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50mm 1.4 vs 85mm 1.8

SHELLEY S , Jun 16, 2006; 02:50 p.m.

I'm looking to purchase a prime lens for my digital rebel xt. I currently own 17-85mm 4-5.6 and no other lenses (I'm very new at this). I'm considering the 85mm 1.8 or 50mm 1.4. I don't think I can go "wrong" with either but I'm curious what lens I would get the most milage out of? I primarly take photos of kids. I really appreciate your advise.


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M Barbu , Jun 16, 2006; 02:57 p.m.

Are the kids indoors or outside? How close to them can you get, or how far away can you be?

Jim D , Jun 16, 2006; 03:04 p.m.

Get the 50 1.4.

The 50 is Canon's bread and butter lens. It is very fast, very sharp, and very contrasty. 85 will be too long for you on your XT, 136mm? I doubt you want that unless you are only using it for tight portraits, then maybe.

I personally would highly reccommend the 50mm f/1.8II. Slightly slower than the 1.4 but just as good picture quality, IMO. The 1.4 may give you a little better background blur (more diaphragm blades = true circular aperture = smoother blur). The 1.4 has a USM motor, but the micromotor on the 1.8 is very fast. The 1.8 mkII is cheaply built, I guess, with a plastic mount and all. But, I have used it for many years without any reliabilty issues. It hasn't broken yet, and I haven't exactly pampered it. The glass, the stuff you take the picture through, is of no compromise quality.

Heres the kicker, the 1.8 costs $80! That's much less than the 1.4 without giving up much performance. Something to consider, especially if you are new to this.

PS, sometimes you can find a 50mm f/1.8I used (note the mark I designation behind the 1.8 instead of the II above). I have seen used ones for around $100. Do a search as many swear the original is better than the II because it is better built, has a metal mount, and is easier to manual focus. I think it also has that 8 blade diaphragm, right?

Joe R , Jun 16, 2006; 03:06 p.m.

Both lenses are about the same size, price and build quality. The 50/1.4 will probably be more versatile on a 1.6x crop camera. You might try setting your 17-85 to the 50 and 85 settings and leaving it there to determine which focal length suits your needs. If you are shooting low light indoors, the 50/1.4 does not have the best AF performance, whereas the 85/1.8 works well.

Steve Dunn , Jun 16, 2006; 03:09 p.m.

Optically, you're right that you can't go wrong with either one; they're both dramatically faster (in terms of aperture) than your 17-85, and optically, they're both very good, easily good enough for professional use. So the choice comes down to focal length. You already have both focal lengths covered by your 17-85. Which focal length do you use the most?

Rainer T , Jun 16, 2006; 03:10 p.m.

Hi Shelley,

both are excellent lenses. The 85/1.8 is better build, and has a true ring-USM (therefore focuses faster than the 50/1.4 does).

I have both, and generally I use the 50 more often indoors and the 85 more often outdoors. (This has not very much to do with the 50 being f/1.4 and the 85 being "only" f/1.8 ... it's more that the 85 is often already too long for indoor use).

If the budget is too tight to get both you might consider to take the 85/1.8 plus the 50/1.8 (which is quite cheap).

If you only think of taking one lens, take the 50 if it's more for indoors and the 85 if it's more for outdoors.

(Besides the 85/1.8 for outdoors the 100/2 is a great lens for outdoors as well).

just my 2 cts ... Rainer

SHELLEY S , Jun 16, 2006; 04:00 p.m.

Thank you for the input. The advise helps. I'm mainly shooting kids... my kids (ages 8,4 & 1). I take a lot of my shots outdoors. I guess because my outdoor shots always outshine the indoors with my current lens. I have a feeling shooting the baby with the 85 may be challenging but I keep thinking in the long run (with sports, recitals etc) the 85 may get the most use. I also had considered getting the 85 and later getting the 50 1.8. My budget wouldn't allow for both the 85 1.8 and 50 1.4. I really wanted to invest in one good, long-term prime lens. Thanks again for your reponses!

Terry Smith , Jun 16, 2006; 04:56 p.m.

A couple of other possibilities would be the 100/2.8 macro (non-USM) or the 135/2.8 Soft Focus lens. You should be able to get either one used for less than an 85/1.8 new and they both go beyond the range of the 17-85. The 100 macro will open up a whole new world to you beyond portraits and the SF lens works as a normal 135mm with full sharpness or as a soft portrait lens. The longer focal lengths will work well with your two youngest children and will give you close-ups of the oler one from a greater working distance.

Dan Mitchell , Jun 16, 2006; 05:09 p.m.

One strategy would be to use that 17-85mm for awhile and note what focal lengths you use most, particularly indoors and in low light situations since the larger aperture is possibly the most significant new features you will see from either of these primes. (They are both within your current focal length range - though the zoom is less "sharp" than either of them.)

For my money (and I own an XT) I would probably make the 50mm my first prime. I have the f/1.4 version and it is a fine lens. On the 1.6 crop factor XT it is a great length for portraits and works for pictures of the kids in plays, etc. at school as long as I can sit near the front. (It is a mild telephoto on the XT.)

Another thought would be to look for a lens that extends the range provided by your 17-85 rather than duplicating it. For example, one of the 70-200mm L zooms would be a good choice.


Chuck C(CharlotteNC) , Jun 16, 2006; 06:28 p.m.


I think you might have missed Rainer T's suggestion above about :

"If the budget is too tight to get both you might consider to take the 85/1.8 plus the 50/1.8 (which is quite cheap)"

I was going to make this same suggestion... get the 85 f1.8 and the 50 f1.8.

The 85 f1.8 is $340 - $25 rebate and the 50 f1.8 is $80.

I have both and I actually use both indoors and outdoors. In fact, I like using the 85 f1.8 indoors... I get lots of head and shoulders shots that typically are candid because I'm usually not that close.

And, I consider the 50 f1.8 the best price performer of all the Canon lenses.

And the 85 f1.8 is one of Canon's top rated lenses.

I hope this helps.


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