The Nikkor Z 58mm F0.95 S Noct is one of Nikon’s showcase lenses – a sort of throwback to the early days of Nikon’s interest in optical research. It’s certainly a lens that splits opinions – I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about it – though there’s no denying it’s a beautifully made lens that’s capable of extremely high image quality in all its nuances. You can read about my opinion on this lens here.
Like other Nikon exotics it’s delivered in a massively oversized cardboard box but inside it contains a large Pelican type hard-case, instead of the more usual soft-padded type. I didn’t weigh the case but it appears a bit lighter than others of its kind, however it’s large and impractical for anything other than storage (or transportation).
It’s also delivered with a short (roughly 4cm) metal screw-in hood, that’s nicely flocked and has a rubber ‘bumper’ and blacked out markings. Besides offering token protection from stray sunlight and light rain, the hood also has another, more important, function that isn’t immediately obvious.
The lens doesn’t use internal focusing. Instead the front cell extends as you focus, making it potentially more vulnerable to damage (resulting in image symmetry issues from decentering or tilting) from rough handling or inadvertent knocks.
This is where the hood comes in particularly handy, as it screws into the huge focusing ring, rather than the extending barrel and protects the front group. It can be left in place and doesn’t make the lens feel that much more bulky.
Although a bit narrower than the superb Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens it is around the same length but it is far heavier. That makes it a real handful on the Nikon Z 7. Part of the trouble is due to the weight of course, but it is compounded by a heavy (but smooth) helicoid with a long throw of close to 350-degrees.
It may be unwieldy, but like the esoteric models of Nikon’s heyday, such as the Nikkor 6mm F2.8, 13mm F5.6, 300mm F2.0 IFED (not F2.8) and Zoom-Nikkor 180-600mm F8 ED*, you rarely see quality like this. The focusing ring’s finely machined knurling is very effective; the ridges feel like they’re biting into the skin. What’s more, as the Z 7 viewfinder displays the image at the taking aperture (up to F6.3), there can’t be any excuses when it comes to focusing accuracy.
On a tripod with the weight supported, it’s a far easier but, as you might imagine, this is a difficult lens to focus hand held, at least with subjects that are at close distances. Depth of field on a 45MP camera is of course very shallow wide open. At and close to the minimum focus distance the focus point is disturbed by your breathing or the breathing of your subject, making accurate focusing complete guesswork handheld.
Focus peaking isn’t much help, indeed it’s distracting but others might disagree.
The default setting on the Nikon Z 7 for the L.Fn button located on the lens is ‘exposure lock’, but the ‘magnify image’ option is probably more relevant. Still, that L.Fn button is hard to reach when holding the camera vertically (so another option would be to re-program the camera’s AF-On button to magnify, switching between lens and camera at will).
Admittedly, the focal length is a bit short for portraits at and close to the minimum focus distance, but by using the magnifying option to focus on the pupil, you can see just how critical focusing is on this lens. As a rangefinder user though, I’m accustomed to gently rocking the camera backwards and forwards a millimetre or two instead of refocusing, as it’s just too slow a process to catch up.
How does it stand out?
Image quality of the Noct at close distances is vastly superior to the Nikon Nikkor 58mm F1.4G. The Noct has virtually no spherical aberration to speak of and images are sharp and yet without any of the harshness or ‘crunchiness’ of modern designs. And the blur quality (sometimes referred to as ‘boke’ or ‘bokeh’) in the foreground and background, while subjective, is highly attractive.
All images developed to taste in Capture One Pro 12.
I hope to have the lens second time, where I’ll write a more in-depth review.
Adorama (US) In stock at time of writing
*An earlier version of this article quoted a 360-800mm F8, which was erroneous and has been updated to the 180-600mm F8. My apologies for the mistaken information.