Monday, December 28, 2009

Canon EF 50mm f1.4 vs 50mm f1.8

The Canon EF 50mm f1.4 Lens and Canon EF 50mm f1.8 Lens are both great lenses for Canon users in the market for a prime lens. Being a prime lens means that the focal length is fixed at 50mm, so the only zooming is done with your feet. At 50mm, I've found that I'm usually the right distance away from people anyway, so that's really not too much of a problem for me.

I started out using the f1.8 lens early on for one simple reason - price. At under $100, it's an AMAZING value. I was looking to improve my wedding pictures, and this was the lens that started the journey. The 1.8 aperture was perfect because I could consitently get a really blurred out background, which gave my pictures that professional feel that I wasn't getting with my f5.6 lens. Being able to open the aperture up to f1.8 also worked well with my natural light style of shooting because that let in more light. The optical quality of the glass was good - exactly what I would have expected for a prime lens. The image sharpness was consistently sharp. It was much better than the sharpness using the lens I had gotten with the camera.

While the f1.8 could open up to a fairly wide open aperture, I had a hard time using the lens in some low-light scenarios like at wedding receptions. The problem I had was getting the lens to focus correctly. The focus motor was loud, but at the reception this wasn't too big of a deal. When it finally did focus, I found that frequently the moment that I was trying to capture was over or the focus wasn't completely correct.

I never had a problem with the f1.8 breaking, but I always felt like I was holding a toy. The lens was obviously plastic, and didn't feel like the build was too solid. I never felt comfortable with the lens in the rain because I had a feeling it wasn't built to take the moisture.

I ended up getting the 50mm f1.4 to replace my f1.8. It turned out to be a good upgrade. The price was still fairly reasonable - especially when compared to Canon's L series lenses. The focus motor was the USM version, which I had heard good things about. The build quality was MUCH more solid. It definitely didn't feel like a toy any more. This was a serious piece of equipment for professional photographers.

I didn't think I'd end up needing to open the aperture up to 1.4 too often, but I've definitely used that more than I would have expected. Bonus! The clarity is a little better, which is an improvement over the f1.8's already good clear images. The only thing I'm a little dissapointed about with this lens is that the "USM" motor is not nearly as good as the USM motor in an L Series lens. I've managed to make due at wedding receptions because it's easy enough to get the focus dead on after a couple tries, but it's not nearly as smooth or exact as some of our other lenses. Only after purchasing the lens did I find out that "USM" doesn't always mean the same thing - there are multiple types of USM motors. Good enough for most situations, but I don't think I'd use this lens at a basketball game because of the motor.

I've been considering upgrading to the Canon EF 50mm f1.2 L Series Lens. I'm guessing that this would completely solve the focusing issues because this has the REAL USM motor. It's possible that I might even use the 1.2 aperture, not sure. With L series glass, I can't even imagine how perfect the image quality would be. The only real drawback I have is the price. I guess I'm a little spoiled with the fairly low prices of the f1.8 and f1.4 counterparts. I can still make do with the f1.4, so it will still probably be a few years before the f1.2 enters my collection of lenses.

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