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Reviewing a Legend
Whenever the Canon EF 50mm f/L is mentioned photographer’s eyes light up. This lens was only made for almost ten years, and only made in whatsoever kind of quantity for a few years, just has rapidly attained legendary status among collectors and those that dream of owning one. Afterwards having used it for a few months, I am left to publish a review different no other I have ever done. This is a lens that isn’t going to exist very practical for most users, merely then again, who spends big money to collect practical things? Is the Canon EF 50mm f/one.0L more than just a collector’s item? Read on to find out.
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Size and Build
At that place is a reason that every other full frame compatible 50mm lens has a smaller maximum aperture than this lens. Compared to the lenses of its era (1989-2000) it is massive! Its optical formula is eleven elements in 9 groups and includes two expensive aspherical elements. Information technology has viii discontinuity blades, but, every bit nosotros’ll see in the bokeh section, these are not curved so the circular discontinuity shape is lost fairly apace. It is housed in a generally metallic body that is 91.5mm around and 81.5mm long (fat rather than long). Weight is 985g (ouch!) Canon’s other 50mm option at the time, the 50mm f/1.viii, weighed a paltry 190g by comparison, making the 50mm f/1.0L a total five times heavier! Even the 50mm f/1.2L (click for my review) that would come up much subsequently (2007) weighs an insignificant 545g by comparison. These days lenses like the Sigma 50mm f/ane.4 ART and the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55mm have equaled and even surpassed this lens in size, just there is no question that your wrists go a bit of conditioning with it and it will definitely feel front heavy on lighter camera bodies. It is worth noting that there was no directly replacement of this lens; the 50mm f/ane.2L didn’t come up for 7 more years. The electric current EF 50mm f/i.4 (sadly) came a few years later (sadly because this lens – now 23 years one-time – is withal Canon’southward lame duck de facto 50mm pick). Needless to say that the extreme size, weight, and price of this lens (roughly $1800 at the time, much higher when inflation is considered today) did not help information technology become a large seller in its mean solar day.
But the size and weight of such a lens is non the master reason why no one makes a lens like this currently. The farthermost nature of designing around such a large aperture brings other huge challenges, including autofocus and optical technology. We’ll touch those in a moment. Still, this was an technology tour-de-force, and was a shot across the bow of Nikon showing simply what Canon could practise. That engineering science expertise payed off in another lens with much broader appeal (hint: information technology still occupies the same body as this lens).
The lens includes the ES-79II hood, one of the older styles with snap-tabs instead of bayonet style. I’yard not crazy about this fashion myself as it always feels a flake insecure to me. One other aspect of the lens hood I’m less than crazy nigh is how much it flares out. Information technology can be reversed for storage, but makes the footprint of the lens much, much wider.
The view at the back of the lens is fairly unusual. Most lenses that I test these days are rear focusing (the rear element moves frontward and dorsum), but the rear view of the 50mm f/1.0L reveals a solid, fixed chunk of glass. I’ve never seen a lens quite like it before (the 85L II is similar). The lens is not internally focusing, and in that location is an inner butt at the front of the lens that extends forward equally the lens is focused downwards towards minimum focus. This is called a floating focus system. On a positive notation, it doesn’t rotate when focusing, then use of a polarizer won’t be affected (and y’all are going to demand filters on this lens!) It uses a 72mm filter thread (very common amid Canon L series primes). Unless you are shooting in very low low-cal, exist prepared to throw a filter on the front of this lens to reduce the amount of light hitting the sensor. In daylight you volition be constantly exceeding even a i/8000th
shutter speed at f/1.0.
Just the tradeoff for all of this is that this lens lets in more than light than but about anything else always made for a 35mm sensor. It lets in a total stop more of light at f/ane.0 than the far more mutual f/one.iv lenses do. In that sense it is the ultimate depression low-cal performer, allowing yous to stop action in a way that slower lenses tin can only dream of (and f/2.viii is REALLY dull by comparison here! This lens is 3 full stops faster!!) To bring this into more than familiar perspective, that is like the departure between f/2.8 and f/eight!
The build of the lens is incredibly familiar (and current!) for a lens that is 27 years old. The reason that information technology looks so familiar is that the current 85mm f/1.2L II inherited the aforementioned concrete body. The copy I’m reviewing has held upwardly extremely well and doesn’t prove its historic period in the least. This was (is) a well-engineered instrument. The squat frame has a distance window (with hyperfocal makings for f/4, viii, 11, and f/16 – minimum discontinuity for this lens).
