Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S Review | The Most Perfect 50mm Prime I’ve Ever Seen
When I first opened the box, I was shocked. This thing is massive! It balances more front-heavy than a 24-70mm f/2.8 VR, it takes 82mm filters, and it weighs in at 2.4 lbs or 1.09 kg. Was Nikon trying to set some sort of record? (The Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 is “only” 1.03 kg, and takes “just” 77mm filters) Whatever they were aiming for, it feels like they overshot their goal. Honestly, though? Optically, it’s pretty much the most perfect 50mm prime lens I’ve ever seen.
Indeed, Nikon must have decided to make the best 50mm lens they possibly could, and they pretty much accomplished that goal. (Well, aside from the Noct Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S) By sparing no expense whatsoever in terms of optics, Nikon has produced one of the most incredible lenses I’ve ever tested.
This should come as no surprise, though, because you know what? The Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S was already one of the best 50mm primes I’ve ever reviewed. In fact, it was hands-down the best standard f/1.8 prime I’ve ever tested, and better than most f/1.4 ~50mm primes, too. Therefore, SPOILER ALERT: If you don’t need f/1.2, then you already have one of the absolute best 50mm lenses on the market available to you, and in a truly portable, lightweight package in comparison to any flagship-grade f/1.2 or f/1.4 prime.
Thus, the crux of this review will be exactly what you might think: Do you need f/1.2? Do you need extreme low-light performance, super-shallow depth of field, and buttery soft bokeh? If so, then this could be your dream lens.
Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 50mm (47°)
- LENS MOUNT(S): Nikon Z (full-frame mirrorless, DX APS-C mirrorless)
- APERTURE & RANGE: f/1.2 – f/16, 9-blade, rounded, electromagnetic control
- STABILIZATION: No (All Z6 and Z7-series have sensor stabilization)
- AUTOFOCUS: Twin STM motors w/ multi-focusing system
- MANUAL FOCUS: Electronically controlled, full-time manual override
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 17 elements in 15 groups, 3 aspherical, 2 extra-low dispersion elements, ARNEO, Super Integrated, and Nano Crystal Coatings
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: Metal, weather-sealed
- MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 0.15x (1.5′ / 45 cm)
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: 82mm, click-locking hood
- SIZE: 3.5 x 5.9″ (89.5 x 150 mm)
- WEIGHT: 2.4 lb (1090 g)
- PRICE: $2,096
(B&H | Adorama | Amazon)
[Related Reading: Nikon Z7 II Review | The Best Landscape Photography Camera, Again]
Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S Review | Who Should Buy It?
Almost every type of photography can benefit from having a 50mm prime, but which photographers are going to find it worthwhile to invest in a flagship prime such as this? Well, words and phrases like “light gathering” and “speed” and “bokeh” come to mind, of course.
If you like to shoot everything from candid moments to formal portraits with a 50mm, and you often shoot in extremely low light, then this could be a great lens for you. But, are you willing to carry it around for 8-12+ hours a day? Maybe, if you’re used to carrying around a hefty 24-70mm f/2.8 but would rather have a prime. Alternately, though, if the whole reason you reach for a prime is to escape the added weight and stress on your wrists when it’s hour 10 or 11 of work and the wedding reception dance floor just got started, …you’ll probably want to opt for the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S instead; it’s more than a stop slower, technically speaking, but it’s still one of the best 50mm primes I’ve ever tested.
Do you really need ultra-shallow depth for wedding photography, though? Honestly, not really, not if you just put a little effort into understanding depth, and framing your shots carefully. See below for an example of how well the 50mm f/1.8 handles a wedding:
Honestly? For many professional wedding photographers who aren’t shooting in extremely dark conditions, or who aren’t totally obsessed with the look of their bokeh, I have to admit that the Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 is a very practical choice, a workhorse that doesn’t break the bank, or your wrist!
I can only recommend a 1kg 50mm prime lens to be carried around for 8-12+ hours (once or thrice every week!) …if you really, really love the focal length, and are in need of some serious speed/shallow depth.
Portrait, Fashion & Editorial Photography
If you’re doing portraits instead of event journalism, then you might not care as much about low-light shooting or “speed”, but you may very well care about the look of your lenses’ bokeh, and the ability to just “kill” a background in more difficult on-location conditions, too.
Either way, the Nikkor Z 50 1.2 is a dream portrait lens in that regard.
Even if you spend some of your time at f/2.8 or f/4, you’ll still appreciate the incredible sharpness, and the smooth look of the bokeh, although once again I have to admit, the f/1.8 is really a flagship-grade lens if you spend ALL of your time “a little stopped down”.
