Nikon Nikkor 50mm f1.2 S review – Pure Imaging Prowess

Announced in September 2020 and a piece of glass I keened anticipated for 2020, the Nikkor 50mm f1.2 S is billed by Nikon’s marketing team as their “fastest and most optically impressive AF prime lens yet, effortlessly balancing the combination of intense sharpness and dreamy bokeh“. The 50/1.2 S also comes with a price tag that you know keenly looks at the professional market segment.

Yes, the 50mm f1.2 S is not a lens for the weak.

Specifications and Lens Design

For the specification readers, I’ve summarized Nikon’s long speech on the 50/1.2 S for you here:
Focal Length: 50mm
Aperture: f1.2 to f16, with 9 blades in a rounded diaphragm design.
Optical Design: 17 Elements in 15 Groups with 2 ED and 3 Aspherical Elements
Coatings: ARNEO and Nano Crystal Coats
Autofocus: 2 stepping motors (Internal focusing)
Weather-Sealed: Yes
Minimum Focus Distance: 1.5 foot / 45 cm
(82 mm filter diameter and weight at 2.40 lb / 1090 g)

With a recommended SRP of USD2099.95 and the presence of the very well acclaimed Nikkor 50/1.8 S, the Nikkor 50/1.2 S not just has to impress, but as expected, many users will be asking whether is it worth ponying up the price difference and bearing the extra weight for it.

Z6, 50/1.2 S at f1.2 ISO100

Key to the 50/1.2 S’s strengths beyond the excellent optical formula is its internal focusing (IF) and multi FS (which is essentially two motors driving the focusing elements), leading to speedier autofocus and improved aberrations.

Not as often mentioned is the minimalist style in lens design that keeps the 50/1.2 S aligned to the Z-mount system of lenses. One gets a huge focus ring and surprise – a smaller ring for adjusting aperture size next to the AF/MF switch. A customisable L-Fn button adds further convenience for the user.

The information panel (OLED) works together with the DISP (display) button to show either Aperture size or pragmatically, the focusing distance. And that is pretty all there is to the aesthetic and functional buttons on the Nikkor 50/1.2 S.

Handling, Performance and Samples.

A few typical questions are: “will the setup be front heavy?” , “is the autofocus fast (enough)?”, “is the bokeh beautiful?’ or even the even more typical – “is this lens worth buying?” comes to mind and there’s nothing wrong but I will like to share that as always, some of these answers are subjective to the user.

Like.. is ‘beautiful bokeh’ or ‘how fast is fast enough’ even properly defined?

Z6, 50/1.2 S at f1.2, ISO100

I am going to take the more pragmatic approach instead.

Build wise, the lens is extremely well built, in fact, I am confident if anyone tries to attack me the lens will survive a beating on the assailant’s head. Heck, at 1090 grams, I am pretty sure it is considered a crime to throw this at someone. Cutting to the chase, it is heavy, but professional users who buy the 50/1.2 S know what they want in the f1.2 aperture and I find it inefficient to compare how much lighter a lens with a smaller aperture can be (which is obviously the fact because physics).

Z6, 50/1.2 S at f1.2, ISO100

Focusing is extremely snappy, even with the shot above with Kei moving on a swing, all I needed was 3 FPS with eye detection initiated and that was it. Focusing is not only about speed, it is about reliability. Having a lens with an advertised focusing speed of 0.01s is all fluff if one doesn’t nail the focus and in this sense the Nikkor 50/1.2 S’s autofocus with it’s eye-detection is very reliable.

*there are some who frame the Z-mount’s eye-detect as a flop saying it doesn’t work for spectacles, and all I can say is she is indeed wearing spectacles above.

I have no idea whether the 50/1.2 S is fast enough to capture birds in flight but if one bought this for bird-in-flight shots, the person probably needs help at another level.

Sharpness wide open at f1.2 is impeccable, comparable to the 50/1.8 S and but remember this is at f1.2 instead. Plus, the 50/1.2 S is sharp all the way to the corners.

Z6, 50/1.2 S at f1.2, ISO100

Separation is beautiful, though fall-off I may allow myself to say the 58/1.4G’s rendering still holds a special place in my heart but the 50/1.2 S performs extraordinary well.

