The Nikkor AF 50mm f1:1.8 D prime lens is another lens that should find it's way into your photo bag considering its price and performance. A prime lens is one that is not a zoom lens, and historically one that gave a 1:1 photo. A 1:1 ratio means you see the photo life-size. For instance, if you took an 8x10 photo frame without the photo and held it up at arm's length, what you see inside the photo is what the lens will capture. Historically, this was referred to as a "normal" lens.
Overview: The lens is single focus-length, i.e. not a zoom lens. In addition, the lens was originally designed for 35mm cameras, so using it on a DX format DSLR (i.e. D3000, D3100, D5000, D40, D80, D80, D200, D300, D7000), you get an upshift in focal length of 1.5x. So in reality, the lens is equivalent to a 75mm lens in DX format. While this upshift is a bit undesireable, it is stil within range of a normal lens.
So with almost all zoom lenses today having the ability to focus at the 50mm~75mm range, why would you even want this lens? First, at an aperature of f1:1.8, it is a very fast lens, and it is among one of the sharpest lenses that Nikon makes. In addition, the large aperature means this lens can be setup for a limited depth-of-field, something that many portrait photographers desire. In other words, it has good bokeh. And at 75mm, its close to the 80mm lenses portrait photographers perfer. So the primary use of this lens would be for low light and portrait photography. Given the low cost of this lens vs. its performance, small size, and light weight, it should be a consideration for any photographer.
I classify this lens as advanced amateur, as it features a metal mounting ring, and fairly well constructed, although it's made in Japan. This lens is AF type focusing, meaning that lower-end Nikon cameras such as the D40, D3000, D3100, D5000 and any other cameras that require AF-S can not focus this lens, as it does not have a focus motor internal to the lens. With those cameras, you need to manually focus the lens. However, an alternative is the more expensive Nikkor 50mm F1.4 AF-S or 35mm AF-S lenses. As they are AF-S, they have an internal focusing motor. In Nikon termonology, "AF-S" means the lens itself has a focusing motor, so if you have one of the above mentioned camera bodys, look for AF-S lenses if you want the autofocus to work.
Alternatives: Nikon makes several alternatives for this lens; two even faster lenses (50mm f1.4), and a 35mm DX format f1.8 lens. The 35mm DX format lens is equivalent to 52mm in full frame, so it is essentially a slightly wider angle alternative, closer to a true normal lens. While there are 3rd party 50mm lenses in the market place that will fit Nikon, the modest price of this lens means you are not saving any money at all with the lower cost alternatives. Stick with Nikon on this one.
Use: Force yourself to mount this lens and use it. You will be amazed that the lack of a zoom function is not really that much of a problem. Experiment with different depths-of-field as well as late in the day when lighting has that magical color. Use of this lens may force you to get closer to your subject, but that is the norm for professional photographers anyway, so being an accomplished amateur, you should get comfortable doing so.
el Morro Castle - San Juan, PR
|At 75mm, this lens fits perfectly between the wide-angle and telephoto range.|
|This photo was taken with the aperature wide open at f1.8. In daylight, this lets a lot of light in, and you will have to compensate by increasing the shutter speed, lowering the ISO speed, use of a neutral density filter, or a combination of these to get the exposure correct. With the open aperature the depth-of-field (range of focus) of the photo is short as shown here. Notice that the flower is in focus, but the foilage both in front of and behind the flower are out of focus. And if you look at the out of focus areas, they are quite blurry, which directs your eye to the in-focus subject. The blurry characteristic of the out of focus areas is known as bokeh, and when it is quite blurry as shown here, the lens is said to have good bokeh.
Compare this photo with the photo of el Morro Castle. With that shot, I used a smaller aperature, so there was not any out of focus area. This kind of creativity is one of the capabilities of a fast lens.
Flora at Romney Manor, St. Kitts
Summary: While I use this lens primarly for low light and portrature, it's usefulness cannot be understated. Once apon a time (in the 1970s), there were not many zoom lenses, so fixed-length lenses were the normal, and the 50mm was probably the most used lens. With the poliferation of today's slow aperature zoom lenses, it sure is refreshing to use a lens that not only has a bit of nostalgia, but also a lens that works very well. For $100, its certainly worth trying.