"The Canon 50mm f1.8 v Canon 50mm f1.4 - Which did/would you choose?"
A 50mm prime lens is something that all photographers should own, and if you shoot a Canon dslr you have three Canon branded 50mm lenses to choose from, being the 50mm f1.2L (top end and uber expensive), the 50mm f1.4 (mid-range) and the 50mm f1.8 (cheap and cheerful).
The 50mm f1.2L is by far the best of the three but with a four figure price tag it is costly and you need very deep pockets to buy one. I would love a 50mm f1.2L lens however there is no way I could justify the high price tag, and I know of many photographers who feel the same. I do earn money doing photography gigs but I don’t make my living from it so this lens is a reach too far for me.
With the f1.2L over my budget the only options left was the f1.4 and the f1.8. Before I invested in my 50mm prime lens I did a fair amount of research and also went to the local camera shop (I am fortunate enough to live close to Warehouse Express) to take some test shots. In the end I decided the f1.4 was best left on the shop shelf and I ended up buying the f1.8 model. Out of the f1.4 and the f1.8 the f1.8 is the better buy and here’s why…………..
The 50mm f1.4 has the widest maximum aperture of the two lenses it is too soft when used wide open. I know that sharpness is subjective, and what is sufficiently sharp for one photographer isn’t sharp enough for another but images captured with the f1.4 aperture aren’t too sharp at all. The only way I could get sharp photos was to stop the lens down to f1.8, and the sharpness is far better at this aperture, but having to stop the lens down defeats the objective of paying the extra to shoot at f1.4.
In real world shooting conditions the image quality of the f1.4 and f1.8 are very similar, however I have read that if you go pixel peeping the f1.4 has better image quality than the f1.8. This may be the case when you zoom right in on the computer, but in the real world no-one does that. If you print the photos and compare them side by side you will not notice the difference in image quality, unless an aperture of f1.8 was used.
Using an aperture of 1.8 the f1.4 is slightly sharper than the f1.8, but given the f1.4 is stopped down at this point and the f1.8 is wide open this is to be expected as no lens is at its sharpest used wide open. The thing is, photos with the f1.8 shot at f1.8 are slightly soft but they are acceptably sharp, and sharper than the 50mm f1.4 shot wide open.
I cannot deny that the 50mm f1.4 build quality is superior to the f1.8 model. The f1.8 is mainly plastic and it feels more like a child’s toy than a serious bit of photography equipment, but then given the cost of the f1.8 you really can’t expect too much. Even though the 50mm f1.8 does feel like it’ll break in five minutes I have to say that this isn’t the case. I have had my f1.8 for several years now and it is still as good today as the day I bought it. My 50mm f1.8 has got a few scratches, scrapes and battle scars (I do give my photography equipment quite a bit of abuse, and more than I really should do) but other than that there is nothing wrong with my 50mm f1.8 at all. The auto focus still works, the image quality is still there and the manual focusing ring still operates as it should.
There is a huge disparity in the cost of the two 50mm lenses, and you can buy the f1.8 for £109 and the f1.4 for £349! Since the image quality is basically the same you’re paying an extra £240 for slightly better materials – and the better quality materials are definitely not worth an extra two hundred and forty quid! Thinking about it in a different way, you can buy three f1.8 lenses (and still have money left over to buy some UV filters for protection) for the cost of one f1.4 lens. So, you’re better off buying the f1.8 and, if the sticky stuff hits the fan and it does break. Based on my experience with the 50mm f1.8 it will not break using it the way you should use it. If you break the f1.8 lens you are either unlucky, been careless and had a mishap or are abusing the lens, and if any of these apply the f1.4 lens will also break.
In my opinion the Canon 50mm f1.4 is a total waste of money and a lens best avoided. Whilst the build quality is better than the 50mm f1.8 and the image quality is marginally better it isn’t £240 better than the 50mm f1.8.
So what do you think is the best (affordable) Canon 50mm lens – the 50mm f1.8 or the 50mm f1.4? Please feel free to vote and share your opinions. I look forward to your thoughts.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.