My Favourite Lens for Portraits: Nikon AF-S 58mm f1.4G

Started Feb 17, 2015 | Discussions thread
anotherMike Veteran Member • Posts: 9,859
Hatfields & McCoys..
14

I'm not Marianne, but I've shot and evaluated the 58/1.4 and own the Sigma 50/1.4 Art.

Frankly, I am not sure off the top of my head I could come up with two lenses that are so distinctly opposite one another in terms of rendering. If you've followed my postings you'll see that I have recently talked about lenses that tend to fall into (broadly) two categories: Lenses that *impart* a personality or character onto the scene, and lenses that are *honest* to the scene. In the future I may come up with a better set of terms, but for now, that's what I've got. The 58 is the first, the Sigma is the second, generally speaking. In a way both approaches are valid, and IMO both approaches are needed.

The Nikon 58/1.4 is a flat out wonderful portrait lenses designed by one of the designers at Nikon who truly "gets" OOF transitions and bokeh, and he places high value on these in this design, at the expense of what we might call "test chart sharpness". While I personally find 58mm a bit short for portraits, if your subject matter involves people in their surroundings and this is the focal length you use for such work, the Nikon 58 is going to be the lens that is quite likely the best matched to that task. If you've read what I've been posting in this forum for the past several months, you'll see I almost always talk about matching the tool to the task as opposed to announcing an absolute "winner" in a "war". So this of course implies that there are tasks where the Nikon 58 is not the best fit, and that is where the Sigma 50/1.4 Art comes in.

The Sigma 50/1.4 Art is a "normal" lens that is about as honest as one can get outside of a Zeiss Otus 55 - and it gives the Otus a run for the money at distance in a big way. It does NOT have particularly amazing bokeh because it was designed and corrected more for contrast and sharpness as priorities within the inevitable tradeoffs involves with lens design, and thus it's not going to be as good as the 58 is for the OOF transitions and bokeh at the wider apertures, but it will be sharper. What it does - far better than the 58 IMO (which is why I personally did not choose to purchase the 58 after evaluating it) is be good at a wide variety of tasks at the middle and stopped down apertures, particularly in the realm of studio fashion work and definitely landscape work, where frankly it embarrasses the Nikon 58 about as much as the Nikon 58 might embarrass the Sigma in bokeh oriented portrait work. With the Sigma you get *staggering* global contrast, a very honest and transparent-to-source rendering, excellent highlight rendering, pretty good flare resistance, and fine sharpness across the frame at these tasks. But it's never, ever, ever, going to have those lovely transitions nor the bokeh that the 58 does at the wide apertures. Thus it's just an "opposite". For some tasks the 58 is going to be the easy choice, and for others, the Sigma 50 art is.

My personal thought, and this will be controversial in a Nikon 58 fan thread, is that the Nikon 58, while being tremendous at what it does well, just doesn't do *enough* other things to the high standard I would expect a 1700$ lens to do. I'd be happier with it at a grand. So for me it's definitely more of a somewhat specialized lens when PRICE is taken into account. Others obviously may feel differently, particularly those whose work primarily involves, say, natural light portraiture as opposed to landscape or the rendering of fine textural detail in clothing. I was not pleased at the corner performance at landscape even stopped down, particularly given the price, and I honestly think the lens could have and should have been better for that task. Landscape rendering of the 58 - it seems to have a veil over things, a slight dullness, that the Sigma 50 Art very much removes, to use another description. To use an example of a lens that manages this duality better, I offer the 24/1.4G, a lens which is not sharpness monster wide open and has nice (for a wide) bokeh and transitions, but is competitive sharpness and contrast wise at distance stopped down, so it becomes a lens that works well for a wide variety of things a 24mm mm might be used for.

So once again, it comes down to tool and task. Each lens excels at an area the other is not world class in, yet I do strongly feel one lens does offer more value and more use across a wider use case range than the other (the Sigma), but I could actually see somebody owning both of these and using them for different taks to optimize that task/tool relationship is they use this focal length a lot.

I should also note I have zero experience with astro work and I don't shoot nightscapes either, so coma correction isn't a high priority of mine.

So it's the hatfields and mccoys, strawberry vs chocolate ice cream, left wing vs right wing, pick your trite "opposites" analogy and there you have it

Sorry to intrude, I'm sure Marianne will comment at some point.

-m

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