f1.4 or f1.8 as a first fast lens?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by megan_earl_gray, Dec 16, 2009.

  1. Hi all, I'm new here and new to digital photography. I've got a Nikon D3000 and am learning how to use it. I'm interested in taking portraits and landscapes initially, and a photographer I spoke to recently suggested getting a 50mm f1.4 or f1.8 lens, I've been looking these up and I know that the f1.4 lens will operate at lower light levels, but have read several conflicting descriptions of the usefulness of this lens, some saying it is preferable over the f1.8 and some saying that it causes more distortion and there's no point paying the extra £100 for the f1.4.
    I'm wondering if any of you have experience of the difference and benefits to each lens to help me make my decision?
  2. Mega,
    I think only the 50mm 1.4 AF-S will autofocus on you D3000... afaik there is no 50/1.8 that will af on your camera body. Keep in mind there is the 50mm 1.4 AF-D that will also not autofocus on your body.
  3. A f1.4 lens will "operate at lower light levels" because is two thirds of a stop faster; translated to the real life this advantage is not so big... if you`re shooting f1.4 at 1/60sec., with a f1.8 lens this speed will be 1/40sec.

    Some "purists" could also prefer f1.4 versions because its (slightly) better bokeh and (slightly) shallower depth of field wide open. Construction quality is noticeably better, I think.

    Distortion? I`d say on f1.4 versions this use to be higher, but nothing to be worried about (for "normal" use).
  4. Thanks for your replies. Alvin, will it make a big difference having autofocus? It's so much more expensive, almost as expensive as my camera!!!
  5. The brand new f/1.4 is great, apparently, but I don't have it and can't talk about it.
    For older lenses, don't waste your money. Both the older 1.4 and 1.8 50mms have distortion wide-open but the 1.8 is cheaper and much better. That much I can say from experience.
    The 50mm focal length on a DX sensor is indeed a good focal length for portraits. The softness of the old 1.4 wide-open is quite nice, though.
  6. AF vs. MF really depends on how/what you shoot. If your subject is not moving, MF isn't hard at all. If the subject is moving, your "keeper rate" won't be as high as with an AF lens, depending on your skill and light levels. As you use MF lenses more, you'll get better at manual focussing.
  7. "will it make a big difference having autofocus? " Absolutely. Is it worth paying the extra difference in cost over the f1.8 [for the AF]. Absolutely.
    Unless you are shooting in low light often, you may not actually want/need this lens.
  8. Megan,
    I like to shoot with 50mm lens but on a DX camera like yours you can do very well with a Nikon AF-S 35mm /f1.8 DX that is cheaper, a high performer, and could be used for some landscapes, for general photography and for portraiture. In my opinion is much wiser to start with it because it's really a bargain for what offers.
    This lens will have autofocus on your camera and is a new design done especially for crop sensor cameras. I have not the numbers at hand but I think that costs only half than the 50/1.4 and is a far better option than the 50/1.8 that does not autofocus on your camera.
  9. Megan,
    AF is definately a plus over MF, if that is what you prefer. Remember that not so long ago only MF lenses existed and that stopped nobody from taking pictures. I don't know the D3000, but in order for you to focus manually you will need a bright viewfinder, because that will allow you to focus properly. I have a F100 and D700 and they both have a focus aid in the viewfinder that I find very helpfull in focussing. However in dim light situations, the AF sensor will not be able to assist you.
    Since you're new to photography, and I really hope that you will enjoy photography as most of the boys and girls around here, I'd suggest you go for the AF lens. Ok, it will cost you a bit more, but it will provide you with a lot more sharp pictures. If you get the hang of it, you may considers buying a used MF Nikkor. They are (sometimes) not too expensive and there are some true gems available out there.
    Why don't you think it over over a nice cup of tea, use your kit lens a bit longer and save for a nice second AF-S lens, for if you want AF it is AF-S you will be looking for, all other AF lenses (hence non AF-S) will be MF lenses on your camera body.
    Good luck!
  10. "...taking portraits and landscapes initially..."
    <p>Hi Megan, I'm a Canon shooter myself, just wandered over to see what happens on 'the other side' :) In answer to your question, your lens is unlikely to be able to perform both functions well (i.e. landscapes and portraits). It will likely be very good at one and not too great at the other.
    <p>When shooting portraits, you often want a 'shallow depth of field' that leads to that nice out-of-focus background and an in-focus subject in the foreground. In this case a 50 f/1.8 should more than suffice, as you probably also don't want to shoot at a wider aperture than perhaps f/2.8 otherwise too little is in focus. With practice you'll be able to pull off a f/1.8 portrait, but they're not to everyone's taste and are quite tricky to do.
    <p>50mm on a crop-sensor is something like a 75mm or 80mm focal length (not sure what the D3000 crop factor is). Which in simple terms, is likely to be too narrow to get a decent landscape sot. More often than not, landscapes are shot using a wide angle lens, which allows you to capture a panorama view. Also, you often want the opposite effect to portraits, in that you want lots of the scene from foreground to background to be in focus (sharp). So you'll end up shooting at perhaps f/8-f/11, at which point most lenses achieve their maximum sharpness. So you likely don't need an f/1.8 or 1.4 lens.
    <p>I hope I'm not confusing you now! :) It would be worth your while reading up on the fundamentals of photography to grasp better the terms I've used. In fact, I would stick to the lens that came with your camera and try out these principles on it, before you invest in another lens.
    <p>Best regards,
  11. @ Mark

