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Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Interchangeable Lens Review

Gary Wolstenholme reviews the compact and basic Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens.

|  Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II in Interchangeable Lenses
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Handling and features

EF 50mm f/1.8 II

Canon's EF 50mm f/1.8 II is a compact and lightweight basic standard lens which is available for the bargain price of around £80.

For a little more refinement, Canon's EF 50mm f/1.4 optic sports a faster maximum aperture, better build quality and a virtually silent Ultrasonic focus motor, but costs around £310.

The closest equivalent offered by third party manufacturers is Sigma's 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens, which offers similar features to Canon's f/1.4 optic but for a price tag of around £380.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Handling and features

Weighing only 130g, this lens is very lightweight and will probably go unnoticed stowed away in a kit bag ready for when a fast aperture prime is required. The lens barrel is constructed almost entirely from lightweight black plastic, which feels brittle and probably won't cope with much abuse. The lens mount is also made of plastic, which probably saves as much in construction costs as it does weight.

When paired with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II body used for testing, it makes a decent lightweight combination.

Autofocus is reasonably quick, finding a target without hunting, even in low light conditions. When the lens is set to autofocus, the manual focus ring is engaged by the motor and should not be moved manually. There is no way to disengage the manual focus ring during autofocus, so care need to be taken to keep fingers clear of the ring as it rotates back and forth. Switching to manual focus leaves the focus ring loose, with no additional damping, which can make it a little more difficult to make fine adjustments than on more refined lens designs.

Focusing isn't performed internally, but the filter thread does not rotate, making this lens ideal for use with polarising and graduated filters. The filter thread is 52mm in diameter, so those wishing to use their standard 58mm or 77mm filters on this lens may do well to invest in a step down ring. The minimum focus distance of 45cm is typical for 50mm lenses. Although the design and features are very basic, I wouldn't normally expect any more for the price.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Performance

Despite the low price tag and basic features, this simple lens is capable of producing outstanding results.

Shooting wide open, sharpness in the centre of the image area is already good, and the quality towards the edges of the frame is fairly good. As with most lenses, stopping down improves sharpness across the frame. Sharpness in the centre of the frame peaks at f/4, and the clarity is outstanding here. Peak sharpness across the frame is achieved between f/5.6 and f/8 where the clarity exceeds excellent levels across the frame.

MTF at 50mm

How to read our charts

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 a Canon EOS 5D Mark II using Imatest.

A simple lens design like this needs no exotic glass elements to keep chromatic aberrations under control. Even when shooting wide open, fringing barely exceeds 0.4 pixel widths. This level is low enough to cause few issues, even in very large print sizes, or with harsh crops from the edges of the frame.

Chromatic Aberration 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 a Canon EOS 5D Mark II using Imatest.

Falloff of illumination towards the corners is noticeable, but not overly intrusive. At f/1.8 the corners of the image area are 1.65 stops darker than the image centre and stopping down to f/4 results in visually uniform illumination.

Barrel distortion is quite high for a prime lens. Imatest detected 2.22% barrel distortion, which may pose issues with critical applications such as copy stand work. The distortion pattern is uniform across the frame, so it should be relatively straightforward to correct in image editing software afterwards.
Although this lens does not come supplied with a hood to protect the lens from extraneous light that may cause flare, the front element is recessed and is reasonably well shaded as a result. Shooting into strong light sources, such as the sun, may result in a noticeable loss of contrast under certain circumstances. Strong light sources outside the frame may also cause a flare, but only in very harsh conditions.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Sample Photos

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Verdict

Due to its low price and excellent optical quality, this lens has long been a go-to lens for those on a budget looking to take better quality images.

The sharpness this lens can produce is impressive, especially when stopped down a little. Although the build quality and basic design may fall short of that offered by more expensive lenses, the low price point makes this optic excellent value.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Pros

Excellent optical quality
Light weight

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Cons

Build quality
52mm filter diameter isn't standard for Canon lenses


Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Canon EF
Focal Length50mm
Angle of View40
Max Aperturef/1.8
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size52mm
35mm equivalent80mm
Internal focusingNo
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Min Focus45cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsLens caps

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22 Jul 2011 12:11PM
Beware the front element on this lens tends to want to escape from you :O
JackAllTog Plus
12 6.3k 58 United Kingdom
22 Jul 2011 5:27PM
I love mine, its sharp and so easy to use in low light, i will get a 1.4 version one day but not yet.

I really like how these reviews start by mentioning the alternatives from other suppliers - thanks.
ardclinis 13 5 Ireland
28 Jul 2011 3:40AM
I will not be buying the 1.4 the 1.8 does what it says on the tin for me an I feel the extra expence would be hard to justify
jason_e 16 15 1 United Kingdom
28 Jul 2011 8:16AM
I find I can underexpose by 2 stops with mine on my 7d using raw and then bring it back in ACR,
With no difference in quality at A3 as far as the naked eye can see, and the only difference between mine and the 50mm 1.2 is the build quality and DOF and that at 1.2 is so minimal it can sometimes cause problems.
Oh and I forgot the price, paid 65 for mine against 1200.00 t0 1500.00 for the 1.2
sdixon2380 11 9 United Kingdom
23 Apr 2012 8:47PM
Me too, I love using this little lens even though it looks a bit silly on the front of a 7D. Great results and if I break it I'll just buy another (as long as it doesn't happen too often).
johnboy6 14 8 United Kingdom
30 Apr 2013 4:01PM
Just bought mine on the basis of reviews I have read and up to now I have not been disappointed with it. Got it as an addition to my telephotos to use on my 50d. Bonus for me is the price, as I am on a very tight budget.
15 Aug 2013 9:47AM
Why not "recommended"? I think it's unbeatable price/performance lens Smile

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