Candid & Street Photography
This is the exact opposite of a “walk-around” lens, to be quite honest. Unless you are trying to do your candid/street photography by moonlight or candlelight, you’ll probably want to stick to a more practical 50mm solution, like the f/1.8, or even a more modestly sized/priced f/1.4 or f/1.8 DSLR lens, actually.
Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2, S Nikon Z7 II – f/1.2Having said that, it sure is a delight to use when you are, in fact, shooting by candlelight!
Landscape & Nature Photography
Landscape photographers traditionally spend all their time with their aperture stopped down, however, a lot of creative styles lately on social media do exhibit a greater propensity towards nature, landscape, and general outdoor scenes captured with shallow depth used as a creative tool for subject emphasis.
Honestly, though? Most of the “lifestyle” or “travel” or “van life” outdoor/landscape photographers who are interested in shallow depth are also usually interested in a decent level of portability, too. So, unless you’re a famous Youtube Landscape photographer who actually loves carrying around heavy, giant pieces of kit, you’ll probably want to stick to lighter, smaller 50mm options. Or, of course, just get a zoom that covers 50mm; literally every one of Nikon’s four other (more practical) lenses that hit 50mm are approximately just as sharp when you’re shooting at f/8 or f/11!
Nightscape & Astrophotography
Of course, once you take your landscape photography hobby and start trying to do it at 2 AM by starlight or moonlight, then everything changes, and usually, you can never get enough speed. You’re probably even drooling over the Noct Nikkor 58mm f/0.95, and wishing it didn’t cost four times more than this “relatively affordable” (by comparison) 50mm f/1.2.
If this is you, if you find yourself working with starlight and moonlight very often, and could always use better light-gathering capabilities, better coma/astigmatism etc. performance, …then you’ll love this lens.
It does have some faint, faint coma/stigmatism when shooting faster than ~f/2, (we’ll look at that soon) but honestly, this is one of the best 50mm primes you can buy for Astro-landscape photography and wide-field deep-sky astrophotography. The only other lens in this range that does slightly better in the extreme corners (that is also a behemoth, and decently pricey) is the Sigma 40mm f/1.4 Art, which you’ll have to use via the FTZ adapter.
Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S Review | Pros & Cons
I don’t need to sum up the pros and cons with bullet points in this review, because the verdict is quite simpe: It’s a nearly perfect lens, but it’s very big, heavy, and expensive. Images are gorgeous, and totally worth the investment, as you would expect.
Sharpness is incredible, even wide-open at f/1.2. Nikon has achieved a combination that we’ve rarely seen before from Nikkor lenses: pin-sharp, high-contrast in-focus details, of course, but ALSO, with a transition to out-of-focus blur that is so beautiful, I can only describe it as having your subject disappear gradually into a magical foggy mist. (And this is coming from me, someone who has historically refused to care much about bokeh!)
Stopped down, of course, the lens is just incredibly sharp, and we will have to go to the extreme corners to see much of a difference at all. Even there, by f/2.2 the lens’s extreme corners are incredibly detailed.
All in all, sharpness for the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S can be summed up in this way: Even wide-open at f/1.2, there is a beautiful level of detail, just with a softness to the overall look, which is exactly what you’d want for things like portraits or other types of work where a “gentle rendition” of fine detail is aesthetically pleasing. Then, stopping down just a tiny bit, you get that shockingly high level of biting, crisp detail, too.
WARNING: Lots and lots and lots of f/1.2 photos ahead! If you have an allergy to buttery, creamy bokeh, proceed with caution…
Of course, I also tried to test the Nikon Z 50 1.2 in the worst possible conditions, in terms of bokeh, and honestly, I’m still impressed at how this lens handles the “nasty” things like harsh, cluttered textures. Background blur is still beautifully soft, and foreground blur is just pure butter as always…
Bokeh “dots” (see the last two images above) from any spectral highlights do tend to get a little lemon-shaped off-center, however, to be quite honest that is a pleasing aesthetic to me that I don’t mind as much; they give your image a natural gravitation towards a central subject, which allows for creative emphasis in most scenes. Some photographers will wish for perfectly round bokeh dots even in the corners of their images, but I feel that look is a little too clinical and lacks (yes, I’m going to use THAT word) “character”.
Simply put, if you buy this lens, you’d better use it at f/1.2 at least some of the time, if not very, very often. The ISO 64 base of the Nikon Z7-series will help you do that even in more brightly lit sunny conditions, and of course in soft light, you’re in for a real treat!
[Related Reading: Nikon Z6 II Review | A Great Camera, Perfected?]
Colors & Contrast
Whether you’re shooting wide-open or stopped-down, the clarity of color and contrast from this lens is truly amazing. Even at high-contrast edges, (see the 100% crop of the moon above, captured at f/1.2) you will see surprisingly crisp clarity in every single shot.
