The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2, A Pretty Nice Lens, But Is it Worth the Money?

Canon EF 50mm 1Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 Hosted on Zooomr

So I’ve played with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 for about three months now and figured that it’s time that I formally review the thing.

The first thing to note about this lens is that it’s expensive. Damn expensive. Now, while money, like a lot of things, is relative, at a price of about $1,400, most people are really, really, really going to need this lens in order to spend that kind of money on it. If you are the type of person where money is no object, then this lens is for you. It’s better than the 50mm f/1.4. No need to read anything more on it. Just go buy the puppy. Of course, if $1,400 is no object to you, then you probably already own this lens.

But… if you are looking for value in your lenses as well as quality, then I’d have to recommend against the EF 50mm. While the EF 50mm is the best 50mm lens that Canon makes at present, I don’t feel that it operates enough better than the non L Series 50mm f/1.4 to justify the difference in price. The f/ 1.4 50mm by the way, costs about $300.

The main reason that I wanted to upgrade to this lens was the fact that I was not entirely happy with the autofocus in the dark on my 50mm f/1.4. At f/1.2, this lens, along with the Canon 85mm f/1.2 have the maximum aperture of any lens currently offered by Canon. Because I shoot in low light a lot, I was excited about the potential of this lens. Unfortunately for me, this is where I felt the lens did not live up to its promise.

In my opinion, the 50mm f/1.2 does not do a very good job autofocusing in low light. Even when I’m able to get a focus lock in low light with the 50mm, I find that at the f/1.2 aperture I have to be so precise to get the perfect focus that I need.

The 24 f/1.4 that I own autofocuses in the low light much better. And any light advantage between the 24mm f/1.4 and the 50mm f/1.2 is not noticeable to me at all. The jump from an f/1.4 to an f/1.2 just isn’t that much difference.

If you are looking for a fast, low light lens, I’d recommend going with the 24mm f/1.2 over the 50 f/1.2.

In non low light situations the EF 50mm does a great job, but then again so did the significantly less expensive 50mm f/1.4. In better lit situations the autofocus on the 50mm is very fast, much faster than the 85mm f/1.2 that I’ve tested in the past.

Overall, the 50mm f/1.2 feels much more solid than the 50mm f/1.4 — it feels like an L series lens complete with that ever so fashionable little red strip — it is also of course a much larger block of glass. To this end, I feel like I’m getting better shots, but I’m not 100% sure.

One advantage of the smaller f/1.4 is that it’s a lot less weight to carry on a camera. I still use my f/1.4, primarily when my kids go out shooting with me and need a lighter camera.

I’d be interested in the thoughts of anyone else using this lens. Do you like it? Is it enough better than the f/1.4 to justify the price for you?

Anyways, there are my thoughts on the EF 50mm f/1.2. A good lens, but not a great lens, not as good as the 24mm in low light in my opinion — and probably not enough better than the 50mm f/1.4 to justify the price difference. I do enjoy shooting with it though and if you’ve got money to blow then by all means, go for it.

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36 Comments

  1. Not that I was going to be able to afford it anyway, but that’s a useful review for the 50mm f1.2. I think I’ll stick with my new 50mm f1.4 – it’s a great lens for my needs, and it’s been introducing me to the 5D very well :)

  2. Dave2 says:

    I love my f1.4 50mm, and have been jonesing for the f1.2 under the assumption that the brighter lens would be a big help for some of the shots I take… so thank you very much for posting your review, because I’ll probably just stick with my f1.4 and the ever-versatile f2.8 16-35mm now and save my money. :-)

  3. BWJones says:

    Well, since I was looking at that lens exclusively for purposes of low light photography without resorting to the flash, the poor performance of the f1.2 in autofocusing in low light conditions means that I’ll be sticking with my 50mm f 1.4. Thomas, I owe you for this.

  4. Andrew says:

    I rented this lens to shoot a friend’s party without flash. I was using a borrowed 20D and so thought my focus issues were my own unfamiliarity with Canons, but this and Rockwell’s reviews coincide on the point of the lens being the source of a lot of focus issues.

