Nikon AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G review | Compact Flash Cards | BestCfCards.com | Discount Sandisk

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The AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G was announced in October 2013, and designed primarily as a premium 'normal' prime for FX format SLRs. By 'premium' we mean, of course, expensive - the most immediately striking feature about the lens is its $1700 / £1600 price tag, which means it costs more than most of the company's SLR bodies. With the very decent $440 / £290 AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens also in the lineup, the 58mm needs to be pretty special to justify this kind of money.

The 58mm focal length may look like an odd choice, but it's deliberately evocative of a legendary Nikon lens - the manual focus Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 from the late 1970s. Indeed Nikon's marketing material draws a parallel between them, saying the new 58mm's 'design concept' pays homage to the old 'Noct'. Stripped of its marketing-speak, this translates to a lens design which goes to extremes to minimize peripheral aberrations such as coma at large apertures, while also paying specific attention to the rendition of out-of-focus regions of the frame, or 'bokeh'.

To this end, the 58mm employs an optical formula that's more complex than typical 50mm F1.4 primes, with 9 elements in 6 groups including two aspherical elements. The diaphragm is made up of 9 rounded blades to give a circular aperture. The optical unit is located deep in the lens barrel, giving natural shading against peripheral light, and Nikon's Nano Crystal Coat is used to minimize flare and ghosting. Autofocus is driven by a 'Silent Wave' ultrasonic motor which allows manual adjustment at any time.

Intriguingly, Nikon is at some pains to suggest that the lens' imaging qualities can't be fully measured by conventional methods such as MTF measurements. In this review we will, as usual, be looking closely at real-world images alongside lab test measurements, to try to work out what this is supposed to mean. In short, does the 58mm produce pictures which justify that price tag?

Headline features

  • 58mm focal length, F1.4 maximum aperture
  • 'Silent Wave' focus motor with full-time manual override
  • 0.58m closest focus, offering 0.13x magnification
  • Nikon F-mount for DX and FX SLRs (or 1 system mirrorless cameras using FT-1 adapter)

Angle of view

The pictures below illustrate the angle of view on FX and DX SLRs (taken from our usual position). On full frame the 58mm is a somewhat long 'normal' lens; on DX cameras it behaves like a classic 85mm short telephoto 'portrait' prime.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G specifications

* Supplied accessories may differ in each country or area
This lens review uses DxOMark data thanks to a partnership between dpreview.com and DxO Labs (read more about DxOMark and our partnership with DxO Labs). DxOMark is the trusted industry standard for independent image quality measurements and ratings. DxOMark has established this reputation with its rigorous hardware testing, industry-grade laboratory tools, and database of thousands of camera, lens and mobile test results. Full test results for this lens can be found at www.dxomark.com.

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).


Conclusion - Pros

  • Produces lovely-looking images almost all the time
  • Very low chromatic aberration
  • Lower-than-usual vignetting
  • Minimal coma
  • Lovely bokeh
  • Generally resistant to flare
  • Relatively fast, near-silent autofocus
  • Decent construction but lightweight

Conclusion - Cons

  • Decidedly soft wide open, especially on DX format cameras
  • Relatively bulky (compared to Nikkor 50mm F1.4s)
  • Inconsistent autofocus
  • Very expensive

Overall conclusion

The AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G is an intriguing lens. Look at its performance in MTF tests and it appears to be nothing special; indeed it doesn't obviously do any better than its much cheaper 50mm stablemate. But there's a lot more to lenses and photography than just MTF tests, and when you go out and shoot with it, the 58mm produces images which are on the whole extremely attractive. At which point you have to ask - what else do you really want from a lens?

Optics and image quality

Optically, the 58mm is anything but sharp wide open, giving rather soft, low-contrast images. This is particularly true on resolution-hungry DX cameras, on which it looks very hazy indeed at F1.4. But if it's sharpness that you're after, stop down to F2 or F2.8 and the 58mm improves dramatically. The lab MTF tests suggest you'll soft edges and corners at most apertures, but it turns that this mainly reflects curvature of field. Fortunately the real world is generally more three-dimensional than test charts are, and in practical use the 58mm is capable of being impressively sharp across the frame by F4, even on the highly-demanding D800.

However the 58mm's overall image quality is about far more than just sharpness, and in almost every other respect you might care to consider, it absolutely shines. Chromatic aberration is very low, coma exceptionally low, vignetting nothing to worry about, and bokeh simply beautiful. There's a little barrel distortion if you go around shooting geometric compositions, but it's easily fixable in software when necessary.

