Review: Nikon 50mm f1.8 Z S (Nikon Z Mount)

50mm prime lenses

The Nikon 50mm f1.8 Z S is a compact and weather sealed lens that costs more than its F Mount Predecessors

Almost every photographer has had a “Nifty Fifty” in their arsenal at some point during their career–and with the Nikon 50mm f1.8 Z S photographers are getting a higher end version of this lens. Due to the popularity of the versatile 50mm focal length, it made all the sense in the world that the Nikon 50mm f1.8 Z S was one of the three lenses that Nikon introduced during their launch of the brand new Z Mount camera system. It is suitable for portraiture, landscapes, street, and many other genres of photography. Right out of the gate, Nikon did it right by giving the lens weather sealing and a pretty compact body. Then there is the pretty great image quality. We really liked the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.8 S as it is properly called–and we just wish that the camera system were only able to be truly worthy of the optics in this lens.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Robust weather sealing
  • Excellent sharpness
  • Compact and lightweight
  • AF accuracy has improved with firmware updates to Nikon Z bodies

Cons

  • Pricier than existing Nikon F Mount 50mm lenses

Gear Used

We tested the Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f1.8 S with the Nikon Z6 and Nikon Z7.

Tech Specs

Tech specs for the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.8 S are taken from the Nikon’s official product page.

Mount Type Nikon Z Mount
Focal Length 50mm
Maximum Aperture f1.8
Minimum Aperture f16
Format FX
Maximum Angle of View (DX-format) 31°30′
Maximum Angle of View (FX-format) 47°00′
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 0.15x
Lens Elements 12
Lens Groups 9
Compatible Format(s) FX
DX
Diaphragm Blades 9
Distance Information Visible in EVF with manual focusing
Nano Crystal Coat Yes
ED Glass Elements 2
Aspherical Elements 2
Super Integrated Coating Yes
Autofocus Yes
AF Actuator STM
Internal Focusing Yes
Minimum Focus Distance 1.32 ft (0.4 m)
Focus Mode Autofocus
Manual
E-type Yes
Filter Size 62mm
Accepts Filter Type Screw in
Approx. Dimensions (Diameter x Length) 3 in (6mm) x 3.4 in (86.5mm)
Distance from camera lens mount flange when lens is retracted
Based on CIPA guidelines
Approx. Weight 14.7 oz (415 g)
Based on CIPA guidelines
Lens Type Prime

Ergonomics

Constructed from a combination of metal and plastic, the Nikon 50mm f1.8 Z S is one of two prime lenses that were announced during the launch of Nikon’s brand new Z Mount. A plastic lens hood as well as plastic front and rear lens caps are included with the lens. It is characterized, like it’s 35mm f1.8 sibling, mostly by the massive ring on the body that doubles as an ergonomic grip.

Moving towards the front of the lens, you will find NIKKOR branding along the top of the front element, while markings for the focal length (50mm), maximum aperture (f1.8), as well as the filter thread (62mm) can be found along the bottom. For those of you interested in using a Polarizing filter for portrait, you’ll need a 62mm filter.

On the top side of the Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f1.8 S, you will find the focal length branding (50mm), maximum constant aperture (f1.8), along with the alignment point to mount the lens onto a Z Mount camera body. As stated earlier, the majority of the lens barrel is dominated by the large Customizable Control Ring that is configured for manual focusing by default. The Autofocus/Manual Focus toggle switch along with the NIKKOR S badge are located along the left side of the lens.

Here’s a look at the rear of the Nikon 50mm f1.8 Z S, where you’ll see all the connector pins as well as the rear element, along with the gasket that helps maintain weather sealing when the lens is mounted onto a Z Mount camera body.

Build Quality

As Nikon’s marketing copy puts it, the Nikon 50mm f1.8 Z S is “extensively sealed against dust and moisture.” Naturally, we had to put those claims to the test. We subjected the lens through a slew of inclement weather conditions in and around New York City, as well as the inland shores of Cape Cod during late Fall/early Winter, and the lens never let us down. Even with gloves on, we were still able to operate the Customizable Control Ring as well as toggle the Autofocus/Manual Focus switch. All things considered, the Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f1.8 S is a workhorse lens that can handle quite a bit of abuse, just don’t go taking it for a swim.

Ease of Use

The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.8 S is pretty straightforward to operate as far as lenses go. Mount it onto your Z Mount camera body, turn the camera on, and shoot away to your heart’s content. If you rarely use manual focus, you can even set the Customizable Control Ring to change other settings instead such as your aperture value.

Autofocus

Obviously, the autofocus performance the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.8 S is directly related to the Z Mount camera body upon which the lens is mounted. While the autofocus speed in the Z6 and Z7 can be sluggish at times, the 50mm almost always acquired focus during our testing. As long as your subject is relatively stationary, you shouldn’t really run into much issues nailing focus. As of the publication of this article, face detection/tracking performance is noticeably slower than what you’ll find when shooting with competing 50mm lenses as well, but we’re hopeful that firmware updates will help speed up AF performance.

Update July 2021. The Nikon 50 1.8 S received a firmware update v 1.01 in Jun 2019. As stated on the Nikon USA website – “Exposure for photographs taken with Continuous H (extended) selected for Release mode is now more consistent (Z 7/Z 6 camera firmware “C” version 2.00 or later).” Not quite sure what the word ‘consistent’ refers to in that description.

