Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S Lens Hands-on Review

In this review, I’m focusing on the Nikon Z 50mm ƒ/1.2 S fast prime lens for Nikon Z-mount mirrorless cameras.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S Lens. Photo by David Coleman " havecamerawilltravel.com
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From the name alone, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Nikon Z 50mm ƒ/1.2 S is the Z-mount version of Nikon’s premium nifty fifty. Nifty fifties are typically light, inexpensive, and get great results. This lens only gets one out of three by that measure. (The closest to that in Nikon’s current Z-mount offerings is probably the 50mm ƒ/1.8 or the 40mm ƒ/2.)

It has the classic 50mm focal length, and it’s very fast. But there are two ways this is decidedly not your typical nifty fifty.

For one, it’s a big lens. It’s long and heavy, measuring nearly 6 inches long by 3.5 inches in diameter (89.5 x 150 mm) and weighing in at 2.4 pounds (1.1 kilograms). So it’s quite a hefty piece of glass.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S Lens

For another, it comes with premium pricing. A bit part of the reason that nifty fifties are so popular is that they’re relatively straightforward, and therefore inexpensive, to make. For context, Nikon’s classic F-mount 50mm ƒ/1.4G, for example, is priced at around $450. The 50mm ƒ/1.8 is even cheaper, at just over $200. But the Z-mount 50mm ƒ/1.2 is priced at nearly 10 times that, with an MSRP of $2099.

So this is not a small nifty fifty. It’s not small. It’s not light. And it’s not cheap. But it is very fast. And I do enjoy shooting with fast primes. This one isn’t quite as fast as another fast 50mm I was shooting with recently—a Fujifilm 50mm ƒ/1.0—but it’s not far behind. 

It’s not an obvious choice for travel or street photography mainly due to its size—it’s a hard to lens to use discreetly, and it takes up valuable space in the camera bag. But that’s precisely what I was interested in trying out with it. Nikon pitches this for available-light portraiture and selective-focus documentary subjects. At 50mm on a full-frame body, it’s on the lower-end of traditional portraiture focal lengths, but on a DX-sensor camera, it becomes the equivalent of a 75mm, which is right in the traditional portraiture sweet spot range.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S Lens

So here’s my take on it.

What’s in a Name?

Nikon hasn’t gone hog wild with codes and acronyms in naming this lens, but there’s still some manufacturer-specific jargon worth knowing about this lens.

  • S. The S in the name denotes Nikon’s categorizing this lens amongst their premium lenses. That means excellent optics, performance, and build quality. The S doesn’t stand for a particular word, but it’s designed to bring to mind words like “superior,” or “special,” or “sophisticated.” In practice, Nikon has proven a bit more liberal in applying the S than I’d like, but this lens earns its place.
  • ARNEO. This is one of three types of coatings on this lens. It’s an anti-reflective coating developed by Nikon and used in conjunction with Nano Crystal Coat to further reduce ghost and flare effects caused by incident light entering the lens vertically. It’s especially useful when shooting direct-on to a light source.
  • Nano Crystal Coating. This is a lens coating technology that further reduces ghosting and flare, particularly from bright light sources.
  • ED. This is a specialized type of lens glass designed to reduce chromatic aberration and improve overall image quality.
  • Aspherical elements. Aspherical elements minimize lens distortion, keeping straight lines straight.
  • Fluorine coating. A coating designed to repel dust, water droplets, grease or dirt, ensuring easy removal even when they adhere to the lens surface.
  • Weather sealed. This is not the same as waterproof, and you certainly can’t submerge this lens underwater, but it helps protect against occasional splashes and light rain.

Build & Handling

For a lens that’s neither a zoom nor a telephoto, this is a rather big and heavy lens. But it’s well-balanced and comfortable to shoot with.

There’s a very large manual focus ring. It operates very smoothly indeed. While this isn’t designed as a cine lens, it would work well for that use.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S Lens

And the narrow ring nearest the camera is a utility ring or, as Nikon calls it, the control ring. You can set its function in the camera’s menu system. Some obvious examples are to use it as an aperture ring or to adjust exposure compensation, but there are a number of other functions you can assign to it. The precise menu item you’re looking for on the camera can vary a little depending on the camera model, but it’s along the lines of “Custom controls” or similar variations on that. 1

One unusual feature of this lens is an informational display screen on the top of the lens. You can use it to display focus distance, aperture, and the approximate depth of field. The DISP button toggles the display. 2

Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f2 S Info Display Screen
The information display screen on the lens can display focus distance (in imperial or metric), the focus range (in A or M shooting modes), or the aperture.
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S Lens
The DISP button activates the display panel when it has gone to sleep. The display panel shows focus distance, depth of field (when the camera is shooting in Aperture Control or Manual modes), AF or MF if you use the switch on the lens, and you can choose distance in metric or imperial as well as control the display’s brightness.

