A 50mm prime lens is a lens that all photographers should have in their lens bag. The 50mm lens is ideal for portrait photography, low light photography, indoor photography and as a general walkabout lens. 50mm lenses are small, light, discreet and a real pleasure to use, however it does take a bit of time and practice to learn how to get the most out of them.
All the major manufacturers make 50mm prime lenses, and whilst the third party lenses (i.e. those made by Sigma and Tamron, to name just two) are a little cheaper than the camera manufacturers lenses they aren’t worth buying. A few years back I thought I would save myself a few quid and bought a Tamron 50mm lens instead of the Canon 50mm lens and it was utter trash. The lens was cheap and nasty, and the image quality was terrible. Needless to say I didn’t have that lens very long and traded it in against the canon 50mm, losing a load of cash in the process. Based on my experience I would say buy the Canon in the first instance.
Canon make three 50mm prime lenses, consisting of the 50mm F1.2L, the 50mm F1.4 and the 50mm F1.8. The F1.2L is a beast of a lens that is stupidly expensive, and not worth buying for everyday use, unless you have very deep pockets or need it for professional use. Dismissing the F1.2L leaves the F1.4 and the F1.8, both of which are more affordable and more suitable to photography enthusiasts.
In reality, there were two 50mm lenses available to me and that was the Canon 50mm F1.8 and the Canon 50mm F1.4. Before I bought my 50mm Canon prime lens I did a lot of research in to each of the lenses, I went to the local camera shop to touch and feel each of the lenses, and I took several test shots with each of the lenses. Long story short I bought the 50mm F1.8 and the reasons why are…………
Image quality. The image quality of the F1.8 is marginally better than that of the F1.4. Okay, in the real world there is no difference when looking at a physical photo or Jpeg file, but if you go pixel peeping you will see the F1.8 has slightly better image quality. Even when the F1.8 is used wide open the image quality is better than the F1.4 stopped down to F1.8, which I find surprising. The image quality of the F1.4 used wide open is terrible and it is not an aperture you’d want to shoot at, which kind of renders the additional 2/3rds of a stop pointless.
Bokeh, i.e. the out of focus background. The out of focus background the F1.8 produces is something else, and absolutely stunning. The F1.4’s bokeh is nice, but it is not as pleasing as that of the F1.8.
Price. The F1.8 is way cheaper than the F1.4. In fact, you can pick up multiple copies of the F1.8 for the cost of a single F1.4, so you can have a spare. If you want the best bang for your buck, and we all like a bargain right? The 50mm F1.8 is the lens to buy. I am stunned Canon can make and sell a lens that has this image quality for such little money. It really is outstanding.
There is one area where the F1.4 beats the F1.8 and that is in build quality. The F1.8 looks and feels like it is a child’s toy rather than a serious bit of photography equipment. The F1.4 looks more solid, feels more solid and is made out of better quality materials. Even though the F1.8 is made out of inferior materials it is more than capable of providing years of trouble free service, providing you look after it. I have had my 50mm F1.8 for a little over six years now and it is as good today as it was the day I first bought it. Okay, it has a few scrapes and looks well used but the image quality hasn’t suffered at all.
If you are thinking of buying a 50mm prime lens and are torn between the F1.4 and the F1.8 I would recommend getting the F1.8, like I did. Okay, the F1.8 may not be as well made as the F1.4 but with superior image quality, more pleasing bokeh and a much lower price tag the 50mm F1.8 really is a no brainer.
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.