    "More often than not, landscapes are shot using a wide angle lens" Depends on the landscape you are shooting, your shooting position in relation to the landscape and the shot you are trying to achieve.
    "want the opposite effect to portraits, in that you want lots of the scene from foreground to background to be in focus (sharp)" This is subjective and depends on the photographer. Many people use the 50mm and 85mm specifically to blur the background and get nice bokeh. These lenses have the advantage of giving the photographer the ability control DOF and shoot however he/she chooses.
    The general rule about photography is that there are no rules.
  12. Above, Jose mentioned the minor difference between the background blur rendering (bokeh) of a 50/1.8 and a 50/1.4. Which 50/1.4 also makes a difference.

    Here are two side-by side shots taken with a Nikon 50/1.8 (on the left) and the Sigma 50/1.4 HSM (on the right). Each was used at f/1.8, in much the way you might use if wanted really shallow DoF to deal with a busy background behind a portrait subject. This particular example is meant to show how higher-contrast background elements can (with some lenses) exhibit some significant and possibly distracting artifacts. Here's that test:

    If you're even thinking about the AF-S 50 G from Nikon (which handles the above a little better than the 1.8, but not much), at least consider the extra $45 or so for the 50/1.4 HSM, which I think makes a much nicer portrait lens if that's an important use for you.

    Needless to say, I don't think you want to be stuck in manual focus mode, anyway. The 50/1.8 is a great little lens for the money, but you'll go nuts trying to get it in focus on the fly.
  13. Wow, Matt.
    My fast 50 at the moment is an AI 50 f/1.8 (the one with the long barrel that focusses pretty close), and I'm looking for an f/1.4 lens. I'd looked at the Sigma but was leaning more toward the 58mm Cosina-Voigtlander, just because the Sigma is so huge. But if the background blur from the Sigma reliably looks like you've shown, I may just have to put up with the size. Thanks for the tip.
  14. That quality, John, is why I bought the Sigma. I already use their 30/1.4, but was completely happy to give Nikon's 50/1.4 G a chance ... no dice. The Sigma's just a lot more beautiful, in the ways I intend to use it. Deadly sharp, too. Here, at f/1.8:

    And because I already have it posted here and easy to link to, here's another at f/2:

    It's all a matter of taste, but I'm quite satisfied with it. For me, the size/mass of that lens actually feels very nice. Stable. I'm doubting you'd regret the Cosina-Voigtlander, John - isn't it great to have all of these choices?
  15. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Megan, does your D3000 come with a 18-55mm lens? You must be using some lens with the camera for the time being, right? Do you find the 50mm focal length useful?
    It is more important to add a lens that meets you needs rather than mererly based on someone's recommendation, although a 50mm should make a decent portrait lens on the D3000. Keep in mind that the 50mm/f1.8 is not an AF-S lens and you'll lose AF on the D3000.
  16. I have the D3000 and the 50mm AF-S f1.4 and I really love that combo. It is very useful for low light and I use it for all sorts of family gatherings and holidays almost exclusively. I would highly recommend it. (even though the lens is more expensive than the D3000)
    The 50mm lens will last a long time and you will be able to continue using it even when you upgrade to a newer better body. The AF on that lens is fast and accurate. Keep in mind though opened wide up to 1.4 I have had shots ruined because the tip of someones nose is in focus and their eyes are fuzzy. I use the lens for all purpose shooting of groups or close up portraits too.
    Note I do not have the other 50mm lens so I cannot comment on its quality. Merely commenting on the D3000 combo with the AF-S 50mm.
  17. megan, the 35/1.8 will AF on a d3000 and may be a better overall focal length on DX, though 50mm is a good length for portraits.
  18. I did buy & luv my little 50mm.1.8 E series lens by nikon,great price 40$,manual focus,thats ok nice smooth focusing,I'm using it on my D40,saved the day at my daughters wedding....I personally would never spend the big bucks for the 1.4 AFS..!
  19. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I did buy & luv my little 50mm.1.8 E series lens by nikon,great price 40$,manual focus,thats ok nice smooth focusing,I'm using it on my D40​
    As long as you don't mind no metering and no auto focus on the D3000, D5000, D40, D40X, and D60 ....
  20. I'd looked at the Sigma but was leaning more toward the 58mm Cosina-Voigtlander, just because the Sigma is so huge.​
    Its outstanding bokeh is partly dependent on its size (e.g., the dia. of the lens) "because background blur and depth of field are fundamentally dependent upon the size of the entrance pupil (the apparent size of the aperture as seen through the front element)." -- dpreview
  21. Hi Megan,
    In my opinion, that is a definite yes for auto focus. I have a manual focus 55/2.8 AIS that I use occasionally for portraits but it is very difficult to get spot on focus with moving targets. Even with static portraiture subjects, at F4-5.6 I've had misses.
    I'd also echo the others in the thread, do use your zoom, if you have one, to see which focal lengths work better for you - 30, 35 or 50mm, then make your choice.
  22. IMO, having no metering would be more of a nuisance than having to focus manually.
    (I'm not familiar with the D3000 but if it will not meter with a lens without internal focusing motor then I'd go for a lens that it can meter with. That is, after considering which focal length will be the most useful for your subject matter.)
  23. The difference between the two is not all that great, just a hair more than half a stop. And I can count the number of times on one hand in the last 35 years that I have ever shot a "normal" lens wide open . Plus there is a pretty big difference in $$$. Personally, I would go with an f/1.8.
  24. The AF 50mm.1.8 will meter with your camera because it has cpu coupling ability,however I have found this AF lens a little sloppy when focusing manualy, therefore the 50mm.E for me!!It does also teaches me about light & metering on the fly!!
  25. Wow, thanks for all your replies! A lot to think about. I think perhaps I need to get a bit more familiar with my camera and it's current lens before I think about getting another lens. Especially as once I seem to have made up my mind, someone else comes along and points out and even better one for even more money! Photography isn't the cheapest pass time, is it?
  26. probably cheaper than golf, scuba diving or yacht sailing.
    If I were to buy you christmas presents, there´d be a Nikon 35/1.8 DX under the tree.
  27. Personaly if I did not have the Nikon 50 1.8 I would find a way to buy the Sigma HSM 50mm 1.4. The out of focus areas with the 50mm 1.8 can be quite distracting and you have to really pay attention to what is in the background. Matt's example shows this very well.
  28. The difference is impressive (very good pic, Matt!) . Out of curiosity I ran to check my lenses, thinking that it cannot be possible (althought I have been using different 50s for years)... yes it is.
    There are very slight bokeh differences between the Nikkors.
    The sample pics I`m posting are not as descriptive as Matt ones, but help to have an idea. First, 50/1.8AFD vs AFS 50, both at f1.8. Both are very close, the difference is that the out of focus lines on the AFS are not as marked as in the f1.8 version, the overall blur is a bit softer. It doesn`t have that "double line" blur.
  29. For whatever the reason it doesn`t appear on the thread:
  30. Buying photo gear just because someone else tells you that you "need" it is a poor way to go. You often end up with stuff someone else likes to use but not you. Think this through very carefully. I never buy anything without having carefully determined a need for first.
    Kent in SD
  31. Now, the 50AFS vs 50/1.4AiS... so funny! Both images look like taken with the same lens... At first I thought that I was wrong, I checked it several times, I didn`t find where was the mistake. Finally I found a little difference; the AiS version shows the highlight rings with a very very slight polygonal shape, while the AFS rings are almost perfectly round... otherwise looks to be the very same lens on the two images, even looking at 100%... I`m so surprised!
  32. The only difference I have found, 100% crop:
  33. >>I think perhaps I need to get a bit more familiar with my camera and it's current lens before I think about getting another lens.<<
    That's a smart plan.
  34. That is a good plan!

