Why I Love the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G Lens

Why I Love the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G Lens

In my experience, there are two kinds of great lenses. The first is the kind that gets the job done. These lenses are technically amazing and produce extremely high-quality images. The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art is one of those lenses. It produces sharp, high-contrast images time and time again. But it doesn’t really have character — a feeling — of its own. This brings me to the second category of great lenses. Every now and again a manufacturer produces something truly special, a lens with qualities that can't be measured on an MTF chart or in lab testing. Nikon's Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G is one of those lenses.

Nikon currently has four other 50mm offerings on the market: the 50mm f/1.4D, 50mm f/1.8D, 50mm f/1.4G, and 50mm f/1.8G. These four lenses together could be purchased for less than the price of the 58mm f/1.4G. They're all smaller, lighter, and perform almost equally on most camera bodies if you look at the technical specifications. So why buy the 58mm?

The Focal Length

It seems strange, but those 8 millimeters make such a big difference. I have bought and sold so many different 50mm lenses to date that some people might say I need help. The truth of the matter is, I'm always looking for that focal length and a certain quality. Each and every one of the 50mm lenses I bought had fallen short. There is just something about the way a 50mm renders that just doesn't work for me. The 58mm gets me one step closer to the 85mm length I love so much and reduces that slight distortion of the 50mm focal length. That might sound picky, but it makes the lens extremely comfortable to use. I can get closer than I do with the 85mm and still have the flexibility that the slightly wider lens offers.

The Imperfections

It's not often you'll speak about how nice the inherent vignette in a lens is. Lens and software manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure that vignettes are well corrected for, and test after test give you all the details you need about how many stops of light are lost in the corners of your images. With the 58mm, however, I find myself keeping the vignette more often than not in post-production. There is a certain character to it that is hard to mimic in software and lends itself well to images where the center of the frame contains the subject.

Nikon D800 | Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G | ISO800 | f/2 | 1/250

Nikon D800 | Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G | ISO800 | f/2 | 1/250

The Transition to Out-of-Focus

Some lenses have a razor-like transition between in and out of focus; a perceptible line that delineates depth of field. With the 58mm, there is an almost imperceptible shift between the two that makes for really special images when your focus is just right. It gives an almost dream-like quality to close-up portraits like the ones below.

Nikon D800 | Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G | ISO180 | f/2 | 1/1000

Nikon D800 | Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G | ISO180 | f/2 | 1/1000

The Bokeh

It's not as creamy as the 85mm f/1.4G, but I don't think that was the point with this lens. There's a little swirl, some ovular corners, and a little "nervousness" in some situations that altogether make for some amazing out-of-focus backgrounds. Couple this with a sharp-but-not-sharp foreground, and you're in for a treat with this lens.

Nikon D800 | Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G | ISO200 | f/2 | 1/1000

Nikon D800 | Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G | ISO200 | f/2 | 1/1000

When the Stars Align

Probably my favorite image with this lens to date is the one below. Beautiful light, a nice moment, enough distance for f/1.4 to carry acceptable focus throughout my subjects... When added to the vignette, along with the out-of-focus elements, this lens is capable of some fairly amazing images.

Nikon D800 | Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G | ISO560 | f/1.4 | 1/4000

Nikon D800 | Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G | ISO560 | f/1.4 | 1/4000

It's not for everyone, that's for sure. If your primary concern is your wallet, this lens is not for you. Most other standard lenses will give you everything but "the feeling" for a fraction of the price. Is extreme sharpness and contrast not for you? There is a certain softness not found in many lenses at this price point. If you're after that buttery-smooth bokeh, pick up the 85mm f/1.4G. But for something with just a little more character, the Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G is the lens you may be looking for.

This is a lens that is purchased and used with the heart, as tripe as that sounds. It's a lens that cannot be quantified. It really has no peers. When you're paying this much for a standard lens, you may compare it to the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 for absolute technical perfection or the Canon 50mm f/1.2 for character (Kai Wong's comical, yet informative, comparison was posted some time ago on Fstoppers). However, there is a balance struck with the Nikkor that is hard to explain. It is a lens design found few and far between, and one certainly worth trying if you're looking for something special.

