Review: AF Nikon 50 mm f/1.4D (vs AF-S Nikon 35 mm f/1.8G)

Two and a half years ago, I bought my first prime lens. A Nikon 35 mm AF-S f1.8 G. I loved it! I did projects allowing myself only to use this lens. A few months back, I bought my second “prime”, the Nikon 50 mm AF f1.4 D, a.k.a. The Nifty Fifty. And what a great lens this is! Loving both lenses I decided to take them head-to-head. I wanted to see what type of photography suits which lens better.

For those wondering what a prime lens is: a lens that is fixed to one focal length, it can’t zoom. There are some advantages to this. Primes are less complex to build than zoom-lenses. Hence, production is cheaper and maintaining high quality is easier! The “disadvantage” of not being able to zoom is considered an advantage to most photographers, since it develops creativity. If you want to “zoom in”, you’ll need to get closer to your subject creating a “connection with your subject”. And if there is not enough space zooming out using your feet, you’ll need to rethink your composition.

Loving both primes I took them to the test and compared them in different types of photography.

Landscape

In landscape photography you want your photo to be as sharp as possible from close to far away. Meaning you need a large depth of field, so you usually shoot with a small aperture. The 35 mm has a much smaller aperture (f22) than the 50 mm lens (f16). However completely stopped down, most lenses lose sharpness. Hence I don’t want an aperture smaller than f13, or f16. With the 50 mm at f16 and a subject at 10 meters distance your depth of field starts at 4,4 meters and ends at infinity. While with the 35 mm lens at f16 the depth of field starts at 2,78 meters. This is a big difference, much more of your photo is in focus using the 35 mm lens.

In the photo below the distance between the bench and me was approximately 10 meters. I focused on this bench and used an aperture of f13 creating an infinite depth of field using my 50 mm lens.

Bench at Oisterwijkse Vennen, The Netherlands

Bench at Oisterwijkse Vennen, The Netherlands. Shot with a 50 mm lens approximately 10 meters from the bench.

I took the same photo, on the same spot, with the same settings, however now I attached the 35 mm lens. This resulted in the photo below. The view is much wider in this photo.

Bench at Oisterwijkse Vennen, The Netherlands.

Bench at Oisterwijkse Vennen, The Netherlands. Shot with a 35 mm lens approximately 10 meters from the bench.

In order to get the same perspective as the first photo, but now using the 35 mm lens, I needed to get much closer to the bench, reducing the distance to about 6 meters. Both photos below are taken with the same settings. The left photo is shot with the 50 mm lens, and the right one with the 35 mm lens. Notice how much wider the scene is in the second photo.

If you compare the both photos above, there is much more background in the second shot, what makes it better for landscapes (except if you want to isolate your subject). Keep in mind though, I shoot with a crop camera! So the 35 mm lens behaves like a 50 mm lens would on a Full Frame camera.

Sharpness on both lenses is great. The 35 mm however shows some Chromatic Aberration (which is easy to take care of in post-processing), but contrast is better on the 35 mm lens (in the RAW files).

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic Aberration using the AF-S Nikon 35 mm f/1.8G lens on a Nikon D7100.

Portrait

A telelens is considered to be great for portraits for a variety of reasons. The three most important reasons are:

  1. Telelenes compresses the scene isolating your subject.
  2. They enable you to back-up from your model, so you don’t make them uncomfortable by pressing the lens in their faces.
  3. Wide angle lens are prone to distortion, and you don’t want to stretch the face or body of your model.

In this self-portrait, the distance between me and the camera using the Nifty Fifty was approximately 1 meter, while with the 35 mm lens attached, I needed to get closer to about 60 cm.

The 50 mm lens isolates me lovely from the background and is my popular lens for capturing portraits. The 35 mm lens shows more of the background due to it’s wide view, creating more negative space around my head. The 35 mm lens is also seems to distorts the head a bit more.

Close-up

My last test was shooting a simple still-life. I want my photo to be as sharp as possible. Usually the “sweet spot ” of a lens is when you stop it down 2 or 3 stops from it’s maximum aperture. According to DxOMark the sweet spot of the AF 50 mm f1.4 D is at f2.8, while for the AF 35 mm f1.8 G this is at f1.8. I decided to use an aperture of f2.8. As you can see, the first photo (50 mm) seems to compress the scene, while the depth of field is larger in the second photo (35 mm). Focal point in both photos is the (dead) rose.

Forgotten in a rush

A still life, photographed with a 50 mm lens.

Forgotten in a rush

A still life, photographed with a 35 mm lens.

Again perspective changes a bit as you change distance. Have I not changed the distance to the scene after shooting with the 50 mm lens, the photo would have been as below.

Forgotten in a rush

A still life, photographed with a 35 mm lens. Taken at the same distance as in the first photo with the 50 mm lens.

For still lifes where a wider angle is wanted, I prefer the 35 mm. But if I want to set an “intimate mood” the 50 mm suits me better.

Verdict

I have carried the AF-S Nikon 35 mm f/1.8 G with me for a couple of years and truly love it! It is hard to find anything negative about it, except it is prone to chromatic aberration. Focus is quick and silent, sharpness is terrific, and the large f1.8 aperture is useful in darker situations.

