Canon EF 50 f/1.2L Lens Review
Canon EF 50 f/1.2L with Hood

Okay, let me say right up front that I owe some apologies regarding this lens. When Canon first released the lens in January of 2007 I opined that I would never buy this lens. I felt the 50mm focal length was rather boring on a full frame camera and then lens was so much more expensive than the 50 f/1.4 that I already owned, that I just couldn't see the value in the purchase. Others disagreed and pointed out the improved build, improved optics, the weather sealing and other aspects of the lens that earned it the L designation. Indeed, I held out for over 2 years before even trying this lens.

I had a chance to use one of these lenses earlier this year, though, and it won me over. The fact that it looks and feels like a slightly smaller version of one of my all time favorite lenses, the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II, may have had something to do with that. It's shorter, lighter (about 1/2 the weight), and focuses much faster than the 85L, but it delivers the same great picture quality and shares the robust and rugged build quality.

The 50mm f/1.2L uses a Ring USM which is a significant improvement over the 50mm f/1.4. The lens does, however, use a front-focusing design. This means the large front elements retract and extend within the lens barrel. This, and the large amount of glass that must be moved during focusing, prevents the lens from being a fast focusing lens like the 135L which uses a rear-focusing design. Still, the focus speed is much better than the 85L and the focusing system is mechanical as opposed to the 85L's electronic design which requires the lens to be energized to enable manual focusing.

,The focus ring movement is smooth and well damped which is to be expected in a lens of this price. Full Time Manual Focus (FTM) is, of course, available with the Ring USM focusing mechanism. The minimum focusing distance is .45 meters (17.7 inches). With a filter attached, the lens is weather-sealed and the construction, according to Canon, is dust and moisture proof even under harsh conditions.

Natural Light Portrait at f/1.2

While not the fastest in Canon's lens lineup, the autofocus is still very accurate due to the high-speed CPU and the optimized AF focusing algorithm. Some photographers have reported focus shift issues below f/2.8, some even declaring the lens unusable below f/2, but I certainly haven't seen that issue at all. My copy is sharp at f/1.2 with no focus issues at all.

The supplied ES078 hood attaches via a bayonet style mount and is has a flocked black interior to help absorb light. The hood is made out of high impact plastic and is very easy to mount. I reverse mount my hood on the lens for easy storage. Filter size on this lens is 72 mm making it easy to share filters with many other Canon L primes such as the 35 f/1.4L, the 85 f/1.2L, the 135 f/2L and the 200 f/2.8L.

The lens contains 8 elements in 6 groups and includes a large, high-precision aspherical element made from highly refractive glass. While this lens is not the sharpest in the Canon L lineup, sharpness isn't everything and this lens has a lot going for it. The bokeh is unbeatable, even by the 85L which is renown for its smooth out-of-focus areas. The well-designed aperture diaphragm made up of 8 blades which form a circular aperture. Of course, the large f/1.2 aperture allows for an incredibly shallow depth of field and a bright viewfinder image.

Although the 50 f/1.2 L is considered the top dog in this focal length, it definitely comes at a price, retailing at about $1400 USD at the time of this writing. This lens is definitely not for everyone. Most photographers will find the Canon EF 50 f/1.4 lens to be more than adequate for their photographic needs. If, however, you want the very best quality lens in this focal length and you're willing to pay the price, this may be a lens to add to your collection.

Technical Details for this Lens

Additional Images

Outdoor @ f/1.2L
Outdoor f/3.2
Outdoor Glamour @f/3.5
Fun Glamour @ f/5.6
Wizard Island @ f/4.5


2008 Mark Cohran, All Rights Reserved
Latest Revision: January 31, 2011