Which Prime Lens Should I buy? Canon 50mm 1.8 vs 50mm 1.4 vs 50mm 1.2

So you've invested some cash into a nice DSLR but that kit lens isn't cutting it anymore. Or you're just looking for a nice lens for portrait and low light photography. Three lens fit that category nicely, three different prime lenses, all in the 50mm range. Just Googling the prices on each lens you'll notice the 50mm 1.8 will run you about 100.00, the next, 50mm 1.4, about 250.00 and finally the 50mm 1.2 all the way in the thousand dollar price range! Give or take of course. So what exactly separates the huge price range? Just a little extra blur? To start, I have only personally owned the 50mm 1.8. However I have used the 50mm 1.4 for a couple of weeks. And the 50mm 1.2 for a few hours. Just using them for the short period of time I can see why some people would invest all of that extra cash. That saying, you get what you pay for, is somewhat true in this case. Keep in my mind I don't put the 50mm 1.8 down in any sense because it's cheaper. What everyone needs to understand however is that when buying a lens it is a true investment. Cameras will come and go; they are also outdated quickly. Your lens however will always be sharp and it'll always be there to compliment your camera. So let's jump right into it!

From Left to Right: 50mm 1.8, 50mm 1.4, 50mm 1.2
From Left to Right: 50mm 1.8, 50mm 1.4, 50mm 1.2

My Thoughts On The 50mm 1.8

The 50mm 1.8 was the first lens I purchased after realizing that the kit lens didn't satisfy my needs. I wanted to take nice and crisp portrait shots and I also wanted to record HD videos in low light. (I had the t1i at the time)

The 50mm 1.8 was a dream lens to me because at the time every other lens was out of my price range. The 50mm 1.8 was only 100 bucks at the time. 

My first impressions from opening the box were that the lens was cheaply made. It was completely plastic and it was extremely light. I did know what I was getting because I had read many reviews before hand but man when it was in my hand I was already beginning to have buyer’s remorse.  I was a little skeptical about using tit because I heard stories about the lens getting stuck onto the camera. 

The performance of this lens was makes me recommend this lens to anyone on a huge budget. Keep in mind, I was coming from the kit lens and the first shots I took with the 50mm 1.8 I was stunned. The shots looked great to me. The image was so crisp and the blurry background just gives the image some focus. My images no longer looked “Flat” I would say.

Now when I took it out for some nice shots it truly surprised me. The kit lens was great in the direct sunlight but anything in low light conditions, without any external flashes, they just sucked. The 50mm 1.8 only being 100 bucks did the right job: less noise, less grain and an overall much sharper image. 

Video recording was no different. I'm a huge fan of horror movies so it’s given that I intend to shoot in low light. Crisp and sharp in low light conditions. 

If I had any grudges it would just be nit picking. For 100 bucks I can't complain on the build quality at all. The performance made it worth every penny and then some. Off course after trying out the other two lenses I realized something I preferred on the other 2 than the 50mm 1.8 but that’s a given.

However if I were to nit pit I’d say the lens was a tad bit loud while manually focusing on video mode. Unless you have an external microphone or intend to add a soundtrack onto your video, you will hear the focus ring turning in the video. And if you’re in a quiet room recording it will be a loud one.

Keep in mind that these are PRIME lenses so you aren't going to be able to zoom in or out. Yes, the true horror.   

My Thoughts On The 50mm 1.4

Next up was the 50mm 1.4 that my friend bought. He actually didn't use it much. He told me “Just want to have it because I might need it spontaneously.” So I borrowed it for a while. Now when I put my hands on the 50mm 1.4, I automatically FELT the difference. The build quality was much much MUCH better. My friend said he had bought it for about 250 and if I knew that it was going to feel that much more durable I would have definitely gotten that myself.

The focus ring was much quieter and it just turned much smoother. The focus ring on the 50mm 1.8 was all the way in the front of the lens and comparing it to the 50mm 1.4 the focus ring between the two was no competition. The test shots I took came out great but I didn’t really notice if the shots were any better than 50mm 1.8. Personally, I didn't notice too much of a difference between the shots but I have seem online test between the two and yes the 1.4 did have a deeper blur and a TINY bit sharper image. 

My Thoughts On The 50mm 1.2

My first encounter with the 50mm 1.2 was my cousin's. She had the mark ii with the 50mm 1.2. She does a lot of professional photography. My first impressions were that this thing is HUGE. The glass was enormous. I had seen pictures before but until you have it in your hands it’s hard to understand just how big it is. And of course with the size comes extra weight. But it didn’t bother me at all. I just know some people put that into consideration when traveling.

The quality, being an L series lens of course makes it the top quality lens. And I quickly realized why the L series cost that much. Obviously, in all aspects the 50mm 1.2 triumphs the other two lens. The focus ring was MUCH quieter and MUCH smoother than the 1.2. Even when taking pictures the focus on this lens was much faster than the last two and focused even quieter.

