Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm F1.2 S Review
The Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm F1.2 S ($2,199.95) is a big prime lens with an exotic f/1.2 aperture. When shot wide open, it nets photos with blurrier backgrounds than you’ll get with Nikon’s other standard prime, the Nikkor Z 50mm F1.8 S. It takes some massive optics to get there, and while it backs up its heft with impeccable images, it’s a niche lens for photographers who want photos with the shallowest depth of field and who want to work in the lowest light.
An Imposing Lens
As a general rule of thumb, lenses that gather more light use bigger, heavier glass elements. The Nikkor Z 50mm F1.2 S is no exception. It’s large for a prime, at 5.9 by 3.5 inches (HD), and heavier than your camera, at 2.4 pounds. It’s a little bigger than rival Canon’s RF 50mm F1.2 L USM (4.3 by 3.5 inches, 2.1 pounds), but not dramatically so.
The Z 50mm supports 82mm front filters and ships with front and rear lens caps. A hood is included, too; it locks on with a bayonet mount, and is reversible for storage and transport. Everything is finished in matte black, and internal seals protect from dust and splashes. Nikon doesn’t include fluorine or another form of anti-smudge protection on the glass, disappointing given the otherwise premium fit and finish.
Nikon has a brighter lens in its catalog, the Nikkor Z 58mm F0.95 S Noct, that’s manual focus only, but the 50mm F1.2 supports autofocus. It’s not lightning fast—driving from near focus to distant subjects takes about a half-second on the Z 7 II.
Nikon Z 7 II, f/1.2, 1/250-second, ISO 64
Manual focus is available as well. The focus ring takes up most of the surface area. It’s rubberized, with ridges for a comfortable grip. It turns easily, but doesn’t offer a linear response. That means the focus changes more dramatically when you turn the barrel quickly, while slower turns make smaller adjustments.
The ring turns a little too easily for my taste; I’d like to see a bit more resistance for fine adjustment. I like the ramped response for photography—especially for making very minute changes—but videographers typically look for a linear focus response, one that allows for repeatable racks to keep things consistent from take to take.
An AF/MF toggle switch changes focus mode quickly, and full-time manual focus override is available—just turn the ring. It’s joined by two buttons, the Lens Function (L-Fn) button is customizable, and Disp changes what’s shown on the lens’s OLED information panel. It can be set to display the aperture, the set focal distance, or turned off.
There’s a second control ring, closer to the base of the lens. It can be set to adjust EV, aperture, or ISO, but it’s one control that I typically disable on Z cameras. The ring turns very easily, enough so that you’re liable to adjust settings by accident.
Nikon Z 7 II, f/1.2, 1/6,400-second, ISO 64
Focus is available to 17.7 inches (0.45m), good enough for 1:6.7 life-size magnification at the closest working distance. It’s in line with other fast 50mm lenses—it just about matches the Nikkor Z 50mm F1.8 S. There’s barely any change in angle of view as focus is adjusted, useful for video shots with a change in the focal plane.
Image stabilization isn’t included, but it also isn’t expected. The full-frame Z cameras with which most will pair the lens include five-axis IBIS systems. It’s good enough for me to get consistently blur-free images at handheld speeds as long as 1/4-second with the Z 7 II.
In the Lab
To evaluate resolution, I tested the Nikkor Z 50mm F1.2 S along with the 45MP Z 7 II and software from Imatest.
Nikon Z 7 II, f/1.2, 1/4,000-second, ISO 64
At the widest f/1.2 aperture, the pair nets images that deliver good resolution (3,400 lines). There’s a bit of resolution lost at the edges on our flat field focus chart, but it’s an academic concern—when making images at f/1.2, the periphery of your images is likely to be out of focus.
It’s one of those lenses that gets sharper as the aperture narrows. At f/1.4 it ticks up a little bit (3,525 lines), and delivers near-excellent resolution starting at f/2 (3,930 lines). At f/2.8 and beyond it’s better (4,500 lines), and it offers outstanding clarity at f/4 and f/5.6 (4,800 lines).
There’s a modest drop in clarity at f/8 and f/11, but diffraction doesn’t really show its effects until you set the lens to its smallest f/16 aperture, and even then it still delivers very strong results (3,900 lines).
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Resolution isn’t everything, but if you put a priority on wide open clarity, know that the Nikkor Z 50mm F1.8 S is a bit better when shot at f/1.8 (4,375 lines), and isn’t that far off when stopped down (4,540 lines at f/4).
Nikon Z 7 II, f/1.6, 1/1,600-second, ISO 64
The Nikkor Z 50mm F1.2 S shows almost no distortion, even if you disable in-camera corrections. It does rely on some assistance to correct a vignette—corners and edges are noticeably darker at the edges at f/1.2 and f/1.4 without them. When they’re turned on, you get a pleasing natural vignette at f/1.2, one that’s more subtle than distracting.
Bokeh, the quality of the defocused area of an image, is important in a fast lens. The 50mm F1.2 draws perfectly smooth backgrounds when shot wide open, and uses a nine-blade aperture to keep defocused highlights circular when stopped down.
Nikon Z 7 II, f/1.2, 1/50-second, ISO 2500
When the lens is shot wide open, defocused highlights are circular toward the center, but take on a cat’s eye shape toward the edges of the frame. Narrowing the aperture nets circular highlights across the frame.
Exotic Glass Doesn’t Disappoint
The Nikkor Z 50mm F1.2 S joins the growing ranks of big lenses for mirrorless cameras, but it’s not hefty without reason. The lens gathers more light than common 50mm F1.4 designs when shot wide open, and it delivers images with strong contrast and clarity. From an optical perspective, it’s an accomplishment.
Should you buy it? If you don’t mind the cost or size, be happy to know the images it creates are pretty fantastic. From a handling perspective, it’s definitely a bit front-heavy, and can take a beat to drive focus. You won’t complain about the results, though, nor the ability to capture photos with a hair-thin depth of field.
If that’s your cup of tea, the 50mm F1.2 S is a good fit. But we’ll continue to recommend the Nikkor Z 50mm F1.8 S a bit more strongly for most photographers. It’s an incredible performer in its own right, and costs just $600. You lose the exotic appeal of F1.2 glass, but the 50mm F1.8 S is a more sensible choice, and our Editors’ Choice winner.
Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm F1.2 S Specs
|Dimensions||5.9 by 3.5 inches|
|Filter Thread||82 mm|
|Focal Length (Wide)||50 mm|