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Should I Buy the Canon 50mm f/1.8 or the f/1.4 lens?

Updated on January 28, 2013
Photo by Mezo.
Photo by Mezo.

The Canon 50mm f/1.8 II is a nice lens for beginners and those on a tight budget. This article is aimed at beginners so I will try to make it as simple as possible. First of all, This lens is a "prime lens" which means it has only the focal length of 50mm, which means you can't zoom in or out using this lens. The f/1.8 number is the widest aperture for this lens, which is considered wide and suitable for low light situations (it is wider than the kit lens, the Canon EF-S 18-55 f/3.5-5.5).

But why buy a 50mm lens?

Generally, prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses. Some people like to use a zoom lens as their walk around lens that can be used in different situations but others find the 50mm a very good range for their needs, specially if they need the wide aperture at night and low light and if most of their photography is portraits those who like wild life photography will need a telephoto zoom lens, etc.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is a very light and small lens. Sometimes this is a very valuable feature for a walk around lens, specially if you like to carry you camera strapped to your neck.

Image quality
The image quality of this lens is very good specially at f/4 and higher. This is important, like many lenses, the Canon 50mm 1.8 is NOT that sharp at 1.8 ! but it gets sharper as you increase the f-stop number, so at f/4 it is very sharp, in fact it is sharper than the kit lens at f/4.
This is a relative disadvantage, for professionals or those selling their photography, the photos taken at f/1.8 would be unacceptably soft, but if you are just taking photos for fun and you really need the shallow depth of field the sharpness of the photos may be just acceptable for you.

As you increase the f-number to 2, 2.2, 2.8(making the aperture narrower) the image gets sharper and sharper and you still have a nice shallow depth of field but you will notice major improvement of sharpness at f/4. With its amazing price, this lens is really excellent for the price. So, if you are on a tight budget and the f/1.8 aperture is good for you, this lens is great for you.

But what if you need your photos to be sharp enough at wide aperture and you are willing to pay, we may consider the Canon 50mm f/1.4, it gives sharper images and has a wider aperture giving shallower depth of field, or if you really wanna push things to the maximum (and also willing to pay for a great lens, you might go for the 50mm f/1.2 lens. Note that even the f/1.4 won't be tack sharp at 1.4 but photos might be usable and you can always use it at 1.8 if you want. The f/1.2 is an L series lens and it is a really sharp lens even at wide aperture but it also costs more than a thousand dollars!

Alternatives and summary

Sigma also has a brilliant 50mm f/1.4 lens but the price is higher than Canon's f/1.4 and both are of course more expensive than the 50mm 1.8.

So, to summarize things up, the Canon EF 50mm 1.8 II lens a very light lens that is good for the price with a wide aperture that gives a shallow depth of field but images get softer as you reduce the f-number, it is great for portraits and even may be as an everyday lens suitable for different types of shots. If you need your photos to be sharp at widest aperture you might go for either the Sigma or the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lenses.

Share your opinion with us!
Do you have any of the mentioned lenses or tried one of them? Tell us about your experience and what you like and don't like about your 50mm lens.
Thank you.

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