Review – The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens

canon 50 mm

As a photography enthusiast and Canon owner I had heard a lot about the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens.

A LOT about it.  And often.  People rave and post gorgeous demonstrations of the results of photography using the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens prime lens, and generally gush.  Especially considering the relatively cheap price of it.

So last year when I got the chance to try one out for a few hours (courtesy of SolarGravity.com – you can also see his review here) I certainly jumped at the chance.

Lens shown with Goya 52 to 58 mm adapter and UV filter attached.

Lens shown with Goya 52 to 58 mm adapter and UV filter attached.

And I sure was not disappointed.

The photos taken with it were wonderful, clear, clean, perfectly focused on the subjects, and there was some beautiful magnificent Bokeh.  Even though I had just taken a series of initial and random quick photos with the camera on automatic mode (gasp!) – the results were some excellent stuff.

I concluded that I could not possibly take a bad photo with this lens.

That’s big to me, as I’m not a professional photographer and, at best, only an intermediate photographer.  Sure, I like to dabble in advanced techniques when something catches my interest – like High Dynamic Range Imaging.  And I use my camera quite often for projects for customers – mostly I take a lot of incidental photos for websites and usually not real high-resolution, and nothing like a nice portrait or anything along those lines.

Yet I also concluded, as a person interested in photography and improving my skills, that I must have one of these “Nifty-Fifty’s”.

It took me almost a year to get around to picking one up.

The first thing I noticed when I opened the box up is the lens feels light, and kinda cheap.  Let’s face it – it is cheap.  But just because something is cheap doesn’t mean that it’s bad or doesn’t work well – as is evident with this lens.

So let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first.  The body is plastic, and it’s very, very light.  The whole lens is quite small in fact, barely taking up any room in my camera bag (BTW, want a nice camera bag – check out my review of the Case Logic SLRC-206).   The auto-focusing is very loud, and a bit grindy-sounding too.  It’s not USM so the focusing also isn’t that fast.

But does it take great pictures!  It’s hard to imagine NOT wanting one of these despite the few drawbacks.

This actual series of Canon lenses was first introduced way back in 1990, the ‘Mark I’ version for 35 mm film cameras.  Canon has continued the line with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens and the Canon EF 50mm F1.4 USM – which is faster and beefier but at least three times the price of this lens!

Nice model, good location, proper light, bokeh, Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 lens - what else do you need for a great photo?

Nice model, good location, proper light, bokeh, Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 lens – what else do you need for a great photo?

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens really only has two controls – there is an auto-focus/manual-focus switch and a fairly small focus ring.   Some people complain about the manual focus ring being small but it doesn’t seem too small to me, and I have fairly big hands.

As I mentioned above, the whole lens is quite small overall, though I made mine slightly longer and easier to handle with the help of a Goja 52-58mm Step-Up Adapter Ring (52mm Lens to 58mm) as well as a UV Filter to protect the lens.   You can find a quick review of the aforementioned adapter in my blog review here.  Both of these added a slight length to the lens, and the adapter allows me to add filters and lens hoods and other things to it, too.

Speaking of the lens hood; the whole barrel of the lens doesn’t rotate on focus but the focus ring does, as it’s coupled to the motor (don’t try to move the focus ring while in AF mode, you can damage something!), so if you put a lens hood on this lens you don’t have to worry about the lens hood rotating.

Just a personal opinion here but the lens hood looks great on this otherwise stubby lens, just from a cosmetic point of view.

You can buy the Canon ES-62 lens hood also, which doesn’t require an adapter ring.  But I liked having the adapter because now I can use lens covers, hoods, filters, and other accessories interchangeable among all of my 58 mm lenses.

The lens acts as equivalent to something like a 75 mm to 80 mm lens while on my Canon Rebel, so it’s especially great for portraits.  Of course you have to get moderately close to your subjects, as you would with any portrait lens.

There is basically no chromatic aberration or even bluish tinge when using this lens, even at wide aperture.  Just pristine beautiful shots.  From what I have read the slight bluish tinge can be the case for the Canon EF 50mm F1.4 USM.

But at F1.8 it’s very sharp in the middle but kind of a bit soft in the corners/edges.  But if you stop down you’ll find that the sharpness at the edges begins to increase also, so that everything is uniform if needed.

Minimum Focal Distance

Minimum Focal Distance

And one of the greatest things about this lens is its sharpness, for such a cheap price.

Unfortunately too much sharpness and detail can sometimes be a negative – as the lens will capture everything, and I mean everything (!) on a person’s face in great detail, including unattractive details and blemishes that the naked eye might not notice or see.  A little softening in Photoshop or Elements and repair and such might sometimes be in order.

Did I mention Bokeh yet?  I’ve tried not to mention it but once in this review, as the word gets thrown around a lot when talking about this lens.  Ah, but glorious effortless Bokeh.  Sure, the word may be used a little too much but it’s so effortless it’s worth mentioning again.  Some photographers seem to think the ‘Bokeh’ isn’t very good on this, with various artifacts and such showing from the number or shapes of the blades used in the lens for the light to pass through.  I don’t see it myself.

Bee Macro

Bee Macro

You can do some macro work with it, more of a beginning macro exploration perhaps. But it sure can come out quite nicely if you use a combination of auto-focus and adjustment of your distance physically from the object (when you’re too close).   The minimum focus distance is about 1.5 feet (.45 m) so you can only get so close before you lose ability to focus, manually or automatically, and you need to start moving the camera back.  With the addition of magnification filters, like this set; you can do a really excellent super-close macro with high magnification, or by using an extension tube.  Cheap extension tubes like this one don’t have contacts so you have to focus manually, but it would work.  Better, this one maintains contacts even while using all of the extension tubes at once.

But even without anything extra you can get some interesting macro shots (see photo at left).

I wouldn’t call this a perfect lens for “walking around” but you’ll find it doing a good job whether you are taking shots of people, animals, scenes, or the occasional macro shot.  There’s a lot of interesting things you can do with it.

In summary – a great lens for portraits, as well as scenes and many other things.  Great for experimenting.  And almost indispensable for your camera bag.

Boathouse, Lake of the Woods, focus on boathouse

Boathouse, Lake of the Woods, focus on boathouse

Boathouse, Lake of the Woods, close focus on tree

Boathouse, Lake of the Woods, close focus on tree

Archer and his brother in the background

Archer and his brother in the background

Windblown Corn

Windblown Corn

Plants, bokeh - what else can I say?

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