Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II - Quality

Quality

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II quality (full-frame)

To evaluate the real-life performance of the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II 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 f1.8 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.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 (on this page below), corner sharpness on APS-C, and center sharpness. 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 corner sharpness on full-frame cameras. I also shot the same scene moments later with the Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM, so if you’re interested in seeing their results side by side, check out my Canon 50mm f1.2 review.

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 bottom left corner, so indicate the performance in the corner of a full-frame image.

Like its more expensive counterparts, the Canon 50mm f1.8 II suffers from noticeable vignetting, softness and some coma in the corners. Most of the vignetting has gone by f2.8 though, and all but the extreme corners have sharpened-up too.

There’s a steady increase in sharpening as you close the aperture further, with the f5.6 result looking great and the f8 one cleaning up the extreme corners nicely. So if you’d like sharp results right into the corner of a full-frame sensor, you’ll need to close the 50mm f1.8 to f5.6 or ideally f8.

But what about bodies employing the more forgiving smaller APS-C sensor? Find out in my Canon 50mm f1.8 APS-C sharpness results.

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II
Corner (full-frame)
f1.8 corner (full-frame)
f2 corner (full-frame)
f2.8 corner (full-frame)
f4 corner (full-frame)
f5.6 corner (full-frame)
f8 corner (full-frame)

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II quality (APS-C)

To evaluate the real-life performance of the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II 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 f1.8 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.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 (on this page below), and center sharpness. I also have a fourth page illustrating 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 corner sharpness on APS-C cropped-frame cameras. I also shot the same scene moments later with the Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM, so if you’re interested in seeing their results side by side, check out my Canon 50mm f1.2 review.

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 second red rectangle in-between those in the corner and middle, so indicate the performance in the corner of an APS-C crop-frame image.

Like its more expensive counterparts, the EF 50mm f1.8 II benefits form the more forgiving smaller APS-C sensor area and there’s no concerns over vignetting or coma in the corners even with the aperture wide open. But the image at f1.8 is still soft in the APS-C corners.

Closing to f2.8 greatly improves the corner sharpness though and by f4, it’s looking very crisp indeed. I’d say there’s no benefit in closing the aperture beyond f4 on an APS-C body unless you want a larger depth of field or a longer exposure. This is a great result as to achieve similar sharpness in the APS-C corners with the more expensive f1.4 and f1.2 versions required closing down to f5.6 or ideally f8. Yes you read that right: the cheapest EF 50mm f1.8 II is capable of out-performing the f1.4 and f1.2 versions under certain conditions.

Now let’s see how it performs in the middle of the image in my Canon 50mm f1.8 center sharpness results.

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II
Corner (APS-C cropped frame)
f1.8 corner (APS-C)
f2 corner (APS-C)
f2.8 corner (APS-C)
f4 corner (APS-C)
f5.6 corner (APS-C)
f8 corner (APS-C)

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II quality centre

 To evaluate the real-life performance of the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II 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 f1.8 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.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 page illustrating 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 for the sharpness in the middle of the frame. I also shot the same scene moments later with the Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM, so if you’re interested in seeing their results side by side, check out my Canon 50mm f1.2 review.

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 image.

The budget 50mm f1.8 II performs admirably in the middle of the frame, delivering a great-looking result even wide open at f1.8. There’s a slight loss of contrast and ultimate sharpness but nothing which can’t be tweaked on RAW files. Close it to f2.8 and the image becomes beautifully crisp and contrasty in the middle of the frame with a result that’s as detailed as any of its more expensive counterparts. Indeed there’s no point closing the aperture further unless you want a larger depth of field, longer exposures or similar sharpness in the corners.

As seen on the previous page, the 50mm f1.8 II is already pretty good in the corners of the APS-C frame at f2.8 and perfectly crisp at f4, making this a great option for owners of cropped-frame Canon DSLRs.

This is a fantastic result for the nifty-fifty and really makes you think about whether you really need the f1.4 or f1.2 versions. Of course these more expensive models enjoy other benefits including shallower depth of field effects and better quality bokeh. To see how the out-of-focus performance on the budget model measures-up, check out my Canon 50mm f1.8 bokeh results.

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II
Centre
f1.8 centre
f2 centre
f2.8 centre
f4 centre
f5.6 centre
f8 centre

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II bokeh (full-frame)

To compare the depth-of-field and bokeh quality of the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 under real-life conditions, I shot this still life scene at every aperture setting within a few moments of each other, 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 napkin tied around the glass using magnified Live View assistance. The image opposite shows the full composition, while the images below at each aperture show the full width of the frame, reduced to fit the page width and cropped a little vertically. Note there was some movement in the background between some frames, so I’ve concentrated my comparisons and comments on the portions of the frame which have remained consistent. You can see a comparison between all three Canon 50mm lenses on the next page!The EF 50mm f1.8 II is often the first large aperture lens owned by many Canon photographers, simply because it delivers great results at a low price. Scroll down and you’ll see at large apertures it’s capable of delivering a very shallow depth of field with a narrow plane of focus. This makes it easy to isolate your subject against a nice blurred background.

Looking closely at the actual out-of-focus areas you’ll see they’re mostly rendered with soft, fairly rounded shapes. The quality of out-of-focus effects is known as the bokeh, and for such an affordable model, the EF 50mm f1.8 II certainly delivers good results. Indeed you may well be wondering what the pricier f1.4 and f1.2 versions offer over it in terms of depth of field. I’ll show you an in-depth comparison on the next page, but just briefly it concerns the extent of the depth of field itself and the quality of the out-of-focus rendering. Compare the EF 50mm f1.8 II side-by-side against the f1.4 and especially the f1.2 versions and you’ll see its bokeh isn’t as creamy, and that some of the out-of-focus rendering can become a little busy at times. With only five diaphragm blades, some out-of-focus areas on the EF 50mm f1.8 II will also be rendered into pentagon shapes as oppose to the more rounded shapes of the f1.4 and f1.2 versions which sport eight blades. The pentagon effect may not be particularly visible in my test shot below, but can be quite obvious in other images and obviously looks less natural than a rounded effect.

