This is how they used to build lenses and as far as I’m concerned it’s how they still should…


The Nikon 50mm f/1.2 is definitely a specialty lens. Yes it’s f/1.2, but that’s not a whole lot different than f/1.4 in terms of the amount of bokeh produced or light let in. It’s also only manual focus, which some people probably think “why and how could i ever use it?” but the thing creates a wonderfully unique look that I’m unable to describe only with words. You may or may not notice it in my photo examples, but it’s there. What I didn’t realize before purchasing this lens was that it’s definitely less about getting the f/1.2 and more about the “look” the lens is able to create.


I’m a bit young to know how things were built “back in the day,” but this lens gives me a peak into the past and I’m envious. It’s solid as a rock. All metal. I’m pretty sure I could use it as a weapon and still take perfectly good photos on my Nikon D3s. Yes, it’s that solid.

The most surprising aspect of this lens (to me) was the focus ring. It’s so so smooth. I can’t believe how incredibly easy and fast it is to focus! It makes sense giving that on auto focus lenses the manual focus ring is more of an after thought vs. this thing where it’s vital to it’s very use.

I also enjoy the aperture ring. It’s useful for things like freelensing, and I really hate how Nikon lenses default to the aperture closed when off of a camera… this does me no good when using lenses with no aperture ring.


So, obviously the initial issue I had was figuring out the best way to know when I was in focus. I quickly learned that the “green dot” in the viewfinder of my camera is the most useful thing in the world for making sure focus is dead on.

As I mentioned earlier… the focus ring is a joy to use. Imagine how the zoom ring feels on a zoom lens and that’s essentially how the focus ring feels on the 50 1.2. It’s killer.

The sharpness is a bit of a mix. When your subject is 10 feet or closer it’s sharp as heck, but if it’s something a bit further away it’s probably best to switch up your lens.

The 50mm focal length combined with the 1.2 aperture this lens is pretty much built for portraits. When photographing more dynamic subjects I recommend the Sigma 50 1.4.


  • Utilize the “green dot” in your camera’s viewfinder to make sure your focus is where you want it.
  • Probably best to shoot things that don’t move very quickly.
  • Try mounting it backwards on your camera and see how well it works as a macro lens ;)


You might ask yourself, why the heck would anybody be interested in buying a 30 year old lens? Or better yet – why would nikon still be making these fresh from their factories in 2011? It’s a manual focus lens and it’s old old glass design. Well, for one – it’s Nikon’s only f/1.2 lens – aside from the insanely expensive Noct 58mm 1.2 (good luck finding/affording that beast). It also produces wonderful bokeh unlike any other lens I’ve ever used. It’s just got that “X” factor that’s really hard to relate in a simple blog post. I (for one) really like using it for freelensing and for close up portraiture work…. or both at the same time.

Sam Hurd

Sam Hurd


Starting as a political news and celebrity portrait photographer in DC, Sam was instantly drawn to wedding photography as a space to promote more inventive ideas. Sam’s focus is on photographic techniques that are deceptively simple but have the potential to transform difficult or uninspiring shooting environments into one-of-a-kind opportunities for every photo made.

Most reviews, technical write-ups, and other photo nerd content is posted first, and exclusively, over on his patreon.