The depth of field was much deeper and the images were just that much sharper. Just messing around with it at 1.2 you'll see how great it is. If I took advantage of the cameras full potential with the 1.2 I'm positive the results of the shot would have been outstanding. But I didn't have too much time with the 50mm 1.2 to put it to its max sadly.

Which Do I Recommend?

So what do I recommend? I'd say they are all great for portrait shots. All great for low light shots. But I'd have to give the best buy to the 50mm 1.4. Great image quality and great build for a reasonable price. Sure it doesn't have the same build as the 1.2 but that’s obvious considering the 1000 price difference.

This does not take away anything from any of the other two lenses. If your just beginning photography and you cannot raise an extra 150 then go for the 1.8. Yeah the build quality isn’t as good but it has stayed true to me and the image quality still does great justice. This is a great starter lens if you only intend to use it for mainly photography. I'd say if you are planning to do a lot of video recording and you don't have an external microphone then I'd say wait and save for the 50mm 1.4. From the reasons above of course

Now if you have the money, which I’m sure many do now days, and if you have already had experience with a lot lenses and you've had experience with cameras in general, in which you probably wouldn’t be reading this hub, then I'd say go for the 50mm 1.2. The 50mm 1.2 is more for those who take their photography seriously. As in you get some type of income with it. In that case of course you want to invest in something that will last a while, not that the other two wouldn't.  If your absolutely taking photography serious.  

HOWEVER if you are doing studio shots then I personally wouldn't recommend the 1.2 not to take any credit away from it but I'd say with the ideal lighting, something you'd usually find in a studio, the 50mm 1.4 would do just as fine. So good luck with the purchase and I hope this hub helped you choose the right lens! 

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Comments 7 comments

Butch News 5 years ago

Just checking your article out. My two cents worth as a retired professional photographer. Most cameras come with a standard lens which will usually be a slower lens... 1.8 but if you have the option then it is always worth buying the 1.4 which will have an edge on speed (your image will be a bit brighter in the viewfinder) and will provide better quality images at f stops wider than f4 usually because of extra elements in the lens... which make it cost more. Similarly the 1.2 will give an even brighter image in the viewfinder and should perform quite well but you have to ask yourself if it's worth the extra weight and cost. Most professionals will likely prefer the fastest lens they can afford or lay their hands on. From an amateur's point of view it likely makes little difference.


Leniscool profile image

Leniscool 5 years ago Author

Hey man thanks for the great comment. You're absolutely right that pro's will prefer the faster lens. And yes from any amateurs point of view, I do not consider myself pro by any means, the difference does seems minimal. The article was just my honestly opinion from shooting for only a couple of years. Thanks for the comment again!


thewayeyeseeit profile image

thewayeyeseeit 5 years ago from Woodstock, GA

I have had both the 1.8 and the 1.4, and I managed to break them both by dropping them. I don't recommend seeing if one of these lenses will bounce. The 1.8 simply shattered, being plastic. The 1.4 focus system quit working after dropping it. But both lenses were good. As you mentioned, the Canon f/1.4 is a better lens, but at 3 times the price, it better be. Take a look at Sigma85mm f/1.4 lens.

Most recently, I bought a Sigma 85mm f/1.4, and OMG, what a lens!

Take a look at http://hubpages.com/hub/Sigma-85mm-f14-Lens.


TrahnTheMan profile image

TrahnTheMan 4 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

Thanks Leniscool- helpful comparison re whether the lens is primarily for photos or video. I was about to fork out for the 1.8 but now I'm reconsidering holding on for the 1.4...It's such a shame that the FD mount lenses don't work on the EOS system- there are 1.4 FD lenses for sale for CCHEAP (I got one for about $35) but even with the adapter mount it just doesn't work (you get that misty look until you close up the aperture to 5.6ish, which of course totally defeats the purpose of getting a fast lens). Also the build quality of the FDs was great- not the plasticy fell of the 1.8 EF at all. Anyways...


Darrylmdavis profile image

Darrylmdavis 4 years ago from Brussels, Belgium

Neat hub! One thing to consider as well: if you are using a cropped body camera (which many people do these days, especially if one is not a real professional) is that a 50mm essentially becomes an 80mm lens. Nothing wrong with that for portraits (quite the contrary) but it will be less-than-ideal for landscape or more general use. On such cameras, 35mm prime will approach a "true" 50mm and be more versatile. Personally, I use the Canon 28mm 1.8 USM on a 550D as I shoot landscapes and architecture more than anything.

Voted up :-)


jainismus profile image

jainismus 3 years ago from Pune, India

Great analysis of these normal lenses, thank you for sharing it.


Rob 3 years ago

I did a comparison of the 50mm 1.8 mark i & the 50L on my blog with whole pictures and 100% crops people might be interested in checking out. I found the 50mm 1.8 Mark i held up pretty good to the 50L.

You can view the pictures here: wp.me/p3dIx7-57

(both lenses are mine, if that make any difference to people)

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