    Wish I understood enough about autofocus to grasp why that could be the lens’ fault and not the camera :)

  5. BWJones says:

    Thomas, have you spent any time with Canon’s 85mm f/1.2 mark II? How is its low light autofocus performance?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thomas, some of your comments above bring to mind a question I’ve been meaning to ask, that might be worthy of its own post.

    Given all the lenses in your bag, what do you take out with you and why? Do you take lenses without an idea of what you’re going to shoot, or do you decide what you’re going to shoot and then make your lens decision?

    I’m constantly debating this, and more often than not I take more lenses than I need, which is a hassle.

    Anyway, thought I’d ask :)

  7. Thomas Hawk says:

    Given all the lenses in your bag, what do you take out with you and why? Do you take lenses without an idea of what you’re going to shoot, or do you decide what you’re going to shoot and then make your lens decision?

    Good point. I’ll write a blog post about this.

  8. Trushar says:

    There’s a really cool report on all 3 50mm lenses from Canon as well as some others from Nikon and Sigma.
    They also came to the conclusion the f/1.2L was not great value for the money.
    http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/zproducts/canon50f18/canon50f18_jt.htm

    I snagged the 50mm f/1.8 after reading the reviews. Awesome value for the money. I just wish it were USM.

  9. Adam says:

    The reason why the 24L focuses better in low light is simple. It has significantly more DoF wide open that a 50/1.4, let alone a 1.2.

    The limitation here is the AF system, not the lens. And f1.2 is hard to focus at, especially with the mid-range AF system in a 5D.

    I suspect you’d have better results with a 1 series body. The AF system in the 1 series is more accurate and will have less issues with the shallow DoF (Ironically, the 5D’s AF system is actually better in low-light than the 45 point unit, as long as it has enough DoF to play with)

  10. Can I say “told you so?”

    ;)

  11. Adam says:

    The autofocus is going to happen at f/1.2 regardless of what you have the aperture set at, because the default state is wide open to get the maximum light to the viewfinder (and the AF sensor). So – even though you’re shooting at f/2 or higher to get better DOF, you should still see the f/1.2 AF improvement in low light.

  12. Thom says:

    I just bought the 50mm f/1.4 last month and it’s turned into my absolute favorite lens. I wish I had given the f/1.2 a try while at the shop just for some fun, but even the owner of the place said that he couldn’t recommend it. Total overkill and not worth the huge price difference.

  13. Jude says:

    i bought the 50mm 1.4 in January, as the 1st lens I’ve bought other than the 18-55mm that came on my camera.

    i was in comparison with the 50mm 1.8, which was significantly cheaper, but felt really really tacky and cheap, and I’d only wish I’d had the better one whenever I was looking at my pics.

    seems i made the right choice overall, very happy with it!! especially as a lot of my photography is indoors…

  14. Trev says:

    I initially bought the 50/1.8 but soon upgraded to the 50/1.4 and never looked back.

    I tried out the Canon 50/1.2 like you did and came to the same conclusions. I was disappointed with the low-light performance and ultimately couldn’t justify the huge jump in price.

    So now I’m just left drooling over, and waiting for, the Canon 10-22 and 70-200/2.8L IS :)

  15. Jeff Mein Smith says:

    Thomas, try using the STE2 transmitter in low light. It works a treat on my 1V, which has no focus assist lamp in low light, when I use my 85 1.2L. it stops the lens hunting for focus.

