The 50mm “standard prime” lens is one of the all-time greatest lenses. There are very few photographers – professional, or otherwise – who haven’t owned a 50mm of some description. For decades, a 50mm prime was what you wanted to get with your first SLR, simply because the field of view was identical to the human eye, and the fast aperture meant you could save on the cost of high-speed film!
Costing just £80-90 (approximately $90 ish new), the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 is the cheapest EF lens available today.
But is it any good?
To conduct a proper review, I’ve split the review into 5 categories – Build Quality, Features and Handling, Reliability, Image Quality and Value for Money.
For £90, you certainly don’t expect very much – and Canon doesn’t disappoint. The lens is made of cheap plastic, and you can tell when you hold it. It feels very plasticy, almost unnervingly so. The mount is made of plastic, so you can’t be too rough on it, but it is so cheap that if you break one, it’s easy(ish) to replace. However, it is a small lens, and feels perfect on the front of a low-end DSLR, like the 1000D (which is what I shoot.)
Overall, the build of the lens is about 3/5 – not fantastic, but what do you expect?
Features and Handling
There really are few features to talk about. It’s a fast, standard prime – simplicity itself, no IS.
The switch to toggle between manual and auto focus is nicely raised up, and in such a position that you’re unlikely to accidentally knock while shooting, but is also easy to get to while looking through the viewfinder.
However, it’s not a very good switch – it’s a bit too ambiguous as to whether or not you’ve set it in either position, or if it’s just floating between the two, making a horrific grinding noise when you try to focus it.
The manual focus ring is also pretty poor. It’s quite small, and is on the front of the lens, making it tricky to balance the camera. However, it is quite smooth, and there is no play at all in it, so precision focusing – as is required at f/1.8 – is possible.
The autofocus is nothing to write home about. It focuses quite accurately on the 1000D in good light, and despite the ridiculously shallow depth of field, 9 out of 10 shots are focused well, in the hands of someone who knows how to use it. It does, however, sound like C-3PO doing the robot, and will draw funny looks from people who don’t know what it is.
It has a 52mm filter ring, so a step-down adapter is easily used to let you use the filters you no doubt bought for your kit lens on it.
It is important to note that the front element does extend when focusing, but it doesn’t rotate, so feel free to use a circular polariser!
Handling wise, the lens is definitely suited to lower Canon models, such as the XXXXD and XXXD lines. It feels very suited to my 1000D, very lightweight but also very plastic. The lens seems suited to social events, a combination of the focal length and focus speed lets you grab semi – candid shots at a party, but sports’ll be a lot harder to do.
Overall, I give the lens a 4/5 for the handling and features. It has all that is needs, and is easy to use on a Rebel body, and it was probably designed for that purpose.
There is not that much to say here – it’s a simple lens, so not much can go wrong! However, since it’s so cheap, and has such poor build quality, things will go wrong.
It isn’t unknown for the front of the lens, and front element, to fall completely off, but that’s quite rare. The focus selector switch will get stuck in one position or another sometimes, and brute force is required to fix that. It will occasionally refuse to move in MF mode, but again, brute force is the key.
I’ve had very few problems in the 10 months I’ve had mine, and everyone I know who has had one for 6 or 7 years have never had a problem with it, so I’ll give it a solid 4/5.
For £90, this lens is ridiculously sharp. Wide open, it is a little bit soft, but on an APS-C sized sensor there is no vignetting, and you really have to pixel-peep on a 10MP sensor to see any hints of chromatic aberration. Flare is very well controlled without the optional hood, but can still be achieved, if you so wish. It’s got a very punchy contrast, even SOOC, but sometimes needs a little saturation boost, particularly in dark situations.
The Bokeh (out of focus bits, I’ll do an article on that later) is delicious creamy loveliness at f/1.8, but due to the fact it only has 5 aperture blades, it becomes very jagged at around f/4 and smaller, which is unfortunate, because the lens performs its best then.
It is a great portrait lens, and it’s definitely sharp enough for large prints.
I give it a 4/5, it’s quite sharp and has great bokeh wide open, but is let down by only having 5 aperture blades, a terrible mistake on an otherwise optically fantastic lens.
Value for Money
There’s little to say here – it’s a star of a lens, and being only £90 it’s definitely within the price range of most beginners, and just the lens that you need to really appreciate your new DSLR, or fall back in love with photography!
In my opinion, it’s probably the best value for money lens from Canon, and it will surprise you day after day with what it can do. You will definitely not get more bang for your buck than with this bad boy.
So, it gets a 5/5 for value for money!
Quick Summary :
Easy to use
Small and portable
Excellent value for money
Doesn’t focus particularly fast
Has harsh bokeh beyond f/2
This article Copyright Andrew Barclay 2012
May be reproduced with permission