Is Nikon's Best Lens Going to Be Virtually Unusable?

While wandering the stalls of CP+ (a.k.a the Japan Camera Show), photographer Matt Granger was fortunate enough to grab a few moments to play with Nikon’s beast of a lens proposed for release later this year: the NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct. The physics are incredible, but early signs suggest that it might not be very practical.

Nikon is in the process of developing this super fast lens, boasting the largest maximum aperture of any NIKKOR to date. Unfortunately for those keen to use it, it lacks autofocus, and trying to keep an image sharp while shooting wide open might prove to be incredibly tricky. If you can afford it, do not expect to shoot candidly with this lens unless you somehow manage to integrate your brain and fingers bionically with the huge focusing ring.

Granger’s brief video shows that the immensely shallow depth of field on this beast is not going to be easy to use, which raises the question: what is this lens for if it will be tied to a tripod and the slightest movement of a model makes an image soft? This is a lens that, according to Nikon, will “further extend photographers’ creative expressions,” perhaps forgetting that your model’s expressions will too easily be turned into a blurry mess, albeit with amazing bokeh.

Of course, I'm poking fun and I don’t want to be too critical of Nikon. At a rumored cost of $6,000, this is definitely not going to have broad appeal and nor is that Nikon’s intention. This is a lens to create publicity and push the bounds of what is possible, even if it means making a few compromises along the way. That said, if you're planning to pick one up when it's released later this year, let us know in the comments below.

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Janne Suur-Näkki's picture

I guess you meant to say it lacks autofocus, right?

Andy Day's picture

Argh. Well spotted. Thank you. 🤦🏻‍♂️

Michael Kormos's picture

That’s a pity. It’s no use to me as a MF lens. Real pity because I was looking forward to it. Oh well. Back to my 1.4 I go.

Why is this Nikon’s “best” lens? It is certainly the fastest and (one of) the more expensive ones however Nikon has many stellar performers that could be referred to as their “best _____” (portrait, birding, general purpose, wide, landscape, etc) lens.

Also, f0.95 and manual focus hasn’t stopped droves of people from using and loving similar lenses from Leica and others in the past. If anything you can argue that thanks to modern EVFs and focus aids, Nikon is making f0.95 lenses more usable than they ever have been.

Rob Davis's picture

This author must really hate every Leica rangefinder.

michaeljin's picture

Rangefinders are generally a lot easier to achieve quick and accurate manual focus with than an SLR or even an MILC.

I guess you never used a Leica or any other rangefinder... It's much easier to focus with a rangefinder than with an evf using focus peaking. Unless the subject is completely stationary.

Rob Davis's picture

I have. I still prefer a split-prism, but I was referring to the author complaining that is was manual focus, when that’s pretty standard for many other high end lenses like all Leica rangefinder lenses, Nikon’s f/1.2 lenses and Zeiss Otus and Milvus lenses. It’s not like you have to shoot the thing wide open.

Michael Comeau's picture

How can it be the best lens if it's extremely expensive but possible unusable?

michaeljin's picture

I'm guessing that it's going to be the best lens optically, much like the Zeiss Otus series for Nikon SLR's. And nearly unusable at f/0.95 doesn't mean unusable. It just means that you'll probably have to stop down a bit and/or be stuck on a tripod. I don't think that anyone is under the impression that this is going to be the most practical lens, but neither is the Otus series and I would wager money that this will likely blow those lenses out of the water in terms of optical quality.

Still, I would have preferred the utility of AF even at the expense of a bit of optical quality if need be. It's just rough to shell out any significant amount of cash on a lens that is so limited.

Spy Black's picture

"...what is this lens for..."

It's primarily a technology showcase. People will buy it for bragging rights. It's not the kind of lens you would find in a professional production environment.

Exactly, and I really can't stand people not understanding why this lens exist, especially when we have the 50 f/1.8S which is amazing for it's size and price.

