Nikon Pickiness, The 50mm 1.4G, Etc.

I'm kind of brand agnostic. I like what works. From the outside you might mistake me for being a Nikon Guy. I own and have owned a bunch of Nikon stuff – does that make me a Nikon Guy? I have also owned some Canon stuff, Hasselblad stuff, Fujifilm stuff, let's not go through the list, you get the idea. If you look a bit more closely you can differentiate me from your typical garden variety Nikon Guy easily. I don't complain about things the proto-nikon-guy would and I do rant about a lot of stuff said proto-man wouldn't. Take the Nikon Df as an example – I think I was first out of the gate in espousing my opinion of what a worthless piece of dreck this ill-conceived bag-o-parts was.

On the other hand you haven't heard a peep out of me for the lack of a D300 replacement. I don't think I've ever said a bad word regarding the Nikkor 50mm 1.4G. I did complain bitterly about the scalpers and moron consumers fueling them by paying $100 or $200 more than MSRP for that particular lens during the earthquake induced shortage of Nikon product. You can identify a true Nikon Guy by those three things as well as other indicators. Complaints about no D300 follow on (as if the D7100 is way way somehow less worthy). Complaints about the 50mm 1.4 from lots of perspectives. Praise of the Df in any way. Yep, those are good indicators. I am using the term Guy here as the generic – it could be a Guy-ette but I don't typically see female photographers complaining about or praising gear.

All of that brings us to today's topic… An observation. A generalization for sure. More of a trend than some sort of physical law as there are too many exceptions for that. It seems to me Nikon Guys are extremely nit-picky about their chosen gear than say other types of Brand X Guys. Certain things seem to bother them deeply that are par for the course with other companies. This seems to skew non-Nikon people's perception of gear they've never used as well as echo stupid-shit without context. In other words to have opinions on various Nikon offerings and translate the Nikon-Guy picky-ness to their own experience with other, completely different gear.

Let's take the lowly fast 50mm prime as an example. Just one of many but it serves well as an illustration. The 50mm 1.4G gets no serious respect from the Nikon-Guy. Why? I won't go through the reasons, look up various Nikon-Guy/forum discussions if it interests you. Instead lets just compare it to other glass that is held in crazy high regard by it's constituency. Before we do that let's level-set this with a somewhat objective point of view. I say somewhat in that the resource I will name stirs shitloads of controversy depending on weather they happen to rate a particular fan-boy's gear as good or not-so-good. DXO have their criteria and it's definitely debatable as to how that criteria adds up to good-ness or lack thereof. Let's just agree that they have some degree of capability to compare things with repeatable results okay?

Would you believe that with one exception the best 50mm lens in existence today happens to be that "meh" Nikon 50mm 1.4G? It is. What is the exception? Obviously the outrageously expensive and huge Zeiss Otus 55mm 1.4. That's it, the cheapy Nikkor smokes the rest. Well not really smokes and actually ties with the Sigma 50mm 1.4. With the Sigma it exchanges a hair more vignette with a lot less CA. The Sigma has a bit less vignetting and the Nikon has far less chromatic aberration.

The rest of the field Nikon sweeps every category – sharpness, detail, true speed in T-stops, distortion, and CA. No shit. Zeiss 50mm 1.4 ZF2 – smoked. Canon – smoked, oh wait which Canon on what camera? Well, funny you should ask. The comparisons I looked at was that paragon of optical virtue the Canon 50mm 1.2L. As for bodies – I used my shitty ass barely works and stricken from history D600. For the Canon I used every body available and went with the best scores. So let's take a look at that zenith of optical unicorn. People pay north of $1500 for the privilege to own and are crazy happy about it. How about we compare it to the lowly – meh – Nikon 50mm 1.4G.

Sharpness numbers wide open are a wash between the two but that's a bit misleading. One might argue that sharpness wide open of a 1.2 being the same as a 1.4 is somehow more better as if 1.2 sharpness some sort of better sharpness – not really given the size/cost discrepancy. The reason it's misleading is what is not in the numbers; the fact that the Nikon will actually beat the Canon at f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, and possibly even f/4 at which point they will converge. Why is this? Something you won't find in the brochure certainly – it's actually impossible to focus accurately without stopping it down to taking aperture at 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, etc due to focus shift on the Canon. Hmmmmm. If this happened with a Nikon the entire internet would burn down with the vitriol spewed. The earth may actually crack in two with the war drums of collective Nikon-Guy factions calling for blood. I mean look what a couple of specks of dust/oil did? Funny stuff.

