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Canon EF 50/1.4 Lens

by Philip Greenspun, 1999 (updated March 2011)

Dublin, Ireland. Canon's 50/1.4 is a bit heavier than the 50/1.8 but it gives you simultaneous AF/MF because of its USM focusing motor. It is one f-stop slower than the 50/1.0 but much lighter weight and less than one-sixth the price.

If you are going to limit yourself to one 50mm prime lens, this is the natural choice. It is reasonably light in weight, a joy to focus manually or automatically, has an 8-blade diaphragm so that out-of-focus highlights look natural (good "bokeh"), and takes a bayonet lens hood.

If you're stuck with Canon EOS bodies, it won't cheer you to know that Popular Photography's comparison of 50/1.4 lenses showed the Contax/Zeiss 50/1.4 to be slightly better than Canon's. On the other hand, the Canon lens proved superior to Leica, Minolta, Nikon, and Pentax (in that order).

Where to Buy

Photo.net's partners have the Canon 50/1.4 lens available. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

Technical Data
Construction: 7 elements, 6 groups
Angle of view: 46 degrees (diagonal), 27 (vertical), 40 (horizontal)
Diaphragm Blades: 8
Focus motor: Micro USM (allows full-time manual focus)
Closest focusing: 0.45 m (1.5 ft) -- magnification of 0.15x
Filter size: 58 mm
Lens Hood: ES-71 (outside bayonet)
Length and diameter: 50.5 x 73.8 mm
Weight: 290 gm

My trip to Ireland

I bought the Canon 50/1.4 just before a business trip to Ireland. I only had two free days and my primary photographic tool was to be a Fuji 617 panoramic camera. I wanted something light but high quality to stick on a EOS-3 body for snapshots. Why not a zoom lens? I find it less mentally challenging to take pictures with a fixed lens. I don't have to spend time choosing a focal length before each photo. Anyway, here are the best of my snapshots during those two days (all with the EOS-3 body and Fuji NPH ISO 400 color negative film; no filters or lens hood;

Eve in Aer Lingus Business Class (thank you, Andersen Consulting). Dublin, Ireland. Eve making her first purchase (cosmetics) in Dublin, Ireland. Dublin, Ireland. International Financial Services Center (with famine monument in foreground). Dublin, Ireland. Citroen Deux Chevaux. Dublin, Ireland. Dublin, Ireland. Guiness Sign outside a pub in Laragh. South of Dublin, Ireland. Military Road (R115) in the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin, Ireland. Military Road (R115) in the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin, Ireland. Sheep in the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin, Ireland. Powerscourt. South of Dublin, Ireland. Powerscourt Waterfall. Wicklow Mountains. Ireland. Japanese Garden. Powerscourt. South of Dublin, Ireland. Powerscourt. South of Dublin, Ireland. Powerscourt. South of Dublin, Ireland. Japanese Garden. Powerscourt. South of Dublin, Ireland. Girl on a rocky beach north of Dublin, Ireland. Temple Bar. Dublin, Ireland. Joy of Coffee. Temple Bar. Dublin, Ireland. Temple Bar. Dublin, Ireland. Ha'penny Bridge. Dublin, Ireland. Bachelor's Walk. Dublin, Ireland. Dublin, Ireland. Dublin, Ireland. Dublin, Ireland. Dublin, Ireland. Dublin, Ireland. Molly Malone statue. Dublin, Ireland. Grafton Street. Dublin, Ireland. Crane. Dublin, Ireland. Temple Bar. Dublin, Ireland. Overturned Golf. Entering the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin, Ireland. Carlingford, Ireland. Carlingford, Ireland. House that in the guidebook had a lovely thatched roof. Carlingford, Ireland. Carlingford, Ireland.

My trip to Florida

Beach. Captiva Island, Florida Boca Grande. Gasparilla Island. SW Florida Shells in the morning on the beach at Sanibel Island, Florida Boca Grande. Gasparilla Island. SW Florida

My trip to Spain

Chinchon, Spain Chinchon, Spain Chinchon, Spain Toledo, Spain Woman and dog. Madrid, Spain Madrid, Spain Madrid, Spain Palacio Real. Madrid, Spain Palacio Real. Madrid, Spain Palacio Real. Madrid, Spain

Where to Buy

Photo.net's partners have the Canon 50/1.4 lens available. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

Text and pictures copyright 1999 Philip Greenspun
(Images scanned to PhotoCD by the good folks at Advanced Digital Imaging)

Article revised March 2011.

Readers' Comments

Add a comment

Joachim Hein , November 01, 1999; 02:42 P.M.

Hi Philip, I like your photographs and I like the perspective of photographs taken with a normal lens. A bit more text would be nice. I like your point on the mental challenge of the prime over the zoom.

A few comments: a) Since when do you care about what Pop-Photography writes?

b) A lot of the pics show noticable barrel distortion. Is it the lens? Or did this happen in the post-processing/scanning?

c) In addition to the mental challenge of being limited to a fixed focal length, I feel the camera balances more nicely than with a heavy zoom lens. Especially with a smaller camera than the EOS (e.g. Pentax MZ/ZX) you get a unit which is almost Point&Shoot size.

d) I would like to learn more on your experience with this lens.

e) I forgot: I don't care what Pop-Photography writes. It is just an expensive mail order catalog with incompetend comments by H. Keppler.

