The New Nikkor 58mm f/1.4 Review – The New King Of Bokeh?

Gear & Apps February 16th 2014 11:02 AM 23 Comments

Initial Thoughts

I have been shooting with the new Nikkor 58mm F/1.4G for almost a month now, and my thoughts have changed drastically over that time period. I spent a lot of time shooting with this lens, on both my D800E and my Nikon DF, and the more I shot with it, the more I liked it. To be honest, I was close to chalking this lens up as a waste of money, and not even bothering with it after the first shoot. During the first shoot that I used it on, I got so frustrated with its performance, that I had to switch it out with my trustworthy Sigma 50mm f/1.4.

[REWIND: Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM Review]

What I didn’t realize at the time was that this lens is a very unique lens, just like the previous version of this focal length, the Noct Nikkor 58mm f/1.2. It has character. It has personality. It took me time to learn its strengths and weaknesses before I could truly understand how good of a lens this was for me. It fits my style of shooting, and when shot wide open, gives some of the creamiest and smoothest bokeh I have ever seen. No, it’s not crazy sharp wide open, but I’m willing to give that up for it’s extremely shallow depth of field, subject separation, and awesome bokeh. It’s not meant to be an all around good performer, this is definitely a specialty lens and needs to be used as one. Luckily for me, I trusted Nikon and kept shooting with it. After several paid shoots, one wedding, and close to 3000 photos taken with it, I find myself falling in love with this lens more and more. Is it worth the $1700 price tag for me? I’ll save that for the end.

 Nikkor 58mm f/1.4

How It Feels

As much as I do like the feel of the new Sigma line of lenses, that are metal and have a little weight to them, I don’t mind this lighter plastic body of the new 58mm. It’s built very similarly to the other AF-S prime lenses, like the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G and 85mm f/1.4G. It’s lightweight and feels like I could crush it in my hand if I tried. I don’t necessarily mind this though. It personally feels nicely balanced on my D800E and seems to be the perfect fit for my Df, which is where it has spent 90% of its time. The barrel is a little thicker than that of the 50mm f/1.4G, and is just as wide as the 85mm f/1.4G, but I still wouldn’t say that it’s a large lens. Since I shoot both Canon and Nikon, I was able to make the comparison to the Canon 50mm f/1.2L lens, which is almost identical in size to, only much lighter. The front element is buried deep down in its all plastic shell, much deeper and smaller than I expected it to be.

Size Comparison

How it Performs

My early frustrations with this lens stemmed from my own mistakes honestly. I trusted that the AF would be accurate right out of box and I was wrong. I also didn’t realize that the focus distance wasn’t what I was used to, which I would have found had I done at least some testing prior to throwing it into its first shoot. The lens actually arrived minutes before a lifestyle shoot with a military family that wanted photos of their newborn baby included. It wasn’t sharp wide open, and not knowing the focus distance, I couldn’t focus as close as I wanted to. The reason it wasn’t sharp when I looked at the images on the LCD was simply because of the AF not being dialed in. Just enough to make every image look nice and soft, with almost a light haze. Once the shoot was over, I threw it on a tripod and set up my lens calibration kit. Just as I suspected, it was front focusing quite a bit. Once I had it dialed in, I was ready to give the 58mm another try. After a few test shots I was nicely surprised just how sharp this lens actually was.

58mm Test

Technical Specifications:

  • Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
  • Focal Length: 58mm
  • Maximum Aperture: f/1.4
  • Minimum Aperture: f/16
  • Format: FX/35mm
  • Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 27°20′
  • Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 40°50′
  • Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.13x
  • Lens Elements: 9
  • Lens Groups: 6
  • Compatible Format(s): FX, DX
  • Diaphragm Blades: 9
  • Distance Information: Yes
  • Nano Crystal Coat: Yes
  • Aspherical Elements: 2
  • Super Integrated Coating: Yes
  • Autofocus: Yes
  • AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 1.9ft.(0.58m)
  • Focus Mode: Auto, Manual, Manual/Auto
  • G-type: Yes
  • Filter Size: 72mm
  • Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
  • Dimensions: (Approx.) 3.3×2.7 in. (Diameter x Length), 85x70mm (Diameter x Length)
  • Weight: (Approx.) 13.6 oz. (385g)

Shot on the Nikon DF – f/1.4 – 1/200 sec – ISO 900 with two strobes

Sharpness

The Nikkor 58mm F/1.4G was optically designed differently than other lenses to yield a more three dimensional look, focusing more on the out of focus areas than the overall sharpness of the lens. Once I had the autofocus dialed in, I started to really see how special this lens actually was, and I found myself wanting to shoot it more and more. This isn’t a lens that can be shot like any other 50mm f/1.4 lens out there, which is what I see it being compared to all over. It’s not meant to be an all around perfect lens, being sharp from corner to corner, with all around great performance. It’s meant to be a unique lens, and one with character. When shot wide open compared to being stopped down to f/2 or higher, it is slightly softer, and it won’t be winning any sharpness awards when shot at f/1.4. You need to be willing to give up a slight degree of sharpness in order to get the true strength of this lens, which is its overall unique three dimensional look, extremely shallow depth of field, and some of the creamiest bokeh I’ve ever seen.

