If you are looking for a lens that will produce high quality results at a lower cost than most Canon lenses, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 standard lens is an excellent choice. Many photographers consider this the best value of any lens in the Canon lineup. For the price, it is very difficult to find a lens that delivers better image sharpness.
The 50mmf/1.8 is also the smallest and lightest lens in Canon’s lineup making it very portable and travel friendly. It is a great lens to have around as a backup or as an extra carry along camera bag lens that you can turn to easily for predictable high quality images.
For a standard lens in the price range of the 50mm f/1.8, you get ideal color balance and contrast. Additionally, vignetting (light fall off) is very minimal with this lens. Vignetting is only noticeable through f/2.8 on full frame digital SLR bodies, and only slightly visible (and invisible to most untrained observers) when the aperture is at a wide open f/1.8 on a 1.6x field of view crop factor body. In general, this lens is an excellent choice if you seek professional looking sharpness, contrast and image quality at a very low price. It is also a great lens to learn photographic skills with, as a prime lens forces you to adapt to a single focal length—unleashing your creative potential.
In the rest of this review we will discuss the reasons to buy a 50mm lens, the specifications, the contents of the box, the autofocus and the optical performance. At the end of the article some sample photos will be provided so that you can judge the optical quality of this lens yourself. These are processed RAW files of a 450D using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3.6.
Why do you need a 50mm lens?
Firstly, they are cheap, the reviewed Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II can be bought for around $100. This is due to their simple optical formula. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II features 6 elements in 5 groups, a very simple lens construction. Lenses with longer or shorter focal lengths are more complex to design. If we take the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM as an example, its optical formula consists of 9 elements in 7 groups. Lenses with shorter focal lengths, like the Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM, are also more complex, this lens has 10 elements in 9 groups. We can conclude that 50mm lenses are easy to design and need fewer elements then its shorter or longer siblings.
Field of view
The field of view of a 50mm is similar to what the human eye sees, it features a diagonal angle of view of 46°. Therefore, they are called `normal lenses’. On a 1.6x crop body, all bodies from Canon except the 5D and the 1D(s) series, the lens has an angle of view comparable with an 80mm lens on a full-frame or film body. This is a very practical focal length for portraits and candid shots.
There is no other lens at this price point that is capable of shooting in lowlight like the 50mm f1.8 II can. If you compare it to your standard kit lens, the Canon EF-S 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 IS, at the same focal length, the f/1.8 aperture allows 31/3 stops more light to fall onto the sensor in comparison with the f/5.6 aperture of the kit lens. This allows you to freeze action without having to crank up your ISO.
If for example you are shooting at a concert with your kit lens and the right exposure is iso 1600, f/5.6, 1/30s. The f/1.8 aperture allows you to shoot at iso 1600, f/1.8 and 1/320s. This is a huge improvement and you will be able to freeze action. You can also drop your iso and get iso 400 f/1.8 and 1/80s. This still allows you to reduce movement and you can drop your iso to acceptable noise levels.
Blurring the Background
A 50mm f/1.8 is capable of blurring the background a lot better than a standard kit lens like the Canon EF-S 18-55IS which is usually sold as a kit with most entry level bodies. You can get beautiful portraits with blurry backgrounds so that the focus is on the subject and the background isn’t disturbing.
|Focal Length & Maximum Aperture||50mm f/1.8|
|Lens Construction||6 elements in 5 groups|
|Diagonal Angle of View||46°|
|Focus Adjustment||Overall linear extension system with Micromotor|
|Clesest Focusing Distance||0.45m / 1.5 ft.|
|Max. Diameter x Length, Weight||2.7’’ x1.6’’, 4.6 oz. / 68.2 x 41.0mm, 130g|
|Aperture Blades||5 non-rounded aperture blades|
Whats in The Box?
The lens comes in a simple Canon box. In the box you can find the lens, rear and front caps, a manual and a warranty card.
