Review: Nikon 50mm 1.8G lens

People are my favorite subjects when it comes to photography. There's something that's endlessly fascinating of capturing everything from the energy in a model's eyes, to the warm love between a wedding couple. As a portrait photographer, I am always looking for ways to improve my images, and I noticed over time, that a lot of the portraits I admired a lot had one thing in common: the camera was physically close to the subject. This brought a certain intimacy to the image that the commonly-used telephoto lenses simply cannot achieve. Even my most-used lens, the Siggy 85mm 1.4, had to be at least 3 feet away from my subject.

I began looking for a lens that would do just that: bring me closer to my subjects. Nikon caught my attention when they announced the release of their new 50mm 1.8G lens. As a shooter who used to own the 50mm 1.8D , I was excited to hear that there was finally an AF-S version of it! Early testers of the prototype said the bokeh was measurably better, and that it was pretty sharp wide open. I'm usually a person who won't get a lens until it's been reviewed to death by others, but I decided to go for it and pre-order this lens ($220), even though only a few people had shot with it.

I'm glad I did. 

Build Quality: The lens is made of plastic, similar to the other Nikkor consumer lenses. The M/A-M switch is very useful, since allows for overriding AF with manual focus, or just switching to manual focus. The focus ring feels cheap, but is also nicely dampened. Nikon enlarged the lens mount dot, which is handy when mounting the lens in dark conditions. The lens included lens hood is nice and deep, but mine is a little on the loose side, and there's no real locking mechanism...friction is the only thing holding the lens hood on.

At 6.5 oz, this lens is a lot lighter than it looks. Slap it on your camera and you'll forget it's there, esp. if you're shooting a full frame like the D3.

The lens comes with:
--front and rear caps (the rear cap is the newly designed one from Nikon)
--lens hood
--cloth bag
--5 year warranty and other paperwork
The big selling point of this lens for me, at least design wise, is that everything moves internally. The old 50mm 1.8D lens focused externally, and the focus ring spun during AF operation. This meant that all sort of crap from the outside world could be sucked in, plus you could damage the focus mechanism if you bumped the barrel or focus ring while it was moving. Not so with the 1.8G. This lens does all its focusing internally...nothing moves externally, not even the focus ring. I love it :) 
 Another change is the filter ring size. The older 1.8D used 52mm filters. The 1.8G uses 58mm filters.

This rear part of the lens was another selling point for me. First, the lens mount is metal, and not plastic like Nikon's cheaper zooms. Second, the lens has a rear gasket to keep out moisture and dust. Nikon used to only put this feature on their pro lenses, but over the past few years, they have allowed it to trickle down to their lower-end lenses. I appreciate this a lot because I often do shoots at the beach (being in Hawaii), and it's a nice piece of mind to know the lens mount is sealed. The internal focusing design of this lens also means there are no glaring gaps for crap to get inside the lens. 

Image Quality: This lens rocks in the IQ department. If you thought the 1.8D was nice, think again...the 1.8G blows it out of the water, and then some. The 1.8G is noticeably more contrasty, and handles flare better. Nikon was nice enough to throw in an aspherical element to help with overall image clarity. The photo above was shot wide open at f1.8.

Color rendition is very  accurate, and is on par with my other Nikon lenses.

*note: all images shot on the Nikon D300 

Here's a 100% crop of the previous image. Yup, it's pretty sharp wide open :)

Auto Focus: With the Silent Wave Motor, the 1.8G focuses around the same speed as the 1.8D, but don't bank on shooting sports or fast moving subjects with this lens. On another note, I feel like the 1.8G locks on in lower light much better, and handles back lit situations far better than the 1.8D. 

The SWM also allows the 50mm 1.8G to autofocus on ANY Nikon DSLR. The 1.8D could only AF on bodies like the D80 and D200 that had an in-body AF motor. 

Here's a few more shots from the 1.8G shot wide open...

I'm pretty picky when it comes to bokeh, and this lens doesn't disappoint. Whatever Nikon did (larger glass elements, aspherical element, 7 bladed aperture), this lens beats out the 1.8D by a longshot when it comes to bokeh. This shot is my attempt to get the best bokeh from this lens. I'm 1.5 feet away from the orchid, and the lens is shot wide open at 1.8. 

city lights...lens switched to manual focus, and set to mid range on focus scale. 

manual focus, set to closest focusing distance. 

As I mentioned earlier, the main reason for me purchasing this lens was to get my camera physically closer to my subjects. The 1.5 ft. close-focusing distance of this lens has really proved to be useful during my shoots, and I've gotten many of my favorite model shots with this lens. However, I've learned to stop this lens down for portraits, because the DOF becomes extremely shallow when you're a foot and a half away from the person.

f2.8 | ISO 200 | 1/400 sec

f2.8 | ISO 200 | 1/800 sec

f6.3 | ISO 100 | 1/800 sec
**12/7/12  UPDATE: This lens is officially my favorite portrait lens :) I take it to every model shoot, and love the working distance that it affords me. It gives an intimacy that my once-favored lens, the 85mm 1.4G, simply cannot match. The photos below (all shot around f2-f2.2) are from model shoots in which the 50mm shot around 75% of the images...

