Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 Ai-s

I decided I wanted to try some classic manual focus lenses on my Nikon Df.  The decision was lead partially because I have been trying to improve my street photography and therefore, decided that zone focusing was for me.  Unfortunately, all of the latest AFS lenses have rather poor markings for distance, and just generally unfriendly ergonomics for manual focusing like really loose focusing collars.

So I went to my local camera store and picked up some old Nikkors for a song.  One of the ones I got was the 50mm f/1.4 Ai made in around 1977 – and I liked it!  But it was clear that it had seen better days with some damage and looseness.

Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 on a Nikon Df
Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 Ai-s mounted to my Nikon Df

So I decided to bite the bullet and get brand new Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 Ai-s which works perfectly on my Nikon Dƒ and most mid to high end Nikon cameras.  Part of it was the features, but also wanting to own a piece of history and enjoy the classic way of shooting.  It’s also really tiny for such a very fast lens, and I’m enjoying slimming down my bag for every day usage.

Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 Ai-s
Big, bright glass. Look at it!

Wide open at f/1.2

One of the first questions that many ask is if it’s hard to manual focus at f/1.2.  Yes, it’s taking practice, but there is something about the Df that seems to make it easier.  In any case, the depth of field is minuscule and only a small shift front or back can put you far out of focus.  Thank goodness that all modern Nikons have a focus confirmation dot to help.

But how’s the performance!?

Bokeh Nikon 50mm f/1.2
Wide Open. Sharpness and Bokeh

Well, at f/1.2, it’s on the interesting side of horrible – not quite Lensbaby horrible, but definitely not sharp all over, and even quite hazy and dreamy in the middle.

There is also a lot of vignetting, but I was able to make a lens profile for this.  Unfortunately, there is no Lightroom profile for this lens, but it works seamlessly (and accurately) with the one I made.  Feel free to download it here and you’ll find the installation location here.  Don’t forget to restart Lightroom.

Swirly Bokeh
Swirly Bokeh

The bokeh is a little swirly and pleasing with a hint of nervous rings.  Early testing shows that the bokeh is best at f/2.8.

Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 Wide Open at f/1.2
Wide Open

Sharpness wide open is usable in the middle, with a lot of smearing towards the edges.  A light haze covers everything, but it’s not bad, just different.

Already at f/2, it’s getting quite sharp.  Again, from initial usage, it may be that already at f/2, it’s the sharpest 50mm prime I have.  I tested it against the 50mm f/1.8G, which is nearly legendary for its sharpness and I think the old one wins it.

50mm f/1.2 Ai-s at f/2
50mm f/1.2 Ai-s at f/2

See this crop from the above, and it only gets sharper from there!

Pixel peeping the Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 Ai-s
Crop at f/2

High contrast and backlit situations are the worst.  I had to process this image very carefully to get an old-school look at f/1.2. Look in the corners and you’ll see the smearing I’m talking about.  Still, I quite like the effect, but I’ll have to use it wisely, or else stop it down.

Backlit at f/1.2. Processed with VSCO film simulation Fuji Fortia SP
Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 at f/2
f/2 in a mountain village

So my first impressions are that it’s a beautiful, high-quality piece of kit, no questions asked.  The well-damped focusing ring is something out of another era.  In fact, it’s a 30 year old design that just has a certain old-world class about it.  It feels like it was made by a very patient craftsman by hand.

Focusing at f/1.2 is not as hard as I thought, but it takes some getting used to.

Sharpness is exceptional at f/2.  If you go lower than that, have a certain look in mind, and don’t expect perfection.

I’m enjoying this lens thoroughly and I can’t wait to go out tomorrow and shoot some more.  Nostalgia and fun-factor are certainly top on the list of qualifications for this classic, and very sharp at f/2 and up.

Thanks for reading and feel free to click through all of the images in this post, including the following additional samples, to see much larger sizes.

At f/4 it’s clinically, bitingly sharp.

5 thoughts on “Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 Ai-s”

  1. Nice review! I want this lens badly for those moments of me-and-my-camera, including astrophotography, but I’m afraid it has lots of coma. Can you give your input on this?
    My other option is the Voigtländer Nokton 58mm f/1.4, but I’m not sure which one has less coma.

  2. I had one of these lenses with a pair of Nikon F3 bodies. Almost impossible to nail the focus. I liked the 50mm F1.8Ais for all around use at the time. It did not have that “hazy” look.

  3. This lense is not for low light. For that you need the NOCT series, like 58mm or the Leica F1.0 which are designed for minimum comma wide open.

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