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Nikon 50mm Lens Comparison
© 2006 KenRockwell.com

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These are all surprisingly good. Here are shots made directly into the brilliant California sun. It was so bright that I couldn't look at it without shielding my own eyes.

These shots are made with the sun just above the image and no lens hoods, manual exposure of 1/500 at f/5.6, ISO 100. The flare actually adds detail to the very dark shadows.

Trick Animation: Move your mouse over each image to shield the sun with your hand! See the difference? That shows you how much more important proper technique is than worry about the lens. You can see my hand in the shot with the VR lens, whoops!




All these lenses are extraordinarily resistant to flare. Only an idiot would shoot with light this deliberately and blindingly bad, yet all the lenses worked great. The great flare resistance of all these lenses hide just how blinding this scene was. Southern California has blinding sunlight and clear skies; don't confuse this with the feeble rays from the UK or Canada.

Oddly, the simplest 55mm Micro was the worst, and the complex 18 - 200 mm VR was the best.

Reflection tells us why: the VR has over twice as much glass as any other lens here, but it's also the only lens designed this decade. The rest are designs primarily 100 years old. The reason the double-Gauss designs of all the other lenses didn't become useful until after the Germans invented lens coatings in the 1940s was because the Gauss designs are very flare prone. Somehow Nikon was clever enough to bestow the 18 - 200 VR with excellent resistance to flare and ghosts.

All of these lenses easily render this huge contrast range accurately, which shows why they look the same for more reasonable subjects. Some lensmakers try to mislead people with unsubstantiated claims of greater contrast, but today, all decent coated lenses are the same. The only low contrasts are when the lenses are used wide open at f/1.4, and you can see how equally bad they all look at the sharpness comparison page at f/1.4.


I spent almost two months shooting and writing this comparison of 50mm lenses. No one pays me for this. If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me write more with a donation.

Thanks for reading!


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