Here is a rare and elusive lens for you Nikon fans today! The Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS is a manual focus lens, and despite it being so uncommon it is actually still in production today! You can pick it up from B&H new for $699 by clicking HERE, or you can shop for them used (starting at $529) by clicking HERE.
So, why do you see so few images from the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS? I’ll ponder that in just a minute…
The Equipment and Settings
- Nikon D700
- Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS (AIS means manual focus, that’s not a typo of AFS!)
- 1/750 sec @ f/1.2 & ISO 800, hand-held
- Manual exposure, manual WB, RAW
The Shooting Conditions
The bottom line is that at f/1.2, EVERYTHING becomes a moving target. If you are shooting hand-held, and if your subject is standing up, then there is more than enough motion to throw off 90% of your images unless you are very careful.
To get this shot, I cranked my ISO up un-necessarily high, so that I could also have an un-necessarily high shutter speed. 1/750 sec is way beyond the rules of hand-hold-ability, however it afforded me the chance to blast away at my subject for ~5-10 frames while slowly shifting my weight forward. This assured that I would get at least one perfectly in-focus image, without any worry of camera shake blur etc.
It may be a bit impractical, but when you do achieve perfect sharpness at f/1.2, it can be a beautiful thing. The whole point of shooting at such a shallow aperture is two-fold. Of course you get as much shutter speed as possible out of a low-light situation. However if it were just about shutter speeds, practically speaking I’d still rather have an f/1.4 or f/1.8 lens that had great autofocus, and a modern day DSLR with great high ISO performance. The second reason for shooting at such incredibly shallow apertures is, subject isolation. In this image, even at a distance of just 3-4 feet I manged to completely blur the background out, which was extremely cluttered as you can imagine is often the case on hectic wedding days… ;-)
Admittedly, shooting a manual focus lens at close distances is not really practical for most types of photojournalism these days, and that is why I said I would rather have an f/1.4 or f/1.8 prime with autofocus. This image was simply for the thrill of shooting at f/1.2; I borrowed the lens from a friend just to snap a few sample shots.
Now before the crowds start yelling about how autofocus didn’t even exist until a few decades ago and that I’m just whining about how hard it is to manual focus, let me point out that viewfinders have changed dramatically within the past decade or so in order to accommodate a much brighter view. Basically, the brighter you want your viewfinder to be, the more difficult it is going to be to determine precise focus on a modern day DSLR. Any of you who have swapped out your focusing screen for a “matte” or similar focusing screen will know just how incredibly sharp their plane of focus CAN be!
Anyways, my point is that this is probably why you don’t hear very much about Nikon’s manual focus 50mm f/1.2, especially among the wedding and portraiture crowd, even though it is a stellar lens with incredible sharpness. Oh and in case you’re wondering, here is a 100% crop from the image. I told you it was a sharp lens!
Personally, I like image #2 and #4…
Anyways, take care and see you next time!
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