Nikon 50mm Review

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The Nikon 50mm 1.4 is one of my two favorite people-shot lenses! It’s tied with the 85mm — see my Nikon 85mm Review.

I do NOT own the Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens, but it is a cheaper version of the 1.4 above. The only difference is that it has a slightly more forgiving depth-of-field.

Why the 50mm Lens Rocks

This 50mm is a fantastic lens! I use this and the 85mm for people shots – see the Nikon 85mm Review here on the site as well.

The greatest thing about this lens is that f/1.4. That super-low number means two things that are important in a practical way:

1) You have a very shallow Depth of Field (DOF), which means that your subject will be in sharp focus and everything else will be deliciously out of focus.
2) You can shoot in very low light conditions without a flash, giving your photos a very natural look.

See those two reasons? That’s just about all you need to know.

Beyond that, there is one thing to watch out for. The DOF on the 1.4 is SO tight that sometimes you will get your brother’s nose in focus, but his eyes will be slightly out of focus! So you better make sure to focus on the eye area when shooting people. The back of the ears and perhaps the tip of the nose will be a little out of focus, but that can make quite an amazing shot. It’s also a great lens for shooting anything else to achieve this affect. Naturally, you can adjust the F-stop on your camera up to the 2 or 4 area if you want to increase that area of sharpness a little, but that is rarely why people get a lens like this.

Note that if you get the 1.8 version of the 50mm lens, you will not have this issue.  However like I said, having just one feature of the face in focus can be a very nice effect.

It’s a very very tiny lens and can easily fit in your jeans pocket. People say this like it is convenient.. but really, when being practical about it, when you swap to put on that lens, where are you gonna put the other big honker you just took off? So, one of my fundamental Truths of Lenses remains, don’t worry about how big or little the lens itself is… just keep a little bag-o-lenses nearby in case the need comes to swap.

I use this lens a lot for family, parties, friends, and the like. In my opinion, it’s the best “people” lens in the world… but you just have to be ready to be within 2-6 feet of whoever you are shooting. Beyond that range, it is better to get the 24-70mm lens (see my Nikon 24-70 Review on this site).

Below are just a few of the shots I’ve taken with this lens. Most of my shots are unpublished, because they are family and personal shots, but this gives you a good indication of what this really fun lens will do!

You might notice that I have a special post-processing technique. If you would like to find out more about that, you are welcome to visit my HDR Tutorial.

Sample Photos with the 50mm 1.4 Lens

Below are a few sample shots so you can see what this sweet lens can do.


The f1.4 means that you can shoot in very low light (almost totally dark in this case), and get clean, beautiful shots with sharp focus


Even though it can go as low as 1.4, I shot this photo of this Icelandic Horse at F/2.8.

Bucket-Head (by Stuck in Customs)

Notice how the f1.4 has a very thin plane of focus.  You should try to focus on the inside of the eye, and the focus will naturally fall of towards the ear.

Photoshop brilliance before

The Little Things in Life (by Stuck in Customs)

Those blurry Christmas lights in the background are a good example of the natural “bokeh” that comes from this lens.

Natalia in Argentina

Any questions about the nature of these reviews? Visit my Ethics Statement. It’s all quite simple!

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  • This is still probably my favorite lens. When I got I didn’t take it off for two weeks. They should ship every DSLR with a 50. It wold make a world of better photographers!

    my $.02

  • When I saw your photos that you took with the Nikon50mm f/1.4G, I thought… “I need that lens”! And then I realized I DO have that lens, sort of. But mine is a “D”, not a “G”. Should I be getting the marvelous results you get? Because I don’t. Your photography is top-notch.

  • Thanks for the review Trey – I just got this baby today and can’t wait to try it 🙂

  • If your Nikon body has an integrated focus motor (the D40 and D60 don’t as far as I can remember), you may also like to look at the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D which will set you back about $130 less. This is a stunningly sharp lens and a joy to use. You can read more at

  • Shawn

    I have the f/1.8 version of this lens, and it is truly awesome: natural light rules. I do hope to upgrade to the f/1.4 some day.

    But even on the f/1.8 version, it still has a pretty darn thin DOF. This has caused problems for me (hey, everything looks great on the LCD), and especially other people who use the camera who have no idea.

    It’s going to take practice for me to get better at focusing with this lens. Just be aware.

  • Interesting entry. I got this lens a few weeks ago after seeing your stuff. at first 50mm seems like a limitation, but one quickly discovers this is the optimal lens for about 80% of photos. I personally discovered that the best photos I take are when I get closer or further away using my legs instead of adjusting the zoom, and the 50mm is ideal for that.

