Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-s Review and user experience - A tale of two fifties and conclusion

I did a test between the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 manual focus lens and the ultra-cheap 50mm f/1.8D on my D800E with some interesting results. 

Here's my normal (winter) test subjects.

Here is a comparison of the lenses at their maximum aperture. 100% blow-up.

Here are comparisons at f/2.8 and f/5.6. Similar results were obtained at all other apertures.

As you can see there is little in it, if anything at all. Wide-open the f/1.8 is better, but a stop slower. The f/1.8 lens might even be very slightly sharper at the higher apertures, but its very close. So this shows what? Well it shows that the 50mm f/1.8D is a very good, very underated lens. Yes its cheap, but thats got more to do with the cheaper materials in the construction and the amount of these that Nikon sell.

The 50mm f/1.2 manual focus lens is a top class lens and if you need that extra stop of speed, its perfect. But as a general all-round lens, there is probably little advantage to be gained. There was an observable difference in that the f/1.8 files were consistently darker than the f/1.2, but then the apertures had to be set electronically on the D800E. Both are excellent lenses and amongst the best Nikon have produced, but as to the 50mm f/1.2 MF being the sharpest lens Nikon have ever made, then I think that is probably not the case. It is however a superb lens for video and can be used on any DSLR or CSC / Mirrorless camera for that, via adapters. Personally I like the aperture ring, and its nice to be able to change that manually on my Nikons. If a Nikon lens has an aperture ring but has AF then the camera stops this happening, the lens has to be set to minimum aperture so that the automation can take over.

So am I going to take up my option to buy the lens back? The answer to that is no. I don't shoot enough in low light or enough serious video to make it worth my while. The results from this test have just confirmed that to me. However it is a lens I'll always have a soft spot for. If my nephew does indeed sell it then it will be something I will miss having access to. Its beautifully made and because its heyday coincides with when I started getting serious about photography, it is a lens I will always have good feelings about. 

However, once again the 50mm f/1.8D shows just how good it is. I once had an argument with an assistant in a camera shop who tried to tell me that it was piece of junk. Its most definitely not that as anyone who has ever used one will testify. Another case of price not reflecting quality, but this time in a very positive way.

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.
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