You don’t get a hood in the box. If you want one, you will have to buy it separately. The original hood for this lens is the Canon ES-62, which can be found at around $30. You can also find many third party hoods at lower prices. A hood is important, not only to protect the lens but also to prevent lens flare.
Since the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is Canon’s cheapest lens, you can’t expect much from the build quality. You will not get an all metal lens, like the Zeiss lenses, but a very light, plasticy looking and feeling lens. If you take the price into account, the build quality is acceptable. It does feel like a toy but since the lens is so light, it is not disturbing because you will actually hold the camera instead of the lens.
You get a plastic lens mount, a focus mode switch and a small, unprecise manual focusing ring. The lens does not feature full time manual focusing, you always have to flip the switch to use manual focus. This can be annoying, certainly because the switch doesn’t feel very well built.
A metal lens mount would be useless. Since the lens is so extremely light, a plastic lens mount can easily hold this lens. It is not advised to lift the camera by grapping the lens, always take hold of the body.
The lens features a small 52mm filter size. Filters of this size are relatively cheap. The front element is a little recessed in the body, this protects it from scratches.
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is a very small lens. Here you see the comparison with and without hood between, from left to right, the Canon EF-S 55-250 f/4-5.6 IS, the Canon EF-S 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 IS and the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II.
The lens features an overall linear extension system with micromotor. This means that the lens extends during focusing, but doesn’t turn like the kit lenses do. This is handy when using polarizer filters. The lens does not feature full time manual focusing (FTM), therefore it is necessary to flip the switch from AF to MF when you want to use manual focus. If you don’t do this, you will damage the autofocus motor.
The focus speed and sound is more or less comparable with the kit lenses, a bit slow and noisy, certainly in comparison with more expensive USM lenses. But for the price it is rather decent, it is accurate in good light and it continues to focus in lower light levels than the kit lenses do. It isn’t 100% precise in lower light at large apertures, the more expensive EF 50mm f/1.4 USM is a lot better in this respect, but this lens is 3 times more expensive as the f/1.8 lens.
Sharpness will be assessed using 100% crops of unsharpened raw files of the Canon EOS 450D.
The sharpness in the center of the image is already good at f/1.8 and becomes very good at f/2.8. At f/5.6 the lens is at its sharpest, meaning razor sharp.
The sharpness in the corner isn’t very good at f/1.8 but it quickly improves to reach good levels at f/2.8 and excellent at f/5.6.
It is not really an issue that the corners aren’t sharp at f/1.8, you will usually use the aperture of f/1.8 to blow out the background or in low light conditions. In this type of situations, corner sharpness isn’t very important.
If you look at this image you can barely see any CA, due to the simple lens design the amount of chromatic aberrations is very low.
Due to the fact that this is a prime, distortion is very low, lines stay relatively straight. You can see this when comparing the original file and the image that has been corrected by Adobe Lightroom 3.6. There is not a big difference between both images so distortion is not an issue with this lens.
At f/1.8 there is a small amount of vignetting in the corners, but starting from f/2.8 this vignetting has disappeared and the image is homogeneous.
In this picture you can see a bit of flare in the lower right corner. The sun is in de upper left corner. Due to the simple design of the lens and the small amount of elements, there isn’t much flare. To prevent flare, it is advised to use the lens hood.
Bokeh is the quality of the background blur. The rounder and less in focus the point of lights are, the better the bokeh is.
Wide open the bokeh of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is good, the out of focus point of lights are nicely round at f/1.8. But when you stop the lens down, the 5 non-rounded aperture blades show their disadventages. You don’t get a nice round out of focus point of light, but you get a five-sided polygon at f/2.8 and smaller apertures. This might lead to a harsh blur. So in comparison with more expensive lenses, it isn’t that great, but it still much better than lenses with smaller apertures. It will render backgrounds much nicer than the 18-55 IS.
Pro’s and Con’s
|Excellent image quality||Bad build quality|
|Excellent price/performance ratio||Innacurate autofocus in low light|
|Low light capabilities||Harsh bokeh at smaller apertures|