Philip Greenspun , November 01, 1999; 03:09 P.M.

Where do you see barrel distortion? (aside from in the Guiness barrel photos). The coffee house picture is the one that seems the straightest-on and I don't detect any in that.

Joachim Hein , November 01, 1999; 03:53 P.M.

Hi Philip, I would say all over the place.

Most obvious the pub-sign: "lynhams". On my monitor this one is obviously barrel distorted.

Pub entrances: `Black' and `The Noreseman'. Both of which on the left hand side.

The grid from the Batchelors Walk. Most obious on the right-hand side.

Right hand side on the `Joy of Coffee' house.

Have to say I am a bit puzzelt about you asking back and stating there is none, because it sort of cried out to me once I saw the tumbnails. Shifted the window around the monitor to see whether its curvature makes a difference, but it doesn't make a difference to me. So I don't know.

You didn't answer since when you care for Pop-Photography.

Keith Neundorfer , November 01, 1999; 03:56 P.M.

Some of the pub window edges are crooked, but i think that's because they are crooked. The yellow door flanked with white pillars is a good test and it looks plenty straight to me.

I really like this lens. I took some of my best photos with it. I can't remember why I sold it.

Nicholas Barry , November 03, 1999; 12:30 A.M.

These are great photos, Philip. I'm glad to see the 50mm/1.4 reviewed. I'm leaning heavily toward a combo of the Elan IIe and the 50mm/1.4 (as well as the 20mm/2.8) before I take a trip to Ireland in early April. This only makes it harder to save up the money to purchase the camera vs. buying on a credit card. Must... resist... the... plastic...

Anyway, in response to Joachim, I also do not see any barrel distortion. Maybe it's your monitor? I've got a terribly flat screen and I can't see any distortion (my monitor is one of those superflat jobbies from Mitsubishi). Everybody's setup is different I guess.

Regardless, it looks like a great lens.

Devin Shieh , November 03, 1999; 09:19 P.M.

Joachim, if you're talking about curvature, you're probably using an Invar Shadow Mask monitor, which is nice and round to produce huge amounts of distortion. If you have a properly calibrated, high-quality Trinitron (aperture grill) monitor (tubes produced by Sony & Mitsubishi), you will not see any distortion. My 50/1.4 does not have any distortion, and I can't see it in Phil's shots, either.

Joachim Hein , November 04, 1999; 09:58 A.M.

When making the comment on the barrel distortion, I was assuming that the black frames around the pics are supposed to be straight. When taking these as a reference on what is supposed to be straight, than there is barrel distortion in the pic. Having a look at a line running parallel to the frame, it is obvious to me, that it's center is closer to the frame than the edge.

My question was about, at which state of the processing chain this happened. I am not claiming that it is an unacceptable amount, and I have seen plenty of lenses which are worse, but to my eye it is there and on this nice pub-pictures it was one of the first things which cried out to me.

As I pointed out, I really like the pictures and hold this page is an excellent advertisment on the possibilities of a fast 50mm lens. I just would like a smaller body to fit it, but that is a personal choice.

To stop the discussion on monitors, I am using a flat Mitsubishi as well.

Devin Shieh , November 05, 1999; 03:39 P.M.

Joachim, you were talking about curvature and you have a flat screen!? Threw me off and of course I apologize. And you are right, upon much closer inspection in Photoshop, I can detect very slight distortion in the row with the two pubs and a coffee house. I had to use the crop tool to get a straight edge, but it is definitely there. You have good eyes.

David Bessey , November 06, 1999; 09:54 A.M.

I use an "aperture grille" monitor, Sony CPD-1425, and regardless of whether the tube is good, the electron streams bend around, causing distortion anyway. If they cared, then they would have adjusted the deflection system properly! A Sony monitor next time? Maybe not.

At least the lens is OK. The monitor is less important. (Besides, I use three monitors, the 1425 being only one of them.)

Matthew Amster , November 06, 1999; 10:59 A.M.

I like the cars, though I suppose they are better to look at than to drive. I still want one, though: they are so cute. And the way they fit inside the 50 so comfortably....

Jayson Staples , November 07, 1999; 01:23 P.M.

I noticed the barrel distortion, too. Faster "standard" lens tend to have more distortion unless it is corrected by an aspheric element and the inclusion of more lens elements. For example, the old Canon FD lenses go something like this: (based on my memory of Chasseur d'Image test results I'm too lazy to go find)

50 1.8...................... .4%

50 1.4...................... .6%

50 1.2...................... 1.2%

50 1.2 L (asp. element)..... .7%

Anything above .5% is usually noticeable, but more so on wide angle lenses. Very few lenses of any type are less than .3% barrel or pincushion.

BTW, I have an Eizo T550 with a Diamondtron flat screen, that I've calibrated pretty carefully. I recently saw a photo of Tim Berners-Lee and he was using...an Eizo. Eizo...the official monitor of the internet (hehehe)!

Bradley Phillip , November 09, 1999; 12:27 A.M.

Canon Elan IIE w/ EF 50/1.4 USM on Fuji Velvia. Exposure: 3 mins @ f/8

To add my two cents: I noticed the distortion in the thumbnails as well. For what it's worth, I also own an EF 50/1.4 and do not see this from my lens.