The AF Nikon 50 mm f/1.4 D has been on my camera non-stop for the past few weeks. I’ve fallen in love! There are a few things I would like improve on this lens. Since it does not have a built in focus motor, focusing is very loud and rather slow. The lack of lens hood is a big disadvantage too. It is annoying to have disturbing light entering the lens from the side. I solved this with a cheap Chinese hood.

Also, the Nifty fifty has a lower contrast compared to the 35 mm prime. The last disadvantage is the bokeh at f1.8, which is less pleasant than at f1.4 since it has only 7 aperture blades.

Do these disadvantages makes the AF Nikon 50 mm f/1.4 D a bad lens? No way! I love it! Since the 50 mm works like a 75mm on my crop camera the perspective of view is great! Sharpness on both lenses is fantastic! With the Nifty Fifty set to f1.4 bokeh is great too! At f1.8 it is less round, but the focal length compresses the scene nicely.

Bokeh 50 mm 1.4

Bokeh with the Nifty Fifty at f1.4 is brilliant!

I think most “issues” of the 50 mm has been solved with Nikon’s much more expensive AF Nikon 50 mm f/1.4 G, which is also slightly sharper according to some websites. However, If you need an aperture ring, this won’t work for you. If it’s worth the money is up to you. Both the AF-D and AF-G are great lenses.

Both, the 35 mm lens, and the 50 mm lens are fantastic and I would not want to miss either of them.  Personally I prefer the 35 mm prime for landscapes, and when shooting people I use the 50 mm prime.

What do you think? Which lens do you prefer? Do you own a prime? Let us know by leaving a reply!

Kind regards,

Tieme

16 Comments

  1. Reply

    Great explanation, Tieme! I tire easily with the technical stuff, but your comparison pictures and your explanations are very helpful.
    I own a 30-70mm and 50 mm (1.8) lens. I also have to consider the crop factor with the D300, but I also looooove my 50 lens. I bought it a year ago and have noticed that I hardly ever use my other lenses anymore. However, your post makes me want to go back to using the 30-70 again, if only to compare it to the 50, because I’m sure sometimes the 30-70 would be better suited.

    • Reply

      Thank you for your comment Kiki! I always appreciate your words! The 30-70 lens? I am not sure if I ever heard of those focal lengths in a zoom lens. Which lens is it? I am quite curious!

      Yeah, the 50 mm lens, love it! And the pictures you take with that lens are terrific! You sell your recipes very well with your photos 🙂

      And for those wondering what I talk about: Take a close look at this website, and the picture Kiki shoots with the Nifty Fifty: https://dinnerfornone.wordpress.com/

      Have a great Sunday!

      Cheers,
      Tieme

      • Reply

        Oh goodness – thanks for plugging my blog *lol*
        As for the 30-70 lens *ahem* It’s actually a 35-70 I just realised this weekend (used it for the 1st time in a very long time after reading your post!). So it’s 35-70 mm 4.5, and it came as a kit lens with my D70.
        Thanks again for YOUR very kind words & happy weekend!

        • Reply

          You’re welcome Kiki 🙂 Ah, I thought so. I am thinking about trying to get my hands on a Nikon 35-70 2.8 lens, but not sure if it’s worth now I have the 50mm prime.. (so I am going to save money for the super expensive 70-200 2.8.).

          And did you like reusing the lens? I find people underestimate the kit lenses a little. For example the 18-55 that is being shipped with most Nikon cameras are fantastically sharp lenses!

          Again, thank you too, and have a great weekend!
          Tieme

          • Yes, I did like using the 35-70 again, although it took some getting used to. Then, however, I encountered a problem that I had forgotten – Lightroom does not recognise this lens for lens correction. I’ve tried uploading a list of lenses but that didn’t work. Apart from that, though, I will definitely use it more often again.

          • Hmm, that’s not very nice of LR! I am curious to the shots you are going to shoot!

            Cheers,
            Tieme 🙂

  2. Reply

    I was wondering about the nifty fifty so this was timely for me. I think fo rnow I’ll stick with my 35mm f/1.8 though.
    Great post!

    • Reply

      I am glad it was a timely post for you Norm, thank you very much!

      Sticking with the 35mm lens is a great choice, but what made decide you wouldn’t add the 50mm? It would not replace your 35mm, but add to your photography.

      Have a great Sunday and wonderful week ahead!

      Kind regards,
      Tieme

    • Reply

      Just like me than 😉 But what a lenses huh, pretty sharp! Did you shoot those gorgeous waterfalls in Iceland with the 35mm lens too? Because for landscapes.. I have to be honest.. My Nikon 10-24 is my favorite.. What a lens!

      Have a great Sunday!

      Cheers,
      Tieme

      • Reply

        No.. I have to admit that I used the nikon kit lens 18-55 mm 😉 I would love to have a better lens for landscape photography, but I’m still a bit short on money for that 😉

        • Reply

          Money always is an issue 😉 But, like I said to Kiki in a comment above, kit lenses are very underrated. Sharpness on those lenses is pretty good! At least good enough for photos being displayed on your computer screen 😉 And besides.. What do you prefer: A boring images shot with an expensive super sharp lens, or an intriguing photo, made with a cheap lens? 😉

          Cheers!
          Tieme

          • I agree, you are right ! Even if sometimes I can feel the limitations of my kit lens, especially with the limited range of aperture 😉 But it’s good for beginners like me, so I’m happy with it until I can afford a slightly better one 🙂

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