Eric Salas's picture

When the new mount was being revealed this was the “king shit”, “oh my god this is amazing” “Nikon will smash Canon and Sony with this Groundbreaking technology” holy grail lens...

Now people are realizing 0.95 is hard to manually focus and requires a wallet the size of your house... I’m scratching my head at the ignorance that exists in here.

michaeljin's picture

Given the fact that Nikon shooters probably only shot f/1.2 at most with manual focus lenses, I imagine that most either underestimated the actual DoF at f/0.95 or vastly overestimated the accuracy of focus peaking. Anyone with half a brain could have seen this coming from a mile away.

I would say that the potentially impressive part here is that this science experiment is showing what they are capable of engineering on that mount at the high end, but it'll be a long while (if ever) before the lens development on the mount matures enough to utilize the full potential. By then, who knows if we'll even be using cameras anymore. I know Nikon said "for the next 100 years", but I have this nagging feeling that stills photography isn't going to be around for another 100 years—at least not with anything resembling the types of cameras that we have right now.

Nick Rains's picture

I have use the Leica 75mm and 50mm Noctiluxs on the Leica SL extensively, so IF the viewfinder in the Nikon body is good, and IF the manual focus mechanism has a good tight mechanical feel, then it's no problem to focus. There's a learning curve for sure, but the results will be worth it.

michaeljin's picture

The focusing ring is a double-edged sword on this lens. The nearly 365-degree throw at the same time makes it much better for precision focusing to nail critical focus, but it makes the lens wildly impractical to use in the real world as you won't be able to focus quickly (even if you stop down) because of the huge movements required. However you look at it, this is a lens meant to live on a tripod in a studio or on a controlled set.

Joe A's picture

Not just in a studio on a tripod but outdoors on a tripod. I also use my 85mm Zeiss Otus (in my Canon) handheld here in Colorado. It's my favorite lens and I think Nikon shooters will love this big aperture Nikon lens too.

Matt Williams's picture

People have somehow managed to use Noctilux's just fine for decades, and an EVF would be even easier for super critical focusing.

It's not for me, but it is exactly what it was always going to be. If you looked at the spec sheet, this is exactly the lens you'd expect.

michaeljin's picture

The vast majority of photos taken wide open with the Noctilux's are not in critical focus so I would dispute your claim that people have been using Noctilux's "just fine" for decades. Those are absurdly difficult lenses to use and the only reason that they're even SOMEWHAT practical is because rangefinders are quicker to work with than SLR viewfinders where you need some eagle eyes to nail anything resembling focus at that kind of aperture.

The problem with getting critical focus on the EVF is that you have to zoom in and, in doing so, you're subjecting yourself to all sorts of framing and movement problems unless you're on a tripod and your subject is perfectly still. In short, it's going to be a real PITA and in order for it to be useful at all outside of an extremely controlled environment, focus peaking is going to have to get a lot better than it is right now.

The super long focusing throw, while great for critical focusing, also limits the usefulness of this lens in a way that the Noctilux's were never limited.

Nick Rains's picture

I understand your point but "vast majority" is a little hyperbolic. I have little trouble with the Nocti, but I have had many years to practice. I have a colleague who can judge distances to the inch and set his lens by feel. I kid you not - it's kinda like his party trick. He's a wedding photographer who uses the 50mm Nocti as his USP. Not for the faint hearted but vast majority out of focus? No, not really.

Matt Williams's picture

I knew someone who could pre-focus a Noctilux wide open with a good 40-50% hit rate. All they had to do was quickly frame and shoot. I used to be able to do that with the Leica Summicron 40mm, but that's only 40mm and only f/2.

If you use it enough, it becomes shockingly simple (or at least appears so).

