Lens Test: Nikon 50mm F/1.8 ED Nikkor

A normal lens at the right price

nikon5018fd
nikon5018fd
A solid lens, at a bargain price.Dan Bracaglia

This fulL-FRAME normal lens ($220, street) is one of the least expensive entrées to the world of high-speed Nikkor glass. As with all Nikon G lenses, its diaphragm settings are handled electronically by the camera; there’s no aperture ring. On Nikon DX bodies, with their APS-C-sized sensors, this new 50mm scales up to an equivalent of 75mm.

At less than 8 ounces and slightly over 2 inches long, the lens is compact, but somewhat large for the class—most full-frame 50mm f/1.8 lenses measure between 1.5 and 1.75 inches. Cosmetically attractive, with gold markings and easy-to- grip surfaces, it has a well-damped manual-focusing ring that turns an ample 120 degrees for precise manual focus. And you may find yourself using it frequently, because the AF/MF interface is seamless: You can easily touch up focus manually while the lens is AF-ready. Thanks to the Silent Wave motor, AF is fast, accurate, and near-silent, well suited to DSLR video, especially when using an off-camera mic.

On our optical bench, it produced uniformly Excellent-range sharpness and contrast numbers for outputs up to 11x14 inches, our benchmark. (Nikon’s 50mm f/1.8D lens, introduced in the 1990s and still in the catalog, dropped down into the Very Good and Good ranges at larger apertures.) In our distortion tests using DxO Analyzer 4.0, this lens held barreling to the Slight range (0.26%). While this may not seem great, the comparable Nikkor D lens produced Visible- range barreling (0.50%) in our tests. Indeed, back in their heyday, film-era 50mm f/1.8 glass from most manufacturers regularly allowed Visible to Very Visible barrel distortion.

Like all 50mm lenses on full-frame bodies, this Nikon provides an angle of view that approximates that of the human eye. The result is imaging free of apparent perspective distortion that occurs with wider and longer optics. For this reason alone, everyone needs a normal.

As a high-speed lens, it produces attractively defocused foregrounds and backgrouds, high shutter speeds for stopping action, and transmits lots of light for shooting dimly lit scenes and locations. Its compact profile suits it to travel and street photography—at an incredibly appealing price.

SPECIFICATIONS:

50mm (51.47mm tested), f/1.8 (f/1.86 tested), 7 elements in 6 groups. Focusing turns 120 degrees.
Diagonal View Angle: 47 degrees.
Weight: 0.48 lb. Filter size: 58mm.
Mount: Nikon AF.
Included: Lenshood, soft case.
Street price: $220.

TEST RESULTS
Distortion: 0.26% (Slight) barrel.
Light Falloff: Gone by f/2.5.
Close-focusing Distance: 16.5 inches.
Maximum Magnification Ratio: 1:5.76.

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