Hands-on with Nikon’s pricey but super-fast and very sharp Z 50mm f/1.2 S prime lens (Sample Gallery)
posted Friday, January 15, 2021 at 5:55 PM EST
Click here to browse our Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S Gallery
Nikon continues to grow to their mirrorless Z system, not only with new camera models -- such as the recently refreshed Z7 II and Z6 II bodies -- but also with new lens offerings, such as the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S lens. Announced alongside the Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S, Nikon's latest Z-mount 50mm lens is far and away a different beast than the compact 50mm f/1.8 S lens announced back in 2018 with the launch of the Z System. The Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens is arguable the closest thing to a "nifty fifty" offered in Nikon's Z-mount lineup, with a lightweight (yet still weather-sealed) designed and fairly budget-friendly $600 price point.
Meanwhile, the Z 50mm f/1.2 S is a serious lens designed for professionals and advanced enthusiasts who demand top-notch optical performance, super-smooth bokeh, outstanding subject isolation potential, and excellent low-light shooting performance. It has a price to match too, retailing for $2,100. For those who don't need fast, quiet and precise autofocus, the Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct is a bokeh and low-light behemoth, but at $8000, this lens is just an entirely different story on its own -- an extremely specialized lens, if you will. With a super-fast aperture and speedy AF performance, the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S is both a versatile and capable lens for a variety of subjects, both for photos and video.
I've had a few days to get outdoors and test this new Nikkor lens, and in addition to sharing a batch of real-world sample images, I also wanted to include some handling and usability notes, as well. So let's dive in...
Design & Usability
In the hand, the Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S lens, as you can probably tell from the photo below, is a sizable and hefty piece of equipment. I wouldn't go so far as to say it dwarfs the Z7 camera that I used, but it is significantly larger and heavier than the Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens. With the hood attached, the lens approaches 8.5 inches (~21cm) in length, and weighs in at around 2.4 pounds (1090g). It is a bit shocking that this lens is *just* a 50mm focal length given the size and physical dimensions.
As expected, in use, the lens does feel a bit front-heavy on the small Z7 (or Z7 II) camera, but not overly so -- which I found somewhat surprising. The lens itself uses 17 total elements, including two ED glass elements and three aspherical elements -- that's a lot of glass (more than the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L lens, for instance.) However, it appears that Nikon managed to keep the optical layout fairly well-balanced with a lot of the weight evenly spaced; the lens + the Z7 feels nicely balanced and comfortable in my hands with the heft nicely centered.
Though I primarily used autofocus, the focus ring on the Z 50mm f/1.2 S is very large and rotates with a very pleasing, buttery smooth rotational motion. It takes minimal effort to rotate the focus ring. Out toward the end of the lens, there is another "ring" with a similar rubberized grip material, but this area is fixed, providing a stable area to hold and grip the lens if you want to avoid accidentally moving the focus ring.
Additionally, the Z 50mm f/1.2 lens features a dedicated, customizable control ring near the back of the lens. This ring can be assigned to control several functions, but it serves as a manual aperture ring by default. Much like the focus ring, this electronically-controlled ring rotates very smoothly and very easily -- perhaps a little too easily. I found it very easy to accidentally bump the control ring, and just the slightest rotation would change the aperture setting.
Other design features include a rugged, weather-sealed construction, a built-in electronic info display (that will display either focus distance or aperture setting), a customizable L-Fn (lens function button) and a physical AF/MF toggle switch.
Given this lens's price, one would expect excellent optical performance, and from what I've sense, this lens certainly does not disappoint. Despite the ultra-bright f/1.2 aperture, the sharpness of the lens wide-open is very impressive. As shown in some of the images and crop below, the lens manages to resolve an amazing amount of fine detail, even at f/1.2. Typically with such bright lenses, you can get an almost dreamy, soft look at the widest aperture, but if you want crisp sharpness, you'd need to stop down at least a little bit. However, with the Z 50mm f/1.2 S, I didn't feel like I had to. I could get excellent sharpness plus an impressively shallow depth of field and smooth out of focus areas.
I also found chromatic aberration and purple fringing to be very well-controlled, even at wide apertures. I did manage to get some noticeable purple fringing on strongly-backlit, high-contrast edges, but for such a super-fast lens, this isn't all that unexpected.
Wide-open there is also some noticeable vignetting. However, I am personally okay with some vignetting, particularly for the types of images you'd typically create with fast-apertures and a shallow depth of field. Vignetting is also easy to correct in post, and stopping down a bit on the lens will also reduce vignetting. For example, at f/1.8, vignetting is much less noticeable, and by f/2.8, it's practically non-existent -- at least from a real-world image/visual standpoint.
So, does this high-end 50mm f/1.2 lens strike your fancy? If you're a Nikon Z shooting looking for the ultimate 50mm lens, this just might be the one. If your budget can handle it. Head on over to our Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S Gallery Page for a selection of real-world sample photos, with both JPEGs and RAWs available for download.