The Nikkor 50mm F1.4D has been around for, well, a while. Its age was something we noted even when we reviewed it back in 2008, though it's still one of five 50mm autofocus lenses that Nikon still makes today (counting the 50mm F1.8G not-so-special edition that comes with the Nikon Df). Most significantly for us, it was one of our standard studio lenses for Nikon-mount cameras for quite some time.

Notice how I said 'Nikon-mount' and not just Nikon – because, fun fact, a number of digital cameras used the Nikon F mount back in the day. Just check out the leading images for our reviews on the Finepix S5 Pro and Kodak DCS 14n. The last Nikon camera we slapped it on for such a purpose was the Nikon D3S, even though the newer G version had been out for some time. And why not? Stopped down, the Nikkor 50mm F1.4D is plenty sharp, as with most standard 50mm primes.

So, you just dropped $6500 on a D5 and didn't budget for lenses - good thing the Nikkor 50mm F1.4D can be had on the cheap these days.

So when Sam discovered this lens lurking in the back of our special cabinet of studio lenses, collecting dust ever since it had been replaced with the newer G version, we got kind of excited. This is a lens I own personally and have been using on older camera bodies for years, but we were eager take it for a spin on some newer sensors to see just how well it holds up.

It should go without saying that the Nikon 50mm F1.4D holds up just fine on the old 12MP full-frame sensors of yore, but at this aperture, it should be fine even on newer setups. Nikon D700. ISO 1600, 1/200 sec, F2.8.

Photo by Carey Rose

As far as the technical details go, this iteration of the lens was introduced in 1995, though the basic optical design goes all the way back to 1977 - 7 elements in 6 groups. (For comparison, the newer 50mm F1.4G is 8 elements in 7 groups). It's made of decent quality plastic, feels fairly dense given its compact dimensions, and you'll constantly have to tell people who borrow it to keep their fingers off the focus ring while focusing, lest they blow out the motor on the camera. This lens further shows its age by focusing externally, and is very obviously not weather-sealed. On the plus side, it focuses very fast on a higher-end camera body with a good focus motor, but it doesn't focus silently like its G-series replacement.

Detail in the corners on 24MP is pretty good (as it should be at F5.6). Hopefully you're a fan of heptagonal bokeh, because the aperture blades on the 50mm F1.4D aren't rounded. Nikon D750. ISO 1600, 1/100 sec, F5.6.

Photo by Carey Rose

So while it makes a little noise while doing so, this older 50mm F1.4D focuses a fair bit faster on a pro-level body than the newer F1.G version. It was actually great on the D5, though unfortunately, you lose all the outer cross-type points when using a D-series lens. So we just stuck to the center points for low-contrast subjects when using it.

The simple design is so delightfully transparent and obviously imperfect at wider apertures that I find it a lot of fun to shoot with.

On a personal note, I still love this lens. Newer designs handle flare better and are generally sharper wide-open (especially in the corners). But there's something about the character of this lens that keeps it in my bag. The simple design is so delightfully transparent and obviously imperfect at wider apertures that I find it a lot of fun to shoot with. Just watch out for fringing on backlit subjects.

So, sharpness isn't all that great wide-open. But that bokeh still looks mighty nice. Nikon D5. ISO 1000, 1/125 sec, F1.4. Processed to taste from Raw with no noise reduction applied.

Photo by Carey Rose

So what's in the future for our former-studio lens? Well, seeing as DPReview owns it and it's in almost brand-new condition, it seems fitting to give it a second life out in the real world. It's a lens that I'm looking forward to continuing to use on newer bodies when I want something a little less clinical, and it's small enough to basically disappear once it's mounted.

When you're out and about, the Nikon 50mm F1.4D will make the Nikon D5 look a little less obtrusive than with a big F2.8 zoom, and with snappy autofocus to boot. ISO 1400, 1/250 sec, F2.

Photo by Carey Rose

Do you have an older, out-of-date lens that you still hold on to? What keeps you coming back to it? Let us know in the comments!