  16. Stuart Meyer says:

    I purchased and returned this lens because I was disappointed. I thought it would be like my 85mm f/1.2, and it was not. My copy back-focused on my 5D II by 3 mm, which is easily fixable. So, I didn’t consider it an issue. But, where it did focus wide open, it wasn’t sharp until about f/2.0, about the same or slightly worse than my 50mm f/1.4. Its bokeh was creamy smooth, just like the 85mm f/1.2 and superior to that of the 50mm f/1.4. It had no noticeable vignetting compared to the 50mm f/1.4 (which is bad) wide open. Wide open, it missed about 3 out of 10 shots in good light. It also had a noticeable magenta fringe between f/1.2 to f/2.0, getting better stopped down. This was worse than the fringing I got on my 85mm f/1.2. By f/5.6 it is very sharp, and the color and contrast are like that on the 85mm f/1.2 – superior to their slower siblings. By the way, I also have the 24mm f/1.4 and it is freakishly sharp. -Stuart

  17. george baker says:

    Dear mister,

    Its pretty logical that a 24mm is performing better on low light. Lenses are pretty expansive ,you pay a lot of money for little bit more quality.But if you take your photography serious and you find a way to safe money for it. Then do it!

  18. ZhimingX says:

    I have a 50mm 1.4, unfortunately, the AF broke after 15 months since I bought it. And the repair fee I can imagine will not be cheap.

    The 1.4 has a bad reputation on its fragile AF motor so it may end up become more expensive than the 1.2

  19. Daryl says:

    I read a lot of reviews about the 50mm 1.2L in Fredmiranda and elsewhere and I think the main problem is the very narrow DoF at 1.2. Especially in low light. There are limitations on the AF especially in low light and the narrow DoF makes it worse.
    Some years ago Canon discontinued the 50mm 1.0L and even though it was an old lens design without the modern coatings and so on, Canon probably found that the 1.0 would have issues with AF and the extremely narrow DoF and probable customer misunderstanding. Also people don’t seem to understand this and blame the lens.
    I would manually focus the lens, just like in the old days and use the Eg focusing screen which costs about $40 and is grainier and makes it easier to focus a 50mm lens.
    To conclude, I’d be careful with AF in low light and consider focussing manually.

    Disclaimer: I own the 50mm 1.4 and have never used the 50mm 1.2 Just done some research and played with DoF on the 1.4. My camera is the 5D Mk II

  20. Roland says:

    The 50mm 1.2 is an amazing lens. Just consider the big deviation in people’s judges you find, not only here. Either there are big variations in the delivered quality by canon or we are not judging this lense by the same criteria. Or both. I guess many of us 50mm guys will have the desire to test it once at least.

    Invited by the cheap 1.8, I became a 50mm guy as well.A lovely thing overall.
    With the desire to upgrade I bought and returned Sigma 1.4 and Zeiss 2.0 (makroplanar). Both great lenses with faults in the focussing department (well in the case of the zeiss you could say the focussing fault it’s me).
    So I was forced more or less to go up the hill to the 1.2.
    And worth?
    Yes yes yes. I mean I am a lousy photo hobbyist who spends much to much money and thought for the gear. What means worth here?
    If you love to take the pics and the pics themselves, I would say it’s worth.

    Shooting wide open is risky by nature. And very different from >=2.8. This is what many of us have to learn first (I am still in the raising part of the learning curve). To know what it really means. In the days of my 1.8 I thought this lens only works fine around 4.0 and above. I was wrong. Maybe the 1.4 would be good enough for me. But the money was just laying aroung…

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  23. Dan Dinu says:

    I’m thinking to buy a 50mm f1.2 lens but I’m not so sure… I own a 50mm f1.4 and I’m happy with it, but I like to work in low light environments so I want lens good enough for this job. Anyway, your review is useful for me.

  24. I use the Canon 7D and initially, I bought the 50 f1.2 but found the focusing to be not as sharp as I expected from such an expensive lens. So I returned it and bought the 85 f1.2 II which is a great lens. I then bought the 50 f1.4 lens which is a great all around lens to carry around. I’ve got pictures from these lens in my stream; http://www.flickr.com/photos/smwhang/ if you want to see them.
    Your review is spot on about the focusing problems of the 50mm f1.2, add a bot more and you’ll have a great portrait lens in the 85mm f1.2 II.
    My next purchase would be the 24mm f1.4 but I want to see if Canon might come out with something like a 24mm f1.2 next year.

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  31. 50mm Lens says:

    There a lot of really good and affordable 50mm lenses out there, it really just comes down to which brand your prefer. They are all quite good.

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