Talking about prime lenses in my previous post, I thought it’d be wise to continue along the same vein and review one of my favorite prime lenses, Canon’s ‘nifty fifty’, the EF 50mm f1.8 II. This very small and light fixed focal length lens is one of the best value buys you could ever hope to find as a photographer – it’s fast, it takes very sharp images, and is super cheap – and, especially if you’re new to the whole DSLR world, I highly recommend you check it out. It’s ordinary in terms of build quality and extra features of any sort – you shouldn’t be expecting a superb build or any sort of fancy features on a $100 lens anyway – but its overall performance really is quite impressive, and this is what makes it a fantastic piece of gear for any photographer…even if you’re not really on a budget. Every Canon user should have one.
The build quality of this little lens is rubbish. Really. It’s built completely out of plastic. The lens mount too. In fact, apart from the lens elements, which are glass, of course, everything is plastic…and being so small, compact, and light, this plasticky lens just feels like a toy. When you focus, AF or manual, you feel the entire thing sort of wobbling inside…if you grab it and move it around, you feel stuff moving inside…you get the idea…yeah, build quality is NOT a plus point of this lens. But then again, mine’s lasted well over 3 years and I’ve not had an issue with the build – and although I’m fairly careful with my gear, it takes a beating on occasion – so it’s good to see that this lens has held up this well. I guess it’s built well enough to get the job done, even if it doesn’t feel like it
Not much. No image stabilization, no USM (Ultra Sound Motor, Canon’s fast and nearly silent focusing mechanism), no distance scale, no depth of field scale…nothing. In fact, besides the AF/MF switch, and a tiny (barely useable) manual focus ring, there’s nothing at all to be found on the lens barrel. However, this is only to be expected. I mean, the fact that this is a dead-basic lens should be understood. You can’t expect a $100 lens to compete in terms of features with the higher-end Canon lenses that cost anywhere between 5 to 10 times the price – of course you can’t. This lens is a simple, cheap, fast prime, that doesn’t try to do too much – you should appreciate that! And continuing in its defense, seeing that this prime is pretty fast, image stabilization is not something I’ve ever really missed!
It’s got a filter thread of 52mm and will take the ES-62 lens hood (not included, of course), but to be honest, I wouldn’t bother using a hood with this lens. You see, if you look at the lens, you’d notice that the glass is kind of recessed into the body, with a sort of built-in ‘hood’ already protecting the front element. Flare isn’t really an issue with this lens (more on image quality later) so I find it pointless spending $30 on a lens hood to protect this cheap lens, especially when you realize it doesn’t really need that protection. And don’t bother with protective filters either: I never use cheap filters, as there’s no use putting some cheap glass in front of a good lens, and as a good filter will cost around $50-70…it’s not worth it for this lens!
Now for the most important part! Build quality is very average, features are very basic, but how about the image quality that this little thing delivers? Very, very good! Images are very sharp, colors look nice and natural, and it just produces such pleasing images that I often cannot believe what this thing actually cost me! Shallow depth of field is very easy to achieve, combining 50mm with a fast f1.8 aperture, and although the 5-blade aperture on this lens doesn’t give a great ‘bokeh’ – the out-of-focus highlights tend to have a hexagonal shape, and does not give the creamy bokeh that more expensive primes or even zooms do – it’s not bad at all. Vignetting and distortions are rarely a problem, especially if you shoot with a crop sensor camera, and I’ve never had any noticeable issue with this lens in this area. If you do notice vignetting, stopping down a bit will definitely clear that all up. I haven’t noticed chromatic aberrations when using this little lens, and like I said before, flare is not a problem either. But the sharpness! The sharpness and colors are its strongest features – it’s even sharp wide open! Stop down to f2.8 or more, and it gets better. Really, just go out and get one, I’ll guarantee you’ll be surprised with the results
Since I’ve already covered how the lens performs optically, this will be just about AF performance…which is good…not great. In daylight, or other well-lit conditions, AF speed is pretty good, and I’ve never had problems with accuracy. In dim lighting conditions i.e. indoors at night, where I’d love to use this lens due to its speed, focusing can be a bit of a challenge. It’s always accurate when it locks focus, but in low light, it tends to hunt quite a bit before it eventually locks…and sometimes takes 3 to 4 attempts before doing that. I guess that’s only to be expected in a lens that costs little. It’s also pretty noisy…so if you’re used to the almost-silent Canon USM lenses, this can be a bit of an annoyance, especially when it starts to hunt in low light, and focuses in and out, in and out…ahhh. But no…in general, if you aim at a contrasty point of the subject, it focuses without too much trouble, even in low light, and it’s generally accurate…and the AF noise really shouldn’t trouble anyone but the photographer! And that’s fine
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Well, what’s not to like about this lens?! It’s small, light, compact. It’s cheap. It’s SHARP. It takes great looking pictures. It’s fast, making it ideal for low light photography. And again, it’s cheap! No, there’s nothing negative about this lens for me. If I had to pay more than double this price, then I would’ve started to complain about a few issues (that I mentioned above anyway) – but at this price, no way…no complaints at all. It’s all good from me
This is probably old news for most of you, like somebody just mentioned on my Facebook page…however, this blog, and this post in particular, is mainly directed at new photographers …so yeah, if you’re new, and you’ve never heard of this lens before, do check it out!
If you’re a Nikon user, you can look at the Nikkor 50mm f1.8D or the newer, slightly more expensive Nikkor 50mm f1.8G – which should perform equally well. The 50mm f1.8G definitely performs well, and is better overall than the 50mm f1.8D.Most other brands have a similarly priced ‘nifty fifty’ 50mm f1.8 prime too, but being a Canon user myself I can’t vouch for these cheap primes producing images as good as this one does – read up on other reviews for more info on that
If I’ve managed to convince you to get one, you can get yourself a great lens and help contribute to this site by buying it from Amazon or the awesome B&H Photo! And if you don’t plan on getting one, I hope this review helped you out anyway. Cheers
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By Heshan Jayakody All content in this review is my own, except where noted