Review by Markus Stamm, published September 2021
Table of Contents
Being one of the essential lenses for the system, the Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S was announced as part the first batch of lenses when Nikon introduced the new mount and first Z cameras. The lens is designed as a normal prime for the full-frame sized FX sensor, where the lens delivered very impressive performance in our review based on the Nikon Z7 (you can read the full review here).
In addition to FX, Nikon obviously still sees a future for the smaller DX sensor as part of the system and released both DX cameras as well as dedicated DX Z-mount lenses (even though only two so far at the time of this review).
So, let’s have a look at how the lens performs on the Nikon Z50, where the lens behaves like a short tele prime. For obvious reasons, parts of the FX review have been reused here.
Along with the new system comes a new lens body design language. Depending on personal preferences (and brand affection) it’s either perceived as minimalistic and clean or basic and boring.
The lens body consists of a mixture of tightly assembled polycarbonate and metals parts. The latter include the mount and most of the body parts, including the broad focus ring, giving the lens some weight and a welcome feeling of solidity.
The number of controls on the lens is reduced to a minimum. There’s an AF/M switch, the already mentioned focus ring… and that’s it. There is no distance scale or DOF indicator on the lens. Z cameras provide some sort of minimalistic distance information in the viewfinder, that is fairly basic though and mostly useless if you want to set the lens to a specific focus distance. However, with the immediate feedback the EVF can give by focus peaking and zooming in, those scales will probably not be missed by many.
The focus ring works by wire, so is not in any way mechanically coupled to the focus motor. This allows to adjust the focus throw depending on the speed the focus ring is turned with, giving fast changes with fast movements and very precise fine-tuning with slow movements. In addition, other functions can be assigned to it if required, like ISO, aperture or exposure compensation control. One slight disadvantage is however, that it doesn’t give any physical feedback if the end scale of whatever function is assigned to it is reached. This is most obvious of course during manual focus, where the lens gives no feedback when the focus setting reaches MFD or infinity.
One thing to get used to with the new minimalistic design is that at least the f/1.8 primes are less distinguishable from each other than their F-mount counterparts. This is especially true for the Z 50/1.8 S and the Z 35/1.8 S, which look nearly identical. Grabbing the right one from the photo bag is some kind of gamble, at least for anyone new to the system. In that case it’s helpful that that Nikon imprints the lens name in large and white writing near the mount.
With 12 lens elements, including 2 ED and aspherical elements each, the Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S comes with a fairly complex optical design for a normal prime. In addition, it carries the S designation, which Nikon reserves for the high-end lenses in the new Z portfolio.
Thanks to an IF (inner focus) design the length remains constant regardless of the focus setting and as you’d expect from any modern lens the front element does not rotate. So, using a polarizer is no problem.
The lens features a stepping motor that allows the lens to adjust focus fast and silently. It’s not a completely noiseless drive, though, so if you’re into video, you’ll likely want to use an external microphone (which you’ll probably use anyway if you’re seriously into video). The aperture is controlled electronically, too.
The lens is sealed against dust and moisture.
|Equiv. focal length
|75 mm (full format equivalent)
|f/2.7 (full format equivalent, in terms of depth-of-field)
|12 elements in 9 groups including 2 ED, 2 aspherical elements and Nano Crystal Coat
|Number of aperture blades
|min. focus distance
|0.4 m (max. magnification ratio 0.15x)
|76 x 86.5 mm
|62 mm (non-rotating)
|petal-shaped (bayonet mount, supplied)
|Stepping motor (STM), electronic aperture, customizable control ring, dust and moisture sealings
On the Z50, the lens takes advantage of the reduced size of the DX sensor and produces a small amount of barrel distortion at around 0.4%. With optional in-camera software correction enabled, distortion is reduced to around 0.16%.
Regarding vignetting, the lens again profits from the smaller DX sensor size. Wide open, the lens shows a native vignetting of around 3/4 of a stop wide open. As usual, stopping down reduces vignetting significantly, bringing the amount of light fall-off towards the borders down to around 0.2 stops from f/2.8 onwards.
Nikon offers in-camera correction for vignetting, which can be set to either ‘off’, ‘low’, ‘normal’ or ‘high’ in the camera menu, where the default setting is ‘normal’. With that amount of ‘normal’ correction applied, around half a stop of vignetting remains at f/1.8, while from f/2.8 onwards it’s reduced to a level that should not be noticeable anymore with most subjects.For JPGs, the chosen setting is applied to the final image.
If you shoot RAW, the selected setting is stored in the meta data to be applied later by the processing software. In addition, Nikon embeds the full lens correction profile into the NEF files. Surprisingly, none of the in-camera correction settings Nikon offers makes full use of the correction profile in the same way. Even at the ‘high’ setting, vignetting is not fully corrected.
If you shoot NEFs and use a RAW converter that allows full access to the embedded correction profile (like C1 does, for example, while Adobe products currently do not), vignetting can be completely eliminated.
The Nikkor shows outstanding performance in the lab. On the Z50, the resolution is excellent across the whole frame straight from the maximum aperture and stays on this outstanding level down to f/5.6. From f/8 onwards, diffraction reduces the resolution figures to lower levels, but even stopped down to f/11 the results are still very good.
The lens showed a small amount of focus shifting when stopping down (residual spherical aberration).
Please note that the MTF results are not directly comparable across the different systems!
Below is a simplified summary of the formal findings. The chart shows line widths per picture height (LW/PH) which can be taken as a measure for sharpness. If you want to know more about the MTF50 figures you may check out the corresponding Imatest Explanations
Chromatic Aberrations (CAs)
Chromatic aberrations (color shadows at harsh contrast transitions) are very well controlled by the lens, with values of just below 0.3 pixels at the image borders wide open, slowly decreasing to completely unnoticeable amounts stopped down to f/11.
One of the main reasons to use a fast prime over any kind of slower zoom is its ability to separate the main subject from the background. For such images, the quality of the background blur is of major importance.
The Nikkor delivers very smooth and pleasing image blur in these kinds of shots.
Out-of-focus highlights are evenly filled with virtually no outlining. Thanks to the 9 rounded aperture blades, highlights retain their circular shape even when the lens is stopped down.
The shape of the highlights deteriorates a bit towards the image borders due to mechanical vignetting at large apertures, naturally to a lower degree than on a FX camera, though. However, stopping down solves that issue.
In the focus transition zone, the lens shows smooth image blur behind the focal plane (to the left below), but a bit more nervous bokeh due to mild double images in the foreground (to the right below).
Bokeh Fringing / LoCA
Bokeh fringing (non-coinciding focal planes of the various colors, also referred to as longitudinal chromatic aberration, or LoCA for short) is an axial color fringing effect and a common issue with relatively fast glass. The halos typically have different colors – magenta (red + blue) in front of the focus point and green beyond. Unlike lateral CAs, bokeh fringing can not easily be fixed in post processing.
The Nikkor is not free of of bokeh fringing, but shows a fairly low amount wide open for its lens class. As usual, stopping down the lens reduces the amount of bokeh fringing further.
In addition, these shots also illustrate the small amount of focus shift when stopping down that was mentioned in the MTF section. It’s worth mentioning though that down to f/5.6, Z cameras focus with the lens stopped down (unless the lens is even slower than f/5.6, of course), so the focus shift can only become an issue if the lens is focussed manually and the aperture changed later (that’s actually what we do for the images below).
You can find some sample images taken with the Nikon Z7 in our FX review of the lens.