My favorite lens of all time. An absolutely stunning lens. Wide open to f/1.2 background melt away to nothing and stopped down even to just f/2 it becomes insanely sharp. It's built like a tank and will probably outlive me. Yes wide open things get a little dreamy in bright light but that's to be expected. If you need perfect performance at that kind of aperture you're going to need to spend thousands more than what I spent for this lens. I can't recommend this one enough. No it's not a cheap lens though you can save a few bucks by picking up the AI version instead of the AI-S version. The funny part is that this lens isn't even really vintage - they still make them new today! I purchased mine years ago and will never let it go.
Mount: F Mount
Focal Length: 50mm
Aperture Range: f/1.2 - f/16
Minimum Focus: 0.5m
Filter Thread: 52mm
Date Acquired: 07/24/2011
Serial Number: 247227
Purchase Price: $500
Going Price: ~$400
Condition: Damn near perfect
The lens's mechanics like all of the classic manual focus Nikkors is honestly nearly perfect. The focus is smooth and silky and the aperture ring is snappy. Despite the crazy fast f/1.2 aperture the lens has a small 52mm filter thread. Nothing to complain about right then? Well there is one thing - I think it's kind of ugly. In fact I'd go so far as to say that all classic Nikkor lenses are ugly. Heresy I know but when compared to Olympus Zuiko or Yashica Yashinon-DX lenses these Nikkors really are unremarkable in terms of their looks.
The center performance is great wide open but falls apart very quickly towards the edges. As you stop down though the entire field improves dramatically. At f/2 the center is tack sharp and by f/2.8 the lens is sharp across almost the entire frame. Vignetting is very severe at f/1.2 but almost disappears at f/2 and is gone at f/2.8. There is a dream like haze at f/1.2 but that also disappears at f/2. The lens renders incredibly smooth bokeh at f/1.2. As you stop down any point sources will take on a heptagon (there's a vocabulary word for you!) shape but otherwise the bokeh remains smooth. Lens flare is amazingly well controlled for a lens with such huge elements.
Shooting with the lens is a great experience. It works plain and simple. This has always been a trait that I appreciate about all Nikon gear. It may be a little ugly but it works quite well in practice. It's easy to land focus and the control the aperture. The only real complaint is that the lens is a little on the large size but when compared to modern f/1.4 and f/1.2 lenses it's absolutely tiny.
Should I get one for photography?
Frankly - it depends. There's a general misconception with fast lenses that you should always shoot them wide open but that's not true at all. Fast lenses give you the option to shoot wide open but really enable you to get fantastic performance at a faster aperture when stopping down. In this way the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 gets you a solid lens at f/2 and a usable lens at f/1.2. If you need that speed and performance combination there's really no other option but I would argue that most don't really have that need. Most photography is rarely faster than f/5.6 calling into question the value of such speed. In the end those of you who need f/1.2 already know who you are which answers the question. Otherwise you can save a lot of money going with a slower lens.
Should I get one for a collection?
I don't think so. While it's an amazing lens it's no where near as iconic as the slower f/1.4 and f/1.8 50mm lenses from the same era. Notably the f/1.2 is even still in production to this day! You can still buy them new in-stock so there's no real collector's value as of yet. Maybe in the future when Nikon finally discontinues the lens it might be worth collecting but it's doubtful that will be any time within the next decade.