Nathan Griffin Photographs

nikon 50mm f1.4 ai review

new mexico church

The first lens for many photographers with older manual SLR cameras is usually the 50mm. I didn't know what I wanted, so I decided to go with the 50. Most vintage 50mm lenses come in two main varieties of maximum aperture: f1.4 and f1.8. I decided to splurge on the larger f1.4 to gain an extra stop of light. (Click here for a discussion on what aperture means.) In hindsight, it is not that big of a deal - you will still have a much faster lens with f1.8 than most people have with discount zoom lenses. This is one of the biggest advantages of the prime 50mm lens - the ability to take pictures at low light and/or film ISO ratings. I have seen many instances where another photographer is using his new Auto Everything SLR has a zoom lens attached with a maximum aperture of f5.6. A 50mm f1.4 will let in 4 times as much light! If we are both shooting the same speed film, he may be stuck at 1/8 of a second where I could go down to 1/125 of a second. If no tripod is available, it could be the difference in getting the shot. An aperture this large also allows you to use natural light in more situations where other lenses would force you to use a flash. There is nothing wrong with flash photography, but for many it means your photographs begin looking more and more like they were taken with a point and shoot camera.

picture of a nikon 50mm f1.4 ai

The 50mm is said to offer a "normal" field of view - this is to say it replicates the way we see the world with our eyes. I have never understood this to be true. It seems that my vision can take in more than what I see through a 50mm lens. This leads me to the biggest problem I have with the 50mm - it sits right in the middle of two very useful ranges of focal lengths and doesn't excel at much. It is much too tight a view to capture most interior views of buildings and homes. I have found the field of view too small for landscape photography as well. Detail shots work well but I usually found myself frustrated with the restricted field of view.

The 50mm lens also falls too short to be used as a portrait lens. The advantage of having a large aperture also leads to a downfall: a very small depth of field at maximum apertures. Portraits usually require a tight composition of the head and shoulders, which can be achieved with a 50mm lens. The problem arises when you try this short focusing distance under low light (and small aperture) and realize that you can't get your subjects' entire face in focus. I have been frustrated many times by seeing a nose in focus and eyes that are not, or a group shot where the front people are in focus and the people in back are not. It must be understood that some situations will result in very shallow depth of field.

Overall, the biggest strength of the 50mm lens is the performance in low light while the faults are how it can limit your compositions and the shallow depth of field at maximum aperture.

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