The desire for uncomplicated, natural-looking creamy perfection is what drives well-heeled enthusiasts and pros to the pricier lenses, but for many photographers, the EF 50mm f1.8 II will be more than good enough for their needs. Indeed many will simply be looking for something which delivers a shallower depth of field than the standard kit lenses at the most affordable price – and if that’s what you want, then the EF 50mm f1.8 II is the lens for you.

If you’d like to see how the depth of field compares against the more expensive versions, please check out my Canon 50mm bokeh comparison.

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II
Depth-of-field (full-frame width, cropped vertically)
f1.8 (full-frame width, cropped vertically)
f2 (full-frame width, cropped vertically)
f2.5 (full-frame width, cropped vertically)
f2.8 (full-frame width, cropped vertically)

Canon 50mm bokeh comparison (full-frame)

To compare the depth-of-field and bokeh quality of the three Canon EF 50mm lenses under real-life conditions, I shot this still life scene with each lens at every aperture setting within a few moments of each other, using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III mounted on a tripod.The Mark III was set to 100 ISO and the lenses focused on the napkin tied around the glass using magnified Live View assistance. The image opposite shows the full composition, while the images below at each aperture show a cropped area of the frame, marked by the red square and reduced to fit the page. Note there was some movement in the background between some frames, so I’ve concentrated my comparisons and comments on the portions of the frame which have remained consistent.While there are differences in focusing, build and optical quality between the three Canon EF 50mm lenses, arguably the two most important factors when choosing one of them is the aperture and the price. This especially applies to the top-end EF 50mm f1.2L USM which is considerably more expensive than the f1.4 version. Yes it’s the only one of the three with the L badge, but how much difference is there between f1.2 and f1.4?Technically it’s easy to calculate the light gathering difference between f1.2 and f1.4 is half a stop, with a further two thirds of a stop between f1.4 and f1.8. These all help when shooting in very low light, but I think the thing most of us want to know is what impact do they have on the depth of field. Just how much shallower is f1.2 than f1.4 and f1.8? And crucially, when all are set to the same focal ratio, will they deliver the same quality result? Let’s find out on this page!

The crops below are taken from the area marked by the red square and reduced in size to fit the page. As noted earlier, there was some motion in the background between the shots in the test, so I’ll concentrate on comparing the elements which are consistent.

The EF 50mm f1.2L USM kicks off the sequence at f1.2 with a very shallow depth of field and silky smooth out of focus effects. It looks great, but it’s only at f1.4 that we can compare it against the next alternative. Here you’ll see a very interesting effect: technically both lenses share the same depth of field, but the blurring looks subtly different. The EF 50mm f1.4 USM’s blurred areas look more defined than those on the EF 50mm f1.2L USM and less smooth at the edges.

At f1.8, the thrifty-fifty can join-in with a proper three-way comparison, and again while all three are delivering the same depth of field, the out-of-focus effects again look different. Try to ignore the big light source at the top of the frame which has moved between the shots, but do look at the dominoes, their wooden box and the shape to the immediate left of the glass (a salt shaker as I recall). As we saw at f1.4, the EF 50mm f1.2L USM is delivering nicer-looking blurring that’s less defined than the f1.4 lens, which in turn is less defined than the cheapest f1.8 lens.

This may be a surprising result if you’d never compared the quality of out-of-focus effects before, also known as the bokeh. You may assume when two lenses with the same focal length are set to the same aperture (with the same camera, same subject distance and same focusing point), that they would deliver the same out-of-focus effects, but this clearly isn’t the case. The out-of-focus effects on the EF 50mm f1.2L USM are consistently less defined than the EF 50mm f1.4 USM and EF 50mm f1.8 II when all three are set to the same aperture – at least until around f2.8. With only five diaphragm blades, some out-of-focus areas on the EF 50mm f1.8 II will also be rendered into pentagon shapes as oppose to the more rounded shapes of the f1.4 and f1.2 versions which both sport eight blades.

Beyond f2.8, any differences between the out-of-focus effects become less significant, so if you regularly shoot at smaller apertures (bigger f-numbers) there’s little justification to go for one of the pricier versions in this test. But just one stop brighter at f2 there’s visible differences between them that bokeh fanatics will appreciate.

And it’s those fanatics who’ll fawn over the results at the even larger apertures. At f1.8 and f1.4, the EF 50mm f1.2L USM delivers nicer-looking results than its more affordable counterparts, and at f1.2 it’ll deliver a razor thin plane of focus with everything in front and behind rendered into satisfying creaminess. If you’re really into portrait and wedding photography, the EF 50mm f1.2L USM could easily justify its price by delivering results at large apertures which just can’t be matched by cheaper lenses. Macro and product photographers will also appreciate these qualities, but there’s better choices for them if their subjects are small.

But we are talking about subtle differences in quality here with a very big difference in price. The EF 50mm f1.4 USM still delivers a very shallow depth-of-field with pleasant out-of-focus effects at a fraction of the price of the EF f1.2L USM. Meanwhile the EF 50mm 1.8 II may be the least creamy of the threesome in terms of bokeh quality, and can also render some out-of-focus areas as pentagons due to its five diaphