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Nikon’s 50mm f1.8 S lens is probably the sharpest lens they’ve manufactured. Its optical quality far exceeds that of any F-mount lens ever made. During our earlier reviews, its AF speed and accuracy weren’t up to competitor levels. Many users reported frustration with its AF accuracy levels, especially when using Eye-AF. Nikon has released updates to existing Z body firmware and released new dual-processor bodies (Z6 II and Z7 II). In our latest tests, the AF accuracy and speed are much improved. There has also been an update to the lens firmware since our last review. It’s also got a great price to boot!
Check out our full Nikon 50mm f1.8 S review which includes the update.
When Nikon released its much-awaited full-frame mirrorless bodies in 2018, there were widespread reports of its autofocus (in)accuracy. Users adored the results with Z mounts lenses, with exceptional edge-to-edge sharpness. However, AF tracking was erratic and disappointed more often than expected. I saw issues with Eye-AF performance when using my 50mm f1.8 S lens on the Z6. The AF box would correctly hover over the subject’s eyes, yet the sharpness in the resulting images could be slightly soft. With each firmware update from v3.0 onward, I noticed significant improvements in accuracy and speed. Nikon claimed that the dual processors on their new Z6 II and Z7 II bodies would perform better than their predecessors. While our tests concur with their statement on this, there is still room for improvement. AF-C and Auto AF are the modes that exhibit the most improvement now.
Even if you skip the rest, this is the part of the update that matters the most:
AF accuracy has dramatically improved after firmware 3.0 (on the Z6 and Z7). In our latest tests on the Z6 II, AF performs even better with the 50mm 1.8 S, taking full advantage of the camera’s dual processors. Testing was primarily done using AF-C modes in both Single and Continuous High shutter release modes. AF locking didn’t prove to be a problem on cyclists, bikers and e-scooter users (both coming towards the camera and going away). There was no focus hunting or missed focus during small bursts, even in Auto Area or Wide Area AF modes. Face detection is spot on, and Eye AF was activated even if people had face masks on. While walking on the streets, subjects who passed by the camera were tracked correctly, and the focus was sharp. When using the Z6 II, faces are locked on to when subjects are at a further distance (as compared to on the Z6/Z7).
Nikon’s Z6 II and Z7 II have newer focus modes. I used to own a Z6 but swapped it for a Z6 II some weeks ago. Wide Area AF L mode now has people (and animal) face tracking. This mode tracks human faces better than the Auto Area AF mode, as the area of focus analysis is much smaller. The more I use this camera, the more I realize that each AF mode needs to be understood thoroughly. The best way to get AF accuracy out of the 50mm f1.8 S lens is to switch to the right mode depending on the type of shoot. This is different from many other manufacturers. Auto Area AF (with and without people tracking) is meant to be a one-stop option for many scenarios. But choosing between Wide-Area AF (with face detection) or regular Wide-Area AF might mean the difference between nailing sharpness or not. One might argue that this isn’t the ideal way to get a tack-sharp shot, which would be correct. Based on my usage these past weeks with the Z6 II and the Nikon 50mm f1.8 S, I will swap focus modes to see which works best in the future. The recent firmware updates have ensured that AF-C performance has caught up with AF-S mode. There are some issues that I’ve detailed in the update that I’m hoping Nikon will address soon. You will definitely enjoy the Nikon 50mm f1.8 S more on the newer Z6 II and Z7 II bodies, though.