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Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens review

Nikon’s Z-mount lenses may come bottom of the alphabet, but they score straight As for performance – does this 50mm follow suit?

5 Star Rating

Our Verdict

Nikon’s new Z-mount has paved the way for lenses that set new benchmarks for optical quality. In focal length terms the Z 50mm f/1.8 S prime may be ‘standard’, however in every other respect this lens is anything but.

For

  • Incredibly sharp
  • Achieves beautiful bokeh

Against

  • Heavier than its F-mount counterpart

Digital Camera World Verdict

Nikon’s new Z-mount has paved the way for lenses that set new benchmarks for optical quality. In focal length terms the Z 50mm f/1.8 S prime may be ‘standard’, however in every other respect this lens is anything but.

Pros

  • + Incredibly sharp
  • + Achieves beautiful bokeh

Cons

  • - Heavier than its F-mount counterpart

As far as headline specs go, the Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S seems like just another 50mm standard prime, if a well-specced one. The 12-element optical stack includes two ED glass elements as well as two aspherical elements to boost contrast and vibrancy. 

Build & handling

With a large maximum aperture comes shallow depth of field effects, so nine rounded aperture blades shape passing light as smoothly as possible for attractive bokeh in out-of-focus areas.

Externally, the Z 50mm is noticeably bigger and heavier than a good old F-mount AF-S 50mm f/1.8G, but compared with some F-mount 50mm alternatives from Sigma and Tokina, it’s still pleasingly portable. 

The lens barrel features just a single AF/MF switch, but the wide, tactile and precise manual focus ring isn’t redundant if you’re using autofocus, as it can also be set in-camera to adjust exposure compensation or ISO sensitivity.

Lab tests

Nikon has made much noise about how it has shortened the distance between lens flange and image sensor from the F-mount’s 46.5mm to just 16mm in a Z camera. 

Combine this with the larger 55mm inner diameter of the Z mount itself and the result is less distance for light to travel from lens to sensor, and more room for a larger rear lens element. It all adds up to potentially increased image quality.

But this isn’t just theoretical marketing hype. The Z 50mm f/1.8 S is terrifically sharp, only fractionally down on the significantly pricier Z 35mm f/1.8 S, and that’s the sharpest lens we’ve ever tested. 

Aberrations are practically non-existent at any aperture, and we couldn’t induce any sign of distortion.

Of course achieving maximum sharpness when working with such a tiny depth of field available at f/1.8 requires super-accurate autofocus, but in our testing with both Nikon’s Z 7 and Z 6 bodies, the Z 50mm never missed its mark and consistently delivered maximum sharpness with no focus hunting.

Sharpness:
Any score over 2000 LW/PH for centre sharpness indicates an impressively sharp lens. To achieve this at the edges of frame and 3000+ in the centre is simply incredible.

Fringing:
50mm prime lenses are usually pretty resistant to aberrations, but this lens generates particularly clean images, with barely a trace of fringing even when wide open.

Distortion:
Our testing is conducted with all in-camera distortion correction disabled. While a 50mm lens won’t distort like an ultra-wide optic can, this flawless figure is still admirable.

Specifications

Full-frame compatible: Yes
APS-C effective focal length: 75mm
Image Stabilizer: No
Minimum focus distance: 40cm
Manual focus override: Yes
Focus limit switches: No
Internal zoom: N/A
Internal focus: Yes
Filter size: 62mm
Iris blades: 9
Weather seals: Yes
Supplied accessories: LC-62B 62 mm Snap-on Front Lens Cap, LF-N1 Rear Lens Cap, HB-90 Bayonet Hood, CL-C1 Lens Case
Dimensions (dia x length): 76 x 86.5mm
Weight: 415g

Verdict

Nikon’s new Z mount has paved the way for lenses that set new benchmarks for optical quality. In focal length terms the Z 50mm f/1.8 S prime may be ‘standard’, however in every other respect this lens is anything but.

Features: 4/5
Build & handling: 5/5
Image quality: 5/5
Value: 4.5/5
Overall: 5/5

Ben Andrews

Ben is the Imaging Labs manager, responsible for all the testing on Digital Camera World and across the entire photography portfolio at Future. Whether he's in the lab testing the sharpness of new lenses, the resolution of the latest image sensors, the zoom range of monster bridge cameras or even the latest camera phones, Ben is our go-to guy for technical insight. He's also the team's man-at-arms when it comes to camera bags, filters, memory cards, and all manner of camera accessories – his lab is a bit like the Batcave of photography! With years of experience trialling and testing kit, he's a human encyclopedia of benchmarks when it comes to recommending the best buys.