That wide-open lack of sharpness may still look vexing, but in real-world photography it's less problematic than you might think. When shooting at large apertures, the key is really for the in-focus regions to be sharp enough. The impact of the picture then comes from their visual contrast with the obviouslyunsharp out-of-focus regions. Indeed given that the bulk of the image area will quite likely be out of focus, its overall aesthetic quality tends to be dominated by the quality of the lens's bokeh. There are few lenses we'd pick over the 58mm in this regard. The take home-message is that sharpness isn't the only measure of image quality, and with fast primes shot at large apertures, it's not necessarily the most important one either.

Autofocus and manual focus

The 58mm uses an ultrasonic-type 'silent wave motor' for autofocus, which is almost entirely silent, generally decisive, and reasonably fast. It won't match a 24-70mm F2.8 for outright focus speed, but we've never found the lens to feel too slow for the kind of shooting you might want to do with it. Manual focus is well-implemented too - the focus ring rotates smoothly, and it's precise enough to nail perfect focus when using magnified live view. Incidentally here we've found it easiest to focus with the lens set to F2, which cuts through the worst of the wide-open aberrations, but to implement this you do have to familiarise yourself with Nikon's generally-eccentric aperture control in live view.

The problem we found with autofocus, though, is accuracy. Count on having to set up your camera's Focus Adjust setting to achieve really accurate and consistent autofocus - our test sample tended to back-focus, and quite considerably so on the D800. We also found that there was no way of persuading the lens to focus accurately at all subject distances on the D7100 test body we used - when set for most accurate focus at short range, it still front focused consistently on more-distant subjects.

This kind of behaviour is something of a dirty secret which is common for the phase detection AF systems used by SLRs, and is getting ever-more-obvious with increasing sensor resolutions. It can effectively be eliminated using live view contrast detection autofocus, but this is relastively slow and awkward on Nikon's current DSLRs. With mirrorless cameras being effectively immune to the problem (as they focus using the image sensor itself), it's looking like something the SLR makers really need to address more effectively.

Handling

The 58mm is a relatively bulky lens, which looks large on a camera and takes up rather more space in your bag than Nikon's 50mm F1.4. But it's actually quite lightweight, and this means it never really feels unbalanced on the camera. The lens isn't fully sealed for outdoor use in inclement conditions, but it does have a gasket around the lens mount to help keep out dust and moisture, like most of Nikon's recent lenses.

Our biggest concern about the 58mm is, in fact, slightly more abstract. On DX its short-telephoto angle of view - equivalent to 85mm on full frame - makes for a lovely portrait lens. But on FX, 58mm feels like an odd angle of view for everyday use, at least for this reviewer. I constantly found myself finding it was too tight for any 'normal' perspective compositions I saw, while being a bit shorter than I'd normally prefer for portraits. I certainly wouldn't choose it as a general purpose 'walkaround' focal length instead of a 50mm (or better still, a 40mm) - it's more a lens which I'd put on the camera when I wanted its specific characteristics, and was prepared to put up with its angle of view.

The Final Word

The AF-S Nikkor 58mm F1.4G is in many ways a difficult lens to assess. Given its eye-watering price most users would probably expect better wide-open sharpness, and we could easily see its oddball focal length being a turnoff to prospective buyers. After using it intensively we'd characterise it as a specialist optic which does certain specific things exceptionally well. For applications such as environmental portraits or low-light shooting at large apertures, it's superb. We expect many wedding photographers will absolutely adore it.

But should anyone else buy one? The 58mm is clearly a better lens than the 50mm for certain tasks, and if you understand its strengths and limitations, and are prepared to spend time fine-tuning your camera's autofocus, it will surely deliver the goods. Even the breathtaking price looks like a bargain compared to the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 - which gives an idea of the lengths Nikon's lens designers would probably have to go to if they wanted to deliver a lens that was also really sharp wide open.

Overall, though, to us the lens feels like it has the characteristics of a superb portrait lens on FX, but at a slightly odd focal length for the purpose. And while the focal length is much better suited to DX format, the 58mm costs significantly more than any of Nikon's DX SLR bodies, yet its wide-open softness becomes genuinely troubling. Because of this, we're just not quite convinced Nikon has struck the best balance of characteristics to bring it genuine all-round appeal.


Samples Gallery

There are 21 images in the review samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. Because our review images are now hosted on the 'galleries' section of dpreview.com, you can enjoy all of the new galleries functionality when browsing these samples.


