Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM
Canon has introduced only one
50mm f/1.4 lens to the EF series
which it did early on in June of
1993. Here we are 26 years
later and this lens is still in
the catalogue and available.
Check out Henry’s where it is
available for 499.00 CDN.
The design of this lens is based
on the FD 50mm f/1.4 which was
always known as a sharp lens with
good color. AF is driven by a micro ultra sonic motor giving fast and silent focusing. Manual focus can override the motor at any time.
Overall build quality is decent. The lens certainly has a lot of plastic in it but the lens mount is metal and the lens feels solid. This is a lightweight compact lens with good optical performance once it is stopped down one or two stops. It performs well even up against more expensive modern lenses
In the Collection I have:
Collection No.: L-31
Serial No.: 10503726
Date Intro: June 1993
Focal Length: 50mm
Min Aperature: f 22
Construction: 6 groups of 7 elements
Filter Thread: 58mm filter (does not
rotate on focusing)
Accessories: Lens hood CS-71 II
Condition: Excellent – optics are clear, no marks. When I got this lens I sent it to Canon because there were problems focusing and the front lens housing had a hairline fracture suggesting it had taken a hit somewhere in its life.
Reading about this lens on-line the consensus seems to be that it is a great lens with a few problems that plague most wide aperture lenses. But you have to remember its age. It is a design left over from the days of film and was developed for use on the film EOS cameras. Ken Rockwell in his Review of this lens says that “This 50mm f/1.4 USM is Canon’s most useful 50mm lens.” He then goes on to discuss the strong vignetting, distortion and other aberrations when this lens is used wide open. So what are we to think?
Have a look at the brick wall in the four images above. Now, in our modern digital cameras, there is the capability to correct for some deficiencies in our lenses. Canon cameras know the problems in Canon lenses and can to some extent compensate for them. If we are looking for the deficiencies to examine them we have to turn these features off. On my Canon R you find these options under “Lens Aberration Correction” where there are five individual options. For the images above, I turned all of these off.
You can see that at f/1.4 the vignetting is strong. It is much less at f/1.8 and at f/2.8 it is almost gone. In these images you can also see the barrel distortion which does not seem to change with aperture.
Note that programs, such as Adobe’s Camera Raw, can correct many of these aberrations or reduce them. Vignetting and barrel distortion is almost completely corrected.
What else can we see? well, sharpness in the center is good across the board. Stopping down does improve it but that may simply be apparent because the contrast improves. Sharpness in the corners is a different matter. At f/1.4 this lens is soft in the far corners. This improves dramatically as we stop down. Have a look at the images below.
At f/1.4 this lens is soft in the corners (look at the above image on the left). Soft, yes, but definitely better than the 50mm f/1.8 STM. But then this lens costs about 3 times as much. At f/2.8 (Middle) the image is pretty good in the corner and at f/8 (right) the corners are excellent.
Wide open at f/1.4 the subject is sharply delineated from the background. The depth of field is almost impossibly shallow but the bokeh is smooth and creamy.
You will notice that we have not discussed color correction. That seems to be a non issue in this lens. It is well controlled.
This is a great lens. Between the in camera corrections and software improvements in the computer, images are great. Obviously using the lens wide open is to be reserved for special applications: for shallow depth of field and great bokeh or in very low light situations. Sharpness in the center is great almost out to the edges.
The welcome news is that in normal shooting situations, f/5.6 thru f/11, this lens is truly excellent. This is the EF 50mm that I intend to use for now until I can afford one of the high end L series 50’s.
Normal subjects, such as this bouquet of early spring flowers in Susan’s garden will be shot stopped down. This image was taken at f/4 which is still pretty wide. I try to shoot normally at f/8 or f/11. You can see in this image that depth of field is a problem. I should have stopped down further. However, looking at the upper right portion of the blossoms you can see the quality of the image in the 100% enlargement of that area which is below.