Review: Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4

Introduction

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Sony A7rII + Voigtlander VM-E close focus adapter + Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 RF

This review covers the rather exotic Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 rangefinder lens, which I got the chance to review thanks to a reader. It is small, it is lightweight, it has exceptional build quality, but what about the optics? Read on to find out!

Sample Images

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/2.8
nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/1.4
nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/5.6

You can find most of the shots in this review in full resolution here.

Specifications / Version History

This lens was available with Nikon-S rangefinder mount and Leica M39 (or LTM) mount. I am reviewing the latter which has the following specifications:

    • Diameter: 47 mm
    • Field of view: 46° (diagonally)
    • Length:  42 mm + adapter
    • Weight: 276g + adapter
    • Filter Diameter: E43, 43×0.5 (not M43!)
    • Number of Aperture Blades: 10 (rounded)
    • Elements/Groups: 7/3
    • RF coupled close focusing distance: 1.0 m (~0.45 m in macro mode)
    • Maximum Magnification: 1:17 (~1:6.5 in macro mode)
    • Mount: M39 / LTM

You can try getting one of these used from ebay.com/ebay.de starting at 400$/600€ (affiliate links).

Handling / Build Quality

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 RF

I could probably shorten this and just say: regarding build quality the Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 is one of the nicest lenses I have ever put on my camera and felt in my hands. But I will of course get more into detail, as there is actually much to say.
The focusing ring is like none if have seen so far. First thing is, it has a locking mechanism for infinity (you can see that in the picture above), to turn the focusing ring at all you have to push down this little button.
The focusing ring also has a click stop at 1.0 m (~3.3 ft) which separates the rangefinder coupled focusing range (1.0 m to infinity, 120°) from the macro range (0.45 m to 1.0 m, 180°).
This is actually such an ingenious design, I absolutely can’t understand this hasn’t been adapted more often by other manufacturers since (I only know of the Voigtlander 12mm 5.6 M39 that features a similar design).
The lens is made from chrome/brass and therefore feels very solid and quite heavy for its size. It also features a much more complex design compared to the Nikkor-P 85mm 2.0 with a non rotating front barrel, so using a polarizer isn’t a problem, in case you can find one with the right thread (E43).

You can compare the size of the Nikkor to the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm 1.5 in the following photo. The Voigtlander actually looks quite bulky by comparison but (at least in the black version as shown here) is a little lighter. The Voigtlander is also available in chrome/brass.

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Comparison: Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 RF and Voigtlander VM Nokton 50mm 1.5

Vignetting / Colorcast

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii vignette vignetting

Wide open there is severe vignetting of ~3.0 EV, stopped down to f/2.0 this improves to 2.0 EV, at f/2.8 vignetting is still 1.5 EV and even at f/8.0 nearly 1.0 EV, which might need correction depending on the subject. To put things into perspective: these values are considerably worse at all apertures compared to the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm 1.5 and wide open also worse compared to the Jupiter-3 50mm 1.5.
I can also notice a slight color cast towards the edges on the A7s and A7rII, which I felt the urge to correct for some shots.

Sharpness

infinity
nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii sharpness resolution contrast

At f/1.4 there is significantly reduced contrast all over the frame, center shows ok resolution, midframe and corners are lacking. Stop down to f/2.0 and the contrast improves significantly, but it needs stopping down to f/8.0 for the midframe to look best and the corners never look really good at all, not even at f/11. This lens would not be my first choice for anything that demands high across frame resolution.
I also had some issues with subjects in the midframe and closer to the corners wide open as sharpness is just a bit lacking here, also at medium (portrait) distances.

close focus (100 cm)

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii sharpness resolution contrast

close focus (45 cm in macro mode)

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii sharpness resolution contrast close focus nah

At the native minimum focus distance of 100 cm the lens really struggles wide open when it comes to contrast. It needs stopping down to f/2.8 for very good performance on the 42mp sensor.
At the extended minimum focus distance of 45 cm in macro mode the situation is pretty much the same: soft at f/1.4 and f/2.0 but sharpness improves considerably on stopping down to f/2.8.

I also had to refocus the lens stopped down because of significant focus shift, see the corresponding section farther down this review.

