Review: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Box
The EF 50mm f1.8 II on its box
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens on its box

Recently I got my fifth lens, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, Canon’s entry-level nifty fifty lens.  This is the cheapest lens Canon makes and, build-wise, it shows.  Unlike the other lenses I own (even the kit lens), the 50mm is very plastic-looking and plastic-feeling.

So why get this lens?  First of all, it only cost me $114 for an EF lens with an aperture larger than f/2.8, that is a phenomenal price.  Second, it can open up all the way to f/1.8!  This aperture opens up a whole new level of low light handheld photography.  Just in case you don’t know why, let me take a quick momemt to explain.  The f-stop, or aperture, is the denominator of a fraction.  Therefore the smaller the number, the larger the aperture.  The larger the aperture, the more light that is let into the lens.  Therefore, you can have a higher shutter speed and, therefore, be able to take picture in low light without a tripod.  Of course, the greater the aperture, the smaller the apparent depth of field.  In other words, not very much in front and behind your focal point is in focus.  Let me illustrate this with some photos I shot when I got the lens.  The following DVD cases are about 4-6 inches apart from each other.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II depth of field at 1.8 test 1
Here I focused on the first stack

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II depth of field at 1.8 test 2
Here I focused on the second stack
Day Forty-Four:  Testing Out My New Lens
A self-portrait with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II at f/1.8

And if that was too abstract for you, here’s a self-portrait I took at f/1.8.  Now, it’s hard to tell without looking at the large version of that photo (larger than would look good on my blog), but go ahead and click through.  Did you notice that my ears and the back part of my head are out of focus?  Even the tip of my nose is a little out of focus.  In fact, even my further eye is less in focus than my closer eye.  This is great if you’re shooting portraits with a very busy background.  Everything in the background will blur together and people will focus on your subject.  People have criticized this lens at this f-stop, but I think it delivers good results – you just need to be a lot more careful.

The EF 50mm f1.8 II is pretty tiny
This lens is small.

I want to return to how small this lens is.  It is almost too small.  The manual focus lens is almost vestigal.  And trying to grip the lens while holding your SLR often leaves you thinking it should be a bit larger.  (See the last picture in this blog post)  However, this is also a good thing because the lens isn’t too heavy.  It barely adds any weight to your SLR, so if you were traveling around and wanted to minimize the weight on your neck/hands, it would be a good lens.  I find 50mm to be a pretty good walkabout lens on my 400D, even with its 1.6x crop.

The  only other real negative is that this is not a USM lens.  The Canon EF 50mm f1.4 lens is the next most expensive 50mm lens Canon makes.  And it’s $400 or so.  That’s a lot more money and all your really get is USM and a larger manual focus ring.  Some reviews I’ve read say the optics between the f/1.8 and f/1.4 lenses are pretty much the same.  So the lens is loud when it focuses.  Make that loud and cheap sounding – even the kit lens doesn’t sound that bad when it focuses.  But that’s not really too bad.  And for that price, it’s really worth getting.

I’m pretty happy with the performance so far.  I’m hoping to try it out next time I go to NYC to see how it compares at night photography to my 50mm macro lens.

The EF 50mm f1.8 II looks insanely small mounted on the Rebel XTi with vertical grip
The Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II lens on the Rebel XTi (400D)

3 responses to “Review: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II”

  1. Showed my photos from Dina’s Tiki Party to others at the party and they said it actually looked better than the actual event. So, that’s a pretty good lens! It makes the photos better than reality.