Phil: I agree with your USM review 110%. The micro-USM motor is crap. They put it on this lens and rigged up a mechanical gearing system to allow full-time manual. Mine has never felt silky smooth like the 17-35/2.8L or the 70-200/2.8L. (Yes, I know it's not an L lens). But on the other hand, I'd like to see much better manual focus action on a prime lens of this sort. The speed at which this lens snaps into focus seems to be quite slow, compared to my other Canon lenses, (especially when travelling from min. focus to max focus). Any comments?

Image quality is superb, though, and that's why it's the lens I leave on my body full time.


Bradley Phillip , November 10, 1999; 10:07 A.M.

Thanks, Tristan, for the nice compliment.


Bent Are Iversen , November 11, 1999; 07:45 A.M.

Since I bought this lens about a year ago, I have used ONLY this lens. I have exposed about 200 rolls with it, and the results always please me. Always. I love the 50mm perspective, and I think that about 95% of my shots are better with the 50/1.4 than any other EF. The 5% shots are pictures where a 35mm or 135mm would be better. So it forces me to compose the shots more cleverly. And I love the freedom of zoom.
I also think it is the perfect people lens. The 'natural' perspective of this lens is in my opinion far more relaxed than the tight up-your-nose-headshots of a 80/90mm, or the distorted 20/24mm portraits so popular these days. The lens balances best with a small body such as the Elan (Eos 50) or Rebel (Eos 500n).

I too have noticed a trace of barrel distortion, edge sharpness at f/1.4 could be better and the micro motor is quite noisy, especially with Eos 3 (don't know why). But I still love it.

If I ever switch system, I would problably keep my Rebel G and this lens just because it is so good I can never part with it. Anyone who do not believe me can visit my homepage and see some 350 carefully selected images taken with this lens. (and a few, few other)

Cliff LeSergent , November 20, 1999; 10:24 A.M.

I recently purchased a new EF 50 f1.4. My decision was certainly influenced by all of the glowing praise that has been heaped on this lens. While it is certainly very sharp and pretty much distortion-free, the lens I bought seems to very prone to flare. In fact, from the few rolls of I've shot with this lens, I would have to subjectively say it is the worst lens I've ever owned in this regard (and I've owned lots and lots of lenses over the years).

The flare problems I experienced were not the usual flare artifacts in the image such as ghost images of the aperature blades; I think it would be best described as veiling glare. Essentially, with the sun in the frame (late afternoon, sun behind some trees near the horizon) the glare obscured the entire image. Situations like this, with the sun or other light source in the frame, don't benefit from a lens hood and rely on the lens's optical design and construction to suppress flare. This one certainly doesn't meet my expectations. I haven't tried another sample of the lens to see if my experience was an abberation; I plan to go back to using a 28-70 f2.8L for the middle focal length ranges; from what I've seen, it does handle flare better.

Stephen Jones , November 25, 1999; 12:28 P.M.

I have a few critisims of the 50mm F1.USM. However, I must say I feel foolish saying that, because nearly 65% of all of my GREAT shots are from this lens. I've used it for nearly a year now, so it's limitations are well known (sometimeslovingly revered) to me. First of all, the long throw of the autofocus mechanism slows down autofocus speed. Also, the lens doesn't track as well as my ring-USM lenses. The inner lens barrell is slightly loose in the outer barrell, however I hear this is only part of the design. Other than these very minor quibbles, this lens is da bomb (yes, that is my professional opinion!). Optically, it steals your breath away. Chromes from this lens are as eyepopping as a jump into an icy mountain stream! The FTM is a blessing, and the lens itself is tough: I've personally taken it through weather--cold and hot--water of all kinds (light drizzle, a garden sprinkler nailed it once, my cousin and his super soaker, you get the idea), dust from baseball games...the thing just doesn't quit. Paired up with the Elan II, the resulting combo is really great. It balances well and focuses fast. I couldn't ask for a better lens.

Tristan A , November 26, 1999; 12:45 P.M.

After seeing the pic of the Golden Gate Bridge, I just can't help but to comment about it. Hey, it's a great shot, Brad! The pic really inspire me to go out to shoot more with this lens. Somehow, I've not quite master the 50mm yet. I tend to think that if not for its fast aperture, this focal length would have been one of the least useful of all lenses- 50mm is neither wide nor long enough for most application but it does give a nice, 'normal' perspective.

Although the focusing is not lightening fast for a USM, it's very responsive. Yes, the micro-USM doesn't sound nice, but any USM is much better than no USM. When compared with the Nikkor equivalent(which I bought at the same time), you'll be glad you have a Canon. Not only is the Nikon significantly slower, it is also irritatingly noisy, even with the F100. The primary drawback on the Nikkor however is that it will only stopped down to f16. I've no idea why. Optical and mechanical properties aside, the greatest advantage of the Canon has to be the Full-Time-Manual focus. Having been pampered by this feature, I find it hard to live with the trouble of fiddling with the AF/MF switch on any lenses that do not support this feature. For goodness' sake, when is Nikon and the rest going to update their lenses with FTM?

