Reviews |Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S

Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S Review

Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S
Review

Price when reviewed

£2229

$2675
Check current price

Our Verdict

It’s big, heavy and expensive for a 50mm lens but the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S is also rather lovely. It produces great results wide open, but close down to f/1.8 and things get stellar.

Compared to the staggeringly expensive Nikon  Z 50mm f/0.95 S Noct, it seems fairly affordable, but in reality, the Z 50mm f/1.2 S is most likely to appeal to professional rather than enthusiast photographers. It’s a great lens for environmental portraits, but like any 50mm lens, it’s suitable for a wide range of subjects. However, that super-wide aperture means that it’s a great choice for use in low light.

For

  • Extraordinarily fast f/1.2 aperture
  • Weatherproof
  • Incredible sharpness

Against

  • This type of lens doesn't come cheap
  • It's large

Nikon’s Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S is bigger and more expensive than the average 50mm lens, but it’s not an average 50mm lens.

What is the Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S?

Nikon offers two 50mm lenses with the Z mount, the Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S and the Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S reviewed here. The f/1.8 lens is the more affordable option costing around £529/$597, but at around £2,299/$2,096, the Z 50mm f/1.2 S seems pretty accessible compared to the Nikon Noct Z 58mm f/0.95 S which retails for £8,299/$7,997.

As well as cost, stepping up by 1.33EV from f/1.8 to f/1.2 adds considerable size and weight, but the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S is aimed at professional photographers who need very limited depth of field and fast shutter speeds.

 

Specification

  • Product type: Wide-angle zoom lens
  • Mount: Nikon Z
  • Format: Full-frame (FX)
  • Focal length: 50mm
  • Maximum aperture: f/1.2
  • Minimum aperture: f/16
  • Construction: 17 elements in 15 groups (including 2 ED elements, 3 aspherical elements, and elements with Nano Crystal and ARNEO coats)
  • Coatings: Nano Crystal Coat, ARNEO coat
  • Focusing system: Internal autfocusing
  • Minimum focus distance: 0.45 from the focal plane
  • Maximum reproduction ratio: 0.15x
  • Stabilisation: Yes
  • Number of diaphragm blades: 9
  • Filter size: 82mm
  • Weight: 1090g
  • Diameter x length (extension from lens mount): 89.5 x 150mm
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You can also find the Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S at Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S

Features

Photographers often call 50mm lenses nifty-fifties because they usually have a large maximum aperture which enables fast shutter speeds to be used in low light. Well, they don’t often come much niftier than an f/1.2 lens. Apart from in the Nikon line-up, of course, because there’s also a nifty-fifty-eight in the guise of the Noct Z 58mm f/0.95 S. But that’s a manual focus lens that weighs 2Kg/4 lb 6.6 oz and costs in the region of £8300/$8000. It’s a luxury lens that’s not designed to sell in huge numbers.

The Z 50mm f/1.2 S, however, is more palatable for serious photographers who want to be able to limit the depth of field dramatically or shoot at fast shutter speeds in dim conditions.

Inside the Z 50mm f/1.2 S’s substantial weather-sealed barrel, there are 17 elements in 15 groups, with two ED glass elements and three aspherical elements. Nikon has also applied its anti-reflective Nano Crystal Coat and ARNEO coatings to reduce ghosting and flare.

Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S vs Z 24-70mm f/4 S
Left: Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4, Right: Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S

Build and handling

There’s no hiding the fact that the Z 50mm f/1.2 S is a big lens. In fact, it’s bigger and heavier than the excellent Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S. That’s a consequence of the large aperture and the unusually high number of elements (17 in 15 groups) – for comparison, the excellent Z 50mm f/1.8 S is constructed from 12 elements in 9 groups.

Nikon has given the Z 50mm f/1.2 S a dedicated control ring that can be customised via the camera’s menu to control the aperture, exposure compensation or sensitivity (ISO) setting. I usually opt to control exposure compensation via a lens ring, but with such a huge aperture range, I prefer to use it to adjust the aperture setting with the Z 50mm f/1.2 S.

With Z lenses that don’t have a dedicated lens ring, Nikon allows the purpose of the manual focus ring to be customised. When there’s a dedicated ring, the manual focus ring cannot be customised. It would be great if Nikon could issue firmware upgrades to the cameras and lenses to enable both rings to be customised and used to adjust key settings.

As we’ve seen before on Nikon’s other top-flight Z-mount lenses, the Z 50mm f/1.2 S has an OLED information panel that can show the aperture, focus distance, ISO and depth of field. You just press the DISP button to toggle through the information.

Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S screen

There’s also a L-Fn (lens function) button that can be customised via the camera’s menu to used to activate one of a long list of parameters such as subject tracking, the framing grid AF-on and bracketing. It would be handy if there was an option to press the button to switch the purpose of the control ring. That would mean that I could switch it from adjusting the aperture to adjusting exposure compensation, for example, but it’s not possible. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a firmware upgrade.

To summarise the build and handling, the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S feels very well made, is sealed against dust and moisture. Both the focus ring and the control ring have a smooth action and the lens responds quickly to any adjustment. However, it would be nice to be able to adjust more than one parameter quickly via the control ring or the control ring and the manual focus ring.

Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S iris aperture

Performance

One of the key reasons that Nikon switched from the 47-mm diameter F mount to the 55mm-diameter Z mount was to give Nikon’s optical engineers the ability to design lenses with apertures of up to f/0.95. The F mount limits them to f/1.4 or f/1.2 at a push. The Z 50mm f/1.2 S proves the point as it delivers superb-quality images throughout its f/1.2-f/16 aperture range.

If the in-camera Vignette control is turned off, there’s quite obvious corner shading in images of uniform mid-tone subjects shot at the widest apertures. Closing down to f/2 reduces it significantly and it’s effectively gone by f/2.8. Setting the Vignette control to ‘normal’ reduces the corner shading so that it’s barely visible at f/1.2.

The level of sharpness across the frame is also impressive with just slight fall-off towards the corners in images shot at the very widest apertures. Close down to f/1.8 and things sharpen up very nicely.

I wouldn’t hesitate to use the widest aperture setting on the Z 50mm f/1.2 S, but scrutinising images at 100% on a computer screen reveals that the sharpest results are produced from around f/1.8 to f/8. Even with the in-camera Diffraction compensation activated, there’s a very slight drop in sharpness as you close down from f/11 to f/16. But I’m talking a tiny amount that’s only just visible when pixel peeping.

I was unable to spot any curvilinear distortion in the images I shot with the Z 50mm f/1.2 S and I found no sign of chromatic aberration.

Aided by the large aperture, the Nikon Z7 II‘s autofocusing is assured with the Z 50mm f/1.2 S mounted. The lens isn’t completely silent, but the focusing mechanism is only just audible.

Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S sample images

These images were shot with the Nikkor Z 50mm F/1.2 S mounted on the Nikon Z7 II. Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution sample images.

Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S Image Gallery

Verdict

The benefit of a very wide aperture setting isn’t always apparent when you’re looking at images on the back of a camera, open them on a computer screen, however, and the selective focus becomes apparent. At f/1.2, you can really isolate your subject from the background.

It’s not just about the size of the depth of field, it’s also the degree of blur that’s seen in areas beyond the focus point. At f/1.2, cluttered backgrounds can be blurred to a smooth, almost uniform tone.

Backed by the enhanced eye detection brought by the latest firmware updates for the Nikon Z7 II and Nikon Z6 II, the Z 50mm f/1.2 S makes a sublime lens for environmental portraits. For many photographers, the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S may be sufficient for this, but for anyone who wants the very best and doesn’t mind the bulk, the f/1.2 is the way to go.

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