For as long as I have been shooting film, this one beauty of a lens has always intrigued me: the Nikon 50mm f/1.2. When I finally got to shoot one, I wanted to see how it holds up on a bright sunny day.
Legend has it that this lens can give a unique, dreamy look when shot wide-open, combined with a razor sharp image when stopped down. As I am a sucker for shallow depth of field and blurry backgrounds, I figured a lens with an aperture this size would be just the one for me. A couple of months ago I finally gave in to this feeling when I found one second hand for a more-than-reasonable price. On a quite warm afternoon late this summer, I took my newly acquired fast fifty out on a photowalk across the city centre, using a Nikon F3 and a roll of Fomapan 100. In order to test my new lens to its fullest by shooting wide open on a bright sunny day, I used a red filter for most of the roll, with the intentional side effects of enhanced contrast and darker tones in the sky.
Initially, I wanted to see how well this lens handles when it comes to sharpness and bokeh wide open. Hitting focus at f/1.2 is not all that hard, but with fast moving subject it is quite challenging. Luckily, some people were willing to pose for a shot and others were moving slowly. Personally I quite like the look when shot wide open: it is certainly not as sharp as can be, but somehow this brings a timeless feel to the image. On the first photo you can clearly see just how shallow the depth of field is. The man posing with the dog is another good example of blurry background and a the kind of sharpness you get at f/1.2.
While this was my first time trying out this lens, it was also the first time using a colour filter with black and white photography. Using a red filter means that blue skies turn out darker on a black and white image, which made for some nice and contrasty architecture shots. These photos were shot stopped down, as there is little use for a shallow depth of field when it comes to architecture. On the 50mm f/1.2, closing the aperture even just one stop increases the sharpness and contrast considerably.
All in all, using this lens was a pleasant experience and I think it really fits the look of black and white film. Being able to shoot at such a large aperture has its uses, and although it may be more suited for portraiture, it is not completely lost on the streets. Its versatility is what makes this lens great: you can shoot wide open if you like this certain feeling the lens gives, but if you’re more into absolute sharpness you can always stop down a bit and achieve entirely different results – something for everyone.