What about the glorious speed? The speed that's going to allow you to nail that picture the 1.4 just won't let you do. That magical half stop. Ummm oh yeah – not really. Both lenses have similar T-stop numbers for light transmission vs a mathematical number on the front of the lens. Translation: You will get similar shutter speeds for the same overall exposure for the same scene with both lenses wide open. Some of this has to do with massive vignetting wide open on the canon but not all of it. The Nikon does not win in that department either – both have significant fall-off wide open. Both easy to correct in just about any software unless you want it. Seems adding vignettes is pretty popular so we won't focus on that too much.

Let's talk about something a tiny bit more important to me. Distortion. The Nikon is so-so in my mind. Not horrible enough to bother me but enough to look not so great if you don't pay attention on some compositions. Again software correction but I rather not and generally don't for the Nikon's distortion of 0.4%. The Canon's numbers? Ummm an embarrassing 0.4% for a prime lens with the red stripe. You see Nikon will not put a special stripe on their 50mm with that much distortion and fall-off otherwise the Nikon-Guys would go nuclear.

What about something else that bothers the shit out of just about everyone in the photographic universe and actually impacts IQ on a micro and macro level… The dreaded and feared chromatic aberration? Nikon a respectable 7um. I say respectable because it's the best of the 50mm lenses out there. I also dub it respectable because it happens to be exactly the same as the universally praised and respected 85 1.4G. How about the Canon with the red stripe and the big "L"? Say it with me now… EeeeeeeeLLLLLLL. Ohhhh this should be good right? A lens that costs $1500+ on a good day at Amazon. And the survey says… Buzzzzzzzt. WTF? The uber-Canon has a whopping 20um. That's three times the CA of both Nikons. What the hell… but, but, but it's got a red stripe. I guess that makes it okay.

Okay so why all the joy and wonder for the $1500+ Canon? First off it's $1500, second it has a special designation that shows off that you are the shit… the "L". Oh and the slathering, drooling bullshit about how much creamy-er-er 1.2 is than that pedestrian 1.4… Let's test that out real quick 'kay?

And for your consideration another…

What we have here gentleman (and ladies if you didn't zone out at paragraph numero uno) seems to be a stand-off. Which one is the lowly pedestrian 1.4 and which one is of the magical rainbows and unicorns one point twooooo variety. I'll tell you which one in a second but first realize that the most hugest difference is in auto WB variation and me not making a perfect tripod. The image size, framing, fov difference is mostly caused by my rocking back and forth an inch or so while on my knees shooting this in the bathroom next door and possibly a micro difference in measured focal length. In the real world there are going to be micro differences like this… In the real world they will vary far more than this. They overwhelm any difference in your perception of out-of-focus-ness between 1.2 and 1.4.

This is actually rigged in the 1.2's favor in one way. Both shots don't show anything farther away than 6 to 8 feet. The difference as the OOF objects increase in distance from the camera are going to be less and less and less between 1.2 and 1.4. You really think people can tell between a 50 1.4 and 50 1.2 across different scenes without back to back compare shots? Really? Really really? Bullshit. I cannot really tell here and I shot these. If you and your subject are six inches plus or minus from the OOF background in the same scene it's a bigger difference than the 1.2 to 1.4 half-stop.

Okay, okay the bottom shot is the 1.2 okay. I know some of you will say. Yes I see it, I knew it! Trust me you cannot. There's something else that you like better or is indicating the the perceived difference that you are misidentifying as 1.2 vs 1.4. I don't want to do a scientific experiment because making pictures is not a lab exercise and my point is that other things overwhelm these nits. My other point is that a lens that gets zero respect from the Nikon crowd is fantastically good in my non-partisan book when you measure it against just about anything else out there. Even stuff that gets other brand-guys all hot and bothered. My other other other point is that I swear the Nikon fanboy crowd is both delusional (like most fan-boy crowds) and idiotically picky at the same time. Shit that seems to just skate by in other-camera-brand-land provokes disdain and reaction that's unbelievable in Nikon-Guy-Land. Strange.

RB

Ps. I am bored. Trapped in what seems to be the 18th snow storm this month. God damn Canadian air. I'm with Lewis Black we need to build a wall.

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