|Review type: Comprehensive|
|List of sponsored/free gear: The lens was loaned to me by Nikon India for a few days.|
Did I get paid for this review? No
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.
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.
Here is the official MTF chart:
Click to learn How to read MTF charts.
The bokeh rendering is pleasing, though focus pulling at f/0.95 is not for the faint of heart.
Noct vs the 50mm f/1.2
I own the legendary Nikon 50mm f/1.2:
Should we even dare to make a comparison? I can, because well, I can…and 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 Noct is superior at f/0.95 in ways that was hard to imagine a few years ago. With an 11-blade iris it has a more pleasing bokeh hands down and is sharp enough to cut the 50mm in two.
They are two different lenses with distinct image characteristics that can’t and shouldn’t be compared.
The Noct has great flare suppression, though I did manage to get flares through sheer torture:
This is a world-class performance.
However, when a light is pointed straight at the lens, there is a loss of contrast (see below).
Focus breathing is minimal but exists:
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.
Minimal chromatic aberration or other artifacts.
I didn’t notice any major barrel distortion and the image looked very ‘Zeiss-like’, for lack of a better term.
Really, nothing to complain about on a technical level. How people perceive and react to aberrations are a personal preference.
I’ll divide this section into the following parts:
- Manual focus system
- Lens extension
- Close focus
- Size and weight
Manual focus system
Sounds good for cinematography, right? Except for three issues:
- The focus ring isn’t buttery smooth. This might be because my lens was a new copy, but I was very disappointed by the jerky focus ring. Unacceptable for an $8,000 lens. My 50mm f/1.2 has buttery focus.
- The focus ring isn’t made for follow focus gears, and due to its position out front is very hard to use in hand-held situations. You’ll need to attach a gear ring and this will make the lens even wider, and maybe hard to attach on normal 15mm rod systems.
- The distance scale is on the top, whereas for focus pulling it needs to be on the side.
I’ll be honest, because I’m sure anybody serious about the cinematographic potential of this lens will eventually come to this same realization.
This isn’t a fun lens to use for a lot of cinematography work, period.
I was also not impressed to learn the Noct extends while focusing. This is not a deal-breaker, until it is. If you’re using matte boxes with drop in filters (more about filters later) then you don’t want your lens extending.
You also don’t want the lens extending on a gimbal.
This is where the hood might be useful, because the extension is contained within the hood. The outer diameter of the hood can be wrapped in nuns knickers and can be contained within a 4×5.65 matte box.
The hood is well made, and screws on tightly. However, I’m not a big fan of it because it takes a lot of turns, and it wasn’t very smooth – even for a new lens-hood system. Sometimes the thread and screw didn’t latch on correctly.
Now imagine how it will perform over many years of field use.
Optically, the hood offers minimal protection from flare, but I would still leave it on due to the extension of the lens while focusing.
The Noct focuses to 1.64′, which is typical for a 50mm-ish lens. If you want close focus it’s going to be hard to find close focus filters or macro tubes to bear the weight – for cheap.
Size and weight
The Noct is heavy at 2 kg, and large enough to be a zoom lens. It’s not unmanageable, but is certainly hard to use handheld on a lightweight camera like the Z6. It just doesn’t balance like a zoom would on a D850 or D5 or similar DSLR body.
On a 15mm rod system the lens extends below the body of the camera and you’ll need extra plates to secure both to a common base plate. This also makes changing lenses hard, but is something you must do or else the focus turns causes enough torque to shift the camera.
You can see in the picture below I’ve used a lens support to minimize torque:
The lens is supposedly weather-resistant, according to Nikon:
The lens body was designed carefully considering dust- and drip-resistant performance, providing enhanced reliability.Nikon USA
The Noct has a filter thread size of 82mm. For cinematography work, you’ll definitely need a matte box system with an opening of 4×5.65″ to cut down on any vignetting, especially with double filtration.
I believe with heavy filtration you might even need a 6×6 matte box, just to be sure, to use wide-open at f/0.95.
To be honest, after using it in the field, I’m not sure. It’s definitely not for cinematography:
- No aperture markings (you can control aperture via the tiny Control Ring, but that’s not what I’m talking about here). The ring is too close to the mount, so I’m not sure if a gear will fit so close.
- Only one focal length. Will Nikon ever expand the line like the Otus series? If not, how will we ever color match this lens with other focal lengths?
- The Noct is Z-mount only. The newly announced Red Komodo is in the RF mount, with no plans of a Z-mount. This means the Noct cannot be adapted to anything other than a Z-series camera. That’s a large investment pill to swallow in today’s environment.
- Stiff focus ring.
But sadly, the optical performance is only half the story. The utility of this lens is let down by design that’s not really useful for cinematography (I have my doubts about the photography part too but that’s for someone else to judge).
Even though I can see some people being excited by its optical abilities, as a serious cinematography tool I would give it a hard pass. Maybe Nikon can release a version specific to cinematographers addressing some of the concerns in this review.
What do you think?