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Dan Howell's picture

I considered the Nikon 58 f/1.4 when looking for a premium sharp lens for full-length fashion and portrait shots. Speed was not one of my deciding factors. I have been very disappointed with the edge sharpness of the regular Nikon standard lenses. I will admit that I studied the DxO scores closely in that range. The disparity between the score for the 58 and the Zeiss 55 Otus was so great that it got me thinking.

I have had great results from the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 and read everywhere that the Otus was even better. Then I ended up getting the Nikon 85mm f/2.8 PCE (tilt-shift) lens and found it equally sharp to the Zeiss. I didn't feel that I wanted to go backwards in terms of sharpness for the 55-58mm range, so I ended up getting the 55mm Zeiss Otus. While only shooting with it for a month now, I do feel that the images (when I get them in focus) live up to the hype about the lens. Despite its all-metal construction (it really is sturdy), it is a breeze to use with the smoothest focus wheel I have ever felt. The results do very much pop on the screen. Again, I have to nail the focus, but that is the same with any manual lens. When I do, I am rewarded with a compelling sharpness, but not one that is brassy (if that make sense).

Yes, it was an expense, but since I received it I have wanted to shoot everything with it. Unfortunately, it's focal length does not lend itself to every application. It has got me thinking about trading in the 85mm ZF.2 for the 85mm Otus. I had been happy with how the 85mm ZF.2 handled flare and color fringing with over-lit backgrounds (compared to 70-200 VR2 and 24-70 AFS--both great lenses), but the Otus takes it up one notch further. It would be a another large expense. I am very pleased with the Nikon 85 PCE even when not using the tilt/shift function, so that might keep my temptation at bay for now. The 105mm DFC is also pleasingly sharp (when not using its DeFocus control).

Dylan Goldby's picture

Absolutely. What I've seen from that Zeiss is incredible when you're looking at sharpness. If shaving with your images is your goal, there's no other choice really. How are you finding your ratio of in and our of focus shots when things get fast paced (moving subjects, etc)?

Dan Howell's picture

Dylan--I got both of the Zeiss lenses fully aware of the greater challenge of going back to manual focus. Fast moving subjects are not what I purchased them for and the ratio you are asking about is not really a useful statistic for me. In moving situations I would make different choices though I certainly used to shoot dance catalogs with professional dancers moving on set with a manual Hasselblad (not known for its speed).

I have been using the manual Zeiss lenses and the Nikon PCE in controlled situations. User error/accuracy is really the name of the game. I do find myself slowing down the shoot to keep things sharp. I've been shooting longer than AF has been around, so it is not a totally new experience and something that have actively sought out. What i have found is that in some situations I can work faster when I am not constantly having to keep the focus sensor on highest contrast areas to prevent focus creep when shooting a series on a model. I can take more shots in a series when I am directing a model on set. I am 75% in the studio under controlled settings which helps. My failings regarding sharpness is actually forgetting to focus because my muscle memory over the last 10 or so years of using AF.

I couldn't tell if you were implying that I don't need the sharpness that the Zeiss lenses deliver. I happen to have two on-going large clients who demand detail clarity down to pattern of lace or texture of fabric. While I try to frame the shots according to the need, that doesn't prevent the client from deciding to crop into a full-length image to get a dress detail. One is a bridal client and some situations require white-on-white detail. The coatings of the Zeiss helps to preserve highlight detail even in the brightest situations.

I haven't yet done apples-to-apples testing of the lenses. It takes a really patient model to create a meaningful comparison. I am sure that I will get around to it. I have done several two-camera shoots and have had some images for comparison. I'm not unhappy with any of my Nikon lenses (apart from the 50mm G) but I have been experiencing some slight back-focusing with the 70-200, usually only a slight distance like from ears to nose at portrait or full-length. Not really bad, but definitely noticeable when you put it next to a dead-on Zeiss image.

Dylan Goldby's picture

Not implying a thing, Dan! Just suggesting that the Zeiss is pretty darn sharp!

Thanks for your ellaborations. I'm located in Korea, and the photography community is really small here. Finding someone with an Otus I can play with hasn't been an option, unfortunately. It's great to hear reports from someone who is using it in the professional realm.

