Thursday, July 8, 2010

Nikon 50mm f/1.2 - The Lens with a Voice

Nikon 50mm f/1.2. Photograph by Tim IrvingNikon 50mm f/1.2 lens

Cameras come and go and digital cameras go very quickly indeed, but a lens with attractive characteristics will always be valuable.

Usually my pictures take shape over several weeks and progress from ideas to sketches. I'm usually striving for a certain look before I take a picture and to help me I have several cameras and lenses, plus a choice of film to call upon to get what I'm after.

My equipment is varied and includes homemade contraptions that sometimes fail spectacularly. I'm a fan of toy cameras with plastic lenses to distort reality and I love instant cameras. To feed all these cameras I have a freezer stocked with a variety of film, most of it no longer made. I also own more traditional cameras and lenses that will lend a certain voice to the picture.

The small lens above might look ordinary enough, in fact it looks empty when you look through it (an optical illusion), but, when handled correctly - which is not always easy, it produces images of spectacular quality with certain characteristics that are unique. This lens sings from a different hymn book.

The Nikon f/1.2 is called a "fast" lens which means a lens with a wide aperture that lets a lot of light through. Fast lenses are designed for photography in the dullest conditions, dusk or even candle light, without the use of flash. A by-product of a fast lens is shallow depth of field (depth of focus), when it's used at its largest apertures.

The shallow depth of focus and the blur it produces is my reason for using a fast lens. Used at the widest apertures the depth of focus of the Nikon f/1.2 is ridiculously shallow, making focusing hit and miss (this is a manual lens, not autofocus). The other side of the coin is that this lens is amazingly sharp, which allows me to float the sharp on the blur like a layer.

So focusing is tricky, there's no room for error and I always get a percentage of out of focus frames. Another feature (it's not a problem for me), is flare. There's a lot of glass in this lens (7 elements), for the light to bounce around. The lens is supplied with a lens hood that apparently does a great job of reducing flare, but I've never used mine.

model in poppy field. Photograph by Tim IrvingFlare and bokeh

This lens does have wonderful painterly characteristics when used with a camera loaded with suitable film. Look at the tree line where it meets the sky in the photograph above, isn't that wet on wet?

I've used this lens for many years, I know its voice which I sometimes hear when a picture comes to mind.


  1. Beautifully written. A mixture of product info and your personal working style.



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