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Canon EOS 50/1.0L

by Philip Greenspun, 1995


This is the fastest lens on the market today. It costs over $2500. It is huge and heavy, a solid cube of optical glass. The image quality it produces is almost certainly lower than what you'd get with a 50/1.4 or 50/1.8. There aren't too many good reasons to own a 50/1.0 but sometimes you really do need that extra stop.

Note: unless otherwise noted, images on this page are from my Summer 1994 travelogue and are Fuji Super G ISO 400 print film.

Here's a simulation of an Aegis missile cruiser's control room. Lots of dim displays and video monitors. f/1.0 and 1/15 if memory serves. I braced my elbows on armrests to steady the camera.

Inside Elvis's house (Graceland) looking at his coffeetable and EP paperweight. This was f/1.0 and 1/60th or maybe f/1.2 and there isn't much depth of field but somehow that seems to make the letters stand out better.

Bourbon Street

Niagara Falls, Canadian Side. Everyone knows that they light up Niagara Falls, right? Well, apparently not after midnight in the low season. f/1.0 and 20 seconds with Fuji Velvia (ISO 50).

Rendezvous. Memphis, Tennessee. A rib joint in Memphis. Low light. Noisy crowd. The perfect place for a $700 SLR and $2500 lens. How else would you capture the scene? Would you believe a $120 Yashica T4 set on a table edge, self-time, flash off? ISO 400 film.

Oh yeah, it seems to work OK for regular photography.


Text and pictures copyright 1995 Philip Greenspun

Article created 1995

Readers' Comments


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Agnius Griskevicius , November 04, 1998; 12:09 A.M.

I had an idea of photographing halloween parade without flash with this f1 lens and tmax 3200 film. The experiment was a dismal failure. First, there wasn't enough light for the auto focus to work properly, especially with all the moving bodies arround me, second, the meter was also acting kinda funny, underexposing my film. Eventully I came to my senses and poped on a 540EZ flash, and that made things more usable. Also, this lens takes a loooooong time to go from one end to another (as compared to 28-70L zoom), and there is a distance limitting switch on it. Use it, or you'll be waiting for a long time as the lens travels back and forward. For the conclusion, always test the equipment beforehand. I am glad I did, now I know what to expect (and what not to). $30 well spent.

barry linkletter , December 22, 1998; 01:39 A.M.

Speaking of hallowe'en parades I'd just like to add my two cents. I recently went out with my newly purchased but well used Canon AE-1 program and a 1.4 50 mm lense to photo graph Hallowe'en night in Santa Barbara. Of course the meter failed miserably but I was using 3200 Tmax film and calculated that at f1.4 an expossure of 1/60th would not fry the film nor leave it blank. At night all pictures had very dark areas and overexposed areas as the subjects were in the dark, illuminated by bright point sources (street lights and car headlights). Tmax film has enough breadth of contrast so that in the darkroom I was able to get great prints for more than 1/3rd of my negatives. My advice for all of those who buy very fast lenses is to get manual focus models. Even through the view finder of my AE-1 there wasn't enough light to focus so I estimated the distance and focused with the distance markings on the lense barrel. In zero light manual lenses rule. You can only take you best guess at focuss and exposure and bracket liberally. Good luck.

Rotem Eren Rabinovich , April 03, 1999; 06:44 P.M.

Canon's 50mm f/1.0 is not THE fastest lens on the market today, it is one of the two fastest lenses on the market today. Leica also has a 50mm f/1.0 Noctilux for their M6 which, from what I understand from this review and those of the Leica, is a much better performer. When stopped down to f/4 or below it is supposed to be as good as the famous Leica 50mm f/2 Summercon. Amazingly, it costs only $400 more than Canon's lens! Actually, as far as hand-held pictures, one is much better off with a 35mm, 28mm, or 24mm f/1.4 because of the 1/30 shutter speed that can be used. The depth of field also improves substantially.

RER

wayne chiu , May 09, 1999; 05:45 A.M.

If you have money , this EF50/1.0 is worth buying and collecting.Because this king lens is made and designed by the most advenced technology. The reason for worth buying that is to appreciate for that peak tech lens.I have collected 2 lenses which are Leica M50/1.NOCTILUX and Nikkor 58/1.2 Noct. And nexttime I'll collect Contax Zeiss 55/1.2Planar and Canon EF 50/1.0L.

Rolf Rosing , November 29, 1999; 05:20 P.M.

err, wayne... i always thought that lenses were here to let us take photgraphs, and not really just to be collected...

