The Perfect Sunrise

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I have been shopping around for a prime lens for my Nikon D50. I noticed that the 1.8 is hundreds of dollars cheaper than the 1.4 AF-S. What will I gain for that cost difference? Is it really noticeable?

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This was also discussed (for the nikon 50) here: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/5440/… –  mkraken Dec 15 '10 at 16:28
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11 Answers

It's an extra two-thirds of an f-stop, with all that comes with it:

  • Narrower depth of field (perhaps marginal in comparison to the f/1,8)
  • Brighter viewfinder; great in low-light situations
  • Might be the difference between getting the shot or not, also in low-light situations
  • Lenses tend to get sharper when stopped down. At f/1,8 the f/1,4 lens is stopped down two-thirds of a stop, while the f/1,8 is wide open. I don't know if there is any actual difference in sharpness between the lenses here, but I would assume that the f/1,4 is sharper at f/1,8 than the f/1,8 lens.

Is it worth the price difference? Only you can tell...

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+1 excellent answer! –  jrista Jul 15 '10 at 22:12
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I'm on the canon side but the sharpness and the low-light capabilities really blew me away when I upgraded from the f/1.8 to the f/1.4 50mm lens. –  beggs Jul 16 '10 at 9:35
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There's also a difference in bokeh due to the number of blades used to form the aperture. The f/1.4s have a nicer bokeh. –  Jason Sundram Jul 23 '10 at 18:06
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Just to clarify, the f1.4 is 2/3rds stops faster than the f1.8, so that means 2/3rds stop faster shutter speed. With most viewfinders, lenses above a certain speed (not sure, like f2.8?) are imperceivable in brightness in the viewfinder due to the way the light is split between the AF sensor and the viewfinder. Sharpness definitely depends on the brand. E.g. the Pentax 50mm f1.7 is reportedly sharper and more contrasty than the Pentax 50mm f1.4 at common apertures until around f2.8. Read reviews: fredmiranda, slrgear, photozone.de. For vintage: pentaxforums, mflenses, manualfocus –  Eruditass Jul 27 '10 at 13:58
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A f/1.4 lens at f/1.8 is not necessarily going to be sharper than an f/1.8 wide open. I'd say that it may often be the opposite. Let's say the lenses are a similar price (unlikely in practice) - the f/1.4 will probably be less sharp at f/1.8 than an f/1.8 lens. Only when it's a fairly cheap f/1.8 lens (like the Canon) compared to a more expensive f/1.4 would I expect the f/1.4 to be sharper at the same, widish aperture. To put it another way, making an ultra-fast lens involves more comprimises than just adding a new, less sharp f-stop to the bottom. It affects your other apertures too. –  thomasrutter Mar 10 '11 at 2:09
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I'm not sure about with Nikon, but one of the biggest differences I see mentioned between the Canon 50mm 1.8 and 1.4 lenses is the build quality - plastic vs metal among other things. This is probably what accounts for most of the price difference.

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I bought the f1.8 and it was a great lens, notice the word was though, I dropped it and the glass fell out. I now have the 1.4. –  matt burns Jul 16 '10 at 9:55
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From about f/2.5 or so onwards, they're essentially identical in sharpness, but below that the f/1.4 is sharper. Also, of course, its USM focus is much faster & quieter than the f/1.8. –  drfrogsplat Nov 11 '10 at 4:30
    
This is the really big difference btw the 1.4/1.2 and 1.8 aperture lenses. –  Shizam Dec 14 '10 at 19:22
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Not to mention the difference in aperture blade count. The 50 1.8 has nice images (for it's price), but it's bokeh is trash. –  Alan Dec 14 '10 at 20:33
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Here's the Thom Hogan review: http://bythom.com/Nikkor50AF-Slensreview.htm

His take is: yes, the f/1.4 is somewhat better, but not by a whole lot, so save your money unless you really do need the extra 2/3 stop. Consider boosting the ISO by a stop instead (and you should be ignoring the pixel-peepers and their 100% crop noise tests anyway).

Also note that the f/1.8 D does not have an internal focusing motor and thus is not compatible with some bodies. I don't recall if the D50 is such a body, but check this.

I wouldn't worry about depth of field, because it makes focusing that much more critical and also having too narrow DOF is a much more common technical error than too deep DOF.