Vignetting & Distortion
When shooting at f/1.2, if in-camera vignetting correction is turned off, it will require an approximate Amount of +85 (and =0 Midpoint) to manually correct the vignetting. I don’t know how many stops that is, but it might be somewhere around 1.3 or 1.6 stops. That’s not bad for an f/1.2 lens!
Honestly, the look of the vignetting is quite pleasing, and you’ll appreciate it for most types of work unless your goal is sheer light transmission.
Of course, if you’re comparing this f/1.2 prime against other f/1.4 or f/1.8 primes, or even an f/2.8 zoom, then your overall light transmission will be phenomenal by comparison, when stopping down from f/1.2.
Distortion is virtually nonexistent; just leave the in-camera correction on all the time, unless you do advanced stacking and averaging of deep-sky astrophotography images, in which case it (and possibly the in-camera vignetting correction) can create odd banding patterns, so I recommend leaving all in-camera corrections off for that type of work.
Sunstars & Flare
This lens has virtually no flare dots, thanks to Nikon pulling out all the stops in terms of optical element design and coatings. It really is uncanny how clear and flare-free the images are in most situations. of course, if you want that warm haze in your sunny golden hour portraits, you can get that too, you just have to place something extremely bright (like the sun) very close to the image frame.
In terms of sunstars, they actually start appearing by f/2.8! That is due to how many stops down you are from f/1.2, of course. by f/8 they are quite pronounced and sharp, however, they are still not as “pokey”, and are more “flower petal” looking, compared to the older manual focus Nikkors without rounded aperture blades.
Color Fringing, Aberration, Coma & Astigmatism
For nightscape photography, you are in for a real treat, even wide-open at f/1.2. There is almost zero color fringing, and if you miss focus ever-so-slightly and do get some, you can easily remove it in Lightroom.
Even in the harshest high-contrast edge situations, (see the 100% crop above) you still will barely notice any chromatic aberration or color fringing, even wide-open at f/1.2. And again, most of it is effortlessly removed in Lightroom.
Macro & Close-Up Photography
The maximum reproduction/magnification for the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S is actually the same as its f/1.8 sibling, but the ultra-shallow depth of f/1.2 (or the incredible sharpness achieved by f/2) will be a delight to those who enjoy capturing medium-close-up photos of anything that can benefit from the creativity of shallow depth.
Design & Durability
As I have already said before, this lens is enormous and heavy. You knew that before you even started reading this review, of course, but I have to mention it again. Nikon spared no expense with this lens, and that means it is so front-heavy that you’ll need to treat it almost like a 70-200 and support its weight with your left hand.
Having said that, if you’re willing to hoist the lens, you will be rewarded. Not just with gorgeous images, but also with a rugged, durable flagship lens that will stand the test of time. It is clearly meant to take a beating and still work perfectly.
When I first held the Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S, one thought popped into my mind: This thing has so much glass in it, there’s no way it will autofocus very fast. Pushing that much glass back and forth will be a sluggish endeavor, and for any sort of moving subjects, I will find the lens sorely lacking.
I was totally wrong! It’s not the most lightning-fast lens ever, of course, but, wow is it still quick! Not only do the twin AF motors push the multi-group focusing optics in and out of focus very swiftly, but also, (more importantly!) the precision is truly impressive, especially considering the shallow depth that you experience when actually shooting wide open at f/1.2.
Manual Focus Performance
The manual focus ring on this lens is downright enormous and consumes a significant portion of the lens barrel. Honestly? I would rather have had a bit more grip-able surface on the lens that I can use to safely mount/unmount the lens, or support it with my left hand while shooting!
Having said that, manual focusing is very smooth and precise, so I have no complaints there, aside from one obscure thing that only bothers me as an Astro-landscape photographer. Which is, I still dislike how most mirrorless lenses and their all-electronic controls, don’t seem to “remember” their exact focus position whenever you turn the camera off. I’m used to DSLR lenses where I can set the focus manually, and have it physically stay put at that position.
Having said that, the digital focus distance scale, which includes a hyperfocal scale when you cycle through the options on the “Disp” button, is a unique, useful feature that helps me feel like I’m still using a high-end professional system, whereas most other mirrorless lenses have an extremely minimal physical design.
There are two ways to look at the value of this particular lens. You could compare it against other name-brand 50mm f/1.2 lenses, or you could compare it against any 50mm prime, without f/1.2 being an absolute necessity. We’ll get more in-depth with our comparisons next, but for now, it is safe to say that the value of the Nikkor Z 50 1.2 is all about what you need from your lens.