    Jose: Nikon really hasn't significantly changed the optical formula on their 50's in a long, long time. True whether it's the 1.8s or the 1.4s. The Sigma is a completely different design. It's a big piece of glass, in a different configuration. Its size contributes to its low distortion, sharpness in the corners wide open, CA behavior, and that nice bokeh. But ... did I mention size?
  35. One thing I've found with photography is that as you make use of your equipment, you become aware of its strengths and its limitations. As you become aware of the limitations, you can begin to make informed decisions about what you need. For me, the most limiting factor in my photography was the lack of a tripod. When I was able to afford it, I carefully chose, and purchased a tripod that fit my needs/budget. After that, I got a wide-angle lens for more landscape/street shooting options. I seldom have any need for lenses longer than 50mm on a full-frame body (35mm film equivalent), due to the general subject matter i enjoy shooting. As you shoot, you will develop a better idea of what you want to shoot, and what equipment you need to do the job. Then the decision becomes easy. I've known many people who used a single non-zoom (prime) lens for years, myself included, before ever purchasing another. That being said, I was also a broke college student, surrounded by other broke college students. Enjoy your great new camera!
  36. WOW... that is the biggest 50mm lens I've ever seen. The front element looks to be similar in size to the 85mm F1.4 AFS Nikkor.
  37. It takes 77mm filters, Paul (which I like, because I can share those filters with my other big lenses). Yes, it's chubby. Part of that, like the AF-S Nikkors, is that it has a built in hypersonic motor assembly, which adds to the size of the barrel. Like the AF-S lenses, you can use AF, but still grab the focus ring and fine-tune, to override the AF. It's not nearly as heavy as it looks, promise. I find it very pleasnt to carry and use.

    But as usual, choosing subjects, light, and circumstances - and having the time to do it right - have way more to do with whether I'm happy with the results. I'm just pleased that when it can make a difference, this lens does. I shot with a nice small 50/1.8 for over 25 years, and don't feel like I did myself any disservice!
  38. I just got my Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4G two days ago. I bought it so that I could shoot f/1.4 to achieve blurred backgrounds.
    Would the Sigma 50 mm handle the background better with this type of shot, which is spot metered using Aperture Priority f/1.4, ISO 125 and 1/801 sec hand held with Nikon supplied hood fitted using D200 body?
  39. Well, Greg - you're up against a very bright background, there. Those super-hot whites would cause some of that CA-related blue fringing in almost any lens, but sure - the Sigma would probably soften all of that a bit more. I think your real tactic there would be to get the background under control, exposure-wise, and then to use a reflector or a touch of fill flash to balance your foreground (and cute!) subject. That would help to preserve more detail in the white fur areas, too. This is one of those cases where technique changes might trump any changes in the lens.
  40. A 50mm with a 77mm filter thread? Wow.
    OK, if you have a D300, it should meter with the Manual Focus 50mm 1.4 AIS Nikkor, correct? You know that with apertures like 1.4 the Depth of field is tiny, so autofocus is of very limited value....with AF you'll be hoping the camera guesses the proper plane of focus. So you'll find yourself switching to manual focus at least half the time. My advice is get the cheaper, older MF Nikon 50 1.4 AiS which has better manual focus control.
    When you get bored with a 1.4 lens, (which will take a LONG time!) you can look around for the Nikon f1.2 ....see the attached pic for some extremely shallow DOF!
  41. Russ: I have exactly the opposite experience. Especially when dealing with dynamic (read: living) subjects. The D300's AF system is very accurate. It's more accurate than I am, especially since I don't have a speciality focus screen installed in the body. Yes, DoF is paper thin if you're shooting wide open. But I've been very comfortable letting the AF do the work most of the time, and just grabbing the focus ring if I know I need to take over.