  • Great – thanks! Glad you like it! 🙂

  • I like using the Nikon AF-S VR Micro 105mm f/2.8 for Portraits and Macro Photography, you get two for the price of one…

  • I have had all of the 50mm Nikon has made in the past 20 years including this one. While I believe it is, by far, the best they’ve made, I think the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is better. Yes, the Nikon made be sharper in the corners but the Sigma just produces amazing color and contrast. To give you an indication of the build quality, the Sigma 50mm has a 77mm front element thread… the same size at the Nikon 24-70, 70-200, and 85mm f/1.4… whereas the Nikon 50mm has a 58mm front element. When you hold the two in your hands, you can feel the difference right away. It’s like holding the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 and the Nikon 85mm f/1.4… there’s a huge difference.

  • Nando

    I LOVE this site after discovering your book at Barnes and Noble. You inspire me to go out and use my Nikon D90 for more than just taking casual, family pics. Keep up the great work my friend.

    BTW, the spam on the comments area is really annoying. Any chance you can delete them all?

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  • Do you have the AF-S version? Do you think the AF-S version is worth an extra $125?

  • dsa


  • Jamie

    Trey — thanks for the great reviews and your fantastic website. One question: I’m confused as to whether you use the f 1.4D or the newer 1.4G and what your thoughts are in that regard. Thank you!

  • Linda Ozag

    I’m new to your work. What passion! Thank you for being generous with your knowledge. I look forward to whatever your future holds.

  • gian paolo perusini

    your photo are always impressive… personally, I find them a bit too much unreal, but you are an artist and that is your vision of the world! about the 50mm, on a FF I don’t think is really useful for portraits due to perspective distorsion and it is too narrow for landscape (I prefer the 17-35 and the 85 or 105). Anyway, fast lenses are always fascinating! keep out of kit lenses on dx bodies!
    thank you for sharing your art with us modest photographers.

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  • I switch to 50mm 1.4 G and now is the only lens I use along with my D3 and I just love it.

    I might get 28-300 for travel but maybe not.

    This is must have for any FX camera!

  • George

    Well I have an old Nikon 50mm f1.4 lens from my film camera. Of course on my D7000 that makes it 75 mm. Perfect for portrait and flower shots. It’s not auto focus so I shoot in manual mode, but then for HDR I shoot in manual mode anyway. Just have to focus carefully.

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  • Oscar Shi

    I’m curious about the auto-focus speed. I’ve been told that it is very slow @ auto focusing. Is it really that slow compare to the 1.8G?

  • John Scratchley

    I purchased this lens awhile ago and haven’t really used it for much outside of taking the odd photo of my dog!  I’m going to a festival in two weeks and will give it a good workout.  Thanks for the update.

  • Alex Gerulaitis

    Have had Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D AF for years (first on d200, now on d300)- never shoot with it.  Its sharpness at 1.4 is just awful, less than half the resolution of the sensor.  What’s the point of having a fast lens if it’s fuzzy at full open?  It gets better at 2.0 and fairly sharp at 2.8 – but again, I found it a very strange for Nikon to charge $500 for a fast lens that is basically unusable at wide apertures.

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  • John Sutherland


    I am not a pro. Just a guy with a camera or two. I just returned home (Grecia, CR) from Granada, Nicaragua where I had hoped to do some HDR. Having been to Peru, Ecuador, Panama, and Nicaragua in the past six months I am caught between the NEX 7 and the lenses you have suggested and the D800. My overriding concern has been safety. These big cameras cry big money in impoverished countries. In spite of the safety issues I have decided on the D800 and maybe and perhaps decrease the profile with a 24 mom f2 or 2.8. I have a 27″ IMac, Photoshop CS 5, Topaz, and Photomatix. Damned if i know how to use them. Generational thing, I guess! Thanks for sharing. John lazy [email protected].

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  • Hawg427

    I was going to wait until Tamron released the new 15-30 2.8 VR but Nikon is having a good sale on many of their lenses. So I decided to go ahead with the 14-24 2.8 & just to do some macro I’ll throw in a Nikon 105 2.8 Micro for good measure. I have the old, old 105 2.5 manual focus but there’s no Micro/Macro.

  • jdizzl

    Old post, I’ve had same results, got rid of it after having a 2.8 zoom. There was no longer a point, b/c the zoom is just as sharp at 2.8, with more microcontrast to boot, plus can switch. then it is only useful as a “small lens”… i have another rangefinder camera for that, and the lens on it is sharp wide open. If I got a 50mm again it would be a sigma 50mm art. These old D lens primes just aren’t good on modern DSLRs with exception of the 28mm 1.4d and 85mm 1.4d.

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