Canon EF 50 f/1.4 Lens Review
Canon EF 50 f/1.4 with Hood

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 prime lens is a definite step up from its little brother, the 50mm f/1.8 (also known as the nifty fifty). The 50mm f/1.4 boasts a metal rear lens plate, a larger aperture, USM focusing, a distance scale and a much heftier price tag than the 50mm f/1.8 (about 3.5x higher). But, for me, it's definitely worth it.

Although I find the 50mm focal length to be pretty boring on a full frame film or digital camera, it's a great focal length for me on a 1.6x crop body as it has the equivalent Field of View as an 80mm lens on a full frame camera. I find this lens quite useful for indoor events where its low light capability is most needed. Because of the large maximum aperture, low light focusing is much easier, especially in manual mode.

Although the lens is slightly soft wide open, it becomes sharp by f/2 and by f/2.8 is quite sharp. It has been reported that some halation is present at f/1.4 along with some Chromatic Aberration, but I have not noticed it much in my copy, though I seldom uses it in circumstances that would accentuate those defects. There is some light fall off at the edges when used on a full frame body, but this is gone by about f/2 and in any case is easily corrected in Photoshop.

The focus ring movement is a bit rough, and is not well damped like the much more expensive L lenses, however, unless you use manual focus a great deal, this probably won't bother you. The focus ring is wider than that of the 50mm f/1.8 and the lens overall is has a much better build. The lens uses a Micro USM AF motor rather than Ring USM. The makes the focus a bit slower and not as well damped as lenses that utilize Ring USM. The Micro USM does, however, still allow for full time manual focus (FTM). Minimum focusing distances is 1.5 feet (0.46 meters ) which allows for nicely framed headshots. The lens utilizes an focusing system with a non-rotating front element, but the lens does extend slightly (about 1/4 inch) when focusing. The eight-bladed aperture helps to provide a good quality of background and foreground blur (bokeh) and colors and contrast are quite good from f/2 and smaller apertures.

Natural Light Portrait at f/2.0

The optional ES-71 II 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 58 mm making it easy to share filters with many other Canon consumer lenses such as the EF 85mm f/1.8, the 100mm f/2, and the 100mm f/2.8.

The lens contains 7 elements in 6 groups which include two high-refraction glass elements. As to be expected with a prime, flare is well controlled at all apertures and images are well saturated with excellent color rendition. The lens is quite light at 0.64 lbs (290 grams), and is quite good for hiking as it can easily be carried in a vest pocket.

Although the 50 f/1.2 L is considered the top dog in this focal length, the 50 f/1.4 provides exceptional value for the price. In fact, I have seen fewer complaints about this lens than I have about the 50mm f/1.2 L.

This lens was first marketed in 1993 and is still in production. It can be purchased from reputable online vendors for about $309 USD at this writing. In comparison, the 50 f/1.8 is available for about $90 and the 50mm f/1.2 L costs $1360 from the same reputable vendor. Be aware that the hood must be purchased separately as hoods are not provided in the package with the Canon consumer lenses.

Technical Details for this Lens

Additional Images

Indoor Low Light
Outdoor f/8.0
Low Light Portrait
Glamour at f/4
Makayla at f/2


2008 Mark Cohran, All Rights Reserved
Latest Revision: November 19, 2009