The Nikon Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 NOCT S was launched earlier this week at the same time as the new Nikon Z50 APS-C mirrorless camera. But sadly at the London press conferences the NOCT was nowhere to be seen... Two days later, it is one of the stars of the show of the Berlin Photo Week which opens at Kraftwerk today.
The Z 58mm f/0.95 S has always been the poster boy for the Nikon mirrorless system and for the Nikon Z lens roadmap. In many ways it has been a proof-of-concept lens that goes to prove that moving to a new wider lens mount than used in its previous DSLRs and SLR cameras over the last 60 years was worth all the effort.
It is a big lens, weighing in at around 2kg. And it is an expensive lens for what is essentially just a standard prime - costing over $8000 / £8000 when it goes on sale at the end of October. But then again, Nikon is not expecting to sell thousands of these... like other innovative lenses from its past (such as the incredible 6mm Fisheye) it is destined to become a thing of legend...
But how does it handle (and perform)...
Build and handling
The lens we saw in Berlin was still not a production version - and although it had been used recently, we were told, for a marketing shoot in Scotland, we were not actually able to take pictures of it. However, we had a chance to have a brief, but insightful, play with the lens on the new Nikon Z50 body.
Even though this big lens is better designed for the bigger full-frame Nikon Z6 and Nikon Z7 bodies, we were actually pleasantly surprised that the 58mm Noct did not dwarf this small APS-C mirrorless body. Like all things of legend, in our minds it had become the monster lens of our own headlines - and the reality is much more manageable than the myth. For those who have used it, this is smaller and lighter than the Nikon AF-S 200mm f/2 VR lens - although is definitely in the same ballpark of bulk. Its actual dimensions, for the record, are 153x102mm.
The lens has the LED information panel, display button and Fn function button as found on the Nikon Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S, which we love. More lenses should have this system - it is perfect way to customize the lens to your way of working, and to show things such as focused distance in an accurate way.
A key feature of this lens is the manual focus ring.... the degree of rotation is just enormous. To move from infinity to the closest focusing distance of 0.5m... you feel like you are turning forever. In fact, the focus moves through as near 360° as is probably technically possible - and with this you get very precise focus adjustment.
You need this precision, mind you. If you use this lens at f/0.95 (and you were mad to use this lens if you weren't going to use it) then the smallest change knocks your subject very noticeably out of focus.
We trained the lens on a model on a set at Nikon's stand, and it took some turning of the focus ring to even see her face in the viewfinder. At f/0.95 you need micro precision here - and focus peaking is undoubtedly your savior here.
But even so, for portrait photographers (for which this lens is definitely aimed at) a tripod will become something of a necessity. Filmmakers are more used to shooting everything on a sturdy support - but the large degree of focus travel means that pull focus effects will need to be chosen with care. There is no autofocus here to help you out. Fortunately you get a small, rotating, tripod collar to help you mount the lens for easy rotation and for perfect balance.
From the results we saw on screen, and in the viewfinder, however, this is a lens that photographers and videographers will want - or at least want to hire for particular shoots. The out-focus highlights in the scene we were shooting appeared like giant full moons - and we can see this having appeal.
The lack of depth of field may also make the Brenizer effect, much loved by wedding photographers, unnecessary - who wants to stitch together lots of images in post, when you can shoot super-blurred backgrounds in camera?
The Nikon Z 58mm f/0.95 NOCT is a big lens - but is not nearly as big as we had imagined, or as heavy. Even on the small Nikon Z50 it feels something that is actually usable. Although we weren't able to take pictures, we were able to see the incredible limited depth of field that the f/0.95 maximum aperture creates. Beautiful out-of-focus circular highlights, like full moons, appeared behind the model - which portrait photographers and cinematographers will be dying to use. It is expensive - but for most pros, this is a lens that will be hired for a shoot, and as such it will be a lens that will undoubtedly always be on back order.