Vintage Lens: NIKKOR 55mm f/1.2 AI

I have a Canon 1.2 lens, and an Olympus 1.2 lens, but I’ve never tried a Nikon 1.2 lens – so I found a NIKKOR 55mm f/1.2 AI lens and decided to test it out.

I’ve read, in various places, that the Nikon 1.2 lenses were really not that great – as far as sharpness and even bokeh, but everybody has things they like and dislike, so I want to try things for myself before just believing everything I read. I suppose that’s good for anyone selling one of these lenses… but, in any case, I just wanted to try it out. In the reviews I’ve read, it’s generally been the same. It’s generally recommended, that if you want a fast Nikon manual focus lens, you’re better off going with the 50mm f/1.4, rather than spending the extra money to buy a 1.2 (unless you have thousands to spend on a Noct-NIKKOR, which I’ve heard are very, very good). So, in case you’re wondering, that’s pretty much the consensus out there. You can’t say I didn’t tell you.

Now, getting back to the matter at hand. What about this NIKKOR 55mm f/1.2 AI lens? I like the 55mm focal length, although it’s really not much different than a 50mm lens. I actually like a tiny bit longer in case I want to take some portrait photos. However, like my other 50mm lenses, it works great for most anything I’d use a 50 for. The AI version was released in 1976.

The lens is a bit large, compared to my Olympus and Canon 1.2 lenses, but it’s not too bad. It actually fits quite nicely on my Nikon F body, but with an adaptor on my EOS R it seems a bit large. The front of the lens is larger in diameter than the mount at the back of the lens. When it’s mounted, the aperture ring, being the same diameter as the mount, is recessed a bit compared to the front of the lens as you can see in the image below.

Other than this, the lens feels and looks like most other Nikon AI/AI-S lenses. And, to me, it performs quite well – not quite as sharp as my Canon FD 50mm f/1.2L lens, but it produces some very pleasant images, both the in-focus areas, and the out of focus areas. Below are a few images I took at f/1.2 and f/2. I’m particularly interested in how the out of focus (bokeh) areas look wide open.

You can tell the difference between the f/1.2 and f/2 images because in the f/2 images, the aperture appears like a seven-pointed star shape (heptagon). Wide open those spots look pretty much circular.

I really don’t think the bokeh is bad – it might be different from other lenses, but it’s definitely not bad. A couple of the images, where I’m aiming toward the sun, display less defined bokeh, and the sunlight causes a bit too much flare. Other than that, I like using this lens. The effects it produces are unique, and I like things that are different.

Overall, not a “must have” lens, but it is fun to play with. And, since it’s image quality may be questioned by some (although I’m ok with it) the prices for these lenses is less than the Olympus and Canon 1.2 lenses generally sell for.

If you like bokeh, I definitely wouldn’t skip over one of these lenses if you find a good deal on one. If you’re patient, I think good deals can be found!