For the same aperture, Nikon managed to make theirs shorter, with a smaller filter size(58vs52) and lighter. Eventhough the Nikon 50f1.4 may be physically smaller, I still preferred the overall balance of the Canon more. This I attribute to the wider focusing ring on the Canon. All in all, Canon folks should be happy they won this round in the great 50mm battle(at least to Nikon).

Bill Tyler , January 20, 2000; 09:11 P.M.

You can't judge distortion by the way things look on the screen, at least not simplistically. Monitors have distortion that is typically more than you'd see in any good lens. The one test that is meaningful is to find a straight line near the straight edge of the frame, and parallel to it, or nearly so. To a first order approximation, they will have the same bending due to monitor distortion. So if the straight line gets nearer the edge, then farther away again, as you move along it, you can conclude that the lens (or scanner) has distortion.

Incidentally, I suspect that you've mislabelled the bridge. It appears to be a bascule bridge, not a draw bridge. Drawbridges lift the entire roadway from both ends, and the roadway stays horizontal as it moves up. Bascule bridges pivot the roadway up from one end (one leaf) or both ends (two leaves). Downtown Chicago has dozens of bascule bridges.

Simon Millward , February 29, 2000; 10:02 P.M.

I'm poised to buy a 50mm lens for use with my 500 N (Rebel G) and a 50 (Elan II) which I'll also be buying very soon. I'm not sure whether to get the 50/1.4 as described above, or the far cheaper 50/1.8. It's picture quality I'm primarily interested in, so can anyone with experience of both the 1.4 and 1.8 let me know - is there a considerable difference in the quality of the results between these two lenses ? Any comments in this regard would be most gratefully received.

Gordon Lewis , March 09, 2000; 07:01 P.M.

This is in response to Simon's question regarding the quality difference in optical quality between 50mm f/1.8 and the 50mm f/1.4. Based on personal experience (I own both) I would say you're most likely to notice a difference when you're shooting at or near maximum aperture. In my opinion the f/1.4 has more visually appealing out of focus areas (what the Japanese call "bokeh"). I have also found the f/1.8 to be more prone to flare, although only in high-flare situations.

The mechanical quality difference is more substantial. The f/1.4 is larger, feels more substantial, has a metal lens mount, and focuses silently. You can also focus manually, even when the AF switch is in the "AF" position. This comes in handy when you're using a camera like the Rebel 2000, which won't allow you to separate autofocus activation from the shutter button.

madwolf . , October 09, 2000; 06:20 A.M.

Yes there is distortion! Maybe he is just unlucky and got a lens that was not made to 100% of what is should be. I do believe that not all 50mm 1.4 are equal And the author just got unlucky and got a piece of lower optical quality, than the highest possible

It happened all the time!


Lester Chan , November 02, 2000; 05:44 A.M.

Dear Canon 50/1.4 owners,

Does anyone of you also have the 24-85mm lens? I want to know how much difference in quality there is at 50mm. It would be much appreciated if there are picture samples for comparison. Thank you for your attention.

Jim Erhardt , November 03, 2000; 12:28 P.M.

Lester, I owned the 24-85 USM at one time and was generally pleased with it, more so than the 28-105 USM. However, compared to the 50/1.4, at 50mm it has more barrel distortion, is 3-stops slower and is not quite as sharp. Such is the price you pay for the convenience of a zoom...

T Armstrong , November 06, 2000; 11:11 A.M.

I purchased this lens over its "lesser cousin" the 1.8 purely for the reason of reliability, Unfortunately the addage of you get what you pay for doesnt always pay off ! as after two days of use, the autofocus completely failed for no reason.

A post on photo.net generated several responses from people who have also had similar problems (focus locks at infinity etc)

In the UK the 1.4 retails for £359 while the 1.8 costs £79, okay several other differences between them exist but reliabilty shouldnt be top of the list, and it certainly no longer warrants 4.5 times the cost !

Lester Chan , January 26, 2001; 12:04 A.M.

Jim, thanks for your advice. I bought it!!! Although there is still barrel distortion, the image quality over the 24-85 really makes them insignificant. Color retention and sharpness are superb and I wish I had bought it earlier. You may see some of my photos with it from my folder. But one thing to potential buyers of this lens, the 1.4 give really shallow depth of field, viz 4cm when focused at 1m and 1cm at 0.6m!!! Thus, don't rely on this when using ISO 100 film at low light even with its large aperature when you want to have enough depth of field. ISO 400 film may be a better choice. Finally, a fixed lens make you think more and become a better photographer and I'm happy with my first prime lens.

S. Agplater , April 13, 2001; 12:13 A.M.

I purchased a Rebel G kit with the standard 35-80 mm zoom about three years ago. The Rebel G was intended to replace an early model Canon EOS system which was stolen.

I had been very pleased with my first EOS camera and took many nice images with a couple of zoom lenses I had. However, I was seriously disappointed with the performance of the new Rebel G kit. The photos taken with the 35-80mm lacked the crispness and clarity I had come to expect from my first Canon. As a result I put perhaps no more than six rolls of film through the Rebel G in about three years.

I became aware of the 50/1.4 lens through photo.net After discussing the lens with a couple of good local photographers it seemed logical to try to reclaim the Rebel G from the back of the dresser drawer rather than buy a more expensive body and another so-so zoom lens.

