For those looking at investing in a Canon lens for your photography business, I am so excited to discuss the Canon EF 50mm as a high contender in this blog post.
Let me start by saying I have both the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens. Hands down the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 is the lens to have.
Straight up, no joke. For someone who does a lot of portrait photography and videography, this prime lens has been a game-changer for me.
My focus will be on reviewing the f/1.2 L USM lens in particular and then briefly comparing it to its budget-friendly counterparts.
Let’s start with the technical bits first with a sprinkle of my experience in there and then I’ll give you my full-on opinion based on my experience.
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Specs on the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens
First, let’s establish that this lens is a Canon EF version.
If you’re a Canon fan and/or Canon user, you are likely familiar with the fact that different lenses have different compatibilities with different camera bodies though you can likely cross-use lens with a particular mount.
For example, an RF lens is specifically made for the Canon mirrorless camera. But a mirrorless camera can use a Canon EF lens with an adapter like the control ring mount adapter. It has a control ring to allow you to control ISO with a turn of your fingertips.
Well, the Canon EF 50mm is compatible with full-frame body DSLR Canon cameras with an EF mount and with APS-C models where it results in an 80mm equivalent focal length due to the crop sensor effect.
As is clear already, the focal length is 50mm. This is not a zoom lens like the 24-70mm f lens but a prime lens. Yet it is similar to the 24-70mm, it is ideal for portraits.
The lens boasts aspherical elements to help greatly reduce spherical aberrations as well as distortion. The result are these ridiculous sharp images.
To reduce ghosting and flare, it also has super spectra coating which helps greatly in harsh lighting conditions.
The autofocus performance, for me, is something to brag about. It’s quick, accurate and quiet due to it’s ring-type ultrasonic motor (which is what the USM stands for) coupled with Canon’s focusing algorithms and high-speed CPU. And as a photographer and videographer, I have found this to work exceptionally well with my videography projects. I, for the first time, use this at a wedding as my b-roll lens.
The footage came out sharp, vibrant and the focus was extremely tight compared to the Canon 24-70mm lens I typically use.
It impressed me so much that I’ve switched over to this prime lens being my primary b-roll lens for my future weddings here on out.
Another bragging point for this lens is the shallow depth of field that can provide stunning photos thanks to its rounded eight-blade diaphragm and selective focus techniques. The bokeh you can achieve with this lens is a dream.
As for build quality, what more can I say? It’s part of the L-series in the Canon family. It’s thus not only heavy duty, but sealed to combat dust and moisture in those humid and wet conditions. If you take care of it, the lens will last and likely retain most of its resale value should you like to do so later on.
Right now, I can’t fathom that, so mine is a keeper.
As for the image quality, on this lens it is excellent. It’s capabilities for wide apertures help make the subjects crisp and pop in comparison to the bokeh background.
Especially with a maximum aperture of 1.2, this Canon lens is supreme when it comes to portrait photography. We’ll find as we discuss further that the other 50mm Canon lenses are comparable yet second class to this one all at the same time.
Camera Bodies Compatibility
As for which camera bodies this lens can work with, it’s originally made with the Canon DSLR full frame camera body in mind. However, it can work with the APS-C cameras as well though with a crop effect.
For Canon’s mirrorless cameras, this lens will work. Yes, they have their line of new Canon RF lenses but with an adapter, you can still use this lens on an RF mount.
One thing to keep in mind is the cost of your equipment. You may have one of Canon’s EOS R system mirrorless cameras which is great. But then adding an RF mm prime lens on top of that can cost a pretty penny.
The RF version of this lens is expensive. How much? You ask?
The RF 50mm F1.2 L USM lens is originally priced at $3700. You can likely get it on sale though for cheaper. But compared to the price of $1399 for the EF lens… the difference is quite striking. Now, I can’t quite do a direct comparison because I have not invested in an RF lens yet, but when I do, I’ll be sure to write a comparison blog.
From what I have heard and read from other photographers, they find that there is no loss in the quality of beautiful images and sharp results with using the EF lens on an EOS R system body.
For someone who is starting out with Canon’s DSLR cameras, you likely have already invested in EF lenses. This can be a way to offset the cost in your transition to Canon’s EOS R systems while still going back and forth and using your DSLR.
I, for example, am one of those very people. I have two DSLR cameras (5D Mark IV) and wanted to try the Canon EOS R system. I invested in the EOS R mirrorless camera and… yes. I love it despite its flaws. However, I still heavily use my DSLRs right now. Especially for portraits.