The funny thing is, once I started taking comparison shots with other lenses shot wide open, I was surprised at how sharp it actually was. The Nikkor 58mm F/1.4G is actually pretty sharp wide open, but due to it’s extremely shallow depth of field, you need to really nail the focus or it will have a slight haze to it. Because of this, the advice I have given others when asked about this lens is that it’s a very risky lens, but a very rewarding one. I found that when I was slightly off on my focus, it wasn’t very forgiving, and the image would lose any chance of being sharp at my point of focus. When I nailed the focus, my focus point would be as sharp as any other lens I compared it to. Take a look at how sharp this bride’s eyes are in this image, and then how quickly the focus fades out into soft and creamy bokeh. This wasn’t even shot in the 36mp D800E, rather the 16mp Df, and shot wide open. Not too shabby if you ask me.

Shot at f/1.4 – 1/4000 sec – ISO 100

100% Crop

Autofocus

Like mentioned earlier, the lens’s autofocus had to be dialed in and was front focusing right out of the box. Once I got it accurate, I was very happy with the autofocus of this lens. The only downside is the 1.9ft focus distance, which is a little further than most which took some getting used to, but I didn’t find it to be a big deal. As far as speed is concerned, it felt no different to me than any other lens that I use, and certainly wasn’t any slower. I did find that it would hunt a little in low light, but not all the time.

Color Rendition, Contrast, and Chromatic Aberration

If you were to look at the MTF charts of this lens compared to the others, you would think this lens failed miserably, which I’m sure you have already read in other reviews. The point that I want to make is that if you haven’t heard already, this lens needs to be actually shot in the real world to see how it shines, and just how powerful of a lens it is. While the charts on this leave something to be desired, the images it produces when shot wide open are very unique for several reasons that can’t be seen with a bar graph. One of those reasons is the beautiful colors that it produces, overall contrast, and low chromatic aberration, all of which Nikon claims is the result of its Nano Coating. All of Nikon’s high end lenses have Nano coating, and the Nikkor 58mm is the only lens close to the 50mm focal length to have it.

Comparisons

Since I shoot both Canon and Nikon, I like to find the strengths of each manufacturer and not overlap focal lengths when it comes to lenses. So I often compare lenses between each and try to stick with the one that fits my style of shooting better and fills in any gaps I might have since I shoot with primarily all primes. One of my favorite lenses in the Canon line-up is the Canon 50mm f/1.4L, although I do have the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 for my Nikon bodies because it was hard for me to choose just one to keep. I had owned the Nikon 50mm F/1.4G which I sold for the Sigma, which quickly became my favorite lens to shoot with. When Nikon announced the 58mm f/1.4, I was very interested in trying it out, but with a price tag of $1700 I really had no interest of doing anything more than that. There was no room in my camera bag for another lens close to the 50mm range with two that I was already very happy with, even though the 58mm was touted as a very unique lens that by description fit my shooting style.

So, how did it compare? Well, let me show you, with real life comparisons and not photos of brick walls. Shooting outdoors in the beautiful natural sunlight is when I love shooting with my 50mm lenses, on both Canon and Nikon. So that is exactly how I compared three other 50mm lenses to the 58mm. I wanted to show how it compared to the other lenses, shot wide open, in natural light. The only editing that was done was color correcting to get the images to match, and each shot was with the same settings. The Nikon images were shot on the D800E and the Canon 50mm f/1.2 on the Canon 5D Mark III. The lenses compared were Canon 50mm f/1.2L, the Nikon 50mm F/1.4G, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Nikon mount, and the new Nikon 58mm F/1.4G.

