Search
RSS & Email Feeds - The Easy Way To Keep Up To Date With The Blog

 

Tech Podcast Network
« A Wide Angle Alternative For Your dSLR: The Pentacon 29mm f/2.8 M42 Lens Review | Main | SCL Photo Podcast 72 - A Few Thoughts On Time »
Monday
Nov232009

Fast, Light, Sharp and Cheap - The Canon 50mm f/1.8 EF II Prime Lens



The Canon 50mm f/1.8 EF II lens was the first "new" lens I got for my Eos 350d / Rebel XT, the lens was bought as a birthday present from my darling wife back in June '09. I still feel like I'm getting to know this piece of glass, but I wanted to write a simple review to share my thoughts before I get the 28mm f/2.8 at Christmas.

Before you read any further, you may want to watch this slide-show of Flickr photos tagged Canon 50mm 1.8.

First though, I have to say that this isn't an article where I'll try to pick apart the optical qualities of the lens. I won't be pixel-peeping or taking photographs of brick walls looking for faults (although I do like taking pictures of brick walls). The photo's you'll see below have been edited and changed in my usual way (some are HDR's), so don't take them as evidence of what will come out of your camera, rather look at them as what you could produce, a rough guide to see if the EF 50mm could be right for you.

Priddys Hard
Priddys Hard

View it big.

I won't be talking about the sharpness of the 50mm f/1.8 at different apertures, corner softness or vignetting. We all know that lenses are sharper at their middle apertures than at the extremes, we know that you'll get a crisper photo with a tripod, and you get what you pay for. I know that it's more important to be out there shooting than worrying about faults that should only bother a pro (and probably not even them).

Lee On Solent Sunset
Lee On Solent Sunset

View it big.

Why A Nifty Fifty?

The 50mm used to be the kit lens that came with most SLR's back in the film days. On a 35mm body it gives you a similar view to what you'd see through the naked eye, they're a well-developed design, reliable, and best of all, cheap. The Canon f/1.8 50mm is around £100 - a bargain, the best value for money lens you can buy new for your Canon dSLR.

This fifty has a maximum aperture of 1.8 when wide open, which means that the hole in the lens that lets the light in is huge. This means you can shoot in low light conditions, and also have great depth-of field effects - where only your subject is in focus and the rest of the shot is nicely blurred.

To get the best, in terms of sharpness, from any lens, you don't use the extreme apertures, so this is another area where a 50mm excels. Your kit zoom may start at an aperture of f/3.5 - so you'd have to go to at least f/5.6 and smaller to get the best results, but with a f/1.8 50mm at f/3.5 we're already into the sharper zone, so you'll have crispier and punchier photographs.

The 50mm is a fixed focal length - you can't change the view by zooming - you've got to move around with your feet. This imposes some restrictions, but also helps us to grow as photographers, forcing us to try different perspectives and view-points rather than relying on the zoom ring on our cameras.

Finally, 50's, and this one in particular, are small and light. It'll take up very little space in your bag, and works great as an all day, light-weight lens for any Canon dSLR.

IMG_6798
IMG_6798


View it big.

A Bit About Angle Of View

As I've already said, a 50mm lens, on a 35mm Film SLR or a full-frame dSLR, gives an angle of view approximate to what we see with the naked eye. On a crop-sensor camera, like most consumer dSLR's, the fifty isn't quite the same. My Eos 350d has a crop factor of 1.6x - which means that the lens gives a field of view equivalent to an 80mm lens. This means that it's slightly telephoto, or in other words, it brings you closer to whatever you're taking a photo of.

Tree Outside Industrial Unit (1)
Tree Outside Industrial Unit (1)


View it big.

This means that the Canon 50mm isn't quite as "wide" as I'd like it to be for the type of photographs I take - which are mostly landscapes and buildings. This isn't too much of an issue as in most situations you can just back off a bit, but there may well be times when this is physically impossible, so you've got to resort to a different view, or stitch together a number of images into a panorama in Photoshop.

Untitled_Panorama1
Untitled_Panorama1


View it big.

This does make the fifty a great portrait lens though (although I don't take many of those!), it'll give you a nice focal length so you can shoot without having to get too close to your subject.

Mumby Road Flats
Mumby Road Flats


View it big.

Depth Of Field

One of the great attractions of the Canon 50mm EF II lens is that f/1.8 maximum aperture. That is a big hole in the lens - to get a zoom with anywhere near that f-stop you'd have to pay thousands of pounds, if you could get one at all. A large aperture (low f number) is important because it lets us create images with really narrow depth of field, or what is in focus in the image.

Pigeons At Fort Brockhurst
Pidgeons At Fort Brockhurst


View it big.

You don't have to be shooting wide open at f/1.8 to get these effects - you'll find 2.8 or 3.5 good enough, and if you're close to your subject you may well find it difficult to get a sharp shot at f/1.8, the depth of field will be so shallow. But don't underestimate the creative potential of this lens, with it's fantastic selective focus capabilities you'll be exploring view-points unseen with your standard kit zoom lens.

Peppers Cafe And Model Boat Lake
Peppers Cafe And Model Boat Lake


View it big.

Build Quality

Er... this is a cheap lens. It's made of plastic and feels it. Plastic mount, no distance scale, no hood or bag in the box, and it looks like it wouldn't survive much of a fall onto hard ground. But it's less than £100, so you'd just buy another, right?

IMG_6812
IMG_6812


View it big.

Conclusion

The Canon 50mm f/1.8 EF II is a great lens at a bargain price. It can take really sharp, crisp images, or you can open it up to get depth of field photographs that are unparalleled in this price range. Crank up your ISO and use that wide aperture and you can take photos almost in the dark. It's plasticky, so you'll have to take good care of it, but at this price there's always got to be compromises, and I'm sure that this is a better lens than I am a photographer.

However... it's a little "long" for me. Sure, I can back up with my feet, but that 80mm equivalent on my crop-sensor camera makes me sometimes feel a little hemmed in when I'm looking through the viewfinder. This is really apparent if you're taking family shots indoors and you live in a small house like we do - you'll end up with your back against a wall and you still won't be able to fit everything in. If you take mostly landscapes then you too may well find that the Fifty is just too telephoto, you'll prefer the 28mm end of your zoom, or maybe like me you'll get the Canon 28mm EF 2.8 for those wider shots.

The Canon 50mm EF will really come into it's own when I get a full frame camera a few years down the road. It annoys me on Podcasts when they talk about the beauty of a Nifty-Fifty yet only mention the expensive f/1.4 and f/1.2 versions, which are out of the price-bracket of most photographers.

Everyone should have a least one good prime lens in their camera bag, and the Canon 50mm EF II is a great place to start, but if you're into landscapes then perhaps you'd be better off saving up a bit more cash and go for the Canon 28mm F/2.8 instead.

Cheers, Rob.

Technical Stuff

Diagonal Angle of View: 46°
Lens Construction (elements/groups): 6/5
No. of Diaphragm blades: 5
Minimum Aperture: 22
Closest Focusing Distance (m): 0.45
Maximum Magnification (x): 0.15
AF Actuator: MM
Filter Diameter (mm): 52
Weight: 130g

Other Reviews / Galleries Of Images

Dpreview.com. (They give it Highly Recommended (just)).

Fredmiranda.com.

Photo.net. (Read the comments.)

View a slideshow of Flickr images tagged Canon 50mm 1.8. (In case you missed it at the beginning!)

Oh, and here's a photo of a brick wall!
IMG_7265


View it big.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.