I have used the 50/1.4 for a month I am wondering why on earth I didn't get a good lens like this much sooner. As others have said, this lens is wonderfully sharp and fast. In addition, it has the look and feel of a good piece of camera equipment. All around it is much superior to the cheapie 35-80 zoom that came with the Rebel kit. I would post a scan of a picture, but my scanner simply does not do the lens justice.

For anyone who wants or has a Rebel body and desires better photos, the 50/1.4 should be seriously considered. The combination proves the truth of the old saying: spend your hard earned cash on good quality lenses and scrimp on the body. Believe me, when you have a good lens no one will ever know or care whether you took a photo with a Rebel G or an EOS 3.

I am still learning how to use the lens and I suppose I will be for some time. The major lesson I've learned so far with the 50/1.4 is to move in close to the subject and when you think you are close enough, move in even closer. You will be very pleased with this lens and the results.

Richard Christie , May 09, 2001; 02:33 A.M.

I had an EF 50/1.4 lens and sold it to get a 28-105 zoom, thinking the ability to compose shots better would make up for any other shortcomings. Recently, this zoom was stolen, and I am taking the opportunity to replace it with ... a 50/1.4! While the zoom was reasonably good, I have to admit I have a preference for lenses that can resolve images at least as well as the fine, slow films I put behind them, and you won't find better than the Canon 50/1.4 in this regard: stunning resolution, excellent colour balance, great bokeh, as well as features like Full-time-manual, etc. etc. I also own the 50/1.8 and it is also very good, but has a somewhat cool colour balance IMO, lacks FTM and has _slightly_ less pleasing background blur. I use it whenever weight is an issue (hiking, mountaineering), with my lightweight EOS 300 body (also stolen, now replaced). FYI the 50/1.8 II may have the edge in focus speed compared to the 50/1.4 USM. I would never put the 50/1.4 on the EOS 300 as the body doesn't have custom function 4 to take advantage of the full-time manual focus, as well as the fact that it doesn't balance well. Get at least a Canon Elan 7 (EOS 30) or EOS 50 to use this lens with. Overall, it's a stunning high quality lens, equally great for people, landscapes and travel, as long as you can handle the single focal length! BTW Don't think 50/1.8 or 50/1.4; you are allowed to own both! I'm sure Phil does... so will I (again) soon. However, bear in mind that it is much cheaper to try the 50/1.8 first, and at its price, worth keeping even if you only use it once a year.

Sriram R , November 28, 2001; 01:49 A.M.

After hunting for a used 50/1.4 for over a year, I managed to get one recently. It's incredibly sharp and delivers eye popping colours, but as others have commented, there's barrel distortion, specially when straight lines are near the edge of the frame. You can find a brief writeup on my website here and some images here.

Joel Alves , December 18, 2001; 05:19 P.M.

Canon EF 50/ f 1.4 USM

I love this lens... As with any other tool, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of any lens is the key to its successful use. It takes vastly better pictures than a mid-range mid-priced zoom.

Sharp and crisp images are the great sound of this lens... Superb quality and portability. Excellent color balance, great bokeh for the 8 Diaphragm Blades, as well as features like micro USM with - FTM... despite I think the Ring type USM - FTM would be better. As expected, image quality is excellent, with just a trace of barrel distortion.

This lens balances very well with my EOS 3 and EOS 50e...I leave this lens on my body full time. If You find it, buy it!

Joel Alves, from Rio de Janeiro, BRAZIL

Leandro Meinhardt , December 20, 2001; 03:59 A.M.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM was the first lens I tried on my EOS3 body, and I don’t need to say I keep it all the time. I have been using it for a long time, and I don’t see most of the distortion people are claiming to see. It is very fast and also allows us to do some small manual corrections (if needed). This is a must have lens, same for the Canon EF Macro 100mm f/2.8 USM (but that’s another history).

Image Attachment: SaintChapelle.jpg

Aaron Taylor , January 23, 2002; 01:08 P.M.

I agree with the first reader, there is barrel distortion. But this is normal for a 50/1.4.

Vincent J M , March 10, 2002; 10:39 P.M.

I traded up from my cheap 50/1.8-II just to get a more solid lens, but I think this has been a costly mistake. My test rolls showed noticeable barrel distortion which became very obvious when focusing close. I'm not sure if all 50/1.4's are like this, but mine distorts just like PhilG's lens. I've looked at the Nikkor 50/1.4D and the Zeiss 50/1.4 (Contax manual mount) and couldn't see such distortion with those lenses. A friend who owns the 50/1.4 says there's no distortion (or maybe he can't see it), or maybe it's a different batch(?)

I believe Canon has some serious QC problems with this lens. The 50/1.8 I had, in comparison, gave me absolutely straight lines, even when focused close. I really think that's a better optic... *sigh* ... will probably dispose of my 50/1.4 at a loss and get another 50/1.8 :(

Puppy Face , March 11, 2002; 12:48 P.M.

I got a delicious giggle out of the guy claiming to see barrel distortion on a 72 dpi scan on a computer monitor. He even claimed to see barrel distortion on many of the thumbnails! You need to view the chrome directly with a quality loupe on alight table to make a valid judgement.