Canon 50mm f/1.2L – Shot at f/1.2 – 1/4000 sec – ISO 640

Nikon 50mm F/1.4G – Shot at f/1.4 – 1/4000 sec – ISO 640

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 – Shot at f/1.4 – 1/4000 sec – ISO 640

Nikon 58mm F/1.4G – Shot at f/1.4 – 1/4000 sec – ISO 640

I really wasn’t sure how the results would turn out in my first comparison test between the 4 lenses. I certainly didn’t think that there would be a very noticeable difference between the Nikon 58mm F/1.4G and two of my favorite lenses, the Canon 50mm f/1.2 and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4. All 4 lenses were close in sharpness, none of them really much sharper than the other. The most noticeable difference between them all was the out of focus rendering, to which the Nikkor 58mm F/1.4G shined. There was no outline to the bokeh from the 58mm, which was much smoother and softer than the other lenses. At a quick glance, not knowing which image was shot with which lens, I would pick the one shot on the 58mm as my favorite, with the Sigma coming in 2nd, and then the Canon. Here are a couple 100% crops to show the sharpness of the 58mm shot, as well as the out of focus area directly behind my subject compared to that of the Nikon 50mm.

Nikkor 58mm – 100% Crop – Sharpness

Nikkor 58mm – 100% Crop – Bokeh Comparison

Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G – 100% Crop – Bokeh Comparison

The Bokeh

The most important characteristic of this lens, and its biggest selling point, is its bokeh. While Nikon may not have focused on the sharpness of this lens when shot wide open, it most definitely focused on its ability to render out of focus areas creating beautiful, soft, creamy, dreamy, awesome looking bokeh. When shooting a single subject, I love to shoot wide open. When shooting this lens, I can’t help but continue to be impressed with its creamy bokeh and how soft the out of focus areas are. The impressive bokeh is just one of the ingredients that gives this lens its unique character, and makes me want to shoot with it more and more. The Sigma 50mm had been my favorite lens for creamy bokeh and giving me the unique look that I just love about shooting wide open, but after shooting the Nikkor 58mm for a month, it’s hard going back to the Sigma.

58mm Wedding

Conclusion

When Nikon announced their new Nikkor 58mm F/1.4G, the biggest selling point to me was the statement:

This lens offers a dramatic sense of depth to your compositions—both at short distances as well as long-distance landscapes. When shooting stills of a close subject, the AF-S Nikkor 58mm F/1.4G can achieve beautiful bokeh with soft, natural edges that diminishes smoothly away from your focal point.

The Nikkor 58mm F/1.4G is a very unique lens, like I have pointed out several times in this review. It’s a risky lens that offers big rewards, targeted at a very specific group of photographers that enjoy shooting wide open and in low light. The biggest downfall to this lens is it’s hefty price tag, which would lead one to believe that the group of photographers Nikon was targeting were the ones with a lot of money. Owning a portrait and wedding business, spending money on equipment is no longer about what I want, but what I can use to better my business. While this lens is very unique and fits my style of shooting, it is very pricey and it’s hard to justify buying it. With a wife looking over my shoulder as I conclude this review, I will quickly answer the question of whether or not the 58mm has found a permanent home here with a yes.

I will leave you with a few more sample shots taken with the Nikkor 58mm on either the Nikon D800E or the Nikon DF. If you’re interested in trying this lens out, you can rent it from the new rental company Lumoid. If your interested in how I edit all my photos, I use the SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset system, which can be found at the bottom. As always, thanks for reading and please leave a comment letting me know of any questions you may have.

Review-0003 58mmT-0003 58mmT-0005 58mmT-0006 58-wedding 58-wedding

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J. Cassario

About

Jay Cassario is a photographer from South Jersey, and owner of the wedding, engagement, and portrait photography studio Cass Imaging. His true passion is his portrait work, but his love for landscape and star photography has earned him publications by National Geographic.

WEBSITE: Jay Cassario
Personal Facebook: Jay Cassario
Business Facebook: Cass Imaging
Google Plus: Jay’s Google +
Twitter: @JayCassario

23 Comments

  1. Rober Neill

    Good review… I also like shooting primes wide open and I the 50mm Sigma on the D800 is a favorite, but the 35mm Sigma “Art” series is sweat.

    Have you been able to try the new 50mm “Art” lens from Sigma? I really want to try it and the 58mm from Nikon.

    Thanks,
    Bob Neill
    Brick, NJ

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    • J. Cassario

      I own both the original Sigma 50mm and new 35mm f/1.4 “Art” lens, and I agree Bob, both are great lenses. I haven’t gotten to try the new Sigma 50mm but I’m looking forward to it starting to ship out, I’ll definitely be placing a pre-order if I can’t get a loaner. I plan on keeping one of the two, the Nikon 58mm or the new Sigma 50mm for my Nikon bodies, but so far it’s going to take a lot from Sigma to beat this 58mm, especially since it’s not going to be much cheaper. Thanks for the comment Bob, much appreciated!

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  2. Kishore Sawh

    Fantastic review. Would love to have some time with this focal length – especially now.

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  3. J. Cassario

    Thanks Kish!