In a somewhat unusual step for this kind of the lens there is a focus limiter. You can set the lens to focus from .6m to infinity or from 1m to infinity. Doesn’t seem similar much of a deviation, does it? Only then yous enable manual focus (select MF and the camera must be powered on) and realize that there is more than focus throw between .6m and 1m on this lens than there is for the whole focus range on the Sigma 50mm f/ane.4 ART! That incredibly tiny depth of field means that there are incredible amount of potential focus points between minimum focus and 5 or half dozen feet out. The focus limiter is as well the MF switch at its final setting.
The lens can merely focus down to a very poor .vi meters (roughly two feet), and the resulting maximum magnification figure (.11x) is poorer than I’ve seen for any other 50mm lens (my older Zeiss Planar T* i.vii/50mm is a close second). The current form leader (in a non-macro class) is the Tamron 45mm f/i.8 VC and its .29x maximum magnification. The deviation between the magnification of these two lenses is staggering. The Tamron shot is the bottom one – both of these are shot at the respective minimum focus distances for the lens.
What is unquestionable is that this is a great lens to expect at! Here are few more shots of this beauty:
First of all, it is actually somewhat incredible that a lens similar this has autofocus. This is a huge engineering accomplishment. The strain put on an autofocus system past such a large aperture is incredible, every bit is the amount of force required to move such heavy elements. Canon managed this in a unique way, combining a focus by wire organization that isn’t dissimilar in that sense to modern STM lenses, though the actual focus motor here is a band USM (Ultrasonic Motor). Because the challenges presented by the extreme nature of this lens, the autofocus is really quite a success. It actually probably works amend today than it did at the fourth dimension that information technology was manufactured because of better autofocus systems along with the ability to perform microadjustment to calibrate the lens to the photographic camera body.
Overall resolution isn’t fantastic, but this f/1.0 shot is certainly nailed as far as focus.
It is interesting to calibrate such a massive aperture lens. The amount of glass in information technology is incredible, and knowing how shallow that depth of field is makes me leery that the lens would be able to accurately autofocus. Although the lens needed a -12 (a adequately big adjustment), it focused quite consistently at that setting in my tests.
Autofocus performance is really adequately expert, specially at shut to medium distances. The relatively depression sharpness (combination of low contrast, relatively depression resolution, and high chromatic aberrations) on the subject in comparison to many high resolution lenses might tempt y’all to call up the image isn’t focused well, simply I found that in the majority of my shots good focus had been achieved. You also have to focus very carefully, as depth of field is very, very thin at f/one.0 at most focus distances. Using the focus and recompose technique may not work in some instances. In one example, I took a photo of a barn and thought the AF literally couldn’t hitting the side of a barn, but so I noticed that some very thin reeds sticking out of the snowfall nearly 10 feet in front of the barn were in focus. That betoken of contrast had obviously caught the AF’s attending, and the very thin DOF meant that the barn was not in focus at all despite my existence at least thirty feet from it and over twenty from the reeds.
A lens like this doesn’t merely put pressure level on the AF organisation; information technology puts a lot of pressure level on the photographer. Yet, my feeling is that the crumbling AF system in the 50mm f/1.0L is withal doing a pretty impressive job because the claiming it faces – at v anxiety the depth of field is a tiny 2 inches; an f/1.eight has twice as much DOF to play with. I volition admit that my expectations were lower with this lens than modern ones, only while not perfect, the AF organisation in the 50mm f/1.0L really does quite a decent job of accurately focusing.
Autofocus speed is not nearly as impressive. The 85mm f/ane.2L 2 inherited the “crush” of this lens (they are physically nigh identical), but information technology seems like they share leisurely autofocus speed as well. Modest focus changes are relatively quick, but major changes (specially towards minimum focus) are very boring. You definitely become a sliding racket as the elements movement into identify, though the actual AF motor is relatively repose.
In that location is total time manual override, but but if the shutter push button is held down halfway while turning the focus ring. On that indicate, even if the lens is switched into MF the focus band volition simply do something if the camera is powered on and active. The actual action of the focus band is quite polish, in part because the connexion to the moving of the elements is electronic, not mechanical. Even in manual focus mode it is actually the USM motor that moves the elements, much like modernistic STM lenses. The copy that I’1000 reviewing is sometimes sluggish to “wake upwardly” and accept manual input, so occasionally information technology tin be a little exasperating.
