I have never been a fan of the so-called “normal” lens…the 50mm. Before the era of kit zoom lenses, the classic 50mm lens would be the lens that comes with an SLR body..
I found its field of view restricting compared to my favorite standard lens of choice, the 35mm.
But in recent years I have come to use and love the various 1.4G lenses Nikon has produced. The 24mm 1.4g, 35mm 1.4g, 85mm 1.4G…I skipped the 50mm, I tried, I just never liked it’s angle of view. But when the 58mm 1.4G lens was introduced, I was intriqued.
The lens designer Haruo Sato had been thinking about the ideal photographic lens and had been contemplating it for more than 30 years, when he first got started working at Nikon.
He was looking to create a lens more for its three dimensional rendering of a two dimensional world rather than the traditional sharpness measure.
“I hope people will think of this 58mm as a ‘three dimensional hi-fi lens’. I’ll be very happy if people understand this. It allows the point of focus to have as much sharpness as possible while still having a gentle, continuous bokeh.”
I got my hands on a sample and was eager to put it to the test on the streets of New York. Like Mr. Sato, I too love the look of the out of focus areas of the scene and have often maintained that less depth of field or selective focus is a very good thing when it comes to my images. “Wide Open” is often the starting point on my Nikon bodies locked in Aperture Priority mode and it’s often the end point as well.
Baby Hulk Mural at f1.4 with the Nikon 58mm f1.4G lens.
A shopper at The Strand books store checks out the sale books. Shot at f1.4 with the 58mm f1.4G lens.
I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting the 8mm difference between the 50mm and the 58mm to make much of a difference to me…but it did.
I found that the 58mm lens feels like a great portrait lens for me, a photographer who loves the intimacy of working physically close to my subject. I often choose the 35mm f1.4G lens for this. It’s wide but I always try and maintain a perpendicular to my subject angle as i compose the portrait to minimize any distortion.
But the 58mm felt just right when I wanted the intimacy with a bit more distance from my subject.
I asked this man if I could take his picture on 125th Street in New York. He agreed and I caught him exhaling from a cigarette at f1.8. I tend to stop down a couple of clicks from wide open with my 1.4 lenses because it gives me a sharper image yet maintains the bokeh that the 1.4 lenses are famous for.
That extra 8mm from the 50mm lens had a big impact on me and it’s something the designer Mr. Sato spent a lot of time on.
“I felt the 58m lens’ angle of view was good for photographs of children or portraits. We considered 45mm, 50mm, 55mm, 58mm and 60mm versions, but the 58mm felt the most solid. While the 50mm was a bit too wide, I felt the 58mm was perfect for capturing what is seen with the human eye. 85mm just seems like too much.”
Jimmy photographed at Madison Square Park with at f4 with the 58mm f.14G lens.
I just liked that I can get closer to my subject than my 85mm lets me. The lens to subject distance feels right and though it’s not much of a difference from the 50mm, it enough to make me feel really comfortable in a portrait session with strangers on the street; something I do often.
Woman working at Coney Island shot at f2.2 with the 58mm f1.4G lens.
This new 58mm ticks all the boxes with the latest Nikkor lens innovations: Nano Crystal Coat, Super Integrated Coating, Aspherical Elements and the fast Silent Wave AF Motor. But I want my lenses to be super sharp, that is important to me and is a given. But there’s something far more important and that is how the lens renders the subjects I capture with it. I want the first thing the viewer to see is the image, be it a portrait, landscape or street scene. I want them to respond emotionally and not technically with the equipment fading to the background.
To do so however, requires the best tools. Aside from the three-dimensional look this lens delivers, it also can render point light sources as sharp points across the entire frame. Its design is inspired by the Nikkor 58mm f1.2 AI Noct lens, which came out in 1977 and is still in demand today for its speed and ability to render point light sources as sharp points. Both these lenses minimize“sagittal coma flare”, which Nikon says makes point light sources look like a “bird with its wings spread”. I don’t think this type of flare has been much of a problem for me. I looked for this phenomena in my night-scapes shot with other lenses and couldn’t find a decent example. That said, I like the way the 58mm renders the night lights.
This shot taken at f2.5 and 1/30th of a second looks great. The focus of course was on the cityscape but I love the way the figures and their cameras are blurred by the wide aperture.
Nikon talks about how this lens makes point light sources look like point light sources with no distortion or fringing like in this image of Long Island City taken at f8.
Same nice rendering of distant light points in this image at Brighton Beach shot at f4.
So overall, I know this lens is expensive but I’m saving up to add this to my system. I hear that it’s not the fastest autofocus lens Nikon makes, but it’s fast enough for me. It’s relatively light on my D810 or D750 and it’s fun to go out with just one body and this lens and see what I can get. For me, the proof of any tool is in the pictures. I’m looking forward to many, many more.
Will do! One interesting thing about 35/58 is that they are both close to equidistant from the normal perspective (43mm) based on angle of view. I think the 35mm is about 10 degrees wide of normal and the 58mm about 12 degrees long. Seems that would make for a nice pair of lenses. Thanks!
