Back in June my poor little Nikkor AF 50mm F1.8D (and attached body) took a tumble off our patio table.
This was the last image I took before it fell to its ‘death’ (SOOC):
The lens saved the much more expensive body from damage, but jammed the lens assembly at an odd angle against the barrel. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of it, because I wasn’t thinking I wanted to document my stupidity at letting my camera fall off a table…
Here is a shot I took just after the fall, when attempting to diagnose how bad the problem was (SOOC):
Basically, the focus ring was jammed. Given I had a shoot coming up, I quickly picked up a used (older) version of the lens. AF Nikkor 50mm 1:1.8 (USED) – Made in Japan (1991-2001) vs AF Nikkor 50mm 1:1.8 D (BROKEN) – Made in China (2002-Present)
They seemed to be nearly identical, and the replacement worked well enough for me to complete my shoot. But after my second shoot with the lens, I was getting annoyed with the ghosting/flare (although I had some fun playing around with it as an effect). I couldn’t remember that being an issue with my now-broken lens.
Before I purchased the used lens, I had read a number of articles and posts to determine the differences between the older and new (current) version of the lens. The main things I knew were that some coatings had theoretically improved, and the newer version would transmit distance information to the camera body.
This quote explains the updates (broken English source):
The AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D was released very late in February 2002—7 years after the AF 50mm f/1.4D. This … lens … relays subject-to-camera distance information to AF Nikon camera bodies. This then makes possible to use advances like 3D Matrix Metering and 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash.
The version has been treated with Nikon updated high-grade Nikon Super Integrated Coating which are assumed to deliver outstanding optical performance with superior color reproduction and by minimizing ghosting and flare.
What I had read seemed to indicate that there wouldn’t be too much of a practical difference between the versions, but there were some big differences in image quality. Especially shooting near windows/outside, you start to see lots of ghosting and flares because the coatings from the newer version are missing.
Here’s a shot where I was using the flare ‘artistically’, though the whole frame lacks contrast due to missing lens coatings (SOOC):
And then here’s an example of what a hot mess it was when shooting straight into the sun (SOOC):
Another minor annoyance was that my D750’s highlight-weighted metering mode wouldn’t work with the older lens (because of the lack of distance information, I guess?). Not a huge deal, but if you’re shooting in Aperture priority mode (or any that uses auto-exposure) with one lens that does work with highlight priority and forget to change the settings back, it’ll result in some blown exposures.
Given these issues, I decided to see if I could get the threads on the broken lens unstuck. Again, I should have taken a picture, but I’ll save everyone the cringeworthy spectacle that was the lens innards sandwiched unceremoniously in my vice, whilst hammering on the aperture & glass module with a flathead-screwdriver-turned-chisel.
I had tried a similar thing, trying to fix it when it first broke, but didn’t have the heart to hit it hard enough to unstick the threads. This time it was a success!
The result was a fully disassembled lens (yes, I was working in the bathroom… it was a bright workspace!):
I had few goals:
- See if I could transfer the aperture module from the used to the broken one. (the blades had come loose and I wasn’t sure if I could put it back together)
- If 1. failed then try to transfer the glass from the broken to the used, but mechanically sound lens.
- Attempt to repair the aperture and then use the used glass and have a secondary lens for playing around.
Repairing the aperture:
Elements and aperture module, rear element:
I discovered that the two lens designs were quite different in many ways inside:
- Though the glass and basic construction were the same, the threading on the aperture modules were different (scratch option 1.)
- The front elements were actually permanently affixed in their plastic shell, which meant some ‘adjustments’ were to be made to the plastic casing on the front element shell to facilitate the transfer from one lens to the other.
- The old lens computer chip was dead and the aperture couldn’t be saved (I ended up removing the blades), essentially making it a wide-open, completely manual lens.
Here are a couple images taken with the used lens with the glass from the broken lens (now called: AF Nikkor 1:1.8 ‘D’):
I’m pretty happy with the result, and at least I learned a lot about lens construction, durability, and that I don’t need to baby my equipment quite so much. I hope that this information might be useful to someone thinking about picking up one of these older 50mm lenses.
My recommendation: buy a newer one. At <$200 new there's no reason to have those crazy lens flares (...unless you like that look).
About the author: Luke Kroeker is a Kingston, Ontario-based photographer who shoots everything from nature, to still-life, to landscape, wedding, corporate, and portrait photography. You can find more of his work on his website, or by following him on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.