To Recap:

--IF design and rear gasket makes the lens fairly tolerant to the elements
--M/A-M switch allows for overriding AF with manual focus, or just switching to manual.
--larger glass elements and 7 bladed aperture give the lens better bokeh than ANY previous 50mm 1.8 AF version.
--excellent color rendition and contrast
--sharp wide open at 1.8
--snappy AF, and handles low light and back lit situations better than the 1.8D.
--close focuses to 1.5 feet. HUGE deal for portraits.

--$220: sorta neutral here. It's almost twice the price of the 1.8D, although it IS only half the price of the 50mm 1.4G...
--flimsy focus ring.
--lens hood doesn't stay on well.
-- Made in China

Overall, I am very pleased with this lens. As a previous user of the 50mm 1.8D and 50mm 1.4D, the 1.8G is my favorite by a landslide. I strongly recommend this lens to the following people:

--photographers who are on the fence of upgrading from the 50mm 1.8D (the 1.8G does everything better than the 1.8D)
--Nikon shooters who don't have a 50mm yet (best compromise between the older AF-D versions and the current 1.4G in my opinion)

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below if you have any questions!


  1. I am suprised you got it to flare. It is much better than the 50 F1.8 AFD in the flare department. Did you have the lens shade on? I am wondering what 58mm lens shade would screw into this new lens. I would not want to worry about the shade falling off as you mentioned.

  2. Hey William,
    I did have the lens hood on. However, I prefer lens flare in my portraits, since it adds a sense of warmth to the image, and the 1.8G definitely does this well. If you're worried about the lens hood falling off, just put some gaffers tape on it :)

  3. Excellent blog posting! Want to buy one after reading this:)

  4. Thanks for the review but I'm still undecided.

    I owned the 50 f1.8D and switched to the 50mm f1.4D (which I currently use and am very pleased with).

    I'm tempted by the 50 f1.8G. The reviews I've read compare it to the f1.8D and seldom to the f1.4D. You allude to it but only briefly.
    The lens we are discussing appears to out perform ANY Nikon 50mm.

    I really like the rear gasket and it will be a go-to lens (along with the 35 f1.8G) for shooting in less than ideal weather conditions on my D300S.

    My biggest concern is needing to get into a completely new set of filters for just one lens. I own several Nikon lenses and none take 58mm filters. Using step-up rings is a pain. That's up to me to weigh, though.

    Thanks again for the well written review.

  5. Hi Lyle,

    Sorry for the such a late response! I wouldn't have filters affect my decision in a lens. Filters, esp. for 58mm, are relatively inexpensive, and it's honestly one of the last things I think about when I buy a lens. Since you use the 50 1.4D right now, I'd also consider the 50 1.4G :)

  6. i'm also thinking about buying the 50mm f/1.8 since i only have the nikkor 18-105mm and i'd LOVE to have a really shallow dof. i also have no problem with rather "harsh bokeh" at times (in contrast to smooth bokeh) (for example see here: -- i absolutely love the bokeh in this one!), but of course this also heavily depends on the motif. would you say the 50mm f/1.8g has, generally speaking, rather smooth or harsh bokeh?

    i am also still a little unsure about 50mm at all because i'm wondering whether the 35mm may be the better one for me. i have a nikon d90, and i'm afraid that if i buy the 50mm, it'll often be too tight, e.g. when i're in a room and can't step back several meters because of the walls (obviously).

    i'm sorry for all my questions and possibly grammar/expression mistakes (i'm not a native english speaker :)). thanks for your great review and the example pictures!

  7. Hi there!

    From my experience, I'd say the 50mm 1.8G has generally smooth bokeh (I am often close to my subjects when shooting). Yes, the 50mm can be a bit tight at times, since it acts as a 75mm on our crop bodies. However, I prefer shooting tight, and the bokeh the 50mm produces is FAR better than the 35mm 1.8. Hope that helps! Thanks for checking out my blog :)

  8. Thanks so much for writing this review, really clear and convinced me to get this lens!

  9. Hi Reese M.,

    Thank you very much for this concise review! Just like to ask a few questions.

    May I know how you think the bokeh of this 50mm f/1.8G compares with other lenses, such as the 24- 70mm f/2.8, when both are set at 2.8, or the 24 - 85m VR when both are set to f/4.5?

    And may I know why you think the out of focus rendition is good? Ironically, I find the picture of the orchid to have the worse looking bokeh. Somehow it just looks artificial.

    Also, the oval shaped highlights are really distracting to me. And on a full frame body this problem is even more pronounced. The out of focus area in the corners are really distorted in my opinion. Do you happen to have a full frame body to test this lens?

    PS: You take really nice photographs!


  10. Hi Paul,

    My apologies for such a late reply! Here's the answers to your questions:
    -I prefer the bokeh of this lens to both the 24-70 and 24-85, although it is unfair to compare those lenses, as they are both zoom lenses and don't have as wide of an aperture.
    -bokeh is very subjective. What one person finds as "good bokeh" may not be so with others, so take anything you read from other shooters about bokeh with a grain of salt.
    -I use this lens exclusively on my D700 now, and I love the distorted bokeh in the corners, since it helps to guide the viewer's eye to the center. Again, this is my preference as a photographer :)

    Honestly, this lens is $220 USD, and you really can't go wrong with it. It comes with me on almost every shoot, and has taken some of my all time favorite portraits. I wouldn't dock it just for the bokeh :)

    Hope that helps!

  11. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    50mm f1.8 good bokeh
    thank you :)

  12. Très bonne critique de cette lentille, accompagné de bonnes photos.



Blog Archive

Total Page Views (Oct 2010 - present)