Well shoot, I purchased the 58mm today, and it should arrive next week. Steve, I have a 24mm/35mm/85mm 1.8G prime set and am adding the 58mm to the bag. What are your thoughts on pairs? I’m thinking 35/85 and 24/58. However, would you also consider 35/58 a good way to go? I usually only like to carry two primes and don’t want to have to “over-think” lol, or be spending too much time changing lenses. I know this is a subjective question, but curious what your preference would be. I really enjoyed your article here, it helped persuade me to take the plunge. Like you, I’ve not clicked with 50mm, so I’m looking forward to this lens a lot. Thanks a bunch.
Hi Steve, well since I got my 58 i have not been using the 85mm so for me the 35/58 is a great combination…I have the 24-70 otherwise for when appropriate. I think you’re going to have to see how you love it and figure it out for yourself. I’m actually contemplating selling my beloved 85 and thinking about that 105 as a future purchase…
Hoo boy Steve, the 35/58/105 would be quite the trifecta of amazing lenses, all of them reputed to be lenses with character, which is something that has really attracted me to the 58. I can’t wait to start seeing what it can do. Thanks for your comments! I think I may roll with the 35/58 and see how things go then.
I think that would be a good plan! Let me know how it works out…
Brief update: I’ve had the 58mm for a day. First thing I did was an AF Fine Tune (+18 was required) and I can now focus wide open on my dogs eyes and they are sharp. Yep…my dog is my lens testing device, lol. This lens has some learning curve (and I’m still learning to be sure), but after the AF Fine tune and shooting all day I’m already starting to fall in love with this baby. It’s like a more versatile 85mm. I also have the 85mm f/1.8 which I also like a lot, and in comparison the 85mm is more “friendly” to shoot, and always sharp as a tack, almost clinically sharp. My problem with the 85mm is I am typically taking steps backwards to compose, it’s never been a comfortable focal length for me in that regard (i.e. close up stuff) although I enjoy it for outdoors shooting where there is space, like at the beach or the dog park or what not. You are right about the difference in FOV between the 58mm and 50mm, who new? So far it seems a nice focal length for the way I shoot, very comfortable, which reminds me of my 35mm f/1.8, which is also very comfortable (if that makes sense). Thanks for listening, I can see why you might be using the 58 more than the 85, I’m feeling likeminded in that regard.
Thanks for the update Steve…it really is the best case scenario…what did you use to fine-tune?
Hi Steve, I used this: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B012F8G1DO/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1 There are other varieties, but all you basically need is something to focus at that has an angle to it. I put the camera on a tripod and use live view to gain focus. After that I then use the AF Fine tune in the camera settings to mimic what I saw with live view and achieve focus in the proper DOF. It means being methodical and patient. (smile). I also use the “green dot” method so as to have a second result to compare with, to feel confident I’m heading the right direction. After getting focus with live view, I switch the lens to manual so it won’t re-focus. Then I go through the AF-Fine tune settings, and there is usually a range where the dot in the viewfinder is solid, and in the other settings where it blinks. So…if there is a range of say -2 to +8 that has the solid dot, then the middle setting of that range, say +3 will be good. In the case of the 58mm I got a large range from about +2 to +20, so I had to go through the AF Fine Tune in more detail. I do so a couple times to be sure, and +18 seems sharp and is working in practice. I researched online a bit and there were others who had a +18 setting, coincidence, but kind of re-assuring as well, and it seems most who are enjoying the lens have done an AF Fine tune – the tricky part is differentiating between “soft” and “out of focus” with this lens, that took some time. I’ve done this with my 24, 35 and 85 1.8G’s and it was more straight-forward. The 24 and 85 both needed adjustments, but the 35mm did not. The adjustment made a significant difference shooting wide open on all the lenses, and they are all sharp wide open at the 100% crop. I think the newer Nikon bodies have an automated AF Fine tune, which uses a similar process with Live View. I got to do it the old-fashioned way. As an aside, the green dot method was accurate with my 24mm and 85mm lenses, within one setting I think on each, but not so much with the 58mm, as mentioned. I’m thinking that a 24/35/58 bag is going to cover all bases, but I’ll still have the 85mm for the dog park, haha. I’m currently not able to take the 58mm off my camera though, it’s fun.
Steve thanks for this detailed description, much appreciated.
I recently purchased the 58mm F/1.4 G and was really impressed with the bokeh rendering and sense of 3D between subject and background. In the initial test shots I can see how this lens will be my “takin’ it to the streets” lens. I totally agree Steve, with your assessment regarding “feeling restricted” with the 50mm. The 58mm is more intimate and yet still retains a pleasing background. I’ve been curious since you blogged about this lens’ and it’s potential (and I’m a sucker for great bokeh) but, there is a zen-like propensity towards an artistic feel to which Mr. Sato has beautifully designed. Indeed, it’s all about the glass.