Now when it comes to manual focus, I typically don’t use it on this lens. I use the autofocus. It’s quick and pretty accurate. When I do close-up photos, I do have to be careful with the large aperture.
It can open up so wide and yes, be sharp wide open, but when you’re doing close-up portraits in a photo session for example, I don’t want part of the face blurry and another part sharp.
I don’t count this against the lens but more on the user’s ability to know how to adjust their settings manually for the best, high quality use of their lens.
Then there is the issue of chromatic aberration.
The less expensive the lens, the more you risk experiencing this. Chromatic aberration is the color distortion that appears like an outline along your subjects. Now, don’t get me wrong. The 50mm f/1.2 lens can still produce this, but not to the extent of the 50mm lenses with smaller maximum apertures.
The saying is very true. “You get what you pay for.”
If you can afford this lens, then get it. It is the best option when it comes to the 50mm EF lenses. Know that it’s not completely flawless but it is worth the price difference.
At the time of completing this blog, I did a portrait photo session with a friend turning 23. It was the ideal sunset golden hour time and I had her standing in front of the sun’s rays as it was going down.
In post, I could see a fine purple outline of her head that I had to work on editing out. No, this more expensive lens did not give me a distortion-free result in some of the images in this session BUT in comparison to the other 50mm lens I have, there is a still a noticeable difference in the ease of use, better performance and quality results.
50mm f/1.4 Lens
Now let’s talk about the EF 50mm f/1.4 lens in comparison.
My first purchase was this particular lens. The cost was much more affordable for me at the time and I thought it was better than going for the ultra-cheap version of the pancake 50mm f/1.8 lens.
At about $399, this is a definite budget-friendly lens. The 1.4 aperture gives that nice shallow depth of field and it has several features that make it an option to look at.
Out of the three mm lenses, I’d vote for you to pick this one if you’re on a budget and don’t want to or can’t afford to invest in the 50mm 1.2f lens. This one is an excellent choice since it is in the middle, with a larger aperture than 1.8 and the price difference from most expensive to least.
It boasts a Gaussian optics design to help reduce distortion and spherical aberrations. This helps in terms of sharpness. It also has the super spectra coating which also helps with reducing ghosting and flare for good contrast and color neutrality results when you’re in settings with strong or harsh lighting.
The USM (micro ultrasonic motor) gives a fast autofocus performance as well. BUT, in my opinion, the af motor aspect is not as precise as the 1.2f lens.
For everyday use, I think this is still a great Canon f lens. This worked well for me until I was able to invest in the f1.2 and since then, I haven’t really touched this lens.
I will say that the main differences for me between the Canon f1.2 and f1.4 are the uses in photography versus videography. For videography, the 1.4 lens is just fine. In fact, I’m happy to use that in lieu of the 1.2. But when it comes to photo, I will hands down, use the 1.2.
50mm f/1.8 Lens
The last lens we’ll discuss is the Canon 50mm f/1.8 pancake lens.
Out of the three lenses, this is the most inexpensive. It is a 35mm full frame and is tiny at 1.54 x 2.72 x 2.72 inches.
Now as far as expense and portability, this is an awesome nifty lens. Its STM motor helps with videography quality which is also a plus for the aspiring photography and videographer. When it comes to photography, it will do the job and you can get great results with it. But the 1.8 aperture is low compared to the others and this can affect the depth of the quality of your images.
However though, I think if you have the extra couple hundred to invest, go for the f1.4 lens and if you really have the room, the 1.2 USM lens is worth it.
But is this comparable if you’re on a budget?
Yes. It is.
Which 50mm Lens is best for you?
When it comes to investing, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Meaning that lens quality typically correlates with its cost. The higher the price, the better the lens. Not just the results from high quality glassware, but the build quality of the lens as well.
The best value to be had in this particular 50mm lens comparison blog post is going to be the first 50mm lens we discussed.
BUT, this is not to say you can’t do well with either one of the cheaper alternatives. It’s all about that sweet spot for you.
At the end of the day, you can get awesome results based off of your skills. And get horrid results for your lack of skill, just the same.
I suggest you invest in what you can afford. If you have to start with the inexpensive pancake lens, then do so. But as you increase your skills and your quality of images grows, then invest in a little more costly lens.
At the end of the day, you need to be able to obtain the best results for your budget and future endeavors. While that may be a work in progress, as long as you grow, it’ll all be worth it in the end and eventually you’ll be able to afford the additional cost to get that better lens.