Like many of Philip's images, the "Lynhams" pic is a slightly crooked (I have the same problem--I wish the Elan 7 had a grid). Must have been the Irish ale. Amazingly, the entire right side of the image has slight pincushion distortion on my Mitsubishi Diamond monitor--not barrel distortion--including the surrounding black frame! The black frame was added in Photoshop or was part of the slide mount. However, my scroll bars in Explorer look straight. Computer monitors are not photographic quality. They are a low resolution approximation of the image and are subject to irregularities.

However, Pop Photo's 2/94 review of the lens states that..."field curvature and barrel distortion were slight." This statement reflects my experience--the lens has very little distortion. Much less than any of my zooms at least. And, yes, they also say the close focus range has too much barrel distortion for critical closeup work, a purpose the lens is not designed for. However, I have noticed that all my lenses, zoom, prime, Canon L series or aftermarket distort near the extremes of their close focusing range--except for my dedicated macro lenses. Maybe Japanese designers do this on purpose in order to sell expensive macro lenses that are corrected for closeup work?

Maybe I'm blessed and got a honey, but it sure is a fine chunk 'o glass.

Dan Liu , June 16, 2002; 03:09 P.M.

Hello, Everyone! I’ve been reading these entries and I’m pretty impressed with the level of camera knowledge present here. I need some advice. I just bought a 50mm f/1.4 to use on my 7e body and I’m pretty dissatisfied with the photos from the first 3 rolls taken – especially the color, light balance, and resolution. I feel like I’m missing something basic in my setup like film speeds or aperture or something. Please evaluate the mix that I’ve been using: Overcast day (or shade if no clouds), Kodak Gold 200, aperture priority (usually set on f/1.4 or nearby to blur the background – if I’m using my 85mm f/1.8 I also use big apertures), correspondingly fast shutters (1000+), center-weighted metering – metered on faces with AE lock, and finally, Costco send-out developing. If there’s something totally taboo in this, I’d really appreciate an explanation. Teach me! I thought I could take pictures before (when I used my former Nikon N70 with the 85mm f/1.8), but I doubt it’s because I’m using Canon now. Thank you!


Michael Stolting , June 18, 2002; 09:02 P.M.

Just a quick comment on Dan Liu's query. Dan, you should be using slide film, not negative film to check the quality of a lens. Even though you may have been using Costco (or whomever your current and favorite film processor is) the print is the end result of someone or some machine's settings. So many things can contribute to a less than satisfactory end result when having someone process your negative film that it's just about impossible to judge the quality of the lens from the prints. Use positive (i.e.: transparency/slide) film and be assured that what you get is what was registered on the film. I hope this helps. Mike Stolting

Daniel Sandlin , September 16, 2002; 11:58 P.M.

Bravo Puppy Face! Whether a lens has ditortion or not should be judgeed on a light table with a loupe, not across the internet on thousands of monitors of diferent makes, ages, and technologies. Hell if you wear glasses that just triples the trouble of the monitor view. I still use the FD system and keep an SC 1.8 monted at all times. I just purchased a 630 with a22-55mm when it gets here I will find a 50 for it. One thing I have noticed is that if a lens distorts you can see it in the view finder as well as the print. So how about mounting the lens first? If you see distortion, mount another until you find one that doesn't. I can see the distortion in my standard issue 50mm lenses, my SC may have some but I do not notice it if it does.

Jim Mueller , March 18, 2003; 09:31 P.M.

I've been using the Canon 50/1.4 for a year. It's a wonderful lens. But comparing it with the 50/1.8 lens, there is virtually NO difference except at f/2. At f/2 the 50/1.4 is (barely) noticabley sharper at the corners. In all other respects they are absolute equals. This conclusion after a year of experience with both lenses.

Now, if I had it to do over again, I would have bought just the 50/1.8 and a 24/2.8 for about the same price as the the 50/1.4 alone. For me, that would have made more sense.

perry a. , December 31, 2003; 06:44 A.M.

i bought this lens mainly to use for night photography. i have been pretty disapointed with it when used for that purpose. it flairs badly. and the hood doesn't seem to help any. i do not use any sort of filter. when i put a uv filter on for protection, i get ghost. it is wonderfully sharp though. i don't have a problem with the way it focuses and the size and weight are great. if only it wouldn't flair so badly. i may sell this lens and try a 28mm 1.8.

Mathias Vejerslev , November 30, 2004; 05:14 A.M.

I love my 50mm 1.4! It currently (past two years) stays on my camera (10D) 90% of my shots. This is because I like its perspective, the 'freedom of zoom', meaning for me primes are a better way of training my eye, the weight is ofcourse perfect, but mostly I like it because its just such an awesome allround optical performer. I like to think of it as a Lamborghini sports car, but with wings. It is extremely versatile regarding light, so for me its a nobrainer to leave the house with just this one lens for general shooting, I dont even need to bring a tripod. I've done a lot(!) of handheld low light photography with it, mostly around f/2, where it is really sharp, with reasonable DOF. With ISO 1600 on my 10D, the possibilities are endless. Note that there's no problem in using the largest f stop either.

My sample has very little flaring. You'd have to push it real hard to get noticable flare. No barrel distortion either (never noticed it - shot about 10.000 photos with it). Maybe I just got lucky with mine? More likely, it is because I am using the lens on a 1.6 crop factor system.