I've just been over to your site, and I see that my question on moving subjects was a little mis-informed! I'm most interested in how the "smoothness" you describe translates into usability for some of the purposes I would want it for.

Drew Morris's picture

I recently found a good deal on my first 1.4, the old school 85mm AI-S. While I can't comment on how it compares to the modern offerings I will say it has been an absolute dream to shoot with and I look forward to a G series in the future.

Dylan Goldby's picture

Welcome to the rabbit hole, Drew!

Dylan Goldby's picture

That's why they both exist, eh? I haven't been able to put the 58mm down. Honestly, it rarely comes off the camera anymore.

A lot of people are loving that Sigma, that's for sure. I own the Sigma 35mm, and that's pretty much what kept me from the 50mm, to be honest. Unlike you, I'm not really in the market for ultra sharp, and my needle thin arms probably couldn't carry around 2 of Sigma's lenses! ha!

Beautiful work above, by the way. Mostly wide open?

Benjamin Thomson's picture

I think you would agree that lens sharpness for portrait work is an aesthetic choice rather than a necessity.

Half the shots for cutting edge fashion mags like i-D are shot on old film lenses.

Effie Benjamin's picture

Never fault others for their own taste... but that's just my opinion. ;)

Benjamin Thomson's picture

I guess it's all about perspective. Still chump change compared to Leica gear. Plus the sigma is outrageously expensive and heavy compared to the fuji 35 1.4, which may be even sharper.

John Gray's picture

Just spotted your comments and was extremely surprised by your review of the 58 1.4. I own the lens and the one I have is extremely sharp even at 1.6. When paired with the D850 it's a great combination with no problems found to match those of your own. Perhaps you were just really unlucky with the copy of the lens you had but it would be unfair to label the lens as being anything less than superb. I also own the 35 1.4, the 85 1.4 and 105 1.4 and there's no loss in sharpness at 1.6 with my 58 relative to the others. That said I'll still be upgrading to the IQ3 XF 150 CMOS later this year but there's no way I'll be giving up my Nikon kit. For me the 58 1.4 lives up to everything mentioned within Dylan's review, and more!

Duy-Khang Hoang's picture

I'm no pro, but I paid extra for the 58 1.4G and don't regret it. Are there times when I question whether I would be happy enough with the Sigma and the extra cash? Yes, but then I take a look at what comes out of the 58 1.4G, I remember why I made that decision after combing hundreds of photos. For as nice as your sample photos are, the shot with the bricks definitely shows some nervous bokeh (whether someone finds it distracting is a different discussion). I would agree that the Sigma is the better overall lens for 99% of the population, but I disagree with the notion that choosing the 58 1.4G is a silly choice. The 58 1.4G is not a perfect lens (85 1.4G and 24 1.4G are very close for Nikon AF lenses), but it's imperfections (lack of corrections) amount to something that test charts can't account for.

Dylan Goldby's picture

As with Duy-Khang Hoang's comment above, for sure, there are times when you wonder where the extra money went, or if it could have been better spent. But that's not why we're in the game of photography, we're here to express things in a way that makes us (and hopefully our clients) happy. The article was about why I love the 58mm, not why I love extremely sharp lenses. :)

Dan Howell's picture

You seem to have a bias regarding shallow depth of field. Totally your choice, but in your article you state "No one buys primes to shoot at 5.6". That is just inaccurate hyperbole. Personally I don't go around looking for situations to use f1.4. Shallow depth is a tool, not a career.

You certainly have call to voice your opinions about the 58mm. I'm not advocating for it, but I would caution against sweeping generalizations like in your article. I made my decisions and purchases (for prime lenses) based on the be idea that I am getting a lens that is sharp throughout the range and especially sharp at the edges. I am also concerned with combatting flare and preserving highlight detail. I made a different decision than you or the author based on my needs. They appear to be different than yours.

Dan Howell's picture

FYI, I already have the 24-70, but that doesn't really matter. You have a very singular view of the value of a prime lens. You are linking two qualities that have no reason to be absolutely linked. You are implying that the only quality to select a prime is the to shoot a f1.4. If you'll read above I selected the Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 for its superior edge to edge sharpness and resistance to flare. These are critical qualities I care about as much or more than a small f-stop.

