulty eyesight at the focusing stage.
    Anyway, I`m pretty ignorant about digital... Ilkka`s comment makes me wonder... it calls my attention that all lenses have such similar performance, despite of its 6 or 15 elements.
    Could be the D700 sensor density and design a limiting factor here? Is it the nyquist frecuency what is related to this issue?
  20. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    If you think about the typical environment when you'll use a 50mm lens at f1.4 or even f2, I think any controlled test results at/near wide open is largely meaningless anyway.
    At least I would use f1.4 indoors, mainly under dim light and hand held situations. Focusing will be a challenge and even AF can easily be off a bit with such shallow depth of field. Camera shake is a potential issue and so is subject motion. Those other issues, not the optical quality of the lens, will likely dominate how your images will turn out.
    Incidentally, the 24MP D3X is quite a bit more demanding on lenses than the D700. And as far as the 50mm/f1.4 AF-S G is concerned, it is considerably worse at f1.4 than stopping down to f2.8.
  21. It seems validate the uncomfortable fact that the good old 50/1.8 AI-s which can be had used for $80, is still the pick of the crop. I use mine all the time and its a little jewell.
  22. Could be the D700 sensor density and design a limiting factor here? Is it the nyquist frecuency what is related to this issue?

    Right, at apertures from f/2.8 to f/5.6 typical fast primes give almost identical results in terms of sharpness because the D700 has such a low resolution sensor. Towards wide apertures (f/2, f/1.4) however the quality drops visibly. Nonetheless very good results can be achieved with experience and the right lens.
  23. Ilkka--
    For my purposes, resistance of flare trumps slight differences in sharpness, so I might be on track looking at the ZF.
    In the real world, I never take low light photos without solid support (usually a Gitzo tripod. I agree that if you aren't taking shots from a tripod, talking about lens sharpness is moot.
    Kent in SD
  24. You need to look also at sharpness outside the center region -- how many times does the subject only fill the size of a polaroid box dead center in the frame? It's at the edges where the big differences are.
    Also, if we're looking at performance at f8 then macro lenses start to be very interesting.
    My current gut feel for the best setup for myself would be the 50/1.2 for low light, Zeiss 50/2 makro for close-ups and ultimate performance and some version of the 50/1.4 for action shots where I want AF. But I haven't tested all the 50's :)
  25. Isn't discussion of any comparison among the current 50mm lenses rather incomplete--to say the least--if the Leica M and R 50mm lenses are not included?
  26. Shun, you`re right, it is my experience. Most of my photos could be called "semi-posed environmental portraits". As a sharpness freak my main concern in photography is to achieve perfect focus, I usually like to shoot at wider apertures. Also, for other than optimal light conditions I simply don`t use my camera... except for still lifes with a tripod. If I must shoot this day I simply take a flash. Other attemps always result in a bunch of blurred, out of focus inusable images.
    I always liked to consider fast lenses creative tools, that one or two faster speeds in the limit rarely helped me to achieve better results.
    Thanks Ilkka. I see that some people looking for the highest resolutive lens should be looking instead for another more resolutive camera... I suspect the D700 nyquist frecuency is not so high and can be easily surpassed by many lenses (at least at their optimal apertures).
  27. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    If you are indeed a sharpness freak, you don't want to shoot hand held at f1.4 under dim light. You want to stop down to at least f2.8, f4 when those lenses tend to get a lot better optically; you also want to use a tripod.
    But then once you stop down and shoot from a tripod, even an expensive 50mm/f1.8 is going to perform very well.
    One way or another, I don't see the point to obsess about any minor differences among different 50mm/f1.4 lenses. As I said in another thread, I have spent my share of time studying Leica and Zeiss lenses. Now I would rather focus on developing my photography skills.
  28. Isn't discussion of any comparison among the current 50mm lenses rather incomplete--to say the least--if the Leica M and R 50mm lenses are not included?​
    Leica M lenses cannot be munted on Nikon DSLRs and the Leica M8 is worse resolution-wise than the best Nikon cameras. Leica R lenses would be an interesting avenue to explore. Dpreview has tested a Summilux 50/1.4 on a Canon and compared to Canon's 50/1.4, it had better performance wide open and worse at the edges stopped down than the Canon. The Leica also had markedly higher CA. Given this, the Leica 50/1.4 does not seem to be a particularly interesting performer since one does lose automatic aperture using it on a Nikon. However, it would be interesting to see more tests about the subjects.
    I don't see the point to obsess about any minor differences among different 50mm/f1.4 lenses​
    I don't see the obsessive part and I don't see why you need to come to this thread and point that out. I'm not commenting on the topics I think are redundant either. And sometimes the differences are not that minor.
  29. I expect most 50mm lenses to be pretty close in sharpness, especially in the center. To me the use of a fast 50mm lenes is in the wide open to 2.8 range for portraits in natural light. More than sharpness I want nice bokeh and I don't mind soft corners since they are out of focus anyway.

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