This is such a rare lens that I decided that review of the Nikon 58mm f1.2 Noct was in order.
The Nikon Noct Nikkor 58mm f1 2 is a beautiful example of mechanical engineering at its very best and which still costs the earth to buy second hand. Why ? Because each lens was hand was assembled with a hand ground front aspherical element and then individually tested before being passed for sale.
The Nikon Noctilux
The Nikon 58mm f1.2 Noct was primarily designed for night time photography where wide open performance was paramount.
More specifically the lens was developed for correcting the sagittal coma flare produced at the maximum aperture which could result in flared point sources, such as stars. This is why Nasa ending up buying so many of these lenses.
Introduced in 1997, 2,500 Nikon Nikkor 1.2 AI units were made and from 1982 until 1997 approximately 9,000 AI-S units rolled off the production line.
Despite being an “old” lens, by F4 the Nikon 58mm out resolves even the D800 sensors
There are a handful of lenses, such as the Zeiss Macro 100mm and the Nikon 200mm f2, that propel Nikon cameras into the Leica league in terms of colour, contrast and sharpness. The 58mm Noct one of these lenses.
When I found a Nikon 58mm Noct for sale …
…I had to buy it. I ended up buying a late used 58mm 1.2 Noct off Ebay. The Nikon 58mm price tag can be eye watering and mince certainly was ! It arrived from Paris having traveled through sub-arctic conditions and when I opened the packaging it was still almost frozen solid.
After a few shots with the Noct Nikkor 58mm it was clear that the lens had oil on the blades, and the cold temperature caused the iris blades to stick open at f2 and above.
Rather than go to the effort of returning it, I got the lens cleaned at the ever excellent Fixation in London.
This is one of the few places where a lens can be stripped, cleaned and repaired within 48 hours by a knowledgeable technician.
Other than the 50mm AI(S) f1.2 there is nothing else made by Nikon at this standard focal length that is of a similar build quality. The Nikkor 58mm 1.2 is heavy and feels as though it is made of pure metal and glass (which I suppose it is).
In terms of construction, the 50mm 1.4G and 58mm 1.4G are simply not in the same ball park.
The trick with using the Nikon Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2, of course, is to nail the focusing and this takes a LOT of practice on a digital Nikon.
If you’re shooting the Nikon 58mm 1.2 Noct through the viewfinder and relying on the electronic focus confirmation, the number of out of focus shots will be distressingly high at f1.2. Nothing Nikon make at the moment can focus this lens reliably wide open.
On a D700 I had a no better than 30% success rate focusing at f.1.2 – and that was with stationary objects.
To benefit from the very narrow depth of field of the Nikon Noct, it’s much better to use the live view to focus, although this takes away much spontaneity.
In comparison, the 50mm ASPH 1.4 on Leica cameras is capable of being focused dead accurately almost 100% of the time. If Nikon could improve the accuracy of the focus assist, this would greatly increase the usability of the Nikon Noct 58mm – however, I rather think the AF module / confirm on Nikon bodies bodies are never going to be upgraded for 1.2 lenses, there being none in the current Nikon line up.
So we are left in the rather silly position (as at 2017) with a beautiful lens that realistically cannot be used at it’s widest apertures (i.e. the ones you paid $2,000+ for ) with any current Nikon cameras.
The out of focus area of the Nikon 58 1.2 is indeed unlike any other Nikon lens wide open – if you can get points of light in the background at f1.2 the effect can be spectacular.
The aspherical elements really distinguish this lens from the Nikon 50mm 1.2 – the latter had to be carefully used wide open – too much contrast and the picture would take on a slightly smudged appearance, with glowing highlights.
The Nikon 58mm f1.2 Noct is quite happy shooting wide open in most circumstances and is extremely sharp at wide apertures. Just as importantly, the contrast at f1.2 and f1.4 is in a different league from the (much) cheaper 50mm 1.2 AIS
Overall, I adore this lens – this Nikkor 58mm makes pictures that are so unlike the current generation of Nikon lenses.
The Nikon 58mm f1.2 Noct lacks the cold clinical sharpness of the 50mm 1.4G and exhibits an old, comfortable glow.
It is, however, from f2 onwards very very sharp and has a warmth not seen in most of the current Nikon lenses. In this respect the Nikon 58mm 1.2 is very much like the 50mm 1.2 AIS.
The field of focus on this Nikon 58mm lens is curved – if you want to photograph planar subjects such as paintings and walls the AIS 50mm 1.2 is sharp from corner to corner – you’ll be banging your own head against the wall trying to get the center and edges of the Nikon Noct-Nikkor 58mm 1.2 ai-s as sharp as the 50mm 1.2. For portraits or other 3D subjects, the Nikon Noctilux 58mm reigns supreme.
The Nikon Noct-Nikkor 58mm/f1 2 ais also works beautifully with the Sony A7R.
The A7R manual focus implementation is light years ahead of the Nikon and make this lens usable again.
There is of course, another way to use this beautiful lens – see my page on attaching the Nikon Noct-Nikkor ai-s 58mm f/1.2 to a Fuji X-T1 camera via a Metabones Ultra adapter.