Matt Williams's picture

I agree that many Noctilux photos are slightly (or a lot) out of focus, but that's not my point - my point was that no one seemed to have any issue with the existence of that lens (or calling it "virtually unusable"). So how is this different? The only ways it differs are 1) the rangefinder vs EVF, and there is no reality in which a rangefinder is MORE accurate than an EVF that can zoom, focus peak, etc. I mean, with a rangefinder there's no way you could even differentiate an eye vs eye lashes. You can with an EVF. 2) focus throw. You call that limiting, which it is IF you're constantly racking between greatly varying distances, but that isn't the case with portrait photography (as one example) where fine tuning of the focus is more important. Much easier to tweak focus with 350 degrees of rotation vs... 120 maybe? Whatever the Noctilux is.

This isn't a street photography lens or a lens meant for fast-paced environments. If you bought it for that, you'd be an idiot. For what it is, the long focus throw is entirely appropriate.

I'm not sure why people always complain about the things a lens doesn't excel at despite the fact that it was never meant to be used for those things. Everything about this lens has been known from the start - expensive, huge, manual focus, very shallow DOF, and high quality build and IQ. I don't see how it's that much different from, say, the Otus 55mm, which is also huge, manual focus, expensive, etc. Plenty of people find a use for that lens - and I've seen plenty of portraits with razor sharp eyes taken with one - this is aimed at the same kind of photographers... just a little more expensive and a full stop faster.

Nothing in this article should be remotely surprising to anyone that has heard about this lens.

If you think it's "virtually unusable," that's because the way you would use it or the things you would use it for are not the same as everyone else's.

And if that's the case.... who cares? Don't buy it (just like I won't) and that's the end of the story. There are valid critiques of gear ("I wish this had weather-sealing" "I don't care for OLED screen on this Batis") and then there's just complaining about things that were never meant for you to begin with and you'd never buy anyway.

michaeljin's picture

I guess a lot of the issues stem from the fact that they have no exactly mentioned what they are designing this lens for. Everything in the marketing seems geared toward portrait photography, which I would argue isn't exactly the biggest strength for a f/0.95 MF lens, but that's just me. The astro crowd would probably be much more excited about this.

Matt Williams's picture

I agree - I think these days companies are hesitant to market anything toward one specific application unless it’s a very specialized product.

Also it seems like they are trying to make this a great lens all around - sharp edge to edge, low coma, nice bokeh, etc. to fit a multitude of applications. The Zeiss Otus lenses for example really aren’t the most optimal portrait lenses - there are lenses with more pleasing bokeh (that is one area the Otus lenses “suffer” because of their numerous corrective elements). But as a one size fits all, they are incredible.

I think the people who can make great use of this lens know who they are and everyone else should look elsewhere (including me). But I don’t fault the product for that.

Why "unusable"? MG only tested in one use-case scenario. Clickbait "article".

michaeljin's picture

What are the other use-case scenarios that are going to make f/0.95 and a nearly 365-degree focusing throw more usable? Stopping the lens down? Then you can get the 50mm f/1.8 and save yourself a lot of money and back ache, while gaining AF. Or if you plan to only stop it down a little, then you can pick up the 50mm f/1.2 when it comes out and again, still save yourself a ton of money while gaining AF. These Z-mount lenses are so razor sharp even close to wide open that I can't imagine that the IQ difference at equivalent apertures is going to be very noticeable if it's even there.

Matt Williams's picture

The original 58mm Noct-Nikkor was made for astrophotography. It was f/1.2, not 0.95, but focusing 0.95 on an EVF is probably as easy as 1.2 on an SLR. But, point being, it wasn't used by most people for moving objects or anything closer than ten feet.

Or any night-time photography at all for that matter, wouldn't need to be astro specifically.

I'm not saying this is geared toward nighttime/astro (though I'm sure many will use it for that), but for anything still-life on a tripod, it will not be a problem at all, and a practiced person wouldn't have much trouble doing portraits with it (could also be on or off a tripod).

There are so many uses beyond what is shown in the video for this lens, and in every one of them, a precise, long focus throw is valuable.

William Faucher's picture

360 degree focusing throw is awesome. I wish more lenses had more throw, makes precise adjustments WAY easier.

michaeljin's picture

On a tripod, yes. Handheld, no.

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