Tom Just Olsen , September 14, 2000; 03:26 P.M.


'Balderblom' in June

I bought a Canon EF-lense collection from a devorcee (who wanted to make her ex. husband mad?), included this Canon EF 50/1,0. She had no idea about what it was worth, although she knew enough about photography to understand that a 50mm lense was 'a rather ordinary thing'... - I got it for a song together with a 300mm/2,8 with both converters and the zoom 17-35/2,8.

Of these lenses, I use the 50mm/1,0 the most frequent. Despite it's weight and rather slow and old fashioned AF. I can use it from bright daylight to light from light bulbs in the evening with 100 ASA film. And everything in between.

I live in Oslo, Norway. Up here in the high North we experience long and dark winters and short, but oh so beautiful summers. In June, sun sets at 22.15 and raises at 03.15 in Oslo. Some 200 km farther north in Norway, we have midnight sun; sunshine 24 hours a day. This gives endless oportunities to shoot pictures in all kinds beautiful settings with 'marginal light'. For this kind of photography, the EF 50mm/1,0 is a valuable tool.

Indoor in a social setting, it causes no disturbance. People think 'you are only fooling around' with your camera, - having no belief that any successful pictures can be made by light from electric light bulbs only. So, they feel more relaxed. - No flashes awakes attention and turns the whole restaurant silent.

One comes to think of the legendary Ermanox-camera of the 20'. This glas-negative-camera with a 2,0 lense made Eric Solomon, formally dressed up like the politicians he documented, able to shoot indoor press photographs without flash for the first time. He documented the negotiations after WWI and made many of the classical legendary political documentary photos of it's time.

The 50 mm/1,0 is a fantastic portrait-lense, for which it was originally intended. A classical setting would be close to a window with indirect light, - preferably with a slide projector screene or something lighting up on the shaddow-side. It draws faces so beautiful that old ugly bats think they look pritty. As my neighbours daughter told me, coming home from her first year at a photography and media school; 'the most important thing is that the people you photograph like the pictures'. They love them! - That's worth a lot of money, isn't it?

Performance? Only marginally (theoretically?) less sharp than Leica's competing product, but with very similar characteristics. Look up: http://www.photodo.se/nav/prodindex.html and see how the lab-guys at Hasselblad, Sweden, say about them. - And it is still the fastest SLR-lense in the World.

Downsides? Bulky/heavy/expencive! The slow AF and the manual focusing that can only be used with camera 'on'. With aparture 1,0, the field of dept is very small; at close range, only a few millimetres. This gives also a good oportunity to 'focus' the pictures 'on the right thing'. I can't say I have always managed this, but often see afterwards 'what I should have focused on instead'. The 50 mm/1,0 must be a fantastic tool in the hands of those who master 'advanced and demanding compositions'... - So the 50mm/1,0 still gives me challanges I find facinating.

Tom Just Olsen , October 13, 2000; 06:17 P.M.

I have now had my 50mm/1,0 and have accumulated some negative experience I think others might find useful.

1) When being used on aparure 1,0 and AF, it is VERY difficult to focus sharp. The best is to do it manually. And look closely and take your time, the chance that the extremely short sharp field of dept really hits what is supposed to be sharp. Like eyes in a portrait.

2) Take this classical 'portrait situation'; a peson by the window in indirect light: Forget about any average or 'programmed' light metering. Use spot! Otherwise your pictures get too light on the part of the face facing the window. More so with 50mm/1,0 than with any other lense I know.

Like so often in photgraphy; the 50mm/1,0 solves a few problems, but creates just as many new ones. this is certainly a very challanging lense to use.

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Comme des garcons , October 29, 2000; 08:52 A.M.

Dear 50mm F 1.0 fans, I want to ask a question as I observe an even very very small bubble spread at the canon 50mm F 1.0 inside the front optics ,but I 've test many time & it didn't affect the resolution at a result even at full apearture F 1.0 & F.16. Any fans know that it's a problem of the lens or the bubble at the optics is very common. All the best F 1.0

Comme des garcons , October 29, 2000; 09:01 A.M.

Dear 50mm F 1.0 fans, which 50mm lens is worth to own at their characteristics: Leica Noctilux 50 F 1.0, Canon EF 50 F 1.0 or Canon RF F 0.95 Thanks for your valuable comment CDG

Flavio Egoavil , February 26, 2002; 07:16 P.M.