Nikon AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G

Compared to AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G

The big question facing potential buyers of the 58mm f/1.4G is how it compares to the much-cheaper 50mm f/1.4G, which on the face of it has a very similar specification, but is much smaller and cheaper. This decision isn't helped by the fact that, if you compare the studio test data of the lenses side-by-side, the 50mm appears to be ahead in some respects - most notably edge sharpness.

Here we're looking at images shot side-by-side on the two lenses under controlled conditions. We've made three comparisons - for sharpness in good light, for coma in night-time shooting, and for the rendition of out-of-focus backgrounds.

Sharpness compared

The rollover below shows how the two lenses compare on the D800. These images were shot on a tripod from the same position, with the lenses focused manually using magnified live view. The Raw files were processed in Adobe Camera Raw, with lens corrections disabled and standardized sharpening applied. Note that the comparison is slightly complicated by the difference in focal lengths - the crops from the 50mm are lower in magnification and come from closer to the centre of the frame - but that's unavoidable in this case.

Roll your mouse over the aperture labels to see the corresponding images, with 100% crops taken from the centre, edge and corner of the frame. Click on any image to download the full-resolution file.

The differences here are quite subtle, but some clear conclusions can be drawn. Both lenses give somewhat imperfect images wide open, but the 50mm is distinctly soft and hazy. The 58mm, in contrast, offers higher contrast, but at the cost of some visible magenta fringing from longitudinal chromatic aberration.

Both lenses improve dramatically on stopping down to F2, but the 58mm is visibly sharper all round. Stop down to F4 and it's clear that the soft corners predicted for the 58mm in chart testing aren't relevant for this three dimensional, distant subject - if anything the 58mm is ourperforming the 50mm, rather than the other way round. Neither lens has any serious problem lateral chromatic aberration, but there's a hint of colour fringing in the corner crops from the 50mm that's just not present with the 58mm.

Probably the most interesting information, though, comes from the fine detail in the foliage towards the edge of the frame (centre of the three 100% crops). Here the 58mm shows a dramatic advantage over the 50mm, even when taking the difference in magnification into account. The 50mm needs to be stopped down to F5.6 to pick out all the detail here; the 58mm matches it at about F2.8.

The take-home message here is that, with sufficiently dedicated pixel-peeping, we can see a real advantage for the 58mm over the 50mm in terms of sharpness. But we really do have to look closely.

Night-time comparison: Coma

In our second comparison we've taken the same set of shots a few hours later. The aim here is to look at coma and astigmatism - aberrations which cause point light sources towards the edge of the frame to flare out. Nikon says that the 58mm has been specifically designed to minimise this - let's see what this means in practice. Here we're taking crops from bright light sources towards the edge of frame - again with the 50mm these come from closer to the centre, which places it an advantage here.

This is one area where the 58mm surpasses the 50mm comfortably. Instead of flaring out dramatically at large apertures, point light sources are rendered much closer to circular. This means that the 58mm can be used wide open with much more confidence in these situations, and should also make it well-suited to demanding applications such as astrophotography.

For both lenses, stopping down beyond F2.8 does little to reduce coma any further, but instead results in 18-ray star patterns from the 9-bladed aperture diaphragm.

Portrait comparison - bokeh

The third comparison we're going to make regards the two lenses' rendition of out-of-focus areas of a scene, or 'bokeh'. This is an important consideration with fast primes, which are frequently used to give subject isolation against a blurred background. In the example below we've shot the two lenses from the same position at a series of apertures. But this time, rather then taking 100% crops, we've simply take crops from the corresponding area of the background for both lenses.

Again the 58mm utterly outclasses the 50mm in this comparison, producing far more attractive background blur both wide open and when stopped down. At F1.4 the blur is beautifully smooth, in contrast to the hard-edged highlights from the cheaper lens. This persists at F2.8, where the 58mm's aperture remains circular while the 50mm's has become quite obviously enneagonal. Indeed the 58mm's bokeh only starts to look at all hard-edged at F5.6, but even then it's not as harsh as the 50mm.

Studio Tests (Full frame / FX format)

The story on full frame isn't wildly different to that on DX. The 58mm F1.4 is rather soft wide open, but gets extremely sharp in the centre of the frame by F2.8. The extreme edges lag a long way behind, but in these flat chart tests, this reflects curvature of field as much as inherent (un)sharpness. In all other respects the lens does very well.

