Design

The 58mm is a solidly-made lens, with a design that essentially resembles an up-scaled 50mm f/1.4G. Indeed it's one of the largest lenses in its class, alongside the Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM and the Sony Planar T* 50mm F1.4 ZA SSM. It's the lightest of these three though, due in part to the use of a plastic barrel shell. There's a rubber seal around the mount to help prevent dust or moisture from entering the camera.

The optical unit lies deeply-recessed in the barrel, which in effect provides a built-in hood. It moves back and forwards inside the barrel for focusing, so the balance of the lens doesn't substantially change. The focus ring is extremely smooth in operation, and there's a small switch on the side of the barrel to select between auto and manual focus.

Compared to AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G

This comparison gives an idea of the relative sizes of the 58mm f/1.4G and its less-costly stablemate, the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G. The family resemblance is clear, but the 58mm is substantially larger, which could be a consideration if you're concerned about portability.

The table below compares the lenses' key specifications in more detail, with the Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM thrown in for good measure. The key point here is that there's not a lot between these three lenses on paper aside from size and weight (and, of course, price). So if we want to find out what Nikon thinks is so special about the 58mm, we're going to have to look elsewhere.

 
 Approx price  • $1700 / £1600  • $440 / £290  • $400 / £350
 Focal length  • 58mm  • 50mm  • 50mm
 Maximum aperture  • F1.4  • F1.4  • F1.4
 Minimum aperture  • F16  • F16  • F16
 Focus motor type  • Ultrasonic  • Ultrasonic  • Ultrasonic
 Full time manual focus  • Yes  • Yes  • Yes
 Optical construction  • 9 elements / 6 groups
 • 2 aspherical elements
 • 8 elements / 7 groups  • 8 elements / 6 groups
 • 1 aspherical element
 Aperture diaphragm  • 9 blades, rounded  • 9 blades, rounded  • 9 blades, rounded
 Minimum focus  • 0.58m (22.8")  • 0.45m (17.7")  • 0.45m (17.7")
 Maximum magnification  • 0.13x  • 0.15x  • 0.14x
 Filter thread  • 72mm  • 58mm  • 77mm
 Dimensions
 (dia x length)
 • 85mm x 70mm
   (3.4" x 2.8")
 • 74mm x 54mm
   (2.9" x 2.1")
 • 85mm x 68mm
   (3.3" x 2.7")
 Weight  • 385g (13.6 oz)  • 290g (10.2 oz)  • 505g (17.8 oz)

On the camera

Just to re-iterate, the 58mm is quite a large lens. On the left we're showing it on the D800 - one of the largest SLRs on the market - and it still looks pretty bulky. On the right, it's on the D7100, which isn't a particularly small camera either. However it's nowhere near as large as either the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G or the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G, and it's much lighter than either too. This light weight is key to its handling; despite its size, if doesn't feel at all unbalanced on either of these cameras.

Lens body elements

The 58mm uses Nikon's venerable F mount, meaning it will fit on all of the company's DSLRs, both FX and DX. A rubber 'O' ring around the lens mount helps keep out water and dust at this vulnerable point.

The built-in motor also means that the 58mm will autofocus on Nikon's entry-level SLRs that lack in-body motors, should you wish to put a $1700 lens on a $400 body.
The filter thread is 72mm, and it doesn't rotate on focusing. This means filters such as polarisers and neutral density gradients are much easier to use.
The focus ring has a 14mm wide ribbed rubber grip. It rotates very smoothly, with a travel of 110° from infinity to the minimum focus distance of 0.58m.
The lens focuses by moving the entire optical unit back and forward by about 9mm. Here you can also appreciate just how deeply recessed the optical unit is within the barrel.
Nikon has included a standard focus mode switch on the side of the barrel within easy reach of your left thumb.

When the lens is set to the M/A position, the focus position can be adjusted after autofocus with no risk of damaging the lens or camera.
The 58mm comes with a vast petal-type hood. The HB-68 is 49mm deep (almost 2") and 92mm / 3.6" in diameter. It's made of thick black plastic, and has moulded ridges on the inside to help prevent reflection of stray light into the lens.
Here's the lens fully packed up, with both caps and the lens hood reversed.

Because the hood is so deep, it somewhat hinders exchanging lenses when it's in this position - there's not much of the barrel left exposed to offer a firm grip. Given how well-shaded the front element is anyway, we ended up leaving the hood at home much of the time.

Autofocus

The 58mm uses an ultrasonic-type 'Silent Wave' motor for autofocus. It lives up to its name, being practically inaudible in normal use. It's also pretty fast, and very decisive. Switch the camera to Live View, though, and autofocus becomes slow and hesitant, with juddering steps as the lens settles on a distance. But the big advantage of contrast detect AF in live view is accuracy - the camera will focus dead on every time, as long the subject is static. We didn't necessarily find this with viewfinder shooting.

On our D800 test body, our 58mm F1.4 review sample front-focused dramatically, and required a significant AF Adjust setting (-16) to focus accurately. Once this was set, the D800 was able to focus the lens consistently accurately at all distances.

On the D7100 we used, things weren't quite so simple. The lens gave optimum focus at 'portrait' distances (approx 2 - 3m / 7 - 10ft) with a relatively small microadjust setting (-2). But it then back-focused dramatically at longer focus distances. This meant that no microadjust setting gave sufficiently accurate focusing for us to be fully confident in shooting the lens wide open at all distances on the D7100. This is one area where SLRs, with their AF sensors running off separate light paths from the image sensor, fall down badly when compared to mirrorless systems, which have no such problems.