Nikon 50mm f 1.2 AI-S Review – Taken on a D800 and F100

Shallow depth of field? Crazy bokeh? It seems everyone wants and often gets fixated on achieving that amazing look when shooting wide open. I like to shoot primes and I like to shoot wide open so count me in that group too! I like sharpness in an image but it’s usually second to something just simply looking good, regardless of its technical properties. Where Nikon falter in terms of their lens lineup is not having any 1.2 prime lenses with autofocus. I was a bit peeved about this but came across two lenses that caught my eye. First of all was the recent Nikon 58mm 1.4 which was apparently designed to render out of focus areas and from reviews and sample images it seems to keep up at 1.4 as much as a canon 50mm lens does at 1.2. In terms of specifications, it certainly doesn’t warrant the price tag but it’s how it makes the image image look…..something different. Unfortunately the price tag alone was enough to put me off and I came across the Manual focus Nikon 50mm 1.2 AI-S lens.

Nikon 50mm f1.2 a.i.s lens




I took a gamble on this lens as my intended use for it was for weddings and the lack of autofocus meant I wouldn’t like to use it too often for fast moving scenes. I was the second shooter for a wedding and decided to try it out but I didn’t get a chance to do any portraits with it. When the time came for one of my own weddings, the couple had requested portraits at an orchard and after using my usual go-to lenses I had some time to take out the 50mm 1.2 and just watch it melt away everything. It was nuts, I knew then, why I’d bought this lens….to give my images that extra special look. You may see references across the internet from other users describing it giving the composition an “x-factor “or adding “special sauce” and they really are right. You see, this lens doesn’t perform well wide open, it’s not sharp and it gives everything a glow with a good amount of chromatic aberration, but it’s precisely this, that makes this lens special when taking portraits. It has all the special effects of a Lens Baby but with all the refinement of a serious lens. This shot below was taken in an orchard with plenty of trees and foliage which sometimes can make an image appear busy. But at f1.2 it all just melted away. The glowing effect also worked particularly well here as it literally made the bride’s dress glow.

50mm f1.2 a.i.s lens for weddings

Nikon 50mm 1.2 | Shot wide open at f 1.2

I knew after taking the above photo, I’d always have this lens in my bag. It proved its worth there and then. Even if I could only use it when things slow down at weddings and it is time for a relaxed portrait, how could I not put it in my bag? It’s light and small enough so it’s a no brainer!


nikon 50mm 1.2 portrait bokeh

1.2 again for onion bokeh!

Bokeh-Tastic. As you can see here, I focused on the closest eye which is not sharp but everything else has started to blur away and you can see the trees in the background have been reduced to onion like bokeh shapes. Although not so obvious in this image, if you look closely you can still see certain elements have that glowing effect. It seems to happen most on bright or over blown highlights.

portrait with the nikon 50mm

As if this child needed any extra glow! F1.2 again

Nikon FM

Nikon shooting a nikon FE | Wide open again at 1.2

Focusing with the Nikon 50mm 1.2 AI-S lens


I’ve had good results focusing through the viewfinder with this lens, the shot above was done using the viewfinder with the green dot to help aid focusing. The green dot is useful, but I recommend using your eye first then just checking it against the green dot. If you ignore the composition in front of you and keep looking at the left and right indicators trying to make the middle green dot light up then you might miss whats in front of you. Even worse you ignore the fact your subject has moved slightly and all that effort getting that dot lit up means your focus area is now on the nose. If you do have time and your camera has the function, then live view is the way forward with focusing with the Nikon 50mm 1.2 ais lens. On my Nikon D800 I switch to live view and then zoom in using the magnification buttons which ensures you are focusing as accurately as possible. Although I think live view is the best option when shooting wide open, you may not have any time or the subject might be moving around too quickly. In this case, stop it down a little and shoot at an apeture of f4 or above for a larger depth of field and focus through the viewfinder.

Nikon 50mm 1.2 a.i.s lens sharpness and using it for landscapes.


Whilst I’ve stated this lens is not sharp at f1.2, it has been claimed by many people as being one of the sharpest 50mm lenses when stopped down. I agree that it’s sharp, probably anywhere above f2, but I wouldn’t say it’s the sharpest 50mm in the world. Like I said earlier sharpness comes second to a great image and whilst this lens is sharp enough, it’s not the reason I bought this lens. Having said that, it performs really well right up to f16 even on my Nikon D800 which is known for highlighting a lenses’ flaws including diffraction. Theres not much I can say about using this lens for landscapes other than its fun! Its so light to carry and manual focus isn’t a problem when shooting landscapes at all, in fact its welcome. The 50mm isn’t commonly associated with landscapes but it is healthy to use one every now and again for a different perspective, getting better compression between subjects, and when stitching it makes panoramas much easier to blend together.

depth of field

Above image shot at f16 to show how this lens performs for depth of field and difraction (ISO 180, 1/125, f16)

depth of field comparision at f8

beach photo for nikon 50mm 1.2misty clee hill lens review

Removing Chromatic Aberration with lightroom

Now, please someone correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure that fancy phrase above is also called colour fringing or purple fringing. Either way, whatever it is the Nikon 50mm 1.2 A.I.S lens produces its fair share of it when shot wide open. Fortunately in most circumstances, it can be removed. As you can see in the photos below, the photo on the right shows what happens when you apply a good amount of removal in Lightroom using the lens correction Module.

chromatic abberation

Using the lens with the f100 for film


I love to have fun with this lens and really I shouldn’t shoot half as much film photos with this lens as I have done but stopped down you can feel quite safe you wont have wasted a frame. There will be more to come but for now everything you see has been shot with Kodak Portra 400. As soon as I get some developed I’ll upload other film stocks and photos.

Clee Hill landscapekodak porta 400 example imageusing 50mm with film cameras50mm film 1.2 kodak nikon

Nikon 50mm f1.2 AIS Lens Conclusion

It’s very simple, if you want a lightweight lens and you have time to manual focus then this lens can be very useful and maybe a match for you. You can use it for portraits for a special look and stopped down it still does nice portraits and produces a very sharp image. If money was no object I’d love to give the 58 1.4 lens a try and do a comparison. Whilst they are different focal lengths I believe their “special” purpose is well matched and I’d like to pit them against each other. But for now, being a 35mm/85mm combo shooter I’m in no rush to find out. And what I have found out is that the 50mm f1.2 from Nikon works sweetly with my D800 and fits perfectly in my camera bag. Not many complaints here.




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  • Mike PouliotJune 9, 2015 - 1:47 pm

    Great review! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Che.ReplyCancel

  • Jose BantaDecember 30, 2016 - 5:16 am

    Thanks for the step away from G series review. I want this lens for my d810. I own some of the newer lenses. It’s time for me to get back to basics.ReplyCancel

  • HawkesmillJuly 10, 2017 - 12:19 pm

    What a great review of an exceptional lens!! Wonderful images as well.

    We use the 50mm f1.2 for many of our product shots. There is a certain ethereal quality to it that we haven’t seen on any other lens. And what a lovely weight and feel it has!ReplyCancel

  • mateus portoAugust 11, 2021 - 6:42 pm

    these are amazing! May I ask if you used a filter to shoot at 1.2 in daylight? I’m trying to wrap my head around this being possible! ReplyCancel

  • Mateus PortoAugust 11, 2021 - 6:46 pm

    I’m not sure if my other comment posted but I was wondering if you shot with a filter on the lens? I’m just curious as to how the highlights weren’t blown out when you shot wide open? ReplyCancel

    • Che Birch-HayesAugust 28, 2021 - 11:37 am

      Hi Mateus. Shooting at 1.2 is absolutely fine providing there is super bright sunlight. It also helps that I shot on the d800 for those images which has excellent dynamic range. If it was a sunny day with full sun at midday on the subject with no shade, then it would be overexposed for sure.ReplyCancel