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The D50 has an internal focusing motor, no problem. –  decasteljau Dec 14 '10 at 21:27
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Assuming this is a 50mm lens than for DOF the difference would be:

  • 50mm, f/1.4 w/ subject 10 feet away = 7.8"
  • 50mm, f/1.8 w/ subject 10 feet away = 9.7"
  • You can check different focal lengths/distances here: http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html

As far as shutter speed goes, f/1.8 to f/1.4 is a half-stop, so:

  • if your shutter speed was 1/30 at f/1.8, it'd be 1/45 at f/1.4.
  • if your shutter speed was 1/100 at f/1.8, id be 1/150" at f/1.4
  • You can calculate other shutter speeds by just multiplying the shutter speed at f/1.8 by 1.5 to get the shutter speed at f/1.4. Or divide to go the other way. (Full stops double as the aperture value gets lower, so a half stop is 1.5X. Just divide to go the other way.)
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Yes, there is a noticeable difference between the 1.8 and 1.4. My thoughts on the subject in a few bullet points

  • Ignore the light difference, there are more significant differences between those lenses
  • The focus on the 1.4 AF-S is much faster and more accurate
  • The focus on the 1.8 does quite a bit of hunting in low light
  • Image quality is also better on 1.4 AF-S but my experience here is a bit limited. I have only used that lens in the shop.

I usually shoot the 24-70 2.8 and when I occasionally switch to the 50 1.8 it is always a bit frustrating. Once I wanted to avoid intimidating kids during a birthday party and went with the prime. I regretted it so much when the focus couldn't keep up with fast moving non-cooperating objects. If you can afford the 1.4 go for it, I regret that I didn't and I will as soon as I can afford it.

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I've seen conflicting stories about the IQ. Many seem to consider the 1.8 to yield more pleasant images, but that might refer mostly to bokeh and other subjective things (colour balance etc.) rather than sharpness and distortion (which are pretty good on the 1.8, no need to buy the 1.4 for that unless you're a theorycrafter who looks at his images through a microscope). –  jwenting Oct 24 '11 at 5:46
    
I have compared the f/1.4 AF-S G, the f/1.8 AF-D and the f/2.8 24-70 AF-S zoom (at 50mm). All lenses were wide open, focusing done manually via live view on a tripod and the subject was a flat newspaper. I could not put a hair between the 24-70 and the f/1.4 on centre or corner sharpness. The f/1.8 is slightly sharper in the centre but significantly worse in the corners. –  James Youngman Apr 29 '12 at 23:38
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You can compare the technical results from reviews such as those at photozone. It is interesting to see that the AF 50/1.8 D has less distortion than the AF-S 50/1.4 G. The centre resolution of the f/1.8 is also higher at all apertures, although the f/1.4 is more consistent out to the borders.

However you have to work out what you want from such a lens and at what apertures you expect to use it.

Also consider that the price difference reflects the design & manufacturing cost rather than the value or quality: it is that much more difficult to make an f/1.4 lens.

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Yes, but until you master the 1.8 lens I wouldn't recommend spending the money on the 1.4. The wider the lens the more precisely you have to focus to get good results. I've taken photos of a person's face where the eyes were in focus but the nose is blurry with the 1.8. So get the 1.8, and get good at manually focusing it. Even with AF-S on the D50 you will want to manually focus a lot to get really good results with this lens.

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Heh, that's the same camera I use!

I don't have a nifty-fifty, but my understanding is that you don't get even a full extra stop when moving from 1.8 to 1.4. Also, I've read that the 1.4 version introduces more distortion. Unless you really need the best max. aperture, save your money and get the 1.8 version.

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Besides the DOF questions, i'd like to point out that the effective focal length of a 50mm FX lens when used on a DX camera (like the D50), will be about 70 or 75mm. Make sure you consider that when thinking about this lens. I happen to like it, as the lens feels a little like a "portrait" lens, and the DOF control is very nice. Buying the Nikon FX 35mm lens puts you at about 50mm on a DX camera, but it also has a minimum aperture of f/2, thus different DOF characteristics:

http://imaging.nikon.com/products/imaging/lineup/lens/singlefocal/wide/af_35mmf_2d/index.htm

some of the pictures on my web-site, like this one:

http://bobplotts.com/galleries/Floral/aai.jpg

were shot with the 50mm 1.4 on a Nikon D90.

-- bobp

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The ultimate difference is the price, but besides that, 1.4 has nicer bokeh

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You might want to provide some more information, and possibly some links to a review or two that back up that assertion. –  jrista Mar 10 '11 at 0:10
    
bokeh is highly subjective anyway :) –  jwenting Mar 10 '11 at 7:20
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Nikon sells 2 versions of most their prime lenses. The 'G' version contain an internal engine that "enable high-speed, extremely accurate and super quiet autofocusing" according to Nikon. The 'D' version are more simple (the engine is in the DSLR) and usually cheaper.

Also, it seems that most of the new "low end" lenses (IE 1.8 G) are for DX sensors only.

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The G and D letters are not used to indicate auto-focus mechanism; the only difference is that a G lens does not have aperture ring (which is not needed with modern bodies). –  Imre Oct 23 '11 at 23:15
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"Nikon sells 2 versions of most their prime lenses" is an overstatement, there seems to be 10 pairs and one triplet of similar focal-length/aperture combinations within 44 primes; in most cases, one of them is clearly manual focus lens. Oh, and there are only two f/1.8G lenses, one is DX and the other is FX. –  Imre Oct 24 '11 at 11:11
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