Macro Focus

As you'd expect, it's a similar story on full frame to DX when shooting at the lens's minimum focus distance - just a bit more exaggerated. Wide open the image is soft across the frame, due to a combination of spherical aberration and longitudinal chromatic aberration. But while the centre sharpens up nicely by F2.8, the corners are still very soft indeed at this aperture. Indeed the lens needs stopping right down to F11-F16 for them to sharpen up fully. There's no visible chromatic aberration, but barrel distortion is quite obvious. The 58mm simply isn't all that happy when used for close-ups.

Specific image quality issues

As always, our studio tests are backed up by taking hundreds of photographs with the lens across a range of subjects, and examining them in detail. This allows us to confirm our studio observations, and identify any other issues which don't show up in the tests. Here the AF-S Nikkor 58mm F1.4G turns out to produce much better images than might be inferred from looking at the test results alone.

On the next page we'll directly compare aspects of the 58mm's performance to the existing AF-S Nikkor 50mm F1.4G - specifically sharpness, coma, and bokeh.

Flare

Large aperture primes can often have problems with flare when shooting into the light - all that glass means that there's plenty of opportunity for internal reflections. However the 58mm F1.4 uses Nikon's much-vaunted 'Nano Crystal Coat' to reduce flare and ghosting, so we'd hope it would perform better than usual for this kind of lens.

In practice the 58mm deals extremely well with contre-jour shooting; we've shot directly into the low winter sun and it's barely skipped a beat. It's only really discomfited with the sun right in the corner of the frame with the lens stopped down, which can result in an unsightly green flare spot in the opposite corner. But place the sun closer to the centre of the frame, and there's no problem at all. The deeply-recessed front element means that there's no problem with oblique light sources at all.

Chromatic aberration

The studio tests show that the 58mm exhibits very little colour fringing from lateral chromatic aberration, and this is borne out in real world use. You have to look really, really hard at your image files to see any, and you've have to make enormous prints for it to be a problem. Nikon's DSLRs will correct it in their JPEG processing anyway.

Longitudinal chromatic aberration is visible at times, as colour fringing around out-of-focus highlights that's magenta in front of the focus plane, and green behind it. But even this isn't especially problematic most of the time. The first mage below illustrates how it looks in the worst-case scenario, using 100% crops from the 36MP D800 to show CA around specular highlights. The fringing here is fairly intense in colour, but relatively narrow in width. In principle this makes it quite easy to remove using suitable tools such as Adobe's Lens Correction module. Few fast primes do better than this, and most are worse.

The second example illustrates what you'll see with a lower contrast, more distant background. If you look closely enough, green and magenta chromatic aberration is visible across a lot of the background, but because it's substantially out of focus it's not very objectionable. You'd need to print this image pretty large - probably about 24" x 16" (60 x 40cm, or A2) - for the colouration to become clearly visible.

Vignetting

The tests show that the 58mm F1.4 exhibits about 1.3 stops vignetting at maximum aperture, which is impressively low for this class of lens, and a consequence of its large optical unit. The fairly gentle falloff pattern also means it's not at all intrusive - in many real-world images it will disappear into the natural variations of brightness across the frame.

The example below shows the lens's maximum vignetting at F1.4 in the kind of shot where it's far and away the most visible - with an evenly-toned blue sky. We wouldn't consider this remotely problematic (in fact we'd probably say it adds to the photo, rather than detracting from it), but it's easy enough to correct in software if you don't like it.

Background blur('bokeh')

One genuinely desirable, but difficult to measure aspect of a lens's performance is the ability to deliver smoothly blurred out-of-focus regions when trying to isolate a subject from the background, generally when using a long focal length and/or a large aperture. This is one area where the 58mm F1.4 shines - its rendition of out-of-focus backgrounds is almost always highly attractive, with very smooth and natural-looking tonal transitions. Occasionally a tinge of green chromatic aberration can slightly spoil the effect, but overall the 58mm works wonders at blurring away backgrounds.

We'll compare this aspect of the 58mm's imaging directly to the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G on the next page - just for now we'll show some real-world examples.

Sharpness and curvature of field

One quite striking charactersitic of the 58mm F1.4 is that it exhibits clear curvature of field. By this we mean that the 'plane' of focus isn't flat, but curves inwards towards to the camera at the edges of the frame. A consequence of this is that if you point the 58mm at something flat - including such prosaic subjects as a brick wall or lens test chart - the corners come into focus at a slightly different point to the centre of the frame. This means that you can't both get the corners and centre of the frame at the same time, and in turn explains the striking drop-off in sharpness of the test data towards the corners - in effect they're slightly out of focus.

