First Look: Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G

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The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G  is Nikon’s highest-performing “normal” lens with an unusual design goal: particular attention has been given to bokeh (smoothness of blur) with the result that images of three-dimensional subjects, and especially those at closer and medium distances, have a smoothness and three-dimensional quality that is highly appealing. This rendering characteristic extends from the center of an image to the corners.

Not only is the smoothness of image rendition unusually consistent from center to corners, vignetting is also held to moderate levels when the lens is wide open. The total effect is striking in comparison to many “normal” lenses, which often have distracting effects away from the central areas as well as, in some instances, strong vignetting.

In announcing the 58mm f/1.4G, Nikon references the "legendary" NOCT-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 AIS, now a sought-after collector’s item. While the 58/1.4G offers 1/2 stop less in brightness, its bokeh-rendering qualities are at least as good, if not better, than the NOCT-Nikkor, particularly in off-center areas where the 58/1.4G controls color aberrations to a visibly superior degree.

While the 58/1.4G exerts tight control over aberrations, it is also somewhat selective in its choices, all with the goal of pleasing imagery. Hence, it should not be categorized as a “highly corrected” lens in the usual sense of emphasizing MTF (sharpness with high contrast). For example, it cannot be said to be razor sharp when it's wide open. Rather, it balances contrast and sharpness with aberration control and some field curvature for a style of imagery that is distinctive in visual feel.

Optical Construction

The 58/1.4G features 2 aspheric elements, which are used to both raise overall performance and to limit optical aberrations that might cause unappealing artifacts, particular toward the edges and corners.

Though it lacks an “ED” designation, the 58/1.4G controls color aberrations well including, especially, an avoidance of lateral chromatic aberrations and the nuisance violet haze/halo that is too often seen with high-speed designs.

Portraiture

Portraiture is often said to be the province of an 85mm lens. But in reality, a normal lens is excellent for many types of portraiture (ditto for 28mm and 35mm, for environmental portraiture). The 58mm focal length of the Nikon 58/1.4G is ideal for this purpose—just slightly longer than a 50mm lens but useful in closer spaces than an 85mm.

Picking Pomegranates
Nikon D800E + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G (Click to enlarge)

Close Range

At close range, the blur qualities are astonishing in smoothness and uniformity, and without distractions; blur quality is uniformly velvety from center to corner.

Watering Can
Nikon D800E + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G @ ƒ/1.4 (Click to enlarge)

Very important is the preservation of color. Many fast lenses impart a violet haze to the images when shot wide open (generally speaking, secondary longitudinal chromatic aberration); the 58/1.4G also avoids this distraction, although it has a diffused quality wide open (presumably caused by a design intentionally retaining some uncorrected spherical aberration).

Pomegranates
Nikon D800E + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G @ ƒ/1.4 (Click to enlarge)

A strong sense of depth is evoked by the near absence of any unappealing optical effects (haze, strange blurs, whorl effects and so on).

End-of-Season Plants
Nikon D800E + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G @ ƒ/1.4 (Click to enlarge)

At Night

Beautiful sunstars can be made at night, though these require that the light source be in focus. Here, ƒ/8 was used in order to sharpen the scene, near to far.

Empty Lane at Night
Nikon D800E + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G @ ƒ/8 (Click to enlarge)

Color Saturation and Contrast

Color saturation is rich. No polarizer has been used here at ƒ/2, where the other hallmark of the 58/1.4G is seen: high contrast on the image as a whole, which is important, perceptually.

Backlit Sapim Leaves (Chinese Tallow Tree)
Nikon D800E + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G @ ƒ/2 (Click to enlarge)

The rendering of an out-of-focus element retains a smoothness at all levels of defocus, both in front of and behind the point of focus. Combined with the relatively high overall contrast wide open, there is a consistent and uniform feeling in images produced by this lens, a rendering free of anything that might distract.

Velvety Leaves and Fine Grasses
Nikon D800E + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G @ ƒ/1.4  (Click to enlarge)

Vignetting

The uniform illumination, even wide open, is helpful when having to “push” an image (add exposure compensation during raw conversion). Consider low-light shooting environments where it is not enough to have detail in central areas, or at least when one wishes not to lose all detail into the corners.

This image was pushed 3.3 stops (more than 3 shutter speeds too dark!). If/when using a lens with moderate-to-strong vignetting, those corners would suffer from very strong digital noise. But the Nikon 58/1.4G has only mild vignetting to the corners and so, its versatility as a low-light lens is increased.

Black Cat Enjoying Dinner
Nikon D800E + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G @ ƒ/1.4 (Click to enlarge)

Conclusions

Photographers looking for a “normal” that has even-tempered rendering capabilities will find the Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G a tempting acquisition. Especially wide open, it offers an unusual grace that is highly suitable for portraiture or contemplative scenes.

Biography

The Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G is reviewed in depth at diglloyd.com.

Lloyd Chambers publishes the popular diglloyd blog at his eponymous diglloyd.com and a wide variety of articles and guides geared toward professional and advanced photographers. A longtime photographer, over the years he has used a wide variety of film formats and lenses including 35mm, 4 X 5, 6 X 7, 645, and 617, and numerous digital cameras.

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I love this natural first-impression piece. Nice shots.

Never seen such creamy bokeh.

Nice article, but shouldn't "Picking Persimmons" be "Picking Pomegranates"?
Guess I'm going to have to pony up for the Otus.

Bill,

Duly noted and corrected. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

Nice "First Look" Lloyd. I've had the lens for a week now and I am happy with it. I feel it's a little soft if you are too close but other than that it's sharp wide open, has nice smooth bokeh and AF is on par with Nikon's other Prime lenses. Looking forward to using it for "real" work at this Saturday's wedding in Toronto.

Bottom line: Impressive lens. It is a Nikon prime lens like the 24, 35, or 85 and as a prime it does not focus as fast or as "accurately" at 1.4 as one of the Nikon 2.8 zooms do at f 8. See my previous article on the prime focusing speed.

Advice(please read below): For portraits, using eyes as the focus point, I shoot it at AF Fine tune +20, saving RAW+JPG , with the JPG set at maximum sharpness on the D4 and have the center button on the multi-selector set to zoom medium on press during image review so that I can check the focus on the shot.

As usual, when a new piece of hardware comes out, there are many different initial opinions written on the spur of the moment with little actual use of the new item. That is the case with the Nikon 58mm 1.4g

The naysayers have taken to two issues. The sharpness wide open at 1.4 and the inconsistent focus. I felt like I had heard this before. Well, I did. When the Nikon 24mm 1.4g came out there were the same complaints.

Dan at Vigorotaku