Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM Gordon Laing, June 2013

Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM quality centre

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To evaluate the real-life performance of the Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM lens, I shot this landscape scene at every aperture setting using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III mounted on a tripod.

The Mark III was set to 100 ISO and the lens focused on the center of the composition using magnified Live View assistance. Most of the scene is effectively at infinity so even at f1.2 the depth of field covers the range of distances from top to bottom.

The full-frame Mark III allows us to compare the sharpness across the entire frame from the extreme corners to the center; by taking a carefully measured crop, we can also simulate the corner performance when mounted on a camera with a smaller APS-C sensor.
  Canon EF 50mm f1.2L results
1 Canon EF 50mm f1.2L quality full-frame
2 Canon EF 50mm f1.2L quality APS-C
3 Canon EF 50mm f1.2L quality centre
4 Canon EF 50mm f1.2L bokeh
5 Canon EF 50mm bokeh comparison

I shot the scene in RAW and processed the files in Adobe Camera RAW using sharpening at 70 / 0.5 / 36 / 10, Luminance and Colour Noise Reduction both set to zero, and the Process to 2012 with the Adobe Standard profile; meanwhile the White Balance was manually set to 5500K. The high degree of sharpening with a small radius enhances the finest details without causing undesirable artefacts. I also switched off all lens corrections to reveal vignetting, chromatic aberrations and geometric distortions - everything you see here is uncorrected.

I'm presenting these results over three pages: corner sharpness on full-frame, corner sharpness on APS-C, and center sharpness (on this page below). I also have a fourth and fifth page illustrating and comparing the depth of field and bokeh quality - you can jump to any of these from the index above right. Now it's time to discuss the results on this page, below, for the center sharpness.

The image above right shows the full-frame area with three red rectangles representing the cropped areas on each results page. The crops presented on this page were taken from the red rectangle in the middle, so indicate the performance in the center of the frame.

The EF 50mm f1.2L USM is all about delivering sharp portrait details with a blurred background, so concentrates its performance in the middle of the frame. As you can see here even with the aperture opened completely to f1.2, the sharpness is very good in the middle of the frame. The only complaints are reduced contrast and a little coloured fringing, both of which are easily correctable on RAW files.

These minor issues quickly reduce at f1.4 and f1.8 and are virtually gone by f2. I'd say the maximum sharpness and contrast in the middle of the frame are achieved somewhere between f2 and f2.8, and beyond this point there's no much point closing the aperture further unless you want a larger depth of field, longer exposures, or of course equally sharp results in the corners too.

Following the disappointing performance in the full-frame corners, this page will come as some relief to owners or potential owners of this lens. Remember the EF 50mm f1.2L USM is not about having sharp corners - indeed quite the opposite. Most of the time any detail in the corners will be lost to a shallow depth of field, and what matters is how smooth those blurred portions look and how sharp it looks in the middle on the all-important subject. We now know there's no problems with the center performance, which only leaves the quality of the out-of-focus effects. Check them out in my Canon 50mm f1.2 bokeh results.


Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM
f1.2 centre
f1.4 centre
f1.8 centre
f2 centre
f2.8 centre
f4 centre
f5.6 centre
f8 centre

Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM
results : Quality full-frame / Quality APS-C / Quality Centre / Bokeh / Bokeh comparison

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