Canon EF 50mm 1.4 Standard Lens

Arguably One of the Most Popular Canon Lenses, the Canon EF 50mm 1.4

Canon EF-50mm f1.4

If I was to recommend one lens as a starter for your new DSLR I would recommend the wonderful Canon EF 50mm 1.4. I do actually recommend this to all my students owning a Canon DSLR,

This lens has to be one of the finest lenses you could add to your camera gear. It is one that you should use whenever possible and really should have a red stripe around the barrel and an "L" after its name. I have had this lens since first going digital in 2004 and absolutely love it.

Note: Excuse me for "gushing" a little about this lens. If you ever own or borrow one, you will know exactly what I mean.

Before I go into the ins and outs of this lens, I will offer some advice. If you have yet to buy a DSLR and are looking at getting a Canon model, buy the camera "body only". Get this lens as a starter for your "arsenal". 

So, the Specs First

  • Focal Length and Max Aperture: 50mm f1.4
  • Lens Construction: 7 elements in 6 groups
  • Diagonal Angle of View: 46°
  • Focus Adjustment: Overall linear extension system with USM (Ultra Sonic Movement)
  • Closest Focusing Distance: 0.45m / 1.5 ft.
  • Filter Size: 58mm
  • Maximum Diameter x Length, Weight: 2.9″ x 2.0″, 10.2 oz. / 73.8 x 50.5mm, 290g

It is all too easy to buy the zoom kit lens with a Canon DSLR. This is normally the EF18-55mm, which on the face of it seems like a bargain. Well, that is what most store salesmen will tell you. You may become sorely disappointed at the results with a kit lens. Then you blame yourself for lack of relevant skills.

A poor lens can kill the drive and enthusiasm of any new photographer. A quality lens can put serious "fire in your belly" as your images acquire a certain look and feel that is hard to put your finger on. Let me help with that...

Zoom Lens vs Prime

The temptation to buy a zoom as your first lens is strong. It allows one to stand still and compose all manner of shots as you endlessly zoom in and out looking for that perfect composition. Starting with a fixed focal length lens, or "prime lens" could really help your photography.

Rather than becoming lazy and standing still whilst shooting, a prime lens forces you to actually move around the subject whilst composing. This normally opens your eyes to all sorts of different perspectives you may have missed by using a zoom lens.

The Canon EF50mm 1.4 has not changed in its design for many years for good reason. It just works and needs no improving in my opinion.

So why and where would you use this lens?

Well to start with, it has a multitude of uses. I have used it on both cropped sensor cameras such as the Canon EOS 20/30/40D and Canon EOS 7D Mark II as well as the full framed Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 5D Mark IV with stunning results.

Cropped Sensor DSLR's

If you take into account the 1.6x crop factor, this lens becomes the equivalent of an 80mm lens. Absolutely perfect for portrait photography. Of course, it is also good for product photography, wedding photography, stock photography and as a general walk around lens but the bokeh (quality of blur) and shallow depth of field (not much in focus) at f1.4 is amazing when shooting faces.

Full Frame DSLR’s

This lens on a full frame camera really comes into its own and that is mainly down to the amazing 1.4 aperture. When you see the results at full size using this lens at f1.4, you will be blown away by the shallowness and clarity of blur (bokeh) and the quality it gives to your portraits.

Canon EF 50mm 1.4 Lens

Also, in low light situations such as church weddings, this lens is a must to have in your bag. It can add up to 2 stops of light in comparison to your usual lens. That can mean the difference between a super sharp shot and a blurry shot due to slow shutter speeds and camera shake.

There is an argument that prime lenses always produce better quality images than a zoom. This is due to primes having less glass elements moving within the barrel and less glass between the subject and sensor which can cause various problems. Overall, they tend to produce sharper images with better colours and less:

  • Flaring
  • Vignetting
  • Chromatic aberrations

Other factors are that they are generally lighter and cheaper. What's not to like!

I can safely say that the results from my "relatively cheap" Canon EF50mm 1.4 (approximately £270 or $430) are noticeably better than my "very expensive" Canon EF 24-70L 2.8 at 50mm (approximately £950 or $1500).

