canon 50mm 1.2 vs 1.4

Let’s pit the canon 50mm 1.2 vs 1.4. Is the Canon 50mm 1.2 L lens worth $1,000 more than the EF 50mm 1.4? That’s the call you are going to have to make. Hopefully I can help you make that decision.

As a newbie to the Canon system and the 5D, I purchased the EF 50 along with the body. I like the FOV from a 50mm so this lens was a no-brainer. But was the 50L simply magic? Would I see the jump in contrast and micro detail when I switched to the 35mm ASPH cron from the revered V4 cron on my Leica M’s? What about the the rendering of background detail when shot wide open? Don’t make me say the “B” word…

After reading 5,864 posts on the internet about the 50L being the best/worst lens ever, I decided the only way to know for certain was to spend $70 to rent this lens for a week and put it to the test.

I will be the first to acknowledge that this is by no means a scientific test. I didn’t shoot the USAF resolution chart. I will call it a real world test. I wanted to see how scenes look when photographed with both lenses. To do this I simply took the same photo with both lenses. Most of these come from a 2-hour walk around my neighborhood. Most times I took an f/1.2 and an f/1.4 version with the 50L and an f/1.4 shot with the EF 50. You will also find an f/2.8 comparison shot in the mix. That’s the range that supposedly separates the EF 50 and the 50L.

All the photos have minimal processing. They were are all shot RAW and converted with ACR 4.3.1. They were re-sized to 1600 pixels wide because that’s the biggest size I can fit on my monitor at 100 percent. I realized that I rarely make prints anymore. Everything is for the web or personal viewing. Even images where the 1.2 out shined the EF 1.4 in detail or edge sharpness were lost when I went down to 1600 pixels.

The photos have a modest USM and are saved as an image quality 10 in Photoshop. If you want to get your hands on some of the RAW files drop me a note. Otherwise, leave a question on this post.

I’m not sure if this will be useful, but I’ve also uploaded the ICC profile I created for my monitor, which is embedded in these images.

I did buy a lens hood for the 1.4 from HK Supplies via Ebay. It was dirt cheap and fits perfectly. I was concerned about how many knocks the front of this lens could take before needing repair. The lens hood is good protection against those knocks. I can still buy three more copies of this lens before I equal the cost of the 1.2.

In low-light situations the 1.4 focused as well as the 1.2 for me.

15 thoughts on “canon 50mm 1.2 vs 1.4

  1. Thanks for the great, real world, comparison. This is what I was looking for, sharing the 5000+ webpage experience.

    Just out of curiosity, I’d like your conclusion; Mine is that I’d like to invest for the even more shallow dof of the 1.2L but € 1000 seems to be a lot…

    Still undicided,

    Kind regard, Derk

  2. Derk,

    I decided that the 50L did not make sense for me. I could not see any difference between this lens and the 50 1.4 in the type of images I shoot. I also didn’t like the way the lens felt on the 5D. It’s so stubby and heavy that I know psychologically it would make me not want to carry it all the time. I like to carry a camera practically all the time and weight is a concern. I also have the 24-105, which is actually a bit heavier than the 50L, but because it’s longer if feels better balanced on the 5D.

    I also did notice the “focus shift” a few times with this lens.

    Where I can see this lens making sense is used close up and wide open just for the creamy smooth background it produces. Images with the 50L do appear to be more out of focus compared to the EF 50. Go back to my posted images and look at the three photos of the fence and look at the backgrounds. I think these images show it well.

    I did see where Sigma is coming out with a 50 1.4. I will be curious to see that lens on a 5D.

    I hope this helps.

  3. I’ve noticed that the exposure is different on many of your shots. You might notice a difference in focus if you shoot them with manual settings, rather than Av or Tv. Your two f/1.4 fence shots, for instance, are taken at 1/1250 and 1/1600 second exposures. Even real-world, that’s hardly scientific. Also, it would be better if you put your camera on a tripod, so the composition doesn’t change, when you change lenses. The angle at which you are photographing, can change your perspective of whether or not something is in focus, when you work with such shallow depths of field.

  4. M,

    Thanks for the comments. I said in my 4th paragraph that this is not a scientific test, so take it as such. I did take some photos with both lenses while using a tripod but did not include them in the test shots. I don’t use a tripod while out photographing in the real world so that’s how I wanted to test these lenses. I’m not sure I find photographing newspapers on the wall all that informative to taking real photos.

    After a week with the 50L I came away with a great sense of the strengths and weaknesses of this lens.

    I just finished a week photographing with the 35L and the EF35. If you look at images taken on a tripod with both lenses at f2 and f2.8, in a controlled test, the L lens is clearly better. In the real world the EF35/2 is still a much better lens than I had come to believe based on things I had read. Both of these 35mm lenses have their strengths and weaknesses and I may write something up about them once I get some time.

  5. Appreciate the 50L vs. 50 1.4 tests. I had similar results as far as image quality. The difference between the two was negligible (and my 50 1.4 is consistently sharper from wide open on up).

    I would have kept the 50L for build quality alone despite the lack of difference except that it missed focus in a number of real-world images that it shouldn’t have.

    Looking forward to the 35L comparison.

  6. Nice rewiew, thanks.

    Having heard so much of focus-issues relating to the 50mm 1.2L lens, I opted for the 85mm 1.2L in the end of last year when acquiring new gear – eventhough its almost twise as expensive as the 50mm 1.2L. Still, having and keeping my old faithful 50mm 1.4 along the side.

    The 50mm 1.4 only drawback is that its autofocus breaks too darn easily IF the lens is dropped. Mine dropped from about 30cm (~1feet) to the ground and broke. I managed to fix the autofocus (bend plastic element inside the lens) at first, but soon after that the autofocus motor apparently gave up and had to send the lens to be fixed which resulted in ~250 euros (380-390 dollars) repair bill (it’s still cheaper than buying a new one in Northern Europe, plus the insurance helped out).

    p.s. I don’t know if anyone else noted it, but in almost all of the test shots the F1.2 versions have their focus point a bit more to the back than the ones in the 1.4 versions.. is it just a pure coinsidence + the result of unscientific testing methods, or could this actually be another prove to the widely reported “back-focus” issues?

  7. I cannot say for certain in most of the shots. In the “Exit only” photos I do know that I was center focused in the middle of the “X” on the word exit. The EF 1.4 nailed it but the 1.2 missed the focus.

  8. I am at this cross-roads and must make a decission soon. I want the 50mm for street photography and to reduce the profile of my 5d for this purpose. But I have heard nightmare stories about the 1.4’s AF failing. This would be no good to me as I only carry one lens with me when shooting candids for lightness, and work within that focal range. The thought of carrying a back-up lens is defeating the object of travelling light. The 1.2 over the 1.4 seems to have a lot more going for it other than just identical imaging above f2 and I wonder if that should also be a consideration when buying a lens? Resale values are also better and one could almost get their money back if they needed to. Another point is flare. This is a problem with the 1.4 being designed for film use and not digital. Reflection from the AA filter, even if using an oversized coffee-mug hood (used on the 1.4) won’t fully protect the user from this anomally either. I don’t think the 1.2 is worth the money being asked for, but surely it is a better investment overall? It certainly isn’t in the same league as Leica or Carl Zeiss glass to warrant the price. I’m hoping we will see it drop rapidly in price as the credit crunch starts to bite hard on these overpriced items of luxury in the coming year.

  9. Come on guys….
    The difference between f 1.2 and 1.4 is… 4-500 ms. this is all that matter.
    One thing is to shoot it at 1/30 and … when realistic is to shoot it at 1/500. Low light, moving subjects…

    This is the way canon asked thoose money. It means no photo to be taken apart from thoose with fast lenses…

    My 2c opinion: keep the best zoom lenses (f2-f4) and wait for a better low light sensor. like ISO 1 milion… 😉

  10. It has already been mentioned, but the 50/1.2 seems to be the only reliable 50mm made by canon. I’ve had the 1.4 for over two years now and for my wedding photography it is used for 80% of the images, often at 2.0 or wider. Optically its just fine, or even good, but mechanically it’s a disaster. I broke mine twice even though I didn’t drop it. The AF just fails every now and then and since trying to mf with this thing is nearly impossible, it becomes unusable. So, if you’re a pro, get the 1.2, if you don’t and don’t care about reliablity, get the 1.4. If you like to focus manually, get the 1.2 as well, but you’ll have to change your standard focussing screen to the one optimized for mf.

  11. I tried the three lens 50mm (1.8, 1.4 & 1.2) but I haven’t found big differences in terms of rendering. OK I recognize that rendering of the 50mm f/1.8 is lower than the other two models. However I see no difference between f/1.4 and f/1.2. A huge price difference between these two models for rendering very close (if not identical). The construction quality is very different : bad on f/1.8, correct on f/1.4 and excellent on the f/1.2. I think the price difference is justified between f/1.8 and f/1.4, which isn’t the case between f/1.4 and f/1.2. According to different readings, the f/1.2 isn’t fundamentally better than the f/1.4 as focal lengths, apertures, etc. The f/1.2 is a very nice toy but with a price totally unjustified. If you have been psychologically capable of taking this step: congratulations!

  12. Great review on both the 50mm. I only have two options, go for the 7D+50L 1.2 or 5DMk2+50EF 1.4. I would really apperciate valuable advice and guidance.

  13. Thanks so much for the comparisons. I’m not a professional, but am looking at the 1.2 for its quality. In the test shots, I could see a clear difference in about half the photos: The L lens seemed to do a better job with a smoother background and sharper focus. However, a few looked “yellower” with the L. Maybe my glasses are dirty? Like Keith (the above poster), I’m tired of lugging around 2 lenses. I want a good all-purpose quality lens, one that’s sturdy and reliable. Thanks again for your test shots. I’m going for the L (as soon as I can save up). Oh and on another note, just for anybody else who might be reading this, I have the 17-40L which I’m really not to fond of.

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