Simply put, if you’re okay with an f/1.4 or an f/1.8 aperture, then spending $2K on a normal prime lens is absolutely not a good value. There are many options in the f/1.4 and f/1.8 range, and pretty much all of them are well under $1K.
Or, if you do have ~$2K to spend, but don’t need f/1.2, you might as well buy the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S, and get an ultra-sharp f/2.8 zoom that covers the entire normal range!
What if you absolutely would like to have f/1.2, though? Whatever the reason, there just aren’t many options out there, (even if you’re willing to use an adapted DSLR lens) and they’re all quite expensive.
Canon’s RF 50mm f/1.2 L is ~$2,300, and Sony’s brand-new FE 50mm f/1.2 GM is $2,000. We haven’t reviewed the Sony yet, however, based on scrutiny of many sample images, I think I can safely assess these three lenses this easily: They are all incredible. The Nikon, with its over-built optics, may very well come out on top of the pack, but the bottom line is that they’re all about $2K, and they’re all worth investing in if this is your dream lens.
Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S Review | Compared To The Competition
Native to the Nikon Z mount, there are just two other lenses you could choose. The relatively modest-looking Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S, ($596, B&H) and the poster child for exotic glass, Nikon’s new “nocturnal” lens, the Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct. ($7,999, B&H)
Needless to say, both of these lenses are very different from the Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S, in price, size, and aperture. Here’s the surprise, though: something they do NOT differ too greatly in is, their overall performance!
Yes, that’s right, the $0.6K, $2.1K, and $8K ~50mm lenses all offer image quality that is about the same; if you spend most of your time at f/2.8 or smaller, you won’t see much of a difference. That’s how serious Nikon is about making good quality lenses for the Z mount, I guess!
Put another way, if you shoot at f/2.8 or f/4 or smaller apertures, then the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S is so incredibly good, it is flagship-grade enough that you need only spend $600 for your ultimate 50mm prime for Nikon full-frame mirrorless.
So, what if you’re obsessed with f/1.2 (autofocus) primes, though, and would even consider a different camera system if a better 50mm f/1.2 were available? Just for fun, let’s consider Canon and Sony’s options…
Canon’s RF 50mm f/1.2 L is ~$2,300, and Sony’s brand-new FE 50mm f/1.2 GM is ~$2,000. Again, we haven’t reviewed the Sony yet, however, based on scrutiny of many sample images, here is my initial summation: In the central part of the image, they’re all nearly perfect. The Nikon and Sony might be a tiny bit better than the Canon in terms of avoiding color fringing when shooting at f/1.2, but all of the lenses have truly excellent sharpness and minimal artifacts which can be easily corrected using Lightroom’s chromatic aberration, etc. tools.
The difference will likely be at the edges and corners of your images. This is where the size and heft of the Nikkor will likely allow it to pull ahead of the competitors, but only by a small margin, probably, and only if you’re trying to resolve 40-60+ megapixels as opposed to 20-24.
Last but not least, you could consider Nikon F-mount lenses on the FTZ adapter, but honestly, virtually all DSLR lenses just don’t measure up to what Nikon’s native Z-mount offers. Maybe you have a favorite lens with lots of “character”, like the Nikkor 58mm f/1.4 AF-S G, but other than that, you should probably just get either this f/1.2 prime, or the affordable f/1.8 S-line alternative.
There are, in fact, a few f/1.2 and even faster ~50mm lenses that you can somehow find a way to mount on a Nikon Z-series body. Unfortunately, all of them (besides the Sony and Canon) are not even going to come close to the performance of the Nikkor. I would only recommend them as “toy” lenses that you buy on a whim because you’re curious about what ultra-shallow-depth looks like, but won’t be using the lens very often.
Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S Review | Conclusion
When Nikon decided on the mount specifications for their full-frame mirrorless system, with the shortest flange distance and widest mount diameter available, they clearly had lenses like this in mind. Nikon optical engineers have probably been working on this lens since the day the mount specs were finalized!
The hard work paid off, and this is indeed the most impressive 50mm prime I’ve ever reviewed. (No, I haven’t reviewed the Noct yet!) Is it right for me? Unfortunately, I’m actually going to wait and see if a Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.2 S, or maybe even a Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.2 S, eventually arrive(s). I would probably rather have 35mm be the focal length where I carry around such an impressively hefty lens and go with the 50mm f/1.8 Z/S for that focal length instead.
For each photographer who prefers 35mm, though, there are three or four who prefer 50mm, of course. If this is the focal length you absolutely love, if you need as much speed and/or shallow depth as possible, then this lens is the new king of the hill.
Check Pricing & Availability
The Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S is available for $2,096 from all of the usual retailers.