Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G: Reinventing the Wheel

 

Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G

Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G

The Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G is an update of the company’s most popular lens. Raj Lalwani discovers that new may not always mean improved.

What should one say about a lens whose design is over two decades old, yet inspires quality, versatility and reliability at a throwaway price even today?
That is exactly what I think when I look at the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF-D, a piece of equipment that has been a part of my camera bag for almost four years now. It is light, sharp, ideal for low light and focuses incredibly fast—the normal focal length means that it is suited to almost all genres of photography.
Moreover, when the lens is used on a cropped-sensor DX body, it becomes a portrait specialist – all this at a price of Rs.6000! This is why when Nikon announced the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G ED as a potential replacement for the old 50mm, my first instinct was to look at its price tag—even more than double of the older lens that I have.

Features
Of course, the old AF-D lens is not exactly perfect, and that is exactly what this update tries to address. It does this by reinventing the wheel and giving the optical design and outer structure a complete overhaul. Let us try to understand the various changes this lens brings.
The entry of this new lens is reasonably significant for users of entry-level Nikon DSLRs, like the D40, D60, D3100 and D5100. Since these cameras do not have a focusing motor inside their bodies, they are unable to use autofocus with the older 50mm lens. However, this new 50mm f/1.8G does not have an aperture ring, which means that it cannot be used on older manual cameras of the Nikon FM series.
While the previous lens is one of the sharpest lenses around, it is not perfect. Most notably, it is slightly soft at the widest aperture. To combat this, the company has used a brand new optical design that includes an aspherical element.

Handling
The main thing that differentiates the new version from its less expensive predecessor is the AF-S technology. Now, it is rather easy to override autofocus and fine tune the focus manually.
The revised optical formula and the inclusion of AF-S technology has led to a slight increase in size, requiring the lens to use the more uncommon 58mm filters, as compared to standard 52mm ones. The lens has a durable matte finish and comes along with a lens hood.
I used the lens for a duration of two weeks, pretty much everywhere I went. The majority of testing was done on a full frame Nikon D700, and I also tested the lens on a D80 and D3100.

Performance
Autofocus was a disappointment, though. It is not slow at all—in fact, it is faster than most consumer lenses and as fast as some high-end prime lenses, but the old 50mm f/1.8D’s AF performance is one of the fastest we have seen. In comparison to that, I did feel a little shortchanged.
The sharpness at f/1.8 and f/2 has been improved, especially towards the corners. However, while this is surely commendable, I was not as impressed. At apertures like f/2.2 and narrower, the old lens is as sharp as this one, and at f/8 and f/11, the old one beats the new lens marginally.
The 50mm f/1.8G shows a fair amount of barrel distortion, as compared to the f/1.8D version, which is distortion free. Both lenses do an equally good job of controlling fringing and flare.

Conclusion
On its own, the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G is a very good lens. It is an affordable option for D3100 and D5100 users and gives excellent results. However, if you have a camera that can use the older lens, I do not really see why one would want to spend extra cash on this new offering. The optics have been improved surely, but at most settings, the older lens does an equally good, or better job.
Moreover, the slight reduction in AF speed can be disconcerting for those who are shooting in demanding situations. I will recommend the lens, but only for entry-level DSLR owners and for those who do a lot of critical shooting at
f/1.8 and f/2.

Final Ratings
Features
AF-S motor, no aperture ring
13/15

Performance
Excellent sharpness, no chromatic aberration, but slow AF, slight distortion
30/35

Build Quality
Lightweight but sturdy
23/25

Ergonomics
Efficient distance scale, compact size
13/15

Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty
5/10

OVERALL: 84%
Value For Money: 2/5 stars

Tags: Raj Lalwani, august 2011, Lens review, Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G], 50mm f/1.8