Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 Reviews and Samples

First published on: Thursday, 23 August 2007

The EF 50mm f/1.8 (currently at Version II) lens is the lowest-priced prime (fixed) lens in the Canon lens lineup.

In this article, I summarize and compile links to user and professional reviews, tests, image samples and galleries, and examples of superb photos shot with this lens.

But first …

You’ll probably encounter two different versions of this lens — the older EF 50mm f/1.8 (some call it a Mark I lens) and the newer EF 50mm f/1.8 II — so be sure you know which is which if you’re in the market to purchase one. Version II is the one currently on sale, but you might get Version I is you’re purchasing a lens in the used market.

Many have commented that they prefer the construction and build quality of the first version.

Reviews, Ratings, Feedback, Impressions and Tests

Test report at — This should be required reading for those who wish to peruse test results before committing to a lens purchase. You get charts showing the performance of the lens in terms of vignetting, distortion, resolution and chromatic aberrations. Towards the end of the review are five full-sized sample shots taken with this lens mounted on a Canon 350D / Digital Rebel XT.

Wonderful for available light photography — But dangerous, as it might lead you to wanting to purchase more expensive quality L lenses down the road. This lens on a 350D / 400D / Digital Rebel XT / XTi is the ultimate lightweight combination for lowlight photography.

Mike Baginy’s opinion — There’s a ton of great points in Mike’s post:

  • It’s fairly compact, so goes into a jacket pocket easily

  • Plastic bayonet and low cost body means that you shouldn’t subject it to too much rough handling

  • Shallow depth-of-field when shot at large apertures makes shooting portraits very rewarding. You get that “look” in your photos that’s missing from small-aperture zoom lenses.

  • You’d need to be careful when shooting pictures while handholding this lens to avoid hand shake from ruining the sharpness of the picture.
    I’d like to add that a general formula for the slowest shutter speed you can afford for handholding is 1/(1.6 x focal length) = 1 / (1.6 x 50) = 1/80th of a second — with practice, you can go lower, but generally 1/30th is the absolute lower limit if you don’t brace yourself.

  • The large maximum wide open aperture means that you can afford not to use flash in low light situations, giving you more natural-looking photos.
    Martin adds that photos shot with the 50mm f/1.8 lens at f/2.5 to 2.8 are already as sharp as the 18-55mm kit lens at f/8 — this is a huge advantage for low light photography.

Better photos with flash — Even though one of the 50mm f/1.8 lens’ strengths lies in the fact that it reduces your reliance on flash, you’ll notice that you get better results with indoor flash photography too.

Try this, in a dimly-lit environment (say with warm, cozy lighting in the background), set your camera on ISO400, bounce your external flash to the ceiling, set the aperture to no more than f/2.5, and point your camera at the subject (say a simple portrait).

What you’ll see is that the softly-lit background is also visible in your picture, unlike what you get when the aperture goes above f/2.8, which is a stark, black background.

Also, with a large aperture, your flash doesn’t have to work as hard.

Compared with the EF 50mm f/1.4 and 50mm f/1.2L — Even though the focal length is the same, differences lie in other image characteristics, with the more expensive f/1.4 and f/1.2L versons giving better bokeh and subject isolation (that is, shallow depth of field, see a related post, which, although not directly comparable, gives you an idea about bokeh and subject isolation of the f/1.8 vs f/1.2L) when shot at their respective wide-open aperture.

Shooting macros? — Even though the 50mm lens cannot focus as close as the 18-55mm kit lens, it gives you far greater macro capability when used with extension tubes, closeup filters, teleconverters, or when stacked.

For best results … stop down to f/2.8. This gives you sharper results and reduces the risk of chromatic aberrations or flare (read this thread discussing flare) showing up in your pictures (this is true of most lenses, by the way).

Already have the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens? — Then getting the 50mm f/1.8 might still be a good idea because f/2.8 is insufficient for stopping motion in low light situations, and the depth of field might not be shallow enough for portraiture.

Amazing Photographs

Chewie’s portraits — Here’s a great selection of portraiture at, or near wide open apertures.

Butterfly Iris — These photos were snapped with a 350D / Digital Rebel XT at apertures of f/9 and f/10, giving you a good idea of the kind of background bokeh you can expect with this lens.

Ashish Pandey’s 50mm f/1.8 photos — Ashish provides two links to examples of low light photography (Dancing with Dragon & Phoenix and CNY07 — The world goes marching) in his gallery. Be sure to click the navigation arrows found above the photos to navigate the entire set.

I like his macro gallery showcasing the use of Kenko extension tubes with the 50mm lens — enjoy! (Note that Kenko makes a version of their AF(autofocus)-capable extension tubes for the Canon mount).

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