That should be a very nice lens! I have the Canon FD 55mm f1.2 SSC (mine is from 1973) and it's a very nice lens; with normal contrast at full aperture and great sharpness (120 lines/mm center at f2 onwards and 120/107 center/corner at f4.5). It has good performance at normal (i.e. f5.6) apertures, but contrast is not as high as the famous Canon FD 50mm f1.4. Canon had also an aspheric version of this lens, which was very expensive. I don't have the aspheric one, but my standard (non-aspheric) version is a nice high quality lens, and it's well built too. Ultra Fast lenses (faster than f1.8) have a reputation of being low in contrast and sharpness, but if canon made such a nice lens in 1973 then i suppose the 50/1.0 is the best quality lens you can get for that aperture (I believe it's an aspheric lens). And yes, that kind of lenses are heavier, but i think it allows me to hold better the camera at lower speeds.

William Foulk , January 03, 2003; 09:54 A.M.

The 50/1.0 is not a good lens for the novice or even an impatient "expert". I fell in the middle of that spectrum when I got mine. The very narrow DOF at F1.0 caused me problems, primrily because I was trying to use that aperature on everything I shot. For example, an otherwise beautiful protrait came out with one eye in extremely sharp focus and the other incredably soft. Since my early experiences with this lens, I have learned that few if any lens give their best results when wide open or at miminum aperatures; the 50/1.0 L is no exception. The bottom line is that it is a great lens once you have gone through a rather long learning period.

Mike Nunan , February 18, 2003; 08:39 A.M.

I've just noticed that the Canon USA and UK websites no longer appear to list this lens, so maybe Leica now have the 50 f/1.0 market (such as it is) to themselves now. Either that, or Canon are about to release a new version with USM and perhaps even DO...

Christian Deichert , May 14, 2003; 11:46 A.M.

For the Minolta manual focus users who read this article (well, there was at least one, so it's a viable possibility): Feel that you need a brighter lens? The MC Rokkor-X PG 58mm f/1.2 is for you. This gem has 8 aperture blades (you have to love the bokeh) and stops down to f/16 for when you're actually shooting in daylight.

The kicker? This lens performs better on average than the legendary Noct Nikkor. It should, too, since the Rokkor was designed as a fast, normal lens, while the Noct Nikkor, with its aspheric front element, was really only designed to function optimally at f/1.2 (the aspheric design prevents coma). It's also tested better than other bright lenses, such as the Nikkor 55mm f/1.2 lens.

Now, if you've done your homework, you'll know that Minolta also made the MD 50mm f/1.2, which was produced well after the 58/1.2. Don't be fooled -- this one ain't as good. Go for the MC Rokkor-X over the MD (true here, and a good general rule in my book).

OK, so I'm sure there are a few people who know that "Rokkor-X" means that it was produced in the mid-to-late 70's for the North American market. What about the rest of us, you ask? Don't worry -- just go for the MC Rokkor PG 58mm f/1.2 with rubber focusing grips and not the older version. The difference is in the lens coating -- the older lenses have inferior multicoating.

Also, many of the older 58mm f/1.2 lenses were made with radioactive rare earth elements. Doesn't mean they're going to mutate you, but it does mean that these lenses are more likely to yellow from radioactive decay -- I've seen several examples in camera shops.

Andreas Holmström , January 12, 2004; 05:36 P.M.

Hello Guys!

I have just bought this lens. I found one in marvelous condition. Not a singel scratch even on the housing. This is very rare for a "L" -series lens.

I bought it from a man who is a semi-professional photographer, and runs his own paper print.

He sold it, because he realised that he was using it less and less. So he thought that a lens this rare is better to sell onward instead of sitting in a box.

I payed 1400€ for the lens, I think that makes about 1600$. I think it was a bargain, remembering this is the only 1.0 lens in the world besides Leicas... And the new price in Finland was about 3300€.

I bought it today, so I have'nt had time to test it yet, but I will return with a full review.

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Anson Ko , January 18, 2007; 07:42 P.M.

To be exact, Canon is the ONLY one makes the fastest AF lens. Leica lens is not AF. I am getting mine soon. Will see what happens.

David Darby , January 05, 2008; 02:33 A.M.

I got mine! Its a beaut!

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David Rusi , April 16, 2011; 07:31 A.M.

I am currently selling my Canon 50mm 1.0 L.  Excellent condition as I was given a bunch of lenses from an older friend, but I don't like the focal length of 50 much, in general, and if I can get what some people have paid for it, it seems like a good idea.

I'm selling it for $3500 if anyone is interested.


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