Oh, and the image quality! The 8 blades does wonders for out of focus areas, and sharpness is very good indeed. Your photos deserve this lens.

On the negative side, if there is such a thing, the micro-USM AF is not the fastest (although reasonable) and dont expect to use AF in very low light (this may depend on your body).

Update, August 2007: I have now used the 50 1.4 as my prime lens for several years. Twice I have experienced broken focus mecanism because of light pressure on the front of the lens. For this reason, a lens hood is strongly recommended

Bokeh sample:

Chris Fargo , February 08, 2005; 04:05 P.M.

This lens is great. I am using it on a 10D so the crop does help. Any pincusion or less sharp edges when wide open is probably more apparent on film (no crop). On the 10D this 50mm becomes an 80mm! Which in my opinion is a great all around focal length. One con is that it is slightly less sharp wide open although, that is expected. This photo is cropped: ISO 200 1/90 f/8.

Image Attachment: wisdom.jpg

Ruslan Lavrentyev , April 18, 2005; 04:15 A.M.

Independent tests in Photo&Video magazine (Russian, a member of EISA) proved that both Nikkor and Pentax and Minolta 50/1.4 have better resolution. Canon has less distorsion, though (compared to mentioned Japanese lenses).

forest wan , June 23, 2006; 05:44 A.M.

I bought this lens mainly for its f1.4 aperture, and it is not dispointed me either. The pp is sharp enough when the aperture is slow down to f2.0. But the poor mechanical properties is too pure.

Hussain Alhelli , October 05, 2006; 05:14 P.M.

I bought this lens for fast indoor photography but it doesn't really seem to be that good for this purpose. Almost always it will front- or backfocus. It's not really soft at 1.4 it actually won't focus correctly. Not sure if I got a bad lens or if it needs calibration but manual focus works like a charm and it takes really high quality photos even at 1.4. I will probably return it and get something else.

Kathy Fu , January 18, 2007; 06:57 P.M.

I have a Canon EOS 5D and am looking for a prime lens that I can take with me travelling and taking pictures of cityscape, flowers, people (not protraits), and bees/birds/other small animals. Does 50/1.4 fit my criteria?

Thanks in advance

walt gaub , April 03, 2007; 02:00 P.M.

I can't take it anymore. I have a 70-200 2.8IS, 24-105 f4IS, the 17-85 kit lens that came with the 20D and seriously folks, the 50mm 1.4 is the best thing in my bag! Sure the 70-200 works well enough and is fast (especially w/IS on), but it's not practical to carry 3.5lbs of zoom around all day. If your looking for a great walk around and low light with boke backround,, it's the 50 1.4. There is only one really better solution in the 50mm class and it's the new 50mm 1.2 at $1800.00 usd. The 50 1.4 is a true bargain at $300.00 usd. Enough said, now go out and shoot!

walt gaub , April 03, 2007; 02:03 P.M.

I can't take it anymore. I have a 70-200 2.8IS, 24-105 f4IS, the 17-85 kit lens that came with the 20D and seriously folks, the 50mm 1.4 is the best thing in my bag! Sure the 70-200 works well enough and is fast (especially w/IS on), but it's not practical to carry 3.5lbs of zoom around all day. If your looking for a great walk around and low light with boke backround,, it's the 50 1.4. There is only one slightly (and I mean slightly) better solution in the 50mm class, and it's the new 50mm 1.2 at $1800.00 usd. The 50 1.4 is a true bargain at $300.00 usd. Enough said, now go out and shoot!

Herbert Helbig , May 01, 2007; 07:16 P.M.

What an incredible forum! Almost eight years of civilized and intelligent commentary. Thank you, Philip Greenspum and everyone else!

I cannot call myself a photographer, and tremble to intrude - but here goes.

I have been using a Canon EOS 350D (Rebel XT) for a couple of years with the 50 mm f/1.8 II for a single specialized task. Under computer control it takes a 30 second exposure at f/2.8 every four minutes every clear night. The subject is the sky around the North Star. I'm collecting data on at least one variable star (there are several in the field).

With the center of the field in focus, the left quarter shows significant distortion (coma). The right edge is better, but not great. Barrel and pin cushion distortion are not very important to me - I can compensate for that digitally, but coma turns my star circles into trumpets!

So I've begun to think about a better lens - faster would be good to reach fainter stars, and less distortion would obviously be better so that I could make good photometric measurements on a larger sample of stars.

Astronomers are generally interested in much longer lenses (or mirrors), and I haven't found much help from them.

I'd be most grateful for your comments. Are there sources for technical reviews of Canon optics? Do you think I'd notice improvement with the 50 1.4? I obviously don't need autofocus. I have to get my infinity focus manually (and it's a real pain - I'm thinking of making a fine focus/focus lock attachment). I wish I could find a manual focus lens and spend all my money on glass.

Thank you for whatever help or leads you can supply!

PS Incidentally, if you haven't heard of Christian Buil's incredible (free) image processing program, Iris, you might check it out.

PPS Having now registered for photonet, I realize there is a ton of stuff here on the 50 1.4 that I'll be studying.

D N , July 06, 2007; 08:06 P.M.

I've got a Canon EF 50/1.4 on order as of yesterday!

D N , August 05, 2007; 12:12 A.M.