Still, this lens is definitely unique in its power to accurately autofocus at such a massive discontinuity value and in many ways behaves similar any other lens.
This is a demanding lens…period. Information technology is capable of producing very unique results, but it challenges you to apply it the right way. If you plan to shoot outdoors, for example, know that at wide apertures you are likely to be butting up against the limits of your camera’s shutter speed all the fourth dimension. My 6D’s limit is a weak 1/4000th, but even the 1/8000th
limit of my 70D is regularly exceeded. My solution was to use a three stop ND filter (ND8), simply fifty-fifty with that on a bright sunny day I was regularly striking max shutter speed. The inverse of this, of course, is that yous can shoot in very depression lighting conditions and maintain a slow shutter speed. Only to give you an case: I was calibrating a Tamron SP 45mm f/ane.8 VC lens, and with the lighting on the examination nautical chart it was metering at 1/400th
second (ISO 100, f/1.eight). Just for the fun of it, I aimed the 50L at the chart at f/one.0 – the photographic camera metered at 1/2500th
of a second!!! That shows the divergence betwixt f/1.0 and f/1.viii and demonstrates just how much low-cal this baby tin can suck in.
There is no other lens that I know of that tin can assemble more than calorie-free than this lens. At that place is a Mitakon 50mm f/.95 lens, but it is for a mirrorless and transmission focus only. The difference in aperture between these lenses becomes picayune more than technicality. That aside, you volition be unlikely to exist in many situations where you can’t shoot at a relatively low ISO setting.
Clearly an surface area where this lens shines in its very shallow depth of field and discipline isolation. A groovy application of this lens is non simply throw backgrounds out of focus only besides foregrounds. If you isolate your bailiwick betwixt a diffused foreground and background you maximize that huge aperture. Shoot with corners in the frame, or foreground bushes, trees, or other objects. They disappear into a defused mistiness and let you to creatively frame subjects in a very unique style. I shot the shot above through a chair. The wooden slats are merely a vague frame here.
I ran an Aperture Sharpness Profile on the lens. At no aperture is it as precipitous as almost of the modern lenses that I review, with peak sharpness coming at f/4, with consistently loftier results coming between f/3.2 and f/5. The lens doesn’t really reach a loftier level of sharpness until f/2.two. Diffraction sets in at f/10, just the lens stays as sharp through f/16 as information technology is at f/2.
Apparent resolution takes a hit because of another optical defects, namely depression dissimilarity at wide apertures and stiff amounts of chromatic aberrations. This tends to make the details a little hazy and mushy when viewed at a pixel level. The whole flick has a different look than what I’thou familiar with; almost similar a slight filter has been applied. You will either love or hate the look. I shot a few video segments with it and I was personally less than thrilled with the final production. The shot below shows this “look” at f/1.0:
This “haze” makes details indistinct due to the chromatic aberrations, lack of dissimilarity, and low resolution. I dinged the new Tamron 45mm f/1.8 VC for its chromatic aberrations, but this shot shows how stunningly different its contrast and CA control is compared to the f/1.0L:
Chromatic abnormality correction is a challenge with this lens because of the width of the aberrations. Fine lines often don’t resolve with hard edges but are blurred, pregnant that the chromatic aberrations can cover a broad area and don’t clean upward particularly well. This shows a peculiarly bad example and what it looks like after extensive processing to remove the CA:
Another area where the lens fails modern standards is in its flare control. Information technology flares strongly and uniquely when the sunday is in the frame. Curved ghosting lines caput out towards the edges of the frame, and a full general loss of contrast (veiling) occurs.
The lens also heavily vignettes at wide apertures, but not necessarily much more than many other wide aperture lenses. At that place isn’t a standard contour for the lens, and then you will need to detect your preferred look manually if you want to correct for information technology. Vignette is generally gone past f/iv (except extreme edges).
All of this aside, in existent life testing sharpness is actually very adequate…with a major caveat. The lens is clearly optimized for portrait distances, and resolution isn’t very impressive at wide aperture across virtually 15 feet to infinity. This is one surface area where I feel modern primes accept made great strides, and recent lenses like the 35L II, Zeiss Otus lenses, Sigma Art primes along with the new Tamron primes accept demonstrated the ability to resolve highly at all focus distances, not just a certain “optimized” zone. In this instance, all the same, one is hardly well served using this lens as a wide aperture landscape lens – that isn’t at all what it is about.
