GEAR REVIEW - NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D
First introduced in 2002, the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D or "Nifty Fifty" as it is affectionately referred to, is the best bang for buck lens Nikon produce - period. It retails for around £110 but, mint copies can be had from eBay for anywhere between £60-£80. Optically it is quite stunning, producing sharp images at wide apertures, that gives the user wonderful creative control over the depth of field in their images. Strangely, Nikon don't regard this lens as "professional". Don't let that fact fool you into thinking it doesn't have much to offer!
Construction is pretty decent. Although it's made from composite plastic, the 50mm f/1.8D is quite sturdy. Being a prime, there isn't a whole lot to go wrong with it. It can withstand general use and the odd minor knock without issue. Like any lens, I wouldn't wan't to drop it but, otherwise I've always been happy with the build quality. Compared to the Canon version, it feels a lot more solid. The mount is metal, which is a positive. I've never been a fan of the plastic mounts that feature of Nikons newer, consumer level lenses and with the amount of use the 50mm has had over the years, the metal mount is very much needed. There is no weather sealing on the lens. This isn't something that has ever bothered me but, may be a concern for some people, depending upon their photography.
Optically, it's a very decent lens. At maximum aperture there is some softness. For portraits, this can be a bonus at times, so I don't consider it a major negative. The results are perfectly useable. It's also worth mentioning that your images will also be soft in most areas due to the shallow depth of field, if shooting at shorter distances. By f/2.8 though, the resolution jumps considerably and the results are very pleasing in the center and the edges aren't far behind. Things only improve optically as you stop down further and peak at around f/5.6 before diffraction sets in an image quality begins to decline. Beyond f/2.8 I'd regard the center as razor sharp.
Being a wide aperture lens, the 50mm f/1.8D is great for low-light scenarios, whether that's night photography or indoor use at kids' parties. The auto focus is accurate and fast, which again is another prerequisite for snapping kids, as they rarely sit still for more than a few seconds. Even on my somewhat dated D90, it was still nippy in the focus department, but its even faster on the D800!
As mentioned in my article on lens compression, I much prefer the look of the 50mm on the D90 than on the D800 for close up portraiture. The 50mm used to be my go to lens on the D90. As the D800 is an FX sensor, I can get closer to my subject than on the ASP-C sensored D90. Getting closer creates more distortion and less flattering compression of the face. If you're not careful you can turn your beautiful model into something resembling Herman Munster. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit here but, you get the gist. For beauty work, I much prefer the 105mm VR on the D800, especially as it has the added benefit of vibration reduction. For photographing kids, the distortion isn't so much of an issue and in some instances can add to the cuteness factor. For environmental portraiture, where you subject is smaller in the frame, the distorting effects are less apparent and the focal length absolutely fine.
The 50mm f/1.8D has since been updated to the AF-S version so that entry level DSLRs that lack a focus motor can get a slice of the action too. It also has instant manual focus override, something that is missing on the AF-D version. Not something I've ever really missed to be honest. What it does have over the AF-S version is an aperture ring. Why is this such a bonus? Well, try reverse mounting the 50mm on your camera and you have yourself a pretty powerful macro lens. With the aperture ring you can stop down the lens to increase depth of field and sharpness. You can't do that with the modern gelded lenses.
Despite being a prime lens, its a very versatile focal length and its price puts it within easy reach of even the tightest of budgets, especially by grabbing a bargain on eBay. Most of my favourite and award-winning images have been taken by this humble little optic. Obviously it's down to the user to produce great images but, don't let the fact this lens is so cheap deter you from buying it.
Even on the D800 with its 36MP sensor, this Nikkor can hold its own in delivering great image quality. Granted, it will get the granny beaten out of it wide open, when compared to the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art. However, not everyone can afford a £700 price tag for a low light prime and to be frank, very few need a lens with that resolving power. Check out my article on why the 50mm f/1.8D is the best 50mm lens available.
If you're still just rocking a kit lens on your camera and want something with more creative control, consider getting yourself one of these little beauties. I doubt you'll be disappointed as everyone I've recommended it to has said they love it. I'm sure you will too.