There are a couple of buttons on the lens. There’s a DISP button on top that you can use to toggle the display. The default options are for the aperture and the focus distance.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S Lens
The L-Fn button is for assigning a custom function. You assign the command from the camera’s setup menu, not directly on the lens itself. Precisely where to find the setting varies by specific camera model. Look for the settings on the camera’s setup menu for Custom Control Assignment, Custom Controls, or Custom Controls (Shooting).

And the L-fn button is a customizable button. Again, the function is defined in the camera menu system. It’s in the same section as the control ring setting, above. 

There’s also an A/M switch to toggle between autofocus and manual focus. It’s worth noting that if you’ve set it to manual focus through the camera settings, that overrides this switch.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S Lens
There’s a simple switch on the side to choose between A (autofocus) and M (manual focus). It’s worth noting that if you’ve set manual focus through the camera’s settings, it will override this switch, and you will have to manually focus regardless of which position this switch is in. The reverse isn’t true (an autofocus setting on the camera won’t override a manual focus selection on this switch on the lens). The NIKKOR S badge indicates that this is one of Nikon’s premium lenses.

Shooting with the Nikon Z 50mm ƒ/1.2 S

For a lens that’s neither a zoom nor a telephoto, this is a rather big and heavy lens. But it’s well-balanced and comfortable to shoot with. 

More importantly, I have zero complaints about its optical performance. With a lens like this, I strongly lean toward shooting wide open most of the time. Otherwise, I might as well be using a slower (and smaller and less-expensive) lens. And wide-open, it performs wonderfully in low-light shooting and for picking out details. Its bokeh is smooth and attractive. And the autofocus is quiet and smooth. 

Here are a few sample images I’ve shot with this lens to give a sense of how it performs in real-world shooting. I’ve posted a larger collection of sample images separately.

You can click each image to open a full-size version for a closer look. 

These were all shot in RAW and lightly processed in Lightroom. Something I have done with these is to disable the automatic corrections applied in-camera by default (vignette control, diffraction compensation, auto distortion control). So these shots do not include those automatic corrections. In practice, though, the main visual difference is that there’s a little more lens vignetting darkening around the edges of the frame. 

Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.2 S Lens Sample Image
It’s very sharp wide open, although the depth of field if very narrow. But it then drops off smoothly and attractively.
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.2 S Lens Sample Image
Some foreground bokeh.
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.2 S Lens Sample Image
The aspherical elements help with minimizing lens distortion and keeping straight lines straight.
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.2 S Lens Sample Image
Taken with Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm ƒ/1.2 S lens on a Nikon Z8 at an aperture of ƒ/16.
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.2 S Lens Sample Image
With spotlights pointing straight at the front of the lens, this should be a magnet for chromatic aberration and lens flare. But there’s no issue here. This is somewhere the ARNEO coating comes into play to reduce ghosting and flaring from direct light sources.
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f1.2 S Lens Sample Image
More direct light sources that should be provoking chromatic aberration. But there’s none here (I haven’t applied any corrections in post).

Things Worth Knowing

Tech Specs

MountNikon Z mount
Focal length50mm
Maximum apertureƒ/1.2
Minimum aperture
Lens construction17 elements in 15 groups (including 2 ED elements, 3 aspherical elements, and elements with Nano Crystal and ARNEO coats)
Angle of viewFX: 47 degrees
DX: 31 degrees 30 minutes
Focusing systemInternal focusing system
Minimum focus distance0.45 m / 1.48 feet
Maximum reproduction ratio0.15x
Diaphragm blades9 (rounded diaphram opening)
Filter size82mm
DimensionsApprox. 89.5 mm / 3.6 in maximum diameter
150mm / 6 inches long
Weight9 (rounded diaphragm opening)

What’s in the Box?

It comes with:

Optional Accessories

It takes 82mm screw-on filters:

Manual for the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm ƒ/1.2 S

You can find the manual for this lens here.

Firmware Updates

As one of the newer models of lenses with sophisticated digital controls, it comes with the ability to update the lens’s firmware. You can find any official firmware updates (when any are available) here.

Other Alternatives

A much cheaper, smaller, lighter, and less-expensive alternative is the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm ƒ/1.8 S lens

For portraits, there’s also an 85mm ƒ/1.2 S, which might be a more obvious focal length for traditional portrait photography (although it’s significantly more expensive again). 

You can also use an F-mount 50mm lens (or other F-mount lenses, for that matter) on Nikon’s Z-mount mirrorless cameras with the FTZ mount adapter.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm ƒ/1.2 S Price & Availability

Nikon has set the MSRP for this lens at $2099. 

Check the current price and availability at:

  1. Some examples are Custom controls, Custom controls (shooting), and Custom control assignment.[]
  2. The depth of field display is approximate, and is only visible when the camera is in A or M shooting modes.[]
David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a professional freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. More »

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