But for some photographers all of these flaws are welcome; they savour shooting with this lens considering of them and the distinct look that it gives their photos. Different strokes for different folks!
Check out the image gallery for this lens to meet a lot more photos.
I encourage you to check out this video segment where I interactively suspension down the bokeh and image quality from the lens:
When you hear f/, you lot immediately think of utterly vivid bokeh. The lens is definitely capable of an incredible corporeality of blur both before and later the narrow plane of focus, only the bi-aspheric design of the lens results in some unique (positive spin) or downright funky (honest) looking bokeh.
I actually prefer the await of the bokeh on this lens on an APS-C sensor where the mirror box doesn’t cause the clipping effect on the bokeh circles. Hither is a look at the bokeh at various apertures on APS-C (ingather).
Hither is the bokeh at diverse apertures on full frame:
Contrary to expectations you may not want to put out of focus highlights in the frame with this lens. The bokeh is actually better without specular highlights (bokeh circles). You can develop a lot of “cream” with this lens when you lot shoot at relatively close distances. Expect at how diffused the ping pong net is only a piddling bit beyond the paddles and brawl here:
Subject field isolation is a force, but bokeh highlights…not so much. Some people volition honey the uniqueness of the bokeh, but it definitely doesn’t adapt conventional tastes. I adopt bokeh shots without highlights in them. I encounter some of these shots are existence more artistic:
Without existence contradictory, it is easy to come across why the Canon EF 50mm f/i.0L never sold much only besides like shooting fish in a barrel to see why people are desperate to acquire the rare copy that shows up on the used market place. The lens is far as well inaccessible for the typical photographer and too optically flawed for most working professionals. The Canon 50mm f/1.2L has its own share of detractors, simply in every mode information technology is far more than attainable than its venerable (and more extreme) ancestor. Simply it is the extreme nature of 50mm f/1.0L that also makes it then desirable equally a collector’due south item. People are intrigued by extremes, and even the optical flaws of the lens will be desirable to some; a challenge to overcome.
Supercars are not very practical, simply they are highly desirable. Think of the Catechism 50mm f/1.0L the aforementioned way. Putting a human being on the moon had little applied value, merely it made a Cold War statement for the United States that screamed, “Expect what we tin can practice.” The engineering science developed in the Apollo missions served many other more practical purposes later.
Canon didn’t brand this lens (in quantity) for long, but it was a shot across the bows of Nikon, Pentax, and others that said, “Wait what we can practise!” The technologies (and lens body) pioneered in this lens were implemented into the far more practical (yet still extreme) EF 85mm f/ane.2L, and 7 years later evolved into the EF 85mm f/1.2L Ii lens; i of the most prized portrait lenses in the world. The burst of creativity and advanced engineering that resulted in this lens enabled Canon to create more accessible and successful autofocusing f/one.ii lenses (50mm and 85mm), a feat that no ane else is replicating even in 2016. It is worth noting that all the same today Canon is the only 1 producing autofocusing lenses with an f/1.2 maximum aperture.
Was the Canon EF 50mm f/1.0L USM a success? That depends on what metric you use. Catechism was clearly successful in make something so extreme work, and my review copy is still working well some 25+ years later on. It is far from being the most practical optical instrument I’ve e’er used, but yet I tin can clearly so why then many collectors long for this lens and why the price for one is probable to but continue to climb in the future.
Thanks to Craig from Canon Rumors for loaning me his personal copy of this lens for Q1 2016 so that I could thoroughly review it. I appreciate information technology!
- Bragging rights of having the biggest aperture in the room
- Your neighbour won’t have one
- Taking pictures of it is as fun as taking pictures with it
- Adequately accurate autofocus even at f/one.0
- Incredible subject isolation
- Value probable to merely grow
- You don’t need f/1.0, and the optics are compromised to get there
- Depression resolution, low dissimilarity
- Poor flare and chromatic aberration control
- Funky, busy bokeh in many situations
- Costs every bit much equally a Zeiss Otus 1.iv/55mm…used
- Autofocus is on the slow side
Catechism EOS 6D DSLR Photographic camera (Body Only)
Catechism EF 50mm f/i.0L USM
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