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Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S Lens Review for Cinematography

Is the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens good for serious cinematography and video? Let’s take a good look.

I own the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) and have used it extensively over the last year. Here are my impressions, though please note these are specific to cinematography.

Review type: Comprehensive
List of sponsored/free gear: I own this lens.
Did I get paid for this review? No
Warning:

The findings of this review are based on the particular sample tested, and might not be true of all samples. Even though I’ve tried to be as objective as possible about image quality and usability a large measure of subjectivity and personal preference is inevitable.
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Image quality

The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) is an amazing optical performer. I just love the way it renders faces.

Check out the first 30 seconds of the following video to know what I’m talking about:

In many ways it reminds me of the Arri Master Primes at T1.3, with superior corner to corner sharpness and rendering. You get a much-coveted “3D-look”, if that’s your thing.

50mm f/1.8 S vs the 50mm f/1.2

I own the legendary Nikon 50mm f/1.2:

The 50mm f/1.2 has been my go-to lens for a long time.

Image quality isn’t similar on any level. The 50mm f/1.2 is soft wide open and has aberrations all over the place. But it has a look! You need to stop down to about f/2.8 to get sharpness across the frame.

The 50mm f/1.8 S is superior at f/1.8 in sharpness and aberrations. With an 9-blade iris it has a more pleasing bokeh hands down but some people might like the rendering of the 50mm f/1.2.

They are two different lenses with distinct image characteristics that can’t and shouldn’t be compared.

What will be interesting to compare, though, is the yet to be announced 50mm f/1.2, due sometime in 2020.

Flare suppression

The 50mm f/1.8 S has great flare suppression, and is what you’d expect from a modern lens.

Focus Breathing

Focus breathing is not minimal, but not terrible either. It’s not a big deal in this price range.

Aberrations

I haven’t tested the lens for aberrations because they usually present themselves on a real shoot. I am happy to say the aberrations are well controlled across the frame.

There’s some chromatic aberration but I wouldn’t really worry too much about it. I didn’t notice any major barrel distortion either. It seems like a clean rendering with pleasing bokeh.

Really, nothing to complain about on a technical level. How people perceive and react to aberrations are a personal preference.

Mechanics

Now’s a good time to remember this review of the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) is specific to cinematography.

I’ll divide this section into the following parts:

  1. Manual focus system
  2. Autofocus system
  3. Hood
  4. Close focus
  5. Size and weight
  6. Filters

Manual focus system

The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) has both auto focus and manual focus abilities. Unfortunately the manual focus system is focus-by-wire.

This makes it an automatic no-go for cinematography follow focus work, or even repeatable manual focus work.

This isn’t a fun lens to use for a lot of cinematography work, period.

Autofocus system

Unfortunately, the autofocus performance of the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) is severely limited by the Nikon Z6 I used it on. I used face detection AF.

The autofocus is not reliable in low light work. Even when I’ve used the lens on a sit down vlog the lens hunts for autofocus sometimes.

This is true generally of all Nikon S-line lenses, because all of them are limited by the camera’s ability. It is nowhere near the performance levels of Canon or Sony lenses and cameras. I hope Nikon improves this in future camera iterations.

Hood

The hood is well made, and fits on perfectly. I like the “straight” design, as opposed to the “flower” design.

It does well to eliminate stray flare and I would recommend keeping it on most of the time.

Close focus

The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) focuses to 1.32′, which is typical for a 50mm-ish lens.

Size and weight

The 50mm is lightweight at 415 grams, but slightly on the longer side for an f/1.8 lens.

It balances well with the current Nikon Z6 body, and will be fine for gimbal work if you don’t mind the poor autofocus.

It is also weather resistant like the 85mm lens.

Filters

The 50mm has a non-standard filter thread size of 62mm. You can get by with step-up adapters.

Final impressions

Who is the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) really for?

From Nikon:

The 50mm perspective is great for interviews, tutorials, product demos and more. Smooth, quiet AF and aperture drives and an advanced design prevent “breathing” and wobbling.

Nikon USA

If you’re handholding the camera, then sure. But that’s not the whole cinematography story. The control ring can be programmed for aperture control, though then you lose out on manual focus ability. This lens is seriously let down by:

  • No aperture markings (you can control aperture via the tiny Control Ring, but that’s not what I’m talking about here).
  • Focus-by-wire manual focus making it practically unusable for follow focus work.
  • When you switch off the camera, the lens loses the focus point it was last focused on.
  • Unreliable autofocus with the current crop of full frame cameras.

The bottom line is, the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens (Amazon, B&H) has beautiful optical performance, and is designed for solo shooters who are mostly into handholding their cameras for video work.

Unfortunately, the design is not useful for cinematography, though I’m sure if Nikon wanted to they can convert this stellar optical design into a cinema lens.

What do you think?

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