Nikon’s 50mm 1.8g and 1.4g Comparison and Review

Over a year ago I purchased my first DSLR and first lens. You can read more about that here. (Warning – I’d literally had the lenses for about 2 hours and the DSLR for about 1 day. Please forgive the horrific white balance and utterly ignorant suppositions.) This is an updated (and for real) review. I’m now a seasoned veteran in the digital photography world (for clarification purposes – I’m just kidding) and feel completely confident in my ability to give you an informed opinion.
Ok, stop laughing. 🙂 I’m going to give a simple review and one for those of us who are new and are afraid to ask because we’ll be bashed with an onslaught of raised noses and belittling speeches about how if we don’t know the answer to that then surely blah blah blah. WordPress tells me that many of you are still being directed to my blog because you want to know the answer to this question. I will try to give you an unbiased and informative opinion while keeping it simple enough because gosh darn I still don’t appreciate those visual charts and nor do I care about chromatic aberration, etc, etc, etc.

In all the examples below the Nikkor 1.8g will be on the left and the 1.4g will be on the right. I also debated heftily (like, 3 full seconds) on whether I should give you examples with correct exposure or keeping the settings the same so you can see the difference in the amount of light that extra couple of stops makes. I chose the latter because its easier and might be more helpful in the end.

Settings: Shutter speed 1/50, Apertures maxed out at f/1.8 and f/1.4, ISO 200 and Auto White Balance.
Take 1

I know, its a great composition and shot. 🙂 I will be accepting calls outside normal working hours from all you art galleries.
I chose an orange for you to try and get a feel for the depth of field we’re talking about here (amount in focus). I hear A LOT about how you’ll virtually never use the aperture at 1.4 because a person’s eye will be in focus but their nose and forehead will be out of focus and thats reason enough to never purchase the 1.4g.
This. Is. Wrong. Yes, focus is incredibly difficult to handle at f/1.4 and yes, if you’re close enough to your subject one eye will be in focus and the other will be out of focus depending on how you’ve angled their face – I’m not disputing that. I’m disputing that you’ll never use it at f/1.4. I read a terrific example of this by a wedding photographer who had to think fast when a former president walked in on the wedding and she had seconds to get her settings in while handling some low-light conditions. You can read more about it here. I use my lens at f/1.4 LOADS. Are you a strictly portrait photographer? Maybe you won’t use the 1.4 often enough to warrant the extra $$$ compared to the 1.8g, but I greatly dislike those who shut others down by saying you’ll never use the aperture at f/1.4.
Now, notice the bokeh with the Christmas lights in the background. Notice the creaminess you get with the 1.4. The 1.8 still gives amazing creaminess, I won’t deny that. They’re very comparable. But something I was told when I was purchasing the 1.8g is that I’d never notice the difference between the f/1.4 and the f/1.8. And maybe your eyes aren’t trained enough to notice the difference, maybe you’re saying, “You’re an idiot, they look the same.” And maybe you’re right. But for me, the creaminess at f/1.4 IS different, very different, and thus makes the 1.4g my first choice.


Settings: Shutter speed 1/50, Apertures closed down to f/16 each, ISO 25,600 and Auto White Balance.
Take 3

I wanted you to see the difference between the two lenses with the aperture closed all the way. They both only go to f/16 so there is going to be no difference here (in my opinion).

Next, a bokeh analysis.
Settings: Shutter speed 1/50, Apertures maxed out at f/1.8 and f/1.4, ISO 200 and Auto White Balance.
Take 4
Again, you may not see it, but to me its plain as day. The 1.4g’s bokeh (remember, the Nikkor 1.4g is on the right) is bigger. Its huge, its creamy, its dreamy, its my favorite. I love to take out-of-focus shots. I am just not traditional in many aspects of the art and I like to go against the grain a lot. So, this bokeh is very important for someone like me. For instance:

I was able to get this shot because of my wide aperture. I love this picture, she’s my baby and my 1.4g helped me get her. My 1.8g just wouldn’t have been able to get the same effect.

On the flip side, the vignetting. Yes, its there with the 1.4g. For those who are new and unfamiliar with vignetting, its this:

No, that darker circular edge at the top of the frame has nothing to do with the horizon. That darkness around the edges is called a vignette. Some people like it. For landscapes, it has no business being there in my opinion – and much of this art is all about opinion, so please don’t take my word for it or let me dissuade you from them if you like them in landscapes. I like vignettes to a degree, but not in my landscapes. The vignette goes away after f/2 and is virtually non-existent with the 1.8 no matter the f-stop. This is a downside to shooting with the 1.4g wide open, but is hardly a deal-breaker for me.
Note: something to consider as well is that I’m shooting with a full-frame camera. If you have a crop-sensor, you may not have the vignetting issue.

Next and lastly, I want to show you the difference in low-lighting conditions.
Take 2

As you can see, the 1.8g is struggling here at f/1.8. You can’t hardly see the orange. The 1.4g at f/1.4 isn’t the greatest shot, but it can make or break a photo. I knew from the beginning that I am drawn to low-light photographs and yes, that 1.4 f-stop has saved my photos more often than not.

Now, I won’t argue with you about the price. I got my 1.4g used from a dude on Craigslist and am very thankful for his care with the lens so I can enjoy it in pristine condition at a much lower price. Not everyone can afford to pay twice as much for the 1.4g. Some might think the extra cash for the 1.4g isn’t worth it compared to what it has to offer. I won’t disagree with you, but for me it is worth it and I wish the salesman I spoke with would have had the humility to say, “Its not worth it for me, but it may be worth it for you.” so I wouldn’t be now stuck with a virtually unused 1.8g. Because I bought the 1.8g new for $225 and the best offer I’ve received in trying to sell it is $150, I’ve decided to keep it and give it to my husband one day when we’re able to get him a DSLR. I can’t justify losing $75 on a lens that is in perfect condition.

Lastly, lets talk about the difference in focusing. Some have said the 1.4g isn’t worth it because the 1.8g focuses better. The 1.8g does grab focus a hair faster than the 1.4g. The 1.4g does sometimes hunt for focus, but this isn’t often at all. I would not say, “Oh, the 1.4g isn’t worth the cost difference because it doesn’t grab focus as fast and you’ll never shoot at f/1.4 with it.” because its just silly and for me it was completely false.

It all boils down to this: Is it worth the cost to you? That is truly, the simplest and most accurate question/answer, because only you know. 🙂