Overthinking Things

As a last word in favour of carrying one, two or three fixed focal length lenses, you are more inclined to produce superior results.

You see, if you carry one 16-35mm lens, one 24-70mm lens and a 70-200mm lens, you have an almost infinite number of focal lengths to choose from and this can distract you from thinking about the shot as you wildly zoom in and out looking for that perfect but elusive focal length.

Having just three simple primes, such as the 24mm, 50mm and 100mm macro with you, you have more than enough scope to shoot most subjects. You only have three focal lengths to worry about therefore freeing your time to think more about composition, subject matter and lighting etc.

Please note: The following test images were a quick and simple set-up with myself simply changing lenses on the same camera using the same settings. Nothing too scientific, just what most of us do in our day to day photography.

Field of View

Another interesting fact is that the Canon EF50mm 1.4 gives a slightly wider field of view than the Canon EF24-70L at 50mm on the same camera, in this case, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. The two shots below were taken on a locked down tripod with exactly the same settings of:

  • Focal length: 50mm
  • Shutter Speed: 160th
  • Aperture: f2.8
  • ISO: 250
  • Bounced Flash

All that was changed were the lenses. The focal point on my dusty old video keyboard was the same but look at the difference in width captured. This is because the 24-70 protrudes an extra 3 inches in front of the camera compared to the 50mm (yes, the keyboard is filthy).

Canon EF 50mm 1.4 Lens

Canon EF 50mm 1.4 @ 50mm 2.8

Canon EF 50mm 1.4 Lens

Canon EF 24-70mm 2.8 @ 50mm 2.8

Also, if we look at the same edge on the keyboard at 100% and compare the two side by side, you can see that the 50mm is noticeably clearer and has less chromatic aberration (see the red edge in image 2?).

Canon EF 50mm 1.4 Lens

Canon EF 50mm 1.4 @ 2.8

Canon EF 50mm 1.4 Lens

Canon EF 24-70mm 2.8 @ 50mm 2.8

Finally, let's look at the far right edge at 100% and see the difference in edge sharpness @ f2.8 along the same focal plane on both images.

Canon EF 50mm 1.4 Lens

Canon EF 50mm 1.4 @ 2.8

Canon EF 50mm 1.4 Lens

Canon EF 24-70mm 2.8 @ 50mm 2.8

In this test with my particular lenses, the 50mm is much sharper (caveat: You may have differing results with your glass). Good enough reason to opt for the way cheaper 50mm 1.4 as a starter lens. Or indeed as an addition to your existing lenses?

Thought So

Don’t get me wrong, I love the 24-70 as it is so versatile and quick for weddings etc. However, the nifty 50 is just so damn sharp, clear, light and problem free! If you don’t have one already, the next lens you buy should be the Canon EF50mm 1.4. The only downside is that wide open, at f1.4, you may notice a softer look to your images. For portraits that may actually enhance the photos ; )

If you have used this lens, own it or just want to leave comments, please do so below and please share this article with your friends.

Previous FACEBOOK Comments

"Hi Nick, enjoyed the review very much. I do have the much cheaper 50mm 1.8 lens which in itself is very good and I do try and use it for the reasons you say because I am quite lazy when it comes to moving around. Looking at the quality in your examples here though, I may have to consider getting a 1.4 too". - Rob Lipscombe

"Nick, thanks for taking the time out to review the two lenses. I used to own a 24-70mm lens before going all out prime. One of the lenses in my arsenal is a 50mm 1.4 and I have to say that I absolutely love this lens. It has not left the camera body since I invested in it, and to be honest, I have not used any of the other lenses, aside from the 24mm of mine. I love its speed, image quality, versatility, as well as being light weight, makes it worth its weight in gold. Not to mention I have found that having a prime/s makes you think a lot more about image composition, and keeps you on your toes as opposed to standing in a fixed spot zooming in and out – which is a trap I fell into at times.

I look forward to our blind 50mm challenge!" - nw10photography

"God bless Canon." - Marcus Levi

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