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Home > Reviews > Cameras > Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Review
05/13/2006

There are times when you are shooting in low light conditions (e.g. indoors) where you do not want to use flash. Other than dealing with long exposures, which is almost always associated with blurring, the only other solution would be to use a fast lens. The widest, fastest lens available and being somewhat affordable is Canon's EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens. I initially wanted the EF 24mm f/1.4L USM but, at three and half times the cost, it was out of my budget (it's on my wish list though).

A 50mm lens on a Digital Rebel XT for indoor shooting, and low light conditions outdoors, will have it's limitations. Using a Digital Rebel XT with it's APS-C size sensor and a 1.6x lens conversion factor, a 50mm lens is equivalent to an 80mm lens on a 35mm camera. It may be limited to portrait shots but I'm sure I'll find some other uses for it.

What's in the box
1 - Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens
1 - E-58U Front lens cap
1 - Rear lens cap
1 - Instruction pamphlet (in different languages)
1 - 1 year Warranty/Registration

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Specifications
Image size Full frame
Focal length   50mm
35 mm FOV - Digital Rebel XT   80mm equivalent
Construction   7 Elements in 6 Groups
Diaphragm   8 blades
Maximum aperture   f/1.4
Minimum aperture   f/22
Closest focus   17.7" (0.45m)
Max magnification   0.15x
Distance information   Yes
Image stabilizer   No
AF actuator   Micromotor USM with full-time manual focus
Filter diameter   58mm
Dimensions (diameter x length)   2.9" (73.8mm) x 2.0" (50.5mm)
Weight   10.2 oz (290g)
     
Other Information
Angle of view - Full frame   39.6º, 27º, 46.8º (horiz, vert, diag,)
Angle of view - Digital Rebel XT   25º, 16.8º, 29.9º (horiz, vert, diag,)
Front element extends (focusing)   Yes, +0.3" (7.6mm) at closest focus
Front element rotates (focusing)   No
     
Optional (Canon) Accessories
Lens hood   ES-71II
Soft lens case   LP1014

A look at Canon's EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
(l to r) 50,
10-22, 17-85
and 70-300
EF left,
FD right
Canon's EF 50mm f/1.4 USM is small, and light, compared to the other lens in my collection. As with any lens I buy, I immediately place a UV filter on the front of the lens. I've done it in the past with the thinking that while it is dust free, a filter on the lens will keep it that way. It does work for a while but dust will eventually find it's way on the lens.

The construction of the lens is fairly good but I'm still partial to my old FD lens, from the mid 70's. There are some similarities between the old FD 50mm f/1.4 and the new EF 50mm f/1.4. They are both constructed with 7 elements in 6 groups, the front element extends when focusing from infinity to near and they are somewhat comparable in size. Other than that the similarity ends, for example, my old FD uses 52mm filters whereas the EF uses 58mm... bummer. The barrels on the EF are plastic instead of metal as on the FD, and the FD displays the entire distance scale.

The focus ring on my Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM has a little slop to it, in other works, a little wobble. Rotating the focus ring is fairly smooth but feels a bit scratchy. Probably due to the plastic construction.

Using Canon's EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
The lens is very light compared to the zoom lenses I already have and, when mounted on my Digital Rebel XT, it makes the camera appear very compact.

The micromotor USM does make a little noise when autofocusing compared to the silent motors on the EF-S 10-22mm USM and EFS17-85mm USM IS but much less noise than the EF70-300mm USM IS. The focusing isn't as instant as the EF-S 10-22mm USM and EFS17-85mm USM IS but, then again, it is very quick when compared to my EF70-300mm USM IS.

Some photographs I've taken with Canon's EF 50mm f/1.4 USM do exhibit a small degree of barrel distortion but it is only noticeable when you snap a straight line in Photoshop. I've read reports where vignetting occurs at the widest aperature, but in my case, vignetting is non-existent (to my eyes).

Already I'm feeling somewhat confined when using this lens. I've developed a tendency to zoom in or out on a subject, but with a fixed lens, you have to reposition yourself by moving towards or away from the subject. I've used fixed lens in the past but I guess I've been spoiled by these new crop of zoom lens, especially the ones with IS (image stabilizer).

There is, however, one thing I really admire about using Canon's EF 50mm f/1.4 USM and that is it's wide open aperture. It can narrow the depth of field so dramatically that only the subject remains in focus.
Photographs using Canon's EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
Subject:   Walkway
Model:   Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT
Shutter Speed:   1/640 sec
F-Stop:   f/5.6
ISO Speed:   100
Focal Length:   50.0 mm
Notes:    
Subject:   Street
Model:   Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT
Shutter Speed:   1/640 sec
F-Stop:   f/5.0
ISO Speed:   100
Focal Length:   50.0 mm
Notes:    
Subject:   Fire Hydrant
Model:   Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT
Shutter Speed:   1/800 sec
F-Stop:   f/5.6
ISO Speed:   100
Focal Length:   50.0 mm
Notes:    
Subject:   Mall
Model:   Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT
Shutter Speed:   1/800 sec
F-Stop:   f/5.6
ISO Speed:   100
Focal Length:   50.0 mm
Notes:   I was approached by a security guard after taking this shot saying no pictures are to be taken of the mall (something to do with 9-11).
Subject:   Simba
Model:   Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT
Shutter Speed:   1/250 sec
F-Stop:   f/1.4
ISO Speed:   100
Focal Length:   50.0 mm
Notes:    
Subject:   Leafless Tree
Model:   Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT
Shutter Speed:   1/500 sec
F-Stop:   f/7.1
ISO Speed:   200
Focal Length:   50.0 mm
Notes:    
All the photographs above have been taken in jpeg mode, and reduced 50% in Photoshop with moderate jpeg compression to conserve disk space and bandwidth. Camera was handheld using autofocus (unless otherwise noted). No color corrections, level adjustments, sharpening or croppings were made.

Conclusion
The lens is very small and light compared to the zoom lenses I already have. And, when mounted on my Digital Rebel XT, it makes the camera appear very compact. It's large aperature helps considerably when shooting indoors and low light conditions outdoors. Probably the only things I liked about this lens (from an amateur point-of-view).

Other than that I found the lens to be very limiting in that it takes a little time to compose a shot. The 50mm is not going to be my "walk-around" lens. It's definitely in my bag for those special moments but, if I needed to carry around just one lens, its Canon's EF-S 17-85 F4-5.6 IS USM (my review). At the moment, the 17-85, for me, is the most useful lens, with the 5x zoom and IS.

:-)

Gary Kawamura    

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