GEAR REVIEW - NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4D
The Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-D was intially introduced in 1989 and subsequently updated in 1995. The improvements were to include the "D" distance information to assist in more accurate TTL flash exposure and distortion control. Optically it remained the same and so this review encompasses both versions of the lens. Despite being now 20 years old, the 35mm f/2 AF-D is still sold new today and retails for around £250. So what do you get for your money?
The lens comes with front and rear caps but, surprisingly, no hood is included. Thankfully these are readily available on Amazon and eBay for about £3, although it's annoying one wasn't included in the first place. A genuine Nikon HN-3 will run you for about £15. Personally I went with a generic wide-angle type hoods with a 52mm thread. If you do order a generic hood, make sure it won't vignette the lens.
Okay, on to the lens itself. Firstly let's look at the construction. Like most Nikon lenses of this period, build quality is pretty decent. The body is made from composite plastic and features a metal mount. At just over 200g, it feels surprisingly solid, despite the fairly diminutive weight. A far cry from the all-metal bodies of older manual focus Nikkors but, still robust enough to survive the odd minor knock and scrape, or rattling about in your camera bag.
As this is not a modern lens, there is obviously no weather sealing on the mount or instant manual focus override. If you want to manually focus this lens, you must first disengage the motor on the camera body. Not really an issue as few people would opt to do this. As this lens is not gelded (a "G" type lens), you do have the option of selecting the aperture on the lens. Again, not something that many people will choose but, still a nice feature and something I wish was on all Nikon lenses.
Focus speed is very fast on the D800 and the accuracy is always bang on target. Infinity to closest focusing distance is about 0.5 seconds, so easily on a par with modern AF-S lenses, although nowhere near as silent. Together with the 46º angle of view, the 35mm is an ideal lens for photographing children or your pets, who never sit still and are often unpredictable in their movements. While I really enjoy the 50mm for kids, often I have found the framing a little tight under certain situations and the 35mm ensures I don't accidentally cut off a foot or hand whilst trying to capture the moment.
Bear in mind that if you are planning on using this on entry level DSLR, you won't have autofocus capabilities, as the D3xxx-D5xxx series and D40/D60 do not possess a motor in the camera. A better and cheaper option for those bodies is the excellent 35mm f/1.8G, which is a DX/APS-C lens. The 35mm f/2D is an FX lens and so will cover both full frame and crop sensors. If you do have an APS-C body with a focus motor, then you have the option of using either lens. If you plan on going FX at some point in the future, I'd recommend going with the older F/2D.
Minimum focusing distance is another attractive feature of this lens, allowing the photographer to place objects a mere 25cm away. This permits you to fill the frame with your subject, whilst still maintaining a wide enough perspective to include background elements. The fact that the front of the lens extends without rotating, means the use of circular polarizers and graduated ND filters is a lot simpler, if using the 35mm for landscape photography.
Optically, it's a very decent lens. Even wide open, the center of the image is sharp and only improves stopped down. Where this lens falls somewhat short is the corners of the frame. This is confirmed by the Nikon MTF chart opposite. If edge-to-edge sharpness is a major concern to you, then you will have to stop it down to get the best out of it or better yet, go with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art - although that isn't a cheap option, by any means.
As I primarily shoot portraits, I find edge softness can be a bonus at times, so I don't really consider it a major negative, although since the 35mm focal length lends itself to environmental portraiture, it is something to bear in mind when placing your model in the frame.
Being a wide aperture lens, the 35mm f/2D is a great performer in low-light scenarios, whether that's night photography or indoor events. Not as fast as a f/1.4 but still allowing enough light to focus accurately. Good background separation is achieveable too, but obviously depends on your subject distance and their distance to the backdrop. The wider the lens angle, the deeper the depth of field automatically becomes. Bokeh is nothing to write home about but, it's not terrible either. If you want a creamy/soft background, shoot with a longer focal length.
Unfortunately the lens (along with a few other lenses) is well known for developing an aperture fault, at least on earlier copies. Oil from the focus helicoid makes its way down to the aperture assembly and eventually onto the blades. Depending on the severity, this can cause enough traction to slow or cease them all together. Oil can also be sprayed onto the internal optics. My copy suffered from this and so I stripped it down and cleaned it. The oil has reappeared on the blades but until it causes any optical or mechanical problems, I'll leave it be. Nikon did apparently address this issue in later serial numbers although from time to time I hear people complaining of the same fault.
In summation, I would say the 35mm f/2D is a solidly performing lens with a lot of positive attributes. Sharpness, focus speed and wide aperture are all great for the price point.