Thanks, Steve, for your great review. I recently got this lens and I’m in love with it’s character and the soul it gives to the images. I’m currently shooting with 35/58/85 1.4G but I’m considering selling off the 85mm and just go with 35/58 1.4 as a more minimal kit to “focus” my photography. And I prefer the rendering of the 35 and 58 over the slightly more “clinical” look of the 85. However, I’m worried if the 58 would be considered to introduce too much perspective distortion for close-up portraits? Would love to hear you thoughts/advice? Thanks, Mads
Hi Mads, I have very similar feelings to you with regards to this lens and the 85mm…the distortion question for using the 58 close up is not a worry for me since I don’t do much commercial portraiture; if I dd I might choose the 85 over the 58, but for my passionate photographer portraits I like the way the lens renders the human face and don’t find the distortion a problem even close up.
Thanks, Steve. So would you advice be to slim down the kit to just 35/58 or keep the 85 in the back hand? So would probably say that the focal length spacing between 35 and 85 is close to ideal. However, the 58 is slightly more flexible focal length. 🙂 I really have a hard time deciding.
i was in the same boat ! right now my kit consists of 28mm 1.4d/58mm 1.4 /105mm DC with Nikon Df. 58 and 85 are quite close. and 35 is not wide enough (for me) it’s kind of doubling of the focal length…hope this helps 🙂
I think if it’s shooting for yourself than the 35 and 58 is an unbeatable combination but when you’re doing more commercial work and having to satisfy a client, people might like there rendering more with the 85 which is arguably more flattering…
Thanks, Kannan and Steve. It all makes good sense. Since my comment, I have sold the 85mm 1.4G and added the 180mm 2.8D, so my kit now consists of 35 1.4/58 1.4/180 2.8. I thought it would be fun to play with the tele compression of the 180. It’s a wonderful lens too with a great character and color rendering too. I’m still back and forth on the 58 vs 85 debate … 😉 I don’t do commercial work, so only personal people photography and some (non paid) events like (family weddings, etc.). Sometimes I feel the 35 and 58 might be too close in FL and the distortion of the 58 for close portraits an annoyance. On the other hand, the 58 is such a special lens and induces and forces creativity. If I was to go back to 85 (which would entail selling the 58 :-/ ), then I would buy the 85mm 1.4D instead of the G version (I have had both previously) as I much prefer the rendering and it has great character (like the 58). Any thoughts on this, would of course be of interest? 🙂
Thanks for the great review but since I purchased the 58 1.4 I`ve had good success focusing with my D750 but not so much the D810. Do you use any special technique or did you have to calibrate focus for the D810? I love this lens so far and I`m looking forward to using it at your Vancouver Workshop, August 2016.
Hi Steve, I have had success focusing with it on both the 750 and 810…you can use a focus calibration device like a lens align to calibrate but it has never been something I have had to do.
I’m glad to see you appreciate the subtle distinctions of a unique lens. I started with Nikon’s in the 1970s — photojournalism workhorses. In the late 80’s I switched to Leica and was shocked at the individual character of the lenses. Having been away for awhile (sold it all and left photography) I came back a few years ago — to Nikon digital. And there are certain Nikkors that have the great “personalities” that I had with my Leitz lenses. First is the AF DC-NIKKOR 105mm f/2D; a crazy mishmash that shouldn’t work and is so dinosaur-esque, but renders images that can be sharp and soft simultaneously. I never thought that zooms would be great tools, but the pro glass, such as the 16-35 and the 80-400, exhibit amazing quality throughout the range– shocking clarity — yet there is still a “subtle distinction”. Thanks for the review — for now I am sticking with the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D — another dinosaur with the “look” .
Hi John, thanks for your comments…I too have the 105mm f2 (it’s still for sale!) a unique lens with subtle power. Your 50 is a great lens. As mentioned, I never liked the 50mm focal length but for some magical reason the 58 means I’m using another favorite lens-less and less-my 85 f1.4G.
Thanks for the review! Did you end up purchasing it? I’m still on the fence…
Thank you. A well explained set of criteria for lens evaluation.
Thanks Bob, not a purely technical review but the technical is always overrated in my opinion…it’s the nuance and practical use that’s more important to me.
I got this lens Halloween day, 2013…I’m pretty sure I was one of the first to get my hands on one. I had always pined for a 58 NOCT, so when this was announced, it was a no-brainer, even with the huge price tag.
It’s not the fastest focusing, and it’s certainly not the sharpest lens (wide-open), but it just renders images soooo nicely. It’s hard to explain how or why, but I just love the look of the photos I make with this lens. As a wedding photographer, situations demand a lot of changing with environments and situations, but I seem to always manage to keep that 58 bolted to my D4S almost all the time. The 58 and the 28/1.8 are what I use about 95% of the time now…they’re both outstanding. Great review, Steve.
Hey Christian, thanks for your comments. I agree with you completely. I think those that get and use this lens learn to appreciate it’s unique renderings of the world. It’s nice that Nikon would design a lens beyond the usual standards for sharpness.
Very descriptive article about this new Nikon lens … I would write additional thoughts about your thorough article, but once I saw that “hot dog” I got hungry and forgot what I wanted to say. Great work Steve.
Now you’ve got me hungry too…thanks!
Great article, very informative, detailed analysis. Your photos are inspiring, and now I’ve got to add this lens to my own wish list
Sorry the post will cost you…but it is a great lens!