One of the nicest lenses I've used in recent years was the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm ƒ/1.4G, a big and heavy (but not too big, and not too heavy) full-frame 35mm lens. It struck me as a highly judicious balancing of all the parameters with which optical designers must contend, and moreover a lens of just lucious visual excellence in pictures. (I balked at the price, though.)
Now Nikon has made a new lens in the same lineage with a focal length that will resonate with lens-nut numerologists: the new AF-S Nikkor 58mm ƒ/1.4G, which has just become available for pre-order. I've always thought the ~60mm range is a particularly useless focal length, but there's no questioning the resonance of the number "58" to Nikon lens fans. Nikon is coming right out and calling the new lens "a homage to the Noct-Nikkor 58mm ƒ/1.2 lens." The Noct-Nikkor of 1977 was Nikon's first aspherical SLR lens (the world's first was Canon's FD 55mm ƒ/1.2 AL in March, 1971) and one of the most famous lenses in the now 80-year history of the Nikkor brand.
Nikon says the new lens will be highly corrected, with virtually no sagittal coma flare or light falloff throughout the entire aperture range. (They're also making a big deal out of the bokeh, but that can be taken with a chunk of salt pending further investigation.)
The new lens will have a focal length equivalent of 87mm on APS-C...perfect for portraits, at least in terms of angle of view, although I think it's unlikely to be a great portrait lens. At least to my tastes. The similar 55mm ƒ/1.4 Pentax lens was an awesome performer by the numbers, but it was simply too barbed-wire-sharp for portraits in my opinion—it was the only lens I ever had to deliberately tone down the sharpness of in Photoshop. We do not have a range of options among portrait lenses these days...the overwhelming market preference for sharpness über alles has obliterated meaningful choice. But hey, maybe that will mean lots of people will like this new Nikkor for portraits!
In either event, it would be a lens I would want to play around with and find my own applications for, whether on full-frame or APS-C cameras. Haruo Sato of Nikon says, "I hope our customers regard the AF-S Nikkor 58mm ƒ/1.4G as a...'must-have' lens." If you're collecting the beautiful new top-level Nikkor primes, that's not a bad description.
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Featured Comments from:
sneye: "It might sound like heresy, but I can adjust to any focal length if the lens is nice. 58 millimeters would be quite easy to adjust to."
David Ralph: "My first lens, on my first decent camera, an Asahi Pentax SV, was a 55mm ƒ/1.8 Takumar. I loved that lens, and the whole reflex experience, thus hooking me on photography at a young age. But, I lusted after my friends' 50mm ƒ/1.4 lenses simply because those lenses were faster than mine, and because I was mainly using slide film at ASA 25.
"When I finally got my own 50mm ƒ/1.4, I was actually disappointed. The angle of view was just too wide somehow. It seemed, at the time, as if that first 55mm had the very same angle of view as my eye; how remarkable, I thought, that a lens could reproduce what one's eye saw. Maybe the truth really is that I loved that 55mm only because it was the lens which trained my eye and brain for framing and for depth of field. So, yeah, I would probably prefer the new 58mm to my current Nikkor 50mm ƒ/1.4D, and which I hardly ever use. Saggital coma in nearly everybody's 50mmm being one of the reasons; that aberration spoils one of the reasons for having a fast lens in the first place. But, there is the new price, too. Maybe not."