I've had the 50/1.4 for awhile now and have to say two things: First, the glass is very nice! Sharp images. Great contrast. Second, the build (construction) should be better for the price.

Neil Fiertel , January 01, 2009; 04:19 P.M.

For astronomical use might I suggest the macro lens of an appropriate focal length for the angle of view needed. There are two basic ones made by various manufacturers. I myself have the Tamron longer focal length lens which give me what I want but Canon also makes a 50mm macro lens. Flatness of field is what one gets with a macro lens and even though it is optimised for close work, it is fantastically sharp in all respects I find. There is little to choose between the Canon and Tamron other than certain body restrictions vis a vis the methods that they use to auto focus which naturally is irrelevant for astro purposes. The Tamron which I use has a handy disconnect for auto focussing so one can easily set it at infinity with appropriate focussing. I have used both brands and they are essentially identical in terms of sharpness and resolution but of course a macro lens is a few stops slower but with a digital camera of good spec, this is not a problem I should think. Surely, there will be no coma as described. That it seems to me shows that you have a very poorly constructed lens that has an element that is not properly centered .

Pablo Matsumoto , January 19, 2009; 02:03 P.M.

I bought this lens to have a very fast lens for very low light photography without flash, and also for extreme narrow depth of field, to use in portraits and social photography. Lens' sharpness is great and having 1.4 is incredible (you can obtain quite fast shutter speeds even on very dim environments). AF is not the fastest, which sometimes is a problem (.eg, on dancing photos) because at 1.4 precise focus is esential. Another con is that on a crop sensor it is quite narrow (75 mm) so I use it more for candid photography/ close portatuire. On a whole, I believe it is a nice lens to have, but not a MUST. I found it usefull in certain situations but in most cases I stick with my 2.8 zoom. Only when light is very dim and no flash is desirable or forbidden or I need the shallow depth of field I use this lens.

Nick De Marco , March 02, 2009; 07:26 A.M.

I have the Canon 50/1.4 and it used to be one of my favourite lenses. The AF went after a while but I don't mind using MF. It is not the best made lens but I thought the image quality was as good, and times superior, to some of the L lenses. I also like fast lenses.

However, it is no longer my 50 of choice. I have the Leica Summicron 50mm f2, the Olympus Zuiko f1.8 and the Contax Zeiss 50mm f1.4 - all with adaptors for my 5D. In my opinion all of these lenses are prefarable to the Canon. I don't say 'better' as with l;enses it is often a matter of taste.

The summicron, for example, has a lovely glow at times, but it is not that good. To my surprise I found the (incredibly cheap) Olympus Zuiko 50/1.8 far more attrractive than either the Leica or the Canon. I took it (along with the Canon 35 f1.4L, Canon 135 f2L and Leica 21,, f4-R) to Myanamar recently and found I used it more than any other lens and gernerally it gave me the best results. It is fantastic at f2.8 (and pretty good at 1.8).

I think (but am not yet finally decided) the Contax 50/1.4 is slightly better than the Olympus, and you can pick up a second hand one pretty cheap. It is also beautifully made. I expect it to become my 50 of choice, and I am afriad my Canon 50/1.4 is now 4th on that list (in fact anyone want to buy one with dodgy AF can contact me). If you don't mind using manual lenses, and I have come to prefer it, try a Contax or, save money and pick up an Oly 50/1.8 dor about £30 and see the results.

Folarin S , May 18, 2009; 03:14 P.M.

It says so much about this community that a forum that began nearly 10 (!) years ago is still so informative and useful. Thank you to all who have posted before, and I echo Mr Helbig here, such intelligent and considered commentary!

Recently my 85 1.8 was taken from me at the tail-end of a wedding, and having gotten over the pain of losing the lens which has given me 70% of my best pictures (I also own the 28 2.8 and the 70-300 4-5.6 IS), I'm considering replacing it. I feel like I may be missing out on the extra light gathering and better "walkabout" qualities of the 50 1.4. Are these two lenses a bad comparison because of the 85's more telephoto perspective? Or is there a good argument for the 85's sheer image quality?

All comments welcome, if only because I'd love to see this post reach it's 10 year birthday!

Bursa Baju , July 25, 2009; 06:10 A.M.

I am a newbie in photograph and photo.net.

How to create the bokeh effect with Canon 50mm f/1.4? I really love the pictures that have been created...but I am not sure that I can do that.

Please someone give me the explanation.

Thank you.

Bobby Bryan , September 18, 2009; 12:42 P.M.

To Bursa: Select a shallow depth of field (wide aperture) to achieve an out-of-focus background and make the subject stand out. ~Bobby

Dan Downs , June 06, 2010; 02:47 A.M.

this seems like a great all around lens

seems like the consensus is that it is a cost-effective low light lens.



Barnaby Harding , July 14, 2010; 04:46 A.M.

I really like the photos that I have seen taken with the 50/1.4. Prior to buying my camera, I fell in love with the Canon 50mm and sourced a 50/1.8 mark 1 that I am using  A LOT now.  I love the more solid build.

Does the 1.4 really give you that much advantage in low-light, especially seeing as the DOF is so narrow at that point? Any comments/experiences would be great on this.

Anyway - my favourite lens so far out of my collection of 18-55 IS (kit lens), 50/1.8mk1 and Tamron 70-300.



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