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Review: Nikon 50mm f1.8 E (Silver Version)

by G Servo on 09/16/2012

Along with film cameras, I have been looking at old lenses. I recently purchased a Nikon EM off of eBay and it came with the Nikon 50mm f1.8 E and a Nikon SB flash. These items took my retro gear fascination to its next logical conclusion. Back around 1981, before a few of my friends were born, Nikon produced my 50mm 1.8 E. It was the kit lens for cameras like the Nikon EM. Now considered old, this is a fascinating piece of glass to use. I now see the Nikon 50mm f1.8 E as a tool to learn light with and to better understand photography.

Getting This Lens

I have no problem working with used lenses and that’s the only way to get this one. The Nikon 50mm f1.8 E has been out of production for a long time. You have to do some searching to get one at a decent price. I got mine on eBay with my Nikon EM and SB flash. This kit was much cheaper than the lens alone for some reason. I got lucky. While eBay is the easiest place to find this lens, there are times when you can find it used in B&H or Adorama. I would not pay too much for it. Some people try to overcharge for the lens. Do compare prices with other sellers.

Nikkor 50mm E Specs

 Specs come from Nikon product Archive

- Lens construction: 6 elements in 5 groups

- Closest focusing: 0.6m/2 ft.

- Filter attachment size: 52mm

- Hood: HS-11, HR-4

 Ergonomics and Build Quality

This well-built lens looks good for its age. While made of metal and plastic, it is not a huge lens. The focus ring is close to the front and well grooved. The glass was clear and there was no fungus, dust and scratches when I bought it.

There is body wear of course. It is expected when you buy lenses this old.

Focusing

Smooth and accurate, the focus ring works very well. The autofocus system on the higher end cameras does indeed recognize the lens so you can use that to your advantage. Taking the lens slightly out of focus produces a nice soft image. It is something you just have to play with to make work. I did it first by accident, and it’s been fun to play with ever since.

Bokeh

The bokeh is interesting. On the Nikon 50 mm f1.8 E the bokeh has an ethereal look to it. It is not as clean as its successors. The lens has its own unique look. It may be the age of the type of glass used, but this lens is far removed from its predecessors.

 Sharpness and Image Quality

Properly focused this lens is extremely sharp, much sharper than I expected. The image quality belongs to the past, but that’s not a bad thing. Because one can play with focusing, unique images can be created. The images tend have a softer quality to them. The colors are slightly warmer yet pleasant.

Quirks

This lens, barely recognized by my Nikon D90, does not meter. A light meter is suggested when using this lens. I have to use the aperture ring on every camera. It is almost like shooting film. My Nikon D700 recognized the lens more than the Nikon D90 (due to the metering built in). I was able to use aperture priority mode. The D700 did not see the lens past f2.0. So I basically ignored what the camera saw and tweaked the image files to reflect my actual settings. When I tested the Nikon 50 mm f1.8 E  with the Nikon D3200 it was a similar situation to the D90. It is easy to make mistakes with this lens, but it is a learning experience.

Update: A reader told me to program the lens into a slot of Non-CPU lens data. This enable the camera to put the right data into the image. (Thanks Rob )

Why Review the Nikon 50mm f1.8 E?

Why not? For me, it is not constantly about the newest gear. I like to consider everything, especially if I can use it in my photography. Ever since I reviewed the Rokinon 35mm f1.4 I have been absolutely fascinated with manual focus lenses. These old lenses are a great way to learn how to appreciate all the new stuff. Alternatively, I keep money in my pocket while acquiring decent glass. Sharing these experiences is also a treat. Most people only focus on the new. Photography has a rich usable history. I like to look at it all.

With All That Said

If you are a Nikon shooter and want a purely manual lens and a challenge, try the Nikon 50mm f1.8 E. This lens does have the tendency to attract hipster conversation while walking in New York City. It is retro, cheap, and readily available. Shooting with this lens is an experience. You can learn with it or just have fun.

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