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  4. Mark

    Awesome review. I love how you spent so much time with this lens and your opinion changed over time. So many lens reviews out there are done after a few hours with the lens, so aren’t a fair judgement, especially when the focal length is such an unusual one such as this. After this review, I’ve got a feeling my wallet will be getting lighter in the near future…!

    1
    • J. Cassario

      Thank you Mark, and I definitely agree. I would never write a review on any equipment without putting it through the daily grind long enough to get a real feel for it. Glad you enjoyed the review, and believe me, the downfall to reviewing equipment like this is that I end up buying it.

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  5. C.L.

    Great review. Can you please tell what effect is used on the photos from the post? To be honest, i tried to replicate it, but with no succes. Cheers!

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    • J. Cassario

      Thanks CL! I appreciate it. What effect are you referring to? I use the SLR Preset system to edit all of my work, if you have any questions about it please feel free to email me. The comparison shots are SOC, only WB tweaked to match each other.

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  6. Bogumil

    Alternative test : http://www.lenstip.com/index.php?test=obiektywu&test_ob=397

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  7. William Kazak

    I really enjoyed your review of the new Nikon 58mm F1.4 lens. It is very true that you have to “own them to know them”, so to speak. It takes me quite a while to realize what a lens character is really like in a variety of situations. Reminds me a little of the Nikon 105mm F2DC. Wide open, it can be soft but at 2.8 it is sharper. Same with the Nikon 180mm F2.8 AFD.

    1
  8. Alfonso Bresciani

    I think I like the 58mm focal length! I have the Canon 50 1.2 and is a bit too wide/short

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  9. Lau

    Your review / work is very good!
    Thank you.

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  10. George Kash

    Nice review.
    But it would be very helpful if you can post full size images

    3
  11. Eric Adeleye

    Your review was outstanding. This article has definitely helped me in making up my mind if I want to buy the 58mm f/1.4G or not. Could you speak about how you calibrated your lens?

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  12. RexB

    I’m really intrigued by this lens. I already have the 85 1.4G awesome lens. I was thinking of getting this to replace my 50 1.4G lens. But from your comparison photos I don’t really see that much difference in bokeh and sharpness other than maybe the plasticy feel of the 50 1.4g. I’m guessing the remaining reason for me to get it is the gold ring around it and the sturdier build that would match my 85 and future 35 or 24 G.

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  13. J. Cassario

    Thanks Eric, I appreciate it. The calibration kit I use is this http://focuspyramid.com/. It’s a very cheap way to get your AF fine tuned compared to a lot of the more pricier options out there.

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  14. J. Cassario

    REXB, thanks for reading! I noticed a pretty big difference between the 50 1.4G and the 58mm, not only in bokeh rendering, but in overall look. The 50 was pretty dull to me, and the DOF made the 58mm look even more shallow. If you look at the close up shots that I use to compare the two lenses, look at the hair of my model. You can see how much more is in focus and how the 58 is fading out of focus towards the back of her head. There is a big price difference, but there is a pretty big difference between the lenses too. At least from what I noticed in real life.

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  15. Mathew Kurian

    My camera is the Fuji X E2. I able to acquire a Topcor RE auto 58mm f1.8 and this would translate to 87mm on the cropped sensor of the Fuji, more or less making for an ideal portrait lens. I expereinced all the frustrations you went through, honestly reading your write up here saved me a lot of heart ache. What I was not expecting was the incerdibly shallow DOF shooting wide open, in fact there is no in-between, it’s either hit or miss with these 58mm lenses, but when you nail it the results are astounding. Thanks for the review.

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  16. Nasser Gazi

    Excellent review. Thank you very much. I got the 58/1.4g after years of using the 50/1.4g. The thing I noticed immediately about images from the 58/1.4g is the amazing colour rendition. Even when used in low light, colours look fantastic. The bokeh, of course, is great too.
    I’m wondering how it would compare with the new Simga 50/1.4 art. Would be great to see you do a review of that.

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  17. Axel Zimmermann

    Thank you very much for this review. I have read so many reviews about that lens. And I had many doubts about that lens. After I have read yours I bought it. I must say: I totally agree to every statement you did (Except AF, mine was fine out of the box). One has to make pictures with it in the real life and has to have a look on them. Absolute fantastic. I own many expensive lenses from Nikon, but this one is so special and a must have! I decided not use the 24-70 2.8 anymore, instead of that I take the 24/1.4, 58/1.4 and 85/1.4 with me. The only zoom I will still use is the 70-200/2.8VRII.

    Best Regards,
    Axel

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    • Axel Zimmermann

      By the way I forgot to mention: this will be my “always on” lens for daily shooting. I really love it ;-)

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