We took it out to a section of Dubai where people move around a lot on the streets and tested it using a Z6 II on firmware v 1.20. The 50 1.8 S was already the sharpest lens I have ever used. With recent improvements to AF accuracy and tracking, it remains as optically sharp as it possibly can. What was crippling Nikon earlier on, was the inability of the Z cameras to lock focus on subjects accurately. When it came to focusing on people, the AF wouldn’t always lock on the eyes correctly. Even if the AF indicator correctly hovered over the subject’s eyes, it always felt like they could have been sharper in the resulting images. AF accuracy has dramatically improved after firmware 3.0 (on the Z6 and Z7). In our latest tests on the Z6 II, AF performs even better with the 50mm 1.8 S, taking full advantage of the camera’s dual processors. Testing was primarily done using AF-C modes in both Single and Continuous High shutter release modes.

AF locking didn’t prove to be a problem on cyclists, bikers and e-scooter users (both coming towards the camera and going away). There was no focus hunting or missed focus during small bursts, even in Auto Area or Wide Area AF modes. Face detection is spot on, and Eye AF was activated even if people had face masks on. While walking on the streets, subjects who passed by the camera were tracked correctly, and the focus was sharp. When using the Z6 II, faces are locked on to when subjects are at a further distance (as compared to on the Z6/Z7). In frames with no people, the AF (when in Auto Area AF mode) would usually lock on to something closest to the camera. AF was accurate even when focusing on a building backlit by the sun and entirely in shadow. You can also set up your Fn1 or Fn2 buttons to activate the Subject tracking mode. This setting can quickly override the Auto AF when you want to choose a focus point manually.

There’s one thing that’s still confusing. It’s how the AF indicators (in Auto AF mode) keep rapidly changing when there are multiple stationary subjects in the frame. If there are two or more distinct subjects close to the camera, the AF indicator squares rapidly keep moving around the frame. The movement seems random, and in almost every such instance, the manual Subject focus tracking needs to be activated to decide on one of them. The AF algorithm does need some changes here. In Eye AF mode, the AF indicator remains stationary over one eye. Arrows around the Eye AF box indicate that the focus can also be moved to select the 2nd eye. Maybe a similar system is needed to help choose focus across different subjects when various (non-human) subjects are in the frame

Nikon’s 50 1.8s is one of its most popular lenses and possibly its sharpest to date.  While Nikon may still lag behind the AF accuracy of its competitors, it’s quickly improving thanks to its recent firmware updates. Best enjoyed when used on the newer Z6 II and Z7 II bodies.

Image Quality

The 50mm is a popular focal length among many photographers, so much so that it’s earned the “Nifty Fifty” nickname. Suitable for many genres of photography, it made a lot of sense for Nikon to release the Nikon 50mm f1.8 Z S as one of the first lenses for the brand new Z Mount. We found the Nikon 50mm f1.8 Z S’s image quality to be very good in our tests. It is sharp, has very pleasing bokeh, doesn’t exhibit any major problems, and has an overall beautiful look to it.

Bokeh

Thanks to the lens design that features 12 elements in 9 groups with 9 aperture blades, the bokeh produced by the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.8 S will likely be pleasing to most photographers and does a good job separating your subject from the background. As a matter of personal preference, some photographers will subjectively argue that the bokeh produced by this lens lacks character.

Chromatic Aberration

During our tests with the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.8 S, we didn’t detect any significant color fringing or any other types of chromatic aberration in the images we captured using this lens.

Color Rendition

The color rendition Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.8 S renders colors fairly accurately in many situations, though that depends on the camera settings. However you may detect the slight characteristic Nikon green tint to your images if you’re shooting with Auto White Balance. As long as you’re shooting RAW, it’s pretty easy to correct this in post. You will achieve the most accurate results in general if you’re shooting in Daylight White Balance (5500K) or Tungsten White Balance (3200K).

Sharpness

If sharpness is your cup of tea, you’re going to be pretty happy with what you can produce using the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.8 S. Images produced with this lens are sharp throughout the frame, with only a marginal falloff in sharpness detected when moving towards the extreme edges. As long as your Z6 or Z7 manages to nail focus, you’re going to get some sharp images.

Additional Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Robust weather sealing
  • Excellent sharpness
  • Compact and lightweight

Dislikes

  • Pricier than existing Nikon F Mount 50mm lenses

The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.8 S features excellent weather sealing in a compact, lightweight package, and is one of two prime lenses currently available for Nikon’s brand new Z Mount. Throughout our time with the lens, it performed consistently and without incident. With a MSRP of US $599.95, however, the NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.8 S commands a hefty price premium over existing 50mm f1.8 lenses currently available for Nikon’s storied F Mount. If you are an existing Nikon shooter that’s finally making the jump to mirrorless, and you already have a F Mount 50mm f1.8 lens in your arsenal like the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f1.8G (with a MSRP of only US $219.95), the asking price for the Z Mount 50mm can be hard to swallow even when factoring in the cost of the Nikon FTZ Mount adapter which retails for US $249.95. However, this version is weather sealed. A 50mm f1.2 is on Nikon’s Z Mount lens roadmap, but that won’t be arriving until 2020, so this lens is the only native Z mount 50mm option for the time being.

The Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.8 S earns Five out of Five Stars.