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Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S Review

John Riley reviews Nikon's premium Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S prime lens, an unusually bright 50mm lens that offers auto-focus, weather-sealing, and OLED display. Find out how it performs on the Nikon Z7 in our review.

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Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S Review: Nikkor Z 50mm F1,2S Front Oblique View

The S-Line series of Nikkor Z optics has been steadily proving itself to be something special. Joining the fray and eager to prove its own excellence is the new Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S, in itself an ambitious specification. 50mm lenses are considered the standard lens for full-frame DSLR cameras and range from the diminutive “plastic fantastics”, through to the conventional high-quality lenses and then on to the new batch of exceptionally high quality, very large and heavy optics that are being seen across the whole range of manufacturers. Many of these are 50mm f/1.4 lenses, but a few push that maximum aperture to f/1.2, squeezing the last third of a stop at a very high cost in the price. We now couple the new lens with the 45.7MP Nikon Z7 body and see if it lives up to its potential and can justify its price-point.


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Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S Handling and Features

Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S Review: Nikkor Z 50mm F1,2S On Nikon Z7

As we might expect, this is a big lens, weighing in at a hefty 1090g, although to be fair this balances well with the Z7 body and doesn't seem too excessive in use. The lens has extensive weather sealing, a very welcome and now becoming expected feature, and overall the high quality of construction is impressive.

There is a provided petal-shaped lens hood and this bayonets nicely on to the front of the lens. A locking catch is provided. Within the bayonet fit for the hood is a standard 82mm filter thread.

The manual focusing ring is very substantial and, being electronic, utterly smooth in operation. Focusing is down to 0.45m or 1.48 feet, a maximum magnification of 0.15x. This is exactly what we would expect from a 50mm lens and it does enable fairly close photography, but not anywhere near macro magnification. The positioning of the focusing ring means that it could be accidentally moved during AF if the left hand is used to cradle and hold the lens. Fortunately, if this is a problem the option for continuous manual focusing in AF can be switched off.

Immediately behind this is the OLED display. When switching on, this displays NIKKOR and then changes to the selected value. The choice is controlled by a button close by on the lens marked DISP and we can select aperture value or distance. The distance scale can be set to feet or metres. It also incorporates a sliding bar to indicate depth of field. However, the visible scale is very small and there are not enough figures to make this a useful feature. To be more practical, the display would need to be much larger, allowing a wider spread of figures on the scale.

Further round the lens barrel at this point there is also the L-Fn button, which can be programmed to perform various functions using the camera menu.

The final control ring, closest to the camera, can be set to adjust aperture, ISO or exposure compensation. The aperture function could be very useful for videographers as the electromagnetic diaphragm, coupled with this control, makes for totally silent aperture control. The diaphragm has 9 blades, a positive feature for beautiful bokeh.

Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S Review: Nikkor Z 50mm F1,2S With Hood On Nikon Z7

Optical construction is 17 elements in 15 groups, with 2 ED (Extra Low Dispersion) and 3 Aspherical. Nikon's ARNEO coating plus Nanocrystal coatings complete the picture. The diaphragm has 9 blades for enhanced bokeh.

The lens handles beautifully, it is a total pleasure to use. The weight and bulk has to be accepted, and the cost of course, but in terms of actual usage it is a beauty. In a practical sense, using the camera to control the aperture may be preferable for some, but the option of having the control ring to do this is extremely useful.

As regards the focal length, 50mm is a standard lens for a very good reason, equating the field of view to give an image very similar to that seen naturally by the human eye. The 50mm lens has been largely replaced by the kit zoom for the initial purchase, but the increased quality of a prime lens is not to be underestimated.
Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S Review: Nikkor Z 50mm F1,2S Rear Oblique View

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Tiberio Avatar
22 Dec 2020 9:49AM
How can a 50 mm be so long? It seems Nikon is using F mount optical scheme adding just room and some optics to correct for mirrorless shorter distance.
UKMike2013 Avatar
UKMike2013 11 22 United Kingdom
22 Dec 2020 6:05PM
An outstanding lens no doubt - but an absurd size! Can't see many carrying anything like that for a 50mm.
Lance_B Avatar
Lance_B 10 3 Australia
22 Dec 2020 9:57PM

Quote:How can a 50 mm be so long? It seems Nikon is using F mount optical scheme adding just room and some optics to correct for mirrorless shorter distance.

Then you don't understand lens design. The diameter of the flange as awell as the flange to sensor distance can make a large difference in the end performance. If you look at the design of the lens here:
you can see that the rear element goes right to the back of the lens as close as possible to the sensor without protruding past the mount. Not only that, but the width of the last element is almost as wide as the mount throat which would not be possible with the old F mount. So, the new mount has allowed Nikon to design the lens to take full advantage of the extra room this new mount allows.

An AF 50mm f1.2 was NOT possible with the F mount as there was not enough room for the electrical contacts as well as the wider throat required for wider rear element. Added to that, to keep CA and other distortions at bay, this required a wider mount and closer rear element which has been achieved with the new mount. Edge to edge sharpness, wide open sharpness, virtually non existent CA, low distortion, excellent bokeh and decent bokeh balls would be basically un-achievable in the old F mount. Even if they could have achieved some of these benefits, it would have been even larger and heavier and much more expensive than this Z mount design due to the use of much more glass, and more importantly more exotic glass, to correct for aberrations even if they could have been corrected in an F mount design.

This is obviously not a lens for the average punter. This is a lens for specialist use for pros and advanced amateurs that want to get wide open sharpness and shallow DOF for that special look. I see it as another benchmark lens for Nikon. If you want a 50mm lens that does mostly what the 50 f1.2S lens can do but only a half stop slower, look at the sensatioonal 50mm f1.8S that has been compared to some of the best exotics out there. Small, light and a relative bargain.
marokero Avatar
3 Mar 2023 9:12PM
As the owner of a fine copy of this lens, I can certainly attest to its optical prowess, and even how the autofocus can be used for some sports (youth basketball). Sure, for sports I relied on a Z9 which took this Z 50mm f/1.2 S to its autofocus limits, and though not meant for sports, still managed quite a good rate of keepers even at f/1.2. As far as closeups are concerned, I got a set of Kenko Z extension tubes, which gave me a combined 26mm extension, and increased the lensí magnification from 0.15x to 0.65x, making it nearly a macro lens. Of course you have to stop down to f/4 or more otherwise the depth of field becomes so thin itís unusable. Autofocus is not completely silent, but itís quite fast, so for video purposes I recommend an external sound recording mic, or to manual focus. On the Z9 I was able to set the lensí focus ring rotation to linear or non linear, as well as limit the amount of turns to rack focus end to end. Also another bonus, specific to the Z9 is the ability to set the L-fn button on the lens to switch between FX and DX, while keeping the DX resolution setting separate from FX resolution. So I can shoot medium size images in FX, then click the L-fn button to get a 50% instant zoom, and shoot at large size images in DX. This essentially gave me two lenses in one for shooting my sonís games. I really love this lens, but for full disclosure I am a Nikon employee. However I am a photographer and designer too, and I will take any tools that help elevate my photography. This lens does that perfectly.

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