Conclusion

Just like every manufacturer when it releases something new and shiny, Nikon has made some pretty big claims about the Z 50mm F1.8's optical performance. And as it turns out, with some justification. This is a powerful lens, especially when shot at its maximum aperture.

In a market full of costly F1.4 and F1.2 primes, Nikon's new mid-priced F1.8 might not immediately stand out from the crowd, and for lovers of soft swirly bokeh, or flare, or sunstars, there are prettier lenses on the market. But for fans of low light photography, the ability to work at F1.8 practically without compromise demands that the Z 50mm F1.8 S be taken seriously. Compared to Nikon's legacy F mount 50mm primes, the new Z 50mm F1.8 S belongs to a new generation of optics, and not only in terms of sharpness, but coma and LoCA too, both of which are exceptionally well-controlled.

Sample gallery

Of course, F1.8 isn't F1.4, let alone F1.2. Wider maximum apertures allow for better light gathering, even more control over depth of field and even blurrier backgrounds, but also come at the cost of size (usually), weight (usually) and literal cost (almost always). The Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art, for example, is one of our favorite 50mm lenses ever and gives beautiful images, despite not coming anywhere close to the Nikon lens's wide-aperture resolving power.

If you enjoy shooting wide-aperture portraits, the Sigma is a lovely lens. It's also much bigger, almost twice the weight (more than twice when you factor in the FTZ adapter to make it work on a Z6/7) and more than $300 dearer than the Z 50mm F1.8 S - again, even more if you include the cost of the adapter. It isn't weather-sealed, either. Canon's RF 50mm F1.2L is a stunning lens, but it's a different beast altogether, for a different system: far larger, heavier, and much more costly.

Sony's tiny FE 55mm F1.8 ZA is an astonishingly sharp lens, even at F1.8 (it actually has a very slight edge over the Z Nikkor wide open) and in fact, has markedly similar optical characteristics to the Nikon except for longitudinal chromatic aberration. Images from the Sony show obvious LoCA in the usual places, while you really have to go looking for it in shots from the Z 50mm F1.8 S. In terms of coma both give excellent performance, but again, the Nikon is slightly superior. It's bigger than the Sony 55mm, but it's also $200 cheaper.

On balance, we think that the Z 50mm F1.8 S represents a sensible compromise for most photographers. Its maximum aperture of F1.8 provides enough light-gathering ability for low-light shooting, and enough background blur to isolate portrait subjects, while keeping the lens relatively small and relatively affordable. The fact that it's weather-sealed (something we've had the opportunity to establish by first-hand experience recently) and resolution is so high wide open, with edge aberrations so minimal, just strengthens its case.

What we like:

  • Good build quality, and nicely balanced on Z6/7
  • Excellent sharpness at all apertures
  • Very well-controlled coma
  • Minimal LoCA

What we don't

  • Large by the standards of 'traditional' 50mm F1.8 lenses
  • Costly compared to the F-mount equivalent (but a totally new design)
  • Not the prettiest bokeh - onion rings and 'bullseyes' visible at some apertures and with some subjects

Scoring

Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm F1.8 S
Category: Normal Lens
Optical Quality
Build Quality
Autofocus
Ergonomics and Handling
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Nikon Z 50mm F1.8 S is a powerful standard lens for the Z system, offering outstanding sharpness and full-aperture performance. There are better 50mm lenses on the market for portraiture, but none that are sharper or so well-corrected for coma and longitudinal chromatic aberration when shot wide open.
Good for
Low light photography, where edge-to-edge sharpness at wide apertures is hugely beneficial.
Not so good for
Portraiture, where the slightly harsh bokeh can be distracting in some situations.
93%
Overall score

Thanks to Glazer's Camera of Seattle for the loan of some of the equipment used for this review