I am pretty ashamed to admit that I too have done the 50mm walk of shame… yep, a long time ago I was amazed by the sharpness and quality the 50mm 1.8 produced, the nifty fifty as it was known because it was almost throw away cheap. It was light, poorly put together, plasticky and the focus ring felt like it was full of sand - not to mention the auto focus, which was slow and very very noisy. But, for the price, it produced some great looking images. With a maximum aperture of 1.8 it was bloody good in low light too.
I then had a paid job that required me to do some shots in low light with either no or limited flash use. Professional vanity stopped me from turning up to the gig with a nifty fifty so I went ahead and bought the next one up, the EF 50mm 1.4 USM. Offering two thirds of a stop more light in and having much better build quality and super fast focus from the USM motor - it was good - enough to do the job, producing excellent images, even at very wide apertures.
But something started to bug me about this lens. It costs quite a lot more than the nifty fifty but I wasn’t convinced that the image quality was that much better, maybe I was paying for the better build quality and handling rather than a marked improvement in sharpness etc. I started hunting around on the internet and found varying opinions when it came to the 50mm 1.4. I wasn’t convinced the focal point was spot on in the lens, a common gripe people mentioned online - coming out of the factory, there were one or two ‘bad ones’ that either needed returning to Canon to get fixed or try to compensate for the problem by using Microfocus Adjustment in camera. I use Focal to do that, so I set it off doing a calibration cycle to their target. It was quite a way out and Focal did a pretty good job of improving the sharpness of the images.
Another problem though. I found myself dumfounded by how much digital noise was in the images - even when the lens wasn’t wide open and shooting at ‘normal’ ISO levels. I was so bugged by this that I ended putting nearly all images shot with the lens though NIK FX Dfine - which helps a lot, it’s an amazing bit of software, but its just another step in post production that you could do without having to do.
Anyway, I put up with it as I didn’t use it that much. For the majority of the work I do, it’s either the EF 100mm F2.8L IS USM Macro, EF 16-35mm 2.8L II USM Wide or the EF 70-200mm 2.8L II IS USM zoom that’s usually attached to the front of my cameras.
Then, of course, its the way it always goes, another job came along for a well known car maker and they wanted some corporate shots of staff, sites, cars etc. I was provided with a brief from the advertising agency involved and instantly knew that I’d need, yet again, the next step up in wide aperture lenses to achieve the look they wanted.
Next thing I knew, I’d bought the EF 50mm f1.2L USM. Good lord it was expensive, but from scouring the internet, reading reviews and looking at sample images, I felt confident it was the right thing to do.
Honestly. This lens. It’s my new love. The quality of the images produced are just incredible. Yes, that good. Absolutely blows the 1.4 in to the water. But then, at four times the price of the 1.4, you’d hope it would do! I had very high expectation of this lens - all of which have been satisfied totally.
Build wise, it’s true Canon L class. This little thing has obviously got a lot of glass in it - at nearly 600g it’s quite chunky and feels solid, twice the weight of the 1.4 and four times the nifty fifty.
Focus is instant and precise and the fact that you can open all the way up to f1.2 is truly a game changer - the out of focus bokeh produced, thanks to it’s spherical blades, produces perfectly round out of focus highlights, smooth, creamy, whilst making your subject in focus really pop out of the frame.
Without going all techno blurb on you though, you need to be aware of how shallow the depth of field becomes and f1.2 though. Standing at around 3 feet from your subject, you’ve probably got no more than 3cm that will be inside the focal plane!
Quite a lot of fringing around the edges wide open, they quickly disappear around f2 though.
The point of this lens though is, apart from the L quality build, is the image quality, it’s just stunningly beautiful. Colours are accurate, it gives good contrast and it’s sharper than, not only any 50mm I’ve had before, but ANY lens I’ve had.
It’ll take a while to pay for itself I’m sure, but knowing its in my kit bag for when I need it is comforting.
Until then, I'll be doing what the cat does best. Chilling.
P.S. Apologies - Wix do seem to 'soften' uploaded images - these really are so sharp viewed in high resolution.