If you have been reading my reviews and blogs, you probably know that I am a big fan of 50mm lens. I have used a few in my time, mostly from Canon of course and what I am reviewing here is probably by far the best option for any photographer who wants a 50mm lens, whether you are a pro or beginner.
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 is the cheapest Canon lens you can buy today. It has always been the cheapest but don’t be fooled by the price. Indeed, it’s a cracking little fella. I used to own the original 50mm f/1.8 lens back in the film days. When I was a poor student, I could only afford two lenses, the Canon EF 35mm f/2 and this 50mm f/1.8. I bought them two secondhand so they came cheap. But I loved them and in fact, I still own the 35mm f/2, review here, but sadly my 50mm f/1.8 was broken and since there was no parts available, I couldn’t get it repair, even though I was deeply connected to it. I eventually replaced with the brilliant Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG EX HSM, review HERE.
So why this lens?
I probably would say the same thing here because there’s so much I could write about a 50mm lens. To most people, the 50mm focal length represents human view of field and it’s the closest in replicating what human eyes see, in terms of perspective and angle of view. So forget about kit zooms, I would suggest any beginner to get a 50mm and start practicing photography with this. Oh by the way, I am talking about full frame user here. If you have a cropped sensor camera like the Canon EOS 7D or 70D, then get a 35mm f/2 from Canon or 35mm 1.4 DC from Sigma, which are the equivalent of 50mm in full frame cameras.
Unless you have stacks of cash in hand, I wouldn’t suggest you get a zoom or anything like that to start your photography. Because it can confuse your learning and get you lazy. Having a prime will definitely make you work harder to get the shot you want and learn the relationship between depth of field and distance! Once mastered, then you can go on and get yourself a very nice fast professional zoom lens!
But I can talk about the versions of this Canon prime lens. Since Canon announced its EOS camera range and the ‘new’ EF mount, there are two version of this little affordable 50mm f/1.8 lens. Most people simply name them mark 1 and mark 2. The one I owned and loved was the mark 1 lens. While either lenses are the ‘lowest’ of the EF lens lineup, they are largely plastic. In fact the mark 1 was much better made with metal lens mount and distance scale. The mark 2, essentially the same lens, was made entirely from plastic, including the mount. Canon also decided to ditch the distance scale to further save costs. So the mark 1 actually fetch for more money used these days than the mark 2 but it doesn’t really matter which version you choose, the image quality is exactly the same.
Using it in practice, good and bad
Whether it is mark 1 or mark 2, they are tiny and light. So when mounted on a camera, it feels good. Being a f/1.8 also means that you will see things better at night through the viewfinder. This is the inherent problem with any SLRs. Unless you got a very nice prism glass and nice glasses in between, you will find most consumer level SLR has a very dimmed viewfinder. Having a 1.8 lens will help by gathering more light though the lens into the reflecting mirror and eventually through the prism to your eye. Most kit zoom has a largest aperture of 3.5 and that’s really poor. While it may be sufficient in bright day light, it’ll become an eye test at night. That’s why sometimes people pay premium for a good viewfinders.
Apart from size and weight, focusing is speedy if not lightning fast. Either lens has Canon’s USM or STM motor so they are both slower and louder during focusing. Also, since either of these lenses is Canon’s ‘budget’ lens, the focus can seem a little ‘rough’ too. Don’t worry, they are ‘rough’ by nature because of the ‘plastic’ gearing inside. You just don’t expect the same silky smoothness from manual focus only lenses or the more expensive Canon lenses with USM or STM motors.
Ok, bads aside, the good thing, and the most important thing, is that it produces excellent quality image. As with majority of prime lenses, it’s sharp and contrasty. It may lack that little bit of punchy colour saturation from the ‘L’ lenses but since most people shoot digital these days and it’s not difficult to correct that in post. But some may like the ‘cool’ look from this lens. It’s a personal preference after all. Unless you are a pixel peeper and with a 20 plus megapixel camera, then you will be perfectly happy with this sub £100/USD lens. Not that is isn’t sharp but micro-contrast can be a little mushy (meaning that it can’t separate extreme small details too well). It’s still good but not as good as the ‘L’ series lenses.
50mm is a standard for 35mm photography and as said before, you simply can’t go wrong with any 50mm primes, whatever the manufacturer, from whatever era. The only way to differentiate them is how they each render the image and that will be the ‘look’ of the lens. But if you are telling a story or shooting reportage, then these ‘looks’ is simply irrelevant. But I always think 50mm is a good way to start your photography and a cheap and cheerful way to get a fast and sharp lens. Once outgrow the ‘your’ capability, not the camera, then move on and start exploring the million different focal lengths for different effects.
Canon’s 50mm are pretty good by any standard and any of these two versions of 50mm f/1.8 lens is good enough for 99% of any photographic needs. So, spend the £100 and get this and you will know what I mean! You will never regret it!