Brandon Nehus's picture

I rented the 50mm Art for 3 weeks to test it out. I did a couple of family portrait sessions and was amazed at the detail and sharpness of the lens at 1.4. I loved to pixel peep just to admire how sharp the eyes came out. After the third week of shooting with the Art, I decided not to get it. It's not that I didn't like the how the Art lens rendered the out of focus areas, it just wasn't very pleasing. After I started shooting with the 58mm, I was extremely happy with the result! Another determining factor for me was the Sigma's autofocus. It wasn't accurate enough (especially when shooting children on a sugar high). The Nikkor did a better job with his.

Dani, the sigma seems to fit your style of shooting perfectly. I love your work. Both lenses are amazing but the Nikkor gives me butterflies.

Gustavo Bosa's picture

For a long time I found myself looking for a 50mm, but they all had the same boring look. All my hopes were in the launch of the Sigma 50mm 1.4 art but again, same boring look with ugly bokeh as the others Canon and Nikon 50mm.
With sigma I paid extra money to carry a larger and heavier lens thats brings a sharpness level I dont need.
On the other hand, the 58mm is almost a 50mm but the overall look is amazing!
It's not for everyone... I do not recommend the 58mm for those shoot MTF chart, but it's highly recommended for those are looking for something special in a lens... a lens that carries a pleasing look, even with the most complex background without losing angle of view(like the 85mm).
I love my 58mm too!

Max Hartzenberg's picture

Your shots are very sharp, and the oof areas are pretty smooth. They are also rather characterless.
But since you are a technical shooter (a techy) the 58 would never make sense to you.

Mark Sperry's picture

Your images are so overly retouched that they may as well be illustrations. Why don't you skip the gear all together and just draw pictures of perfectly plastic women?

I shoot the 58/1,4G at 1.4 about 50% of the time. Sometimes "tack" sharpness isn't necessary. I also don't retouch away my subject's humanity so a little lens softness is only advantageous for certain people. However on my D750 I can still count individual eye lashes at 1.4, why would I need anything sharper than that? I think they tell you in the first day of photo school that sharpness isn't everything and not all sharp pictures are good pictures. Of course since you're more of an illustrator you might not understand that.

Alvah Reida's picture

I'm a professional wedding photographer and I bought and used the Nikon 58mm f1.4 through my entire season last year and loved it! It's definitely sharp but it's only accurate on my D800 if I'm using continuous focus mode. It always stays on the camera and I've made some spectacular images with it so well worth the money. I'm picky as well and the extra 8mm does help a tiny bit with distortion and throwing the background out of focus. The perks are very subtle and some won't notice them but I love the lens.

Dylan Goldby's picture

Absolutely agree, Alvah. It's those subtle differences that are hard to quantify. You know them when you see them, and buyer's remorse goes out the window.

Aaron Brown's picture

Great first article, mate!

Sean Shimmel's picture

Both the article and the string of comments intrigued.

Dylan, keep up the clear, detailed articles!

As an aside and apart from the performance nitty-gritty on a particular lens, I would love to hear others' thoughts on their favorite overall length in general.

How do you "see" life?

For me, the 85 1.4 is hard to switch out for almost anything else:




Dylan Goldby's picture

Beautiful work, Sean. I had a love affair with the 85mm as well, and I still break it out when I'm getting up close and personal. I've found the 58mm to be a bit more versatile. That keeps it on my camera a lot more. Are you using the 85mm f/1.4D? G?

Sean Shimmel's picture

Your own work is brimming with the warmth of humanity. Keep it up!

I'd love to try the 58 down the road.

As for my 85, I'm almost PROUD to say the "old" D version. I do NOT get caught up in version-hype. :)

Dylan Goldby's picture

Sean, I had that and loved it. All the way up to when I bought my D800. The body and lens did not match up. Even with +20 of AF Fine Tune, I couldn't get it in alignment with the D800. In the end I had to let it go. I now use the G, and have been happy with both of them. If I hadn't had that issue, I'd still be using the D!

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