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Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens Review

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens Review - Gary Wolstenholme review the super-bright Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens.

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Category : Interchangeable Lenses
Product : Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
Price : £1,234
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Handling and features
Performance
Verdict
Specification
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
This unique standard lens from Canon costs around £1235 currently and has a super-bright f/1.2 maximum aperture, silent ultrasonic focusing and professional-grade weather sealed construction.

Two other 50mm lenses are available from Canon. The EF 50mm f/1.4 is only 1/3 of a stop slower, but costs substantially less at around £290 and sacrifices a little in build quality and isn't sealed against the elements. Those on a tight budget may also consider the plastic fantastic EF 50mm f/1.8, which is another 1/3 of a stop slower, lacks silent focusing and build quality but costs only £90.

Sigma are the only major third party manufacturer offering a fast aperture standard lens. Their 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM costs around £380 and includes silent focusing, but lacks weather sealing.

In this review we'll take a look at whether this lens justifies the high price tag with its performance.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM: Handling and features

For a 50mm lens, this optic is larger and heavier than the norm, which is to be expected with the bright maximum aperture. Still with it weighing 580g, it isn't overly heavy and it balances well on the EOS 5D MkII used for testing.

Being an L series lens the lens barrel is constructed from high quality materials and feels very robust. It is sealed against the elements and the lens mount is finished with a thin rubber gasket to prevent moisture getting into the camera body.

Focusing is virtually silent and reasonably fast, thanks to the Ultrasonic motor. The bright maximum aperture helps with focusing in low light conditions too, which means the lens rarely hunts. However extreme care needs to be taken when shooting at maximum aperture as depth of field is so shallow that the slightest error can result in blurred images.

Manual focus adjustments are possible at any time and the focusing ring is nicely damped, making it easy enough to make fine adjustments. Although the front element moves back and forth during focusing, it does this inside the lens body and the filter thread does not rotate, making it east to use polarising and graduated filters via the 72mm filter thread. Some people may be put off slightly by the odd filter size, as a stepping ring may be required to use the 77mm filters which is a more common size for Canon's professional optics. The minimum focus distance of 45cm is the same as found with Canon's f/1.4 50mm lens, so there is no penalty here for having the brighter maximum aperture as may be expected.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM: Performance

At maximum aperture the sharpness in the centre is already good, but things aren't quite as clear towards the edges. This isn't a disaster for a lens like this, as the area in focus at f/1.2 will often be near the centre of the frame, isolated by the shallow depth of field.

Although the sharpness in the centre improves dramatically as the lens is stopped down, the resolution towards the edges remains relatively low. This lens is a specialist optic, to be used for effect, rather than an all-purpose lens that will be as at home on a copy-stand as it may be taking portraits. By f/4 the sharpness in the centre is outstanding and all images taken with this lens during testing have a unique look to them.

Resolution at 50mm  

How to read our graphs

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on an Canon EOS 5D Mark II using Imatest.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Resolution at 50mm  

At their most severe, chromatic aberrations cover an area of 1.1 pixel widths around high contrast edges. On a high resolution sensor, like that found on the EOS 5D MkII, this level should pose few issues, even at very large print sizes.

Chromatic Aberrations at 50mm  

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on an Canon EOS 5D Mark II using Imatest.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Chromatic Aberrations at 50mm  
For a lens with such a large maximum aperture, falloff of illumination towards the corners is very well controlled. At f/1.2 the corners are only 1.5 stops darker than the image centre and visually uniform illumination is achieved by f/2.8.

Imatest detected 2.5% barrelling, which isn't an overly high level of distortion, but may pose issues for critical applications. However, this distortion is uniform across the frame, so it should be straightforward to correct in image editing software afterwards.

The deeply recessed front element is well-protected against extraneous light, even without the supplied circular hood attached, which makes the lens resistant to flare caused by light sources just outside the frame. When shooting directly into the light, contrast can drop quite severely, especially when shooting at maximum aperture.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Sharpnees is good in the centre at wide apertures   Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Out of focus areas are smoothly rendered
Sharpnees is good in the centre at wide apertures - ISO100, 1/200. f/1.6, 50mm   Out of focus areas are smoothly rendered - ISO100, 1/125. f/2, 50mm
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Stopping down results in outstanding sharpness in the centre   Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM The minimum focus distance of 45cm is typical for wide aperture 50mm lenses
Stopping down results in outstanding sharpness in the centre - ISO100, 1/320. f/8, 50mm   The minimum focus distance of 45cm is typical for wide aperture 50mm lenses - ISO100, 1/320. f/8, 50mm
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM   Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
ISO100, 1/200. f/8, 50mm   ISO100, 1/250. f/8, 50mm
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM   Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
ISO100, 1/200. f/8, 50mm   ISO100, 1/160. f/11, 50mm

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM: Verdict

This lens isn't for everyone, that's for sure. It's a unique lens in more ways than one. The bright maximum aperture allows depth of field to be reduced creatively, isolating your subjects from the background, which this lens renders incredibly smoothly. Sharpness is good from maximum aperture in the centre of the frame, but the performance towards the edges isn't in the same league. If your intended use requires good centre sharpness, and the ability to reduce depth of field to the minimum, not much else comes close. However, if you're after superb edge-to-edge clarity, and low distortion for general purpose use, or more critical applications, such as copy stand work, then this lens may not be for you.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM: Pros

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Good centre sharpness from maximum aperture
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Unique ability to control depth of field
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Excellent build
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Weather sealed

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM: Cons

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Expensive
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Clarity towards the edges not at the same level as the centre

FEATURES Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
HANDLING Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
PERFORMANCE Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
VALUE FOR MONEY Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
OVERALL Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM: Specification

Price £1235
Contact www.canon.co.uk
Filter size 72mm
Format full-frame
Construction 8 elements in 6 groups
Angle-of-view 46º
35mm equivalent focal length (on APS-C body) 80mm
Internal focusing Yes
Image stabilisation No
Minimum focus 45cm
Maximum aperture f/1.2
Minimum aperture f/16
Weight 580g
Size (lxw) 85.8 x 65.5mm
In the box ES-78 lens hood, LP1214 lens case

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