    Another important consideration, looking at these newer lenses vs. the older AIS flavor: modern coatings and materials. With more recent designs, you've got less to worry about with flare, ghosting, sensor reflection, etc. I'm quite happy at f/1.4, thank you. You're a brave man, walking out onto that thin f/1.2 ice!
  42. In my opinion, it's very hard to shoot a quality portrait at f1.4 or f1.2 unless using a tripod and a stable subject. Can it be done without? Sure, but with the 85mm f1.4 AF-S Nikkor, I found that the DOF was so shallow at f1.4 that a subject (or my camera) moving an inch could send the subject's eyes completely out of focus. Maybe at 50mm the DOF is a little bigger and it's not as much of a concern.
  43. Paul: Just because you can use it at f/1.4 doesn't mean you have to! Many of the qualitative differences between those lenses are still very noticeable at, say, f/2.8, and choosing one you like still matters. A good fast prime, stopped down to f/2.8, is usually going to do you a better job than a a good f/2.8 lens wide open - and you get a brighter viewfinder, better AF performance, etc.
  44. Point well made Matt. There is a lot for me to learn about shooting in the range f/1.4 to f/2.8 with any 50 mm lens, let alone starting to pick one over the other. So long as it’s got autofocus I am happy. This is another shot taken with less than optimal technique. I am in course drive mode at the moment just trying to appreciate what this lens will do, and how close I need to be to get some of these head shots (definitely pets only). The CA-related blue fringing is there again (my fault) for the reasons you have already outlined.
  45. buy good - buy once
  46. megan, why don't you play with your kit lens first, if it came with one. it is a better learning tool than a super fast 50mm that will not meter or autofocus on your camera. for now you can get the 35mm f/1.8 af-s for your low light situations. now that, is a learning tool that will complement well with whatever lens you have right now.
    if you want to jump on it --- portrait, low light, versatility, etc., i would rercommend a tamron 17-50mm or a sigma 18-50mm. they are both f/2.8 and the long end will give you excellent results doing portraits to start with. maybe later you can get a specialized lens for portrait.
  47. Matt, that first shot pretty much says it all for me. Matt sold me on the Sigma 6 months ago. What size issue?, using a 3 lb 70-200 most of the time the sigma is tiny. And yes, the Sigma is about $50 more expensive. Take a look at Matts excellent examples, I shoot primarily portraiture, so its not a difficult choice for me. Do you want butter smooth or 4 shots of expresso jangled bokeh? Of course, from the 1.8 there is a $400 difference that may not be worth it to some for a normal lens. For me, its where I fall back to for full length when I run out of room with the 70-200. Nikons 50 1.4 or 1.8 is targeted at the person who is more interested in over all sharpness probably at smaller apertures, then the bokeh isnt critical. I understand it exceeds the sigma in that regard, so know what you will use the tool for and choose the appropriate tool for you. I personally cant see any difference in sharpness between the 1.8 and sigma, but I believe folks out there with test charts say there is a minor edge for the Nikon. Again, for portraiture, I am usually softening skin for most shots, so I dont worry about a sharpness difference I cant see. For me, its the right tool for the job. And dont forget the brighter viewfinder is a side benefit.
  48. Is see Mr P Lewis has one of the new 85mm f1.4 AF-S lenses! I'm suprised no-one picked it up more quickly. Must be a pre-production tester....and indeed wide open, the DOF has gotta be a thin slice through space!
  49. Didnt have much dof here- about half inch. 180mm at 2.8
  50. The 180mm f/2.8 might not be a best first fast lens, but it's certainly nice to have. Small enough to bother to carry it, and great imagery even wide open.
  51. Sorry, that was on a 70-200 at 180.
  52. Hi everyone;
    I think that Megan is new to digital photography, not photography, according to what she says.
    Megan, I found my self here because I was in the same quandary as to whether to get the Nikon 1.4 or 1.8.
    Everyone has conflicting opinions;
    the 1.4 has: better build quality, better resolution, and of course better low-light functionality.
    Likewise, the 1.8 has: cheaper, but serviceable, build quality, also surprisingly ALSO has the better resolution of the two, and has normally serviceable low light functionality.
    I have bid on the 1.8 to the tune of $40 U.S. thus far (plus 8 postage), but if it nears the $90-100 average, I may end up going ahead and shooting the wad of $225 for the 1.4 just because I so often like to take casual shots just messing around the house with its subdued lighting.
    I'm strictly amateur, so I don't like the complexity of flash arrangements, so I figure the wider the aperture would probably be better for my use.
    Please let us know what you decide!
    P.S. I like your Twinings tea!

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