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The Nikon 50mm f/1.8 has many variations, spanning over 50 years since its inception. For many years this lens was on the front of many photojournalists cameras, and has produced many hundreds of world famous images. This review will focus on the 50mm f/1.8D. The"D" denotes this lens is capable of telling the camera body distance information of the subject in focus, which the camera then uses for metering and I-TTL flash calculations. This particular variation of the lens was introduced in early 2002 and continued into late 2007.
The 50mm f/1.8 uses Nikons standard F mount, meaning it will fit any Nikon SLR camera made since 1959 sharing this mounting system. As the lens has its own aperture ring, meaning this lens can also be used with older cameras without aperture controls on the body.
The lens is made of plastic, but is still very solid and has a metal mount, which makes the lens more sturdy and less likely to break at the mount end. The lens contains 5 groups of 6 elements of glass which are multicoated to prevent glare and reflection as much as possible. The focus ring has a rubber coating for easier grip, and turns smoothly.
The aperture diaphragm contains 7 straight blades and can be stopped down to f/22. This means very pleasing Bokeh, or out of focus areas with this lens, which is one of the reasons why it is so popular for portrait photography. You can make the subject really stand out and have a lovely pleasing out of focus background.
One of the best features of the lens is its size. Measuring only 38mm, its is a very compact and easy to carry lens. Mounted on a modern DSLR, its hardly even noticeable. Another reason why this lens is so widely regarded. You can pop it in your bag, and it makes very little weight difference.
Of course the main trick of this lens is its f/1.8 aperture. Whilst not the widest possible, its a vast difference to the f/3.5 which is common on most "kit lenses" that come with cameras. Not only does the f/1.8 aperture give you much greater creative control over your depth of field, it also gives you the advantage of being able to shoot in very low light, without having to increase your camera's ISO too high. Anyone who likes shooting in dark places, really needs one of these lenses!
This particular version of the lens does not have its own focus motor and relies on the a camera's in built motor to auto focus. sadly this means many of Nikon's entry level cameras will not be able to auto focus with this lens. It is still able to be used with manual focusing, and you don't loose the metering through the lens. For anyone with a camera without an internal focus motor like the D40, D40X, D3000 etc, you will need to buy the much more expensive AF-S version of this lens.
Not only does the lens have the features mentioned above, its also an incredibly sharp lens. When I say that, I mean the subject is well defined and not fuzzy around the edges, many lenses in this price range suffer from unsharp images, and can ruin your photos. Of course the camera variables can influence this, but when used in the correct environment, images will be very sharp throughout the aperture range, but especially so from f/2.8 to f/8. The lens is designed as an FX lens, so corner to corner sharpness is excellent. On a DX camera, the lens shines even more, as you are only using the lens's sweet spot in the middle. Because of the lens's large aperture, the auto focusing all all compatible cameras is very swift. Not as fast or as quiet as an AF-S lens, but certainly not far away, and in my opinion, if you don't need the AF-S, save your money and get the D version. Both are as sharp as each other, and this one costs a lot less!
The lens has a filter ring thread of 52mm, so filters are very easy to come by should you wish to use them, the front element does not rotate, so circular polarizers are fine to use. The lens's closet focus distance is about 1.5 feet, so not brilliant, but enough for most subjects. Being a prime lens with no zoom, you will need to move yourself to get the images you want and to get past the 1.5 feet.
The reason I titled this review the way I did, is because of all the features I have discussed in this review. If you are new to photography, you may be thinking the worst, expecting a massive price tag. However you would be wrong. This lens can be had brand new for as little as £75, which makes it one of the cheapest in Nikons range, and certainly amongst one of the sharpest lenses they make. When you take all this into consideration, its hard to see how they fit so much into the lens and still price it so low. My other Nikon lenses cost several hundreds of pounds, and my main lens the 24-70mm f/2.8 cost over £1000, yet this little 50mm can still produce images just as sharp, and costs only £75!
For that money you are getting a slim, lightweight, sharp, large aperture lens that can keep up with the big boys and produce stunning low light portraits, or capture the worlds most important events.
With the aid of a reversing ring and some extension tubes it can also capture life size macro images at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated macro lens. This lens, despite its 50mm only focal length is one of the most versatile lenses you can buy.
Any Nikon photographer should have this lens in their bag, and should use it at any available opportunity.
Have you ever tried a fixed lens?
Perhaps you still use the zoom lens that came with your camera?
In which case I highly suggest you head down to a local camera store with yours and ask to try a fixed focal length lens on it - one that doesn't zoom.
This is the cheapest lens that Nikon sell. The reason for this is that for decades this lens has been mass produced and is simple. As lenses are required to do more things, auto-focus, macro, zoom etc they become more complicated and require more research to improve. So the lens that comes with your camera is the cassette radio of your car, the basic level.
Why should this matter to you?
If you're spending a few hundred or more on your digital SLR then you should consider that you will lose much of the photo quality you have paid for through a low quality lens. This particular lens is far less susceptible to lens faults such as chromatic aberration (fringes of colour), vignetting (darkening at the corners) or distortion in the photo (where straight lines aren't straight!).
You may not have noticed any of these issues and that's ok, however this lens does more than that. An important aspect of any lens is the size of the hole that lets light in. This is because the bigger the hole, the more light gets to the cameras sensor and the easier the camera can get a decent photo.
If the hole is small then you or your camera has to compensate by lowering the shutter speed, which is why you get blurry photographs in dark conditions, or by increasing the ISO speed, which makes the photographs look worse (noise).
Most standard zoom lenses have an aperture of around f/5.4 to f/4. If you look at the photo of this Nikon lens, you'll see that f/5.4 is in the middle of the aperture range. That means that you have a vast amount of flexibility while taking photographs in dark areas with this lens.
One other plus to this large aperture range is that as the numbers decrease, so does the blurry-ness of the background. The terms for this is known as bokeh and it is the soft blur of the out of focus areas, while the subject remains sharp. This is perfect for portraits and this particular lens is at a great focal length for doing portraits.
The Short Version
This is a very affordable lens which will give you professional results. It's very flexible in low light conditions and will get you a photograph where other lenses simply can't. It's also very lightweight and the lens face is setback so you don't really need to stick a horrible UV or Skylight filter on the front for 'protection'.
Compared with standard zoom lenses this will blow them out of the water with superb sharpness (provided you don't use a filter / focus well).
The one drawback is, of course, that the lens doesn't zoom. This lens on small DSLR cameras isn't very useful for wide landscapes or group shots. However for intimate portraits or as a go-to lens this is perfect and if you already have a zoom lens it can always be used as a backup!