I’ve been using this lens for a few months with a love/hate relationship, so I’d like to share my point of view on it.
There are 2 versions of this lens: one has the letter G and one has the letter D. The only difference is that the G model has a built in AF motor, enabling it to work on any Nikon camera. The D version will only manage to use the autofocus feature if you have a full frame body, or a DX body with AF-motor. My D7100 has such feature so my lens is the D version, but the G and D have identical optics.
The Nikkor 50mm f1.8 is a full frame prime lens. This means that if you plan to buy it and use it on a crop sensor camera it will work as a 75mm lens due to the 1.5 crop ratio. The widest aperture setting is 1.8 which means this lens is extremely bright and will help a lot when working in low light. With that kind of aperture it’s also a lens that will work well for portraits as it allows to isolate the subject pretty well.
The lens is extremely small and light, so if weight is a concern then fear no more, it’s almost half the size of a 18-55 kit lens. It uses 52mm filters which is great because they’re very cheap. As you can tell from the above picture it would be very difficult to scratch the lens, but I always prefer to buy a UV filter to protect it, as well as a polarized filter for bright, sunny days.
This lens is a very old model and for years it’s been considered a must buy for it’s combination of price and image quality.
All these shots were taken hand-held. You can open the pictures in a different window or check my Flickr page to see a bigger version. They all have been cropped.
One more thing to like about this lens is the price. If you head to any online store you’ll find that the 2 cheapest lenses from Nikon are usually the 18-55 kit lens and this one. As I mentioned before this lens has been around for years and there’s plenty of used models waiting to find a new home, so if you’re willing to buy a used one then you won’t have any trouble finding one.
Why did I say that I have a love/hate relationship with this lens? Well, the problem for me is the range.
50mm, which becomes 75mm on a DX body, is too narrow for landscape or architecture shots, and at the same time it does not have enough range to work as a macro lens or safely take pictures of people on the road without being noticed. It sounds like a stalker habit, but check the last picture with the 2 men playing a boardgame. The 50mm lens forced me to get very close to them and I was afraid they’d notice me, which would have ruined the picture. I had to shoot from quite far away and crop away a good 40% of the picture, which translates into loss of detail.
For landscapes it’s even worse because you cannot back up forever, and 50mm (75mm effective) is just nonsense.
So for me this lens is a great backup that I always enjoy having in the backpack. The fact that its extremely light and portable means that the extra weight is not really a problem, and it’s low-light ability can prove to be extremely valuable. Add to that the combination of low price + great image quality and you have a winner that any Nikon shooter should have (unless you already have the f1.4 version which is even better but more expensive).
Some photographers tend to day:”ZOOMS? HA, THAT’S FOR NOOBS, I ONLY USE PRIMES”. Personally, I prefer to walk around with a standard zoom that gives me plenty of composition opportunities. Something like a Tamron 17-50 or Sigma 17-70 or the Nikon 16-85 don’t have the same quality as a prime lens, but if you only have the 50mm prime with you and you suddenly want to take a shot at something very “big” ( landscape? sunset? building?) or very “small” (a flower? animal? far away people?) well good luck with that. I find the idea of switching lenses over and over to be frustrating, so while this 50mm f1.8 is almost always with me, it’s never the only lens that I use when I go outside.
If you just got a Nikon camera and you only have the kit lens (18-55, 18-105, 18-140 or 24-85) then low light will be your weak point. All those kit lenses are relatively slow and a f1.8 lens will allow you to take shots in low light without having to worry too much about ISO noise. For the price I consider it a no brainer, BUT if you’re buying a new camera and you think:”I’ll get the body only and the 50mm f1.8 because it’s a cheap prime and the internet told me that prime lenses produce better pictures” then you also need to consider that you’ll be giving up many opportunities because you’ll not always manage to frame what you want inside your viewfinder, or you’ll do it but you’ll have to rely on cropping at the cost of image quality.
If you’re curious to see the difference between a kit lens and a prime lens, I’ve made a comparison here. You can check side-by-side pictures and have a better idea of the improvement you can get from such a tiny, cheap lens, compared to a kit lens.
The next question would be:”Should I get the 50mm f1.4 instead of the f1.8?”. Well, it costs twice as much (roughly) and what you get is an extra stop of light. If you DESPERATELY NEED all the light that you can, then sure, go for it. But especially if you’ve just jumped into photography and you need to collect enough lenses to cover a bit of everything, then you’re better off saving a bit of cash, get the f1.8 and you’ll probably never regret it.