Can you use a Nikon 50mm (F/1.4) AI-S for HDR Photography? Many would contend that the focal length is too narrow for doing much with it. I would disagree. However, it does have limitations.
It is worth saying that the picture from the Wyandotte County lake that I have won awards with was shot at 80mm using a Nikon 80-200mm (F/2.8). There is a place for more narrow focal lengths in landscape work.
In most cases, people who use the 50mm do so because it is what they have on the camera when they see the shot or it is all they have. Lens are pricy and because of that, they might only have one or two lens to use.
The main thing about shooting with this lens is you have to make sure you have some distance between you and the landscape. I believe the image above was shoot at around 30 feet away.
It is worth also saying that all of these pictures in this article was shot without a tripod using a Nikon D800 that is a full frame camera. If you have a APSC model, you will need even more space because of the crop factor.
How to shoot HDR Photography
The first thing you need to understand is most of the discussion about this lens is pointless. The Bokeh topic is complete nonsense when you are shooting landscape. The benefit of a 1.4 aperture has nothing to do with having the ability to blur the background. 1.4 means you can shoot in darker setting (think golden hour) and still have a fast enough shutter speed.
One thing to consider is what camera you have. If you are shooting with a professional camera such as the Nikon D800, you will have no problem shooting HDR quickly. On the cheaper models, you might have to do it manually using exposure compensation.
Bracketing images is very easy on professional models. All you do is set bracketing to 2 stops and move your dail to “Ch” (Continuous high speed) Any camera in the Nikon D7XXX also will do this!
The purpose of this is you can shoot all the bracket shot in less than a second. This makes shooting HDR Photography with a lens like 50mm (F/1.4) AI-S possible without a tripod. It is not possible to always use one and in some places, they are banned anyways.
As far as aperture, you are on your own. This means completely manual. In most cases, you have to focus completely to the infinity. This will give you everything in focus even at 1.4 aperture.
Now, the last thing you have to do is frame the show and get the right composition. One of the easy ways to address this would be setting the “rules of thirds” on your camera for liveview. (You will just have to turn to the viewfinder before shooting.
Using this old lens does have its challenges but it is cheap ($50-$100) and can work great for some shots if you consider what I have talked about here.
50mm is the “walk around” lens
If you do not have a Nikon 24-70mm (F/2.8), having a 50mm is the perfect lens for walking around. You can always back up a little to get a wider shoot and you can move forward some to get a closer shot. When you do not know what you will see and it is mostly things that do not move, being able to get the shot every time is possible with the Nikon 50mm (F/1.4) AI-S.
In my experience, shooting with wide lens (24mm or wider) makes it hard when I need to get something I can’t reach. The only thing I could do then is crop the image in Luminar 4. Therefore, shooting very wide as a walk around is just a no go.
What about walking around with a Nikon 70-200mm? You can get some amazing images from across the street or down the path but you will miss anything wide at all. 70mm is pretty tight to be honest.
As you can see, the sweet spot and happy medium is using a 50mm. I will be honest, shooting with this lens has its handicap. It is much better to have the latest 50mm that is auto-focus and focus confirmation. Using the 1.8G version is even better for a walk around than having the Nikon 50mm (F/1.4) AI-S.
However, in my opinion, shooting with a Nikon 24-70mm is the much better option for when just walking around town or on a hike in the state park.
Nikon 50mm (F/1.4) AI-S for street Photography
This is probably the most well used lens for street photography (well, the autofocus version). People doing shooting on the streets want to be able to move around and having that Nikon 500mm that looks like a missile just doesn’t do that!
If I still did street photography, I would probably reach for the Nikon Z50 with the 16-50mm pancake lens to be honest but using a DSLR is still an option. The smaller the form of the camera and lens you have, the better shots you get.
With that said, sometimes you just need the 36MP of a Nikon D800 or the 45MP of the Nikon D850. In those cases, having the DSLR on you and ready to go is important. Just understand that mirrorless might be the better option for the street photographer.
Can you use this lens to get amazing images of the street? You can without question. If you are on a budget, this is more than worth the money to start as a street photographer.
In fact, I would tell anyone that is serious about this type of art to begin with the Nikon 50mm (F/1.4) AI-S and actually buy a decent body before updating to a professional lens. This is that great of a piece of glass.
The bottom line is this 50 year old lens is still the top of the line in the Nikon world of glass. That says something.