The Battle of the Best 50mm Lenses for Nikon DSLR Cameras
How do you select the best 50mm lens for your Nikon DSLR camera? For one thing, the lens has to be sharp. By that I mean really, really sharp.
There are many different lens sharpness tests out there, but for this discussion I have relied on DxOMark.
Another thing, this discussion leaves out the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4, arguably the sharpest standard lens in the world. The reason is we are stuck with a focal length of 50mm.
Thus, anything longer than 50mm is not considered for this discussion.
The 5 Best 50mm Lenses for Nikon
1. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens
Sigma makes one of the best third party lenses in the world. Its Art series lenses are renowned for their image quality, sharpness, and very little distortion.
This particular lens is rated as the sharpest by DxOMark among all 50mm lenses made for the Nikon F mount. It opens up to a wide f/1.4 maximum aperture and down to f/16.
It has one molded glass aspherical element and three special low dispersion elements. The lens also has super multi-layer coating. The designing of the lens represents a floating architecture.
This is an auto-focusing lens. Sigma used their ring-type Hyper Sonic motor powered auto-focusing system for this lens. You get full manual focusing override. The front element of the lens does not protrude when focusing.
The angle of view of the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is 46.8 ˚. It can focus at a close distance of 1.31″.
9 blades make up the rounded aperture diaphragm of the lens. Sigma makes an equally impressive 35mm f/1.4 Art lens. This one, though, is larger than the 35mm in size. It uses the larger 77mm filters compared to the 35mm’s 67mm filter thread.
Overall shooting performance is superlative. This is one of those few lenses you would always want to shoot wide open. Distortion, especially on APS-C DSLRs is almost nil.
On full frame cameras, performance is very good too. The performance is better even than the Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 ZF.2 that we will discuss next and that of arguably the sharpest standard lens ever tested the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4.
There might just be some loss of sharpness when you look at the corners, but the center of the frame always remains extremely sharp. Stopping down the lens produces an edge to edge sharpness that is really gratifying to observe.
2. Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 ZF.2 Lens
The Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 is a manual focusing lens designed for the Nikon F mount camera systems. It is a product of the new Distagon optical lens design that Zeiss adopted, in place of the older Standard Planar design that was discontinued in 2015.
It comes with the fantastic optical quality and the robust designing that Zeiss lenses are renowned for. The widest aperture of the lens is f/1.4 and it can stop all the way down to f/16.
The Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 has a floating lens construction which ensures that the lens has excellent performance, be it focused near or further away.
There are four anomalous partial dispersion elements, plus one aspherical element. These ensure suppression of chromatic aberrations and better sharpness and contrast even when shooting wide open.
The lens also has Zeiss T* Anti-Reflective Coating that ensures better contrast and color reproduction when shooting in bright conditions. Lens construction is 10 elements arranged in 9 groups. The filter thread specification is 67mm.
3. Nikkor 50mm f/1.2
Another manual focusing lens. This is the first Nikon lens on this list. The Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 has a nine-blade construction. It consists of a super integrated coating that suppresses flares and ghosting which is typical with standard and wide angle lenses with large open apertures.
The major USPs of the lens is definitely the wide open maximum aperture of f/1.2. This is a classic lens and Nikon has persisted with this design for years. It has a rugged all-metal construction with a clunky metal feel all over.
Prominently labeled physical aperture control ring ensures easy selection of the desired aperture for bokeh and depth of field control. The 9-blade aperture creates beautiful soft out of focus backgrounds, especially for portraitures.
4. Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G
The auto-focusing Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 G is one of the best lenses in the Nikon lineup. The lens is an upgrade of the older 50mm f/1.4D lens which unsurprisingly is rated higher by DxOMark than this one. Nikkor continues to sell both lenses.
This is an auto-focusing lens with a built-in focusing motor. In other words, this lens will autofocus on all Nikon DSLRs, with or without a built-in AF motor.
This is the lens you would want to buy if your camera does not have a built-in AF motor. Such cameras would be the Nikon D5200, the D3200, and the D90.
On the downside, however, the lens does not have a dedicated physical aperture control ring and it is slightly heavier than the D lens I have detailed below.
The maximum aperture of the lens is f/1.4. A total of 9 rounded blades makes up the lens diaphragm, compared to 7 on the D lens discussed below. The lens barrel construction ensures that the barrel does not rotate during auto-focusing.
Auto-focusing is powered by Nikon’s SWM or Silent Wave Motor technology. It is smooth and very quiet. The lens comes with super integrated coating and full-time manual focusing override.
The filter thread specification is 58mm. In a discussion of the best 50mm lens for Nikon, this one wouldn't rate high on the list, though.
5. Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D
A discussion of the best 50mm lens for Nikon would be incomplete without a mention of the next lens.
I love the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D. This is one of the cheapest 50mm primes available for the Nikon system and one that comes with an aperture ring and a depth of field indicator.
This lens has been replaced by the 50mm f/1.4 G, but I love the construction quality of the older lens and especially the fact that it has an aperture ring.
This lens will not autofocus on the entry level and upper entry level cameras that Nikon offers. Namely – D3200, D5200 and so on.
This lens will autofocus on cameras that have a built-in AF motor. Thus, on cameras like the D7100, D300S, the lens will be able to auto-focus.
The G iteration of this lens, the one that I discussed in the earlier paragraph is what you need if you are on a cheaper DX camera.
The maximum aperture of f/1.4 promises a lot. To be honest, however, the lens is nearly not as powerful and as clean as the Sigma that I discussed right at the top. But this is still a good lens and one that should give you years of joy photographing with it.
There are 7 aperture blades that make up the lens diaphragm. A total of 7 lens elements arranged in 6 groups makes up the construction of the lens.
There is no image stabilization on this lens. You will need to shoot at a minimum shutter speed of 1/50 sec in order to avoid blur. That should not be a problem when hand-holding. For even slower creative photography requirements, a tripod is recommended.
The lens is slightly lighter than the G lens. That’s understandable this one doesn’t have an autofocusing motor inside the lens.
Conclusion: Best 50mm Lenses for Nikon
Go for the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens. It is the best 50mm lens that you can buy for your Nikon DSLR.
Featured Image Credit: Jery Lay, shot with Sigma 50mm f1.4
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Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly.
He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favorite pursuits.
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