Z6, 50/1.2 S at f1.2, ISO100
Z6, 50/1.2 S at f1.2, ISO100

Disclaimer:

  1. All the image samples were photographed by me and edited in LR Classic to my preferences.
  2. The Z6 and Nikkor 50mm f1.2 S used are production copies, running the most current firmware.
  3. I do appreciate the kind gesture of dropping an email to inquire if one intends to use the images shared here.

Conclusions

We touched on the build, optical and autofocus performance and I will conclude that the Nikkor 50mm f1.2 S is and will be one of the optically best lenses available in Z-mount. Even the minimum focusing distance of 0.45 meters is impressive, allowing one to literally obliterate the background at this distance to the subject with impeccable sharpness and details.

Z6, 50/1.2 S at f1.2, ISO100

However if we touch on the ‘worth’ of the Nikkor 50mm f1.2 S, it gets trickier. Like Leica’s 50mm f0.95 Noctilux offering, these super fast lenses are tools designed for extreme low light or specific uses. Optically excellent lenses do not immediately make a person a better photographer. In fact, it is not correct to even say one will get this 50/1.2 S to only shoot wide open for if it is a family portrait shot in a studio I will have to step the aperture down for sure.

For the photographer who believes in that he or she needs the absolute best Nikon Z-mount can offer now, (yes, I find the 50/1.2 S BETTER than the 58/0.95 S because the latter does not have auto-focus) I will say go for it. For the photographer who is going to count pennies or question on whether is the 50mm f1.8 S better than the 50mm f1.2 S, my answer will be to get the already proven f1.8, which is easily a more general and everyday lens.

thank you for reading

8 Replies to “Nikon Nikkor 50mm f1.2 S review – Pure Imaging Prowess”

    1. Hi Eli, thank you. I feel it’s important to not be the type of users who try to impose their opinions (esp on gear preferences) on others, which can be pretty toxic. We are all learning.

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  1. Did you test the 50 1.2S against the 50 1.4? I have the 50/1.4 and it’s much smaller in comparison

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    1. Hi, thank you for dropping by. I assume you are referring to the 50/1.4G. It’s not a lens I hear about often but for it’s size pretty bang for buck. Optically the 50/1.2 S is for sure much better (even in the aberrations and corners) but again, it does go back to what are one’s needs. If I am going for compactness and budget purely even the 50/1.8G will seem to be a better choice.

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  2. Hi Keith, thanks for your thoughts on this 50/1.2S and earlier the 58/1.4G. I’d like to hear your ideas on how these compare in your view as I’m thinking about getting either of these.
    The 50/18.S is of course also interesting, but less for me at this moment as I’d like more difference between that and the 24-70/2.8S (hence 1.4/1.2)
    The 50mm is sharper and better corrected, and I’m mostly interested in the difference in rendering wide open. I’m a bit spoiled with the 105/1.4G, which is both very sharp as well as amazing in it’s rendering and color wide open. Another pro for the 50mm is that it focusses 23cm closer and I expect faster focussing which are both nice with kids.
    Apart from the obvious differences in pricing and weight, what’s your personal take after using both? Or perhaps any chance for some same shot comparisons?;-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Peter , thank you for dropping by.

      Firstly let me try to be helpful 🙂 if you don’t mind, pls send me your email at moostar@gmail.com and I’ll send you two samples of a similar situation with the 50/1.2S and 58/1.4G as personally nothing beats deciding yourself.

      To me the 50/1.2S is a clinically best lens, immensely sharp wide open with excellent corners. Modern, fast and robust. The 58/1.4G is more of a classic lovely rendering, it isn’t as sharp, not as fast – has more CA but it has a rendering and falloff that can be extremely pleasant. After trying both lenses they are very different and I figure sooner or later we might see people actually owning both 😂.

      Yea, the 0.45m close focusing of the 50/1.2S was a surprise, esp from comparisons with Leica M lenses where they generally come with min 0.7m MFD.

      I’ll skip the weight /price as you mentioned as frankly if one is going for a f1.4, f1.2 one already knows what the priorities are.

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