The Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM lens is based on the classic design, from 1971, of the manual FD 50mm. This version has been around since 1993, and it is Canon's mid-range offering. Some people have wondered at its usefulness, surrounded as it is by the extremely high-end f1.2 version and the f1.8, which is a good value. But this is the lens that I myself use in my professional life, and I think it's fantastic!
- Fast and accurate autofocus with full manual override
- Excellent image quality, particularly when stopped down
- Slight tendency to flare with strong light sources
- Soft at f1.4-1.8 on APS-C cameras
Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM Lens Review
If you're looking for a sturdy and reliable prime lens, then you can't go far wrong with a 50mm. Even when used on crop frame cameras, it turns into an equally useful 80mm telephoto lens, which is ideal for portraiture. But how does the f1.4 measure up in terms of quality?
The autofocus on the 50mm f1.4 is extremely fast, reliable, and quiet. It utilizes a USM (ultrasonic motor), which is slightly less advanced than that on some of Canon's other mid-range lenses, but it is still an excellent mechanism. The lens also includes full manual override, allowing the user to grab the lens in mid-autofocus to tweak it manually without damaging the gears. This is a useful function, and one that Canon has perfected well.
The 50mm f1.4 is of significantly better build quality than its cheaper relative, the 50mm f1.8. The lens mount is made of metal, and the front element is recessed by approximately 1 cm (about 0.4 inches) from the filter thread, which helps with protection. The lens feels well constructed in the hand, although it is significantly larger and heavier than the f1.8. Some say that its build quality isn't quite as good as Canon's 85mm and 100mm equivalents but, as I own both of these as well, I can say unequivocally that I've never noticed a difference. This is a solid and well built lens.
This little lens rivals its more expensive counterparts when used on a full frame camera such as the 5D. It has exceptionally fast and accurate autofocus for a lens at this price, and it easily produces top quality images no matter what megapixel range it is asked to cover.
But what about on APS-C (crop frame) cameras? Again, the lens performs exceptionally well, with little distortion. However, it does have a tendency to produce a slightly soft photograph at f1.4 and f1.8 on crop frame cameras. Stopping down will partially solve this problem, but the corners of images do still tend to show some softness. However, as depth of field is so shallow at these apertures, it's unlikely to be a problem ... unless you always position your subjects right in the corner of images!
If you have the money, then I'd recommend this lens over its baby brother, the 50mm f1.8. The build quality is substantially better, and the autofocus is far more accurate. Again, it will give you massive improvements in your imagery in comparison to any zoom kit lens. If you plan to use this lens a lot, and you want one lens that will cover a variety of situations, this is the lens to buy.