Alternatively, if the focus at the centre of the frame is slightly off, it's possible to get a slightly odd-looking effect where the corners of the image are visibly sharper than the centre. This is shown in the example below, which was shot on the D800 prior to setting Focus Adjust, and was distinctly back-focused in the centre. But by chance, the corners are all in much better focus. This field cuurvature is sufficiently pronounced to be clearly visible on the D800 at apertures as small as F4.

A practical consequence of this is that, when shooting three-dimensional real-world images at large apertures, the corner sharpness can end up looking substantially higher than predicted by the test data, because it's entirely possible that there'll be corner detail in sharp focus. But it all depends on the subject and focus position; if the edges and corners of the frame are further from the camera than the focus point, they can end up looking softer than you might expect.

Studio Tests (DX format)

The Nikon 58mm F1.4 gives somewhat mixed results in the lab tests. It's not very sharp at all wide open, and needs to be stopped down to F5.6 - F8 to get really good results across the frame. But in all other respects (chromatic aberration, vignetting and distortion) it performs extremely well. From these tests alone, though, it's difficult to see much obvious advantage when comparing it to the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G.

Macro Focus

The 58mm wouldn't be our first choice for close-up work. It offers a maximum measured magnification of 0.14x, which isn't atypical for a fast prime, but is distinctly unremarkable in the grand scheme of things. To be fair, though, this isn't really what the lens is designed for anyway.

As tends to to be the case with fast primes, image quality wide open at minimum focus is nothing to write home about, and the lens has to be stopped down to F2.8 to get decent sharpness even in the centre of the frame. At this point the corners in our flat-field chart test are still extremely soft, and the lens has to be stopped down to F8 for them to sharpen up properly. This likely reflects curvature of field as much as anything else. Even so, if you're looking for a lens to shoot close-ups, this isn't it.

Specific image quality issues

As always, our studio tests are backed up by taking hundreds of photographs with the lens across a range of subjects, and examining them in detail. This allows us to confirm our studio observations, and identify any other issues which don't show up in the tests. Here we're looking at issues specific to DX users; for a fuller picture, be sure to read the next page too.

Sharpness at large apertures

The test data shows that the 58mm isn't especially sharp wide open, and needs stopping down to give best results. This isn't unusual for a fast prime, but it comes as something of a surprise from such an expensive lens. However the graphs alone don't tell you how your pictures will actually look, so here we'll show what you can get from real-world images.

The rollover below shows how image quality progresses through the aperture range, using the Nikon D7100 as the test body. The camera was placed on a tripod, and the lens was focused using magnified live view. We can't stress enough how absolutely critical correct focusing is in getting properly-sharp results from this lens - at 58mm F1.8 on DX, depth of field is vanishingly slim. Images were shot in Raw, and processed using Adobe Camera Raw with lens corrections disabled. We're showing 100% crops from the centre and edge of the frame, upper and lower right respectively. Click on any image tow download the full-size version.

At F1.4, the 58mm is visibly 'soft' even in the centre of the frame, with the hard edges of the 'M' looking somewhat ill-defined and the overall image appearing just slightly 'hazy'. Technically, this is most likely due to residual spherical aberration. However the lens is still resolving a lot of fine detail and texture, just at rather low contrast. The image sharpens up quickly on stopping down, and the very best overall sharpness comes from F4 to F8. Diffraction softening starts to become visible at F11, and becomes quite visible at F16 if you look this closely.

Most subjects are rather more three-dimensional than this, of course. In practical use, F1.4 is also much more likely to be used either for shallow depth of field, or shooting in low light. Absolute pixel-level sharpness isn't necessarily the only consideration for either, in terms of overall image quality (or even necessarily the most important one). For selective focus work, the main pictorial impact comes not from how sharp the in-focus regions are, but from the contrast between them and the out-of-focus areas of the frame. Meanwhile at high ISO, you'll probably just as much detail to noise as to lens aberrations - and a fast lens lets you keep noise ISO speeds, and hence noise levels, down.

Below we show a selection of real-world examples taken wide open on the D7100, with 100% crops taken from the point of focus. In the selective focus shots, the lens is resolving fine detail in the focus plane, but again at distinctly low contrast. But the overall image quality is dominated by lens's beautiful rendition of the out-of-focus areas of the frame.

In the third example at high ISO, the camera and lens have between them given a quite usable image when shooting handheld in very low light, but any really fine detail gets swamped by noise. In this particular scenario you'd quite possibly get better results shooting with an image-stabilised 17-50mm F2.8 zoom, relying on image stabilisation to shoot with a slow shutter speed - but that wouldn't work with a moving subject.

