The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM prime lens is very popular among photographers. There are very good reasons why this lens has found a home in so many photographers’ bags. First of all, the 50 1.4 sits in the middle of Canon’s 50mm prime lineup. It sits between the EF 50mm f/1.8 II and the EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lenses. As such it is priced in between the two. The 50 1.8 is the cheapest and the L variant is the more expensive. The price of this lens makes it a very affordable option for those looking for a normal or standard prime. Its small size (slightly smaller than your fist) makes this easy to carry around mounted on your DSLR; along with low weight you barely even feel the lens on the camera. The 50 1.4 features an f/1.4 aperture which is extremely fast and gives the photographer flexibility in demanding lighting situations. The fast aperture allows a lot of light to enter the camera, which makes this a great choice for people who don’t like to use flash and love the look of ambient light in their photos. Another attribute of the fast aperture is a shallow DoF, which is great for portraits because the person’s face will be in focus and the background will get nicely blurred. This creates great separation between the subject and the background.
The 50mm lens has been a must have tool in any photographers bag ever since the film days. This range has been totted as “normal” or “standard” for this various reason. On a Full Frame camera the 50mm field of view is exactly that, but if you want to use this range on a crop sensored camera, you will get a similar field of view of about 85mm. It’s quite a different view going from a 50 on a crop and then using a 50 on a full frame camera. If you want to preserve the 50mm field of view on crop, look at the Sigma 30mm f/1.4, or the Canon 28mm f/1.8.
Field of View Comparison: Full Frame vs. Crop Sensor
The 50mm range is very practical and works well in many different situations. It is great for head tight portraits or full body portraits, low-light situations such as gyms or churches, and great for indoor use for parties and such. The fast f/1.4 aperture allows for use in low light where flash would not be used or where ambient light would be the main lighting source. The Canon 50mm f/1.4 comes in a nice small and well-built package that provides great images all the way from wide open to stopped down. While sharpness will not be abundant wide open, it will be sufficient for most needs. The build quality is good, but remember that the whole body is made of plastic with a fragile extending barrel while focusing, but the lens mount is made of metal, which provides a solid snug fit to your DSLR body.
The 50mm is a very popular range and as such a lot of manufactures make a lens in this range. Canon currently has 3 lenses in this line up: 50mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.4, and 50mm f/1.2L. Sigma also offers a 50mm f/1.4 however it is more expensive compared to Canon’s 50mm 1.4. The legendary optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss also makes two 50mm variants, however these lenses are manual focus only.
The direct competitor to the Canon 50mm f/1.4 is the Sigma 50mm f/1.4. The first difference that you will notice is the size/weight. The Sigma is bigger and has a more solid build (even though both lenses are made of solid plastic, the Sigma just feels a bit better). The bigger size of the Sigma will balance better on your DSLR body compared to the smaller and lighter Canon 50mm f/1.4. Both lenses feature a fast f/1.4 aperture and they both have fast focusing motors. Both lenses are rather soft wide open at f/1.4 but that is to be expected of most lenses with fast apertures.
With so many options in the 50mm range, it may be hard to decide which one is for you. If money is no object and basically want the best, the answer is simple: the Canon 50mm f/1.2L USM. With superior build and optical quality you cannot go wrong with this option. If you are on a tight leash and cannot be spending lots of money on a lens, then the other options come into play. If you are just starting out and want to get a feel for the range, or want a fast prime, the ultra cheap Canon 50mm f/1.8 II is a great choice. It is a small lens, super lightweight, has decent optical performance wide open, and with the price of just over $100, it is a no brainer. If you want something a better than the low end, but don’t want to spend too much, the Canon 50mm f/1.4 and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 become two very good options. Both are pretty equal in terms of optical quality, with the Sigma having a slight edge. The Sigma is a bigger lens, feels more solid, and is slightly more expensive than Canon’s counterpart.
Design and Features
|Lens Construction||7 elements in 6 groups|
|Focus Adjustment||Overall linear extension system with USM|
|Closest Focusing Distance||1.5 ft./0.45m|
|Dimensions||73.8 x 50.5mm, 290g|
On the lens itself, there is only one visible switch, which toggles the lens focusing modes between manual and full time auto focus. The build quality of the actual lens is not bad, but not amazing either. The main construction of the lens is plastic, with the only metal being present in the lens mount. When the lens focuses, the barrel extends but does not rotate, which means that you can use a circular polarizer with no problems. This mechanism has been the source of some controversy. It is a known issue that this system is a bit fragile and if you are not careful with the extending barrel, you can damage the focusing mechanism and cause it to fail all together. It is often recommended to fully retract the barrel before attaching the lens cap to avoid damaging this system. The focus ring on the lens is really smooth but does not have enough throw to provide extremely accurate manual focusing. If you find that you are doing a lot of manual focusing, you may be better off getting a Carl Zeiss variant, which are specially designed for such purposes.