The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S is a standard 50mm prime lens for Nikon’s Z-mount mirrorless. A 50mm lens is one of the great prime focal lengths because the ‘nifty fifty’ is a versatile portrait, landscape, and general-purpose lens.
Nikon’s Z-mount mirrorless system is a benchmark because it is built to potentially increase image quality by shortening the distance between the lens flange and the image sensor to just 16mm. This means that there is less distance for light to travel to the sensor and gives more room for a larger rear lens element, which in theory should give better image quality.
The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S is larger, heavier, and carries a bigger price tag than any previous Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens. On paper, it’s a very complex and high-performing lens that is said to rival the mighty Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 in terms of sharpness and quality but coming in at a much lower price.
Does the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S live up to all the hype? We’re going to take a good look at the design, build, and how this lens performs in real life, as well as comparing it with a similar rival lens.
The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S is similar to previous Z-series lenses in its mostly plastic construction and minimalist design. There is only one switch for auto/manual focus and one ring for controlling your focus.
Many 50mm f/1.8 lenses on the market are almost pancake lenses in size and build, but the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 is certainly not that. It weighs in at 415g, so while it’s not overly heavy, it’s heavier than other 50mm primes.
Although the barrel is mainly plastic, at least the lens mount is metal. The lens is weather-sealed at the mount, and Nikon says that the lens barrel is dust and moisture-resistant too. The filter size is 62mm, which is the same size as the Nikon Z 35mm f/1.8 S, so it’s nice to know that if you get a filter for one lens, it will also fit on the other.
The lens doesn’t have built-in vibration reduction, but the Nikon Z-series cameras have built-in stabilization in the body to allow you to handhold your camera at longer shutter speeds without loss of sharpness. The minimum aperture is f/1.8, and the maximum aperture is f/16, and the minimum focusing distance is 40 cm.
Now we get to the impressive optics! The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S has 12 elements in nine groups, which is a massive amount for a prime lens. There are two aspherical elements, two ED glass elements, a Nano Crystal Coating, and Super Integrated Coating. It also features nine rounded aperture blades to produce good bokeh.
While none of this guarantees that the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 will perform brilliantly, it certainly shows the thought Nikon put into designing it and goes a long way toward explaining the steep price.
The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S in Use
Starting with the autofocus system, the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S is just like the other Nikon Z-series lenses so far by being world-beating with the autofocus, but awkward to handle for manual focusing.
The AF on the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 is fast, accurate, and almost silent. Nikon has designed this lens to have very little “focus breathing”, which means the image magnification changing when you focus. This will be welcome news for videographers using the Z-series, as focus breathing is more of an issue for them than still photographers.
It’s a joy to use the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 in AF mode, but the same can’t be said for manual focus mode. MF on this lens is electronic, not mechanical, and it won’t save your focus position when you turn the camera off. It always reverts to almost infinity when the camera is turned on again, just like the other Z-series lenses.
If you turn the focus ring very slowly, then the focus won’t change, and if you move it quickly, then you’ll find your focus bouncing from one extreme to another even if you don’t rotate the ring much.
That’s the only downside so far with the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens, and when it comes to sharpness, it’s phenomenal. At f/1.8 the lens is sharp all the way across, with only a little corner softness. Peak sharpness is reached at f/2.8, and it continues to be sharp up to f/8 when diffraction starts to affect the sharpness.
Chromatic aberration is almost completely absent across the whole aperture range, and there is little distortion. Flare and ghosting are likewise not a problem.
How Does it Compare?
The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S doesn’t have any 50mm rivals in the Z-series, but if you want a faster lens then you can spend more on the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art and the FTZ adapter to make it work on a Nikon Z6 or Z7.
The Sigma 50mm is an amazing lens when it comes to picture quality, especially for shooting wide-aperture portraits when f/1.4 will give even more control over depth of field than the Nikon 50mm f/1.8.
Downsides to the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art are that it costs even more than the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S and is almost twice the weight. And it’s not even weather-sealed, either.
If the extra stop of light isn’t important to you, then the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 is the better choice, and although expensive for a prime lens, it’s still cheaper than the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 and the FTZ adapter.
If money isn’t an issue, then arguably the best prime lens in this category would be the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 which is outstanding but costs several thousand dollars more than even the Sigma!
|Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S||Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art|
|Optics||12 elements / 9 groups||13 elements / 8 groups|
|Diaphragm||9 rounded blades||9 rounded blades|
The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S is an expensive lens for a prime, but the optical engineering that has gone into it does explain the price, and it’s still cheaper than the Sigma 50mm f/1.4.
The Nikon is fantastically sharp all through the range, even when shooting wide open. Factors that negatively affect image quality, like chromatic aberration, lens flares, and distortion are missing from this lens.
If you always use autofocus, then the manual focusing issues won’t bother you, but if you are used to MF then this lens can be hard work.
If you have a Nikon Z-series camera and want a brilliant 50mm prime, then the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S is definitely a sound investment. If you are looking for a budget alternative for the Nikon Z-series, then the Meike 50mm f/1.7 looks like a smart choice at a much cheaper price point.