Autofocus accuracy

The bigger problem we had when using the 58mm on the DX format D7100 was with autofocus accuracy. Out of the box, the lens focused reasonably accurately at the kind of 'portrait' distances (~2 - 3m) that we'd most commonly use an 85mm-equivalent lens for, and with AF Fine-Tune to correct for slight front-focusing (correction value -2), it was essentially spot on. So far, so good.

The problem came when focusing on more distant subjects, where we consistently experienced significant front focus. This could in principle be corrected with a larger AF Fine-Tune correction, but then close focusing was thrown out. So we ended up having to choose one distance range for which the lens could focus accurately wide open, and accept inaccuracy at longer distances. This misfocusing could be eliminated by switching the camera to live view and using sensor-based contrast detection AF - but this is slow and hesitant at best, so it's far from ideal for frequent use.

In these examples, the camera has focused accurately on the relatively close fountain (and did so consistently across five replicate shots). But switch to a more distant subject and the camera consistently misfocused - the AF point was placed on the sculpture's head, but the tail has ended up in sharpest focus.

To be fair we didn't see this kind of behaviour on the full frame D800, which (after AF Fine-Tune) could focus the 58mm accurately at all distances. It's impossible to say whether this problem would affect anyone else using this camera / lens combination, either. But it does highlight the fact that the phase detection AF systems used by SLRs for normal shooting just aren't sufficiently reliable with fast lenses. This is now a pretty stark disadvantage in comparison to mirrorless cameras, which have no such problems as they focus using the main image sensor.

Design

The 58mm is a solidly-made lens, with a design that essentially resembles an up-scaled 50mm f/1.4G. Indeed it's one of the largest lenses in its class, alongside the Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM and the Sony Planar T* 50mm F1.4 ZA SSM. It's the lightest of these three though, due in part to the use of a plastic barrel shell. There's a rubber seal around the mount to help prevent dust or moisture from entering the camera.

The optical unit lies deeply-recessed in the barrel, which in effect provides a built-in hood. It moves back and forwards inside the barrel for focusing, so the balance of the lens doesn't substantially change. The focus ring is extremely smooth in operation, and there's a small switch on the side of the barrel to select between auto and manual focus.

Compared to AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G

This comparison gives an idea of the relative sizes of the 58mm f/1.4G and its less-costly stablemate, the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G. The family resemblance is clear, but the 58mm is substantially larger, which could be a consideration if you're concerned about portability.

The table below compares the lenses' key specifications in more detail, with the Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM thrown in for good measure. The key point here is that there's not a lot between these three lenses on paper aside from size and weight (and, of course, price). So if we want to find out what Nikon thinks is so special about the 58mm, we're going to have to look elsewhere.

On the camera

Just to re-iterate, the 58mm is quite a large lens. On the left we're showing it on the D800 - one of the largest SLRs on the market - and it still looks pretty bulky. On the right, it's on the D7100, which isn't a particularly small camera either. However it's nowhere near as large as either the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G or the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G, and it's much lighter than either too. This light weight is key to its handling; despite its size, if doesn't feel at all unbalanced on either of these cameras.

Lens body elements

Autofocus

The 58mm uses an ultrasonic-type 'Silent Wave' motor for autofocus. It lives up to its name, being practically inaudible in normal use. It's also pretty fast, and very decisive. Switch the camera to Live View, though, and autofocus becomes slow and hesitant, with juddering steps as the lens settles on a distance. But the big advantage of contrast detect AF in live view is accuracy - the camera will focus dead on every time, as long the subject is static. We didn't necessarily find this with viewfinder shooting.

On our D800 test body, our 58mm F1.4 review sample front-focused dramatically, and required a significant AF Adjust setting (-16) to focus accurately. Once this was set, the D800 was able to focus the lens consistently accurately at all distances.

On the D7100 we used, things weren't quite so simple. The lens gave optimum focus at 'portrait' distances (approx 2 - 3m / 7 - 10ft) with a relatively small microadjust setting (-2). But it then back-focused dramatically at longer focus distances. This meant that no microadjust setting gave sufficiently accurate focusing for us to be fully confident in shooting the lens wide open at all distances on the D7100. This is one area where SLRs, with their AF sensors running off separate light paths from the image sensor, fall down badly when compared to mirrorless systems, which have no such problems.

Written by The Editors — January 01, 2014

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