Review: Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM Lens

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I recently rented a Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM Lens for a project I was working on.  After many MANY recommendations, from fellow photographers and from the various photography websites I read, I was truly looking forward to playing around with this lens.

My immediate impression when taking the lens out of the box was, for something so small, it was very solidly built, and almost heavy – though certainly not heavy enough to cause discomfort when carrying around the camera.  Not used to working with a prime lens (fixed focal length), it took some getting used to at first, to move myself or my subject nearer or further away, instead of adjusting a zoom lens to accommodate depth.

This shot was taken in extremely low light, no tripod, from about two feet away.

This shot was taken in extremely low light, no tripod, from about two feet away.

Reputed to be a very fast lens that works well in low light levels, I was delighted to find that the hype was very true.  While photographing in a dimly-lit restaurant, I was still able to achieve crisp, in-focus images while holding the camera by hand.  A fact that helped immensely, since the venue was too crowded for a tripod.

Excellent for head or head-and-shoulders portraits.  This shot was taken outside, at night, with only the restaurants neon sign casting any light.

Excellent for head or head-and-shoulders portraits. This shot was taken outside, at night, with only the restaurant's neon sign casting any light.

As I am such a fan of bokeh – or background blur - I was pleased to experience the truly superior quality of this effect while using the 50mm f/1.4.  It turned nearly every shot into something intimate, warm, and artistic.  Colors came through very warmly with this lens, and a soft overall effect was achieved. 

Another example of excellent results in a very low light level setting, and very shallow depth of field.

Another example of excellent results in a very low light level setting, and very shallow depth of field.

Pro’s – Cost effective without being “cheap”, excellent in low light levels, great for portraits or food photography, great for close-up shots, good everyday-use lens.

Con’s - Some “ghosting” effects with neon lighting, limited depth of field makes small venue photography difficult, lens sometimes “chooses” the area of focus incorrectly on Auto Focus – the need to switch to Manual Focus occurred frequently enough that it was noticed.

Demonstrating the strange ghosting effect that sometimes occurred, heres a shot from the reject pile.  Notice the mirror image of the Shocktop neon sign, ghosted at the top-center of the picture.

Demonstrating the strange "ghosting" effect that sometimes occurred, here's a shot from the reject pile. Notice the mirror image of the "Shocktop" neon sign, ghosted at the top-center of the picture.

Overall opinion – I really enjoyed using this lens, and plan to purchase it to add to my lens arsenal at my earliest budgetary convenience.  At just under $400 USD, you get a lot of value for your money – especially when you consider that the next step up from this lens, the 50mm f/1.2, currently runs anywhere from $1600 to $1800 USD.

For a more technically-oriented review, check out this article from The Digital Picture.

Photo Credits (in order of appearance):
- “Canon 50mm 1.4 side view” by Andreaplanet on Flickr Creative Commons.
- All other photos by Laura Charon.

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