Flare resistance

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii sharpness resolution contrast flare bright light contraligt backlight gegenlicht
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/8.0

Let me be honest here: when it comes to the performance against bright light this might be the worst lens I have ever seen. With a point light source in the frame you will catch huge obstrusive ghosts all the time, but this isn’t even the worst part: in many shots I can see internal reflections of the aperture blades:

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii sharpness resolution contrast flare bright light contraligt backlight gegenlicht
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/8.0

Distortion

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii distortion
Distortion characteristics of Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 RF

Very minor pincushion distortion, I didn’t correct it in any of the sample images.

Bokeh

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/1.4

When it comes to bokeh this lens behaves very similar to the Jupiter-3 50mm 1.5: wide open too nervous for my taste with significant outlining and much better stopped down to f/2.0. I still wouldn’t call it smooth, this is more of a character lens in my eyes, but judge for yourself by the sample images.

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/1.4


Sony A7rII | Before: Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 RF @ 1.4 | After: Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 RF @ 2.0

Sunstars

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii sharpness resolution contrast
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/8.0

This lens features 10 rounded aperture blades which will yield 10-pointed sunstars around point light sources. They are actually quite well defined and I like them, but as this is a highly subjective topic you might want to have a look at this article and decide for yourself what you prefer. Furthermore: with point light sources in the frame you will also often find ghosts in your pictures, see the “Flare Resistance” section.

Chromatic aberrations

longitudinal


Sony A7rII | Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 RF | 50% crop | before: f/1.4, after: f/2.8

There is only very slight green outlining behind the plane of focus and purple outlining in front of it wide open. The correction looks pretty decent, but the problem is also somewhat masked by the huge amount of glow and the loss of contrast. Nevertheless, stopped down to f/2.8 even the slight loCA are gone.

lateral


Sony A7rII | Nikkor-P 85mm 2.0 RF | f/8.0 | 100% crop from corner | before: no correction, after: corrected

Slight lateral CAs are present, they are somewhat masked by the mediocre sharpness and can be corrected in post easily e.g. in Lightroom.

Focus shift

Just like the Nikkor-P 85mm 2.0 also the Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 is troubled by focus shift. Focus shift describes the effect of the plane of optimal focus shifting on stopping down. This is actually less of an issue with the A7 cameras as you will most of the time stop down first and focus after that, but more of a problem with most Leica rangefinder cameras.

Nevertheless, the focus shift between f/1.4 and f/2.0 is pretty much negligible, but when stopping down to f/2.8 you should definetly adjust the focus to get optimal sharpness.

Alternatives

When it comes to fast 50mm legacy lenses there are many to choose from. I will therefore mainly cover the similarly sized rangefinder lenses here.

Jupiter-3 50mm 1.5:
The image quality is quite similar actually: both lenses have rather nervous bokeh and low contrast wide open, flare issues and rather soft corners. When it comes to the build quality the Nikkor is worlds ahead though.

Voigtländer Nokton 50mm 1.5 Asph:
This is the modern affordable small rangefinder 50mm 1.5. It is a high contrast lens with nice bokeh and great build quality. I like it and still have it.

Zeiss ZM C Sonnar 50mm 1.5 T*:
This is the modern interpretation of the 50mm Sonnar lens. Unfortunately I did not yet get the chance to try this one myself but from what I have read and seen so far, this lens combines the Sonnar rendering with modern coatings and hugely improved performance wide open in terms of sharpness and contrast and costs a little more than the Nokton.

Leica 50mm lenses:
If you want a lens as fast you can take a look at one of the many versions of the Summilux 50mm 1.4, I haven’t used any and they are all very expensive. If you can get by with a maximum aperture of f/2.0 you may also take a look at one of the different Summicron-M 50mm 2.0 lenses but they will also be way more expensive and I am certainly no expert on these lenses either.

DSLR 50mm lenses:
One can find very cheap lenses here with good optical qualities, but they will be much bigger and the really good ones ain’t as cheap anymore as well. You can of course take a look at some of the 50mm reviews on this blog.

Conclusion

good

  • contrast from f/2.0 onwards
  • sunstars
  • bokeh (f/2.0)
  • correction of longitudinal CA
  • minimum focus distance
  • distortion
  • handling
  • build quality
  • size
average

  • bokeh (f/1.4)
  • correction of lateral CA
  • weight
  • price
not good

  • contrast/sharpness
    wide open
  • corner sharpness
  • flare resistance
  • vignetting

The Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 is definetly more of a character lens. The bokeh wide open is rather nervous (too nervous for my taste, adjust rating accordingly) and the sharpness is unfortunately not as good as on the Nikkor-P 85mm 2.0.
I am not a big fan of glow wide open and this lens shows loads of it. The sunstars are quite nice but the flare resistance often spoils the game with point light sources in the frame.

Why should you choose the Nikkor-S 5.0cm 1.4 over other 50mm lenses? This is one isn’t easy to answer. The Nikkor may be one of the most beautifully crafted lenses I have used so far, but the optical qualities didn’t really knock if out of the park for me, especially considering the rather steep used prices. I think it is a better lens than the Jupiter-3 in most regards, but if you want a small 50mm rangefinder lens I recommend taking a closer look at the Voigtlander 50mm 1.5 first.

You can try getting one of these used from ebay.com/ebay.de starting at 400$/600€ (affiliate links).

Sample Images

nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/8.0
nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/1.4
nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/1.4
nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/1.4
nikon s nikkor rangefinder nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 rf sony a7 a7rii bokeh
Sony A7rII | Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4 | f/1.4

You can find most of the shots in this review in full resolution here.

Further Reading

The following two tabs change content below.
My name is Bastian and for many years I have been mostly shooting Nikon DSLRs. As of today I have made my transition from Nikon to Sony and I am mainly using small but capable manual lenses. My passion is landscape photography but I also like to delve into other subjects from time to time.

9 thoughts on “Review: Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm 1.4”

  1. Thanks for the review. I’ve been kicking around picking one of these up, as I rather enjoy the 8.5cm f/2. Have you tried the Contax RF Sonnar 50mm f/1.5? I find that similar wide open, park it at f/2 though and it’s great for people photos etc.

    1. Dear Matt,
      I did not yet try the Contax Sonnar 50mm f/1.5, but I think the 50mm f/1.4 and f/1.5 designs from that era are all quite similar in terms of optical performance.
      I also prefer shooting them at f/2.0 which is very favourable for the bokeh.

      1. I’d send you one for testing if you weren’t in Europe! I always enjoy a through evaluation. For some reason I thought the Nikkor was a little different hence the f/1.4 aperture but I could be wrong as far as the optical blocks go. To my eye it has less smearing outside the center compared to some of the sample shots above. (http://www.mattparvin.com/adapted-lenses/2016/12/07/2016127zeiss-opton-50mm-f15)

        I have a working Contax 50 and 85 that needs its triplet re-cemented, and a working Nikkor 85, can’t decide which pair I want to put together.

        Thanks again.

        1. The corners and borders of the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 are never really good, also worse than Jupiter-3.
          In terms of bokeh and character I would have a hard time telling them aparth though.

  2. Hey Bastian, thank you for this review! I’m curious if my
    Nikon Nikkor-S 50 mm f/ 1.4 non-Ai lens performs the same way even though its a 7 elements in 5 group design…

  3. thanks for your great review and hard work.

    signature of the lens reminds me 3.5cm f1.8 W Nikkor C.

    I should dust off my Opton 50, Simlar 50 1.5, this Nikkor, Canon 50 1.4 & 1.5 and Summarit and do head to head tests. I have a feeling that Canon 50 1.4 would be overall best… 🙂

  4. Thanks for this review…you so often examine lenses I want, have or had!!
    It is my understanding that the Nikkor-S 1.4, versus the prior 1.5, and contemporary Zeiss 1.5, was optimized for maximum performance at fairly short distances and larger apertures, like 5-10 feet…making it more of a people/street/portrait-y kind of lens….where the Zeiss competitor was optimized for infinity performance at mid-apertures.

    That was the trait that caused the big “Nikon sensation” in the 1950’s when all the famous Korean war combat photographers raved about these new Nikkors.

    I own the Nikkor 1.4 in Contax mount, and use it on my A7 with a frankenstein mount from eastern europe so I can focus. It is really nice for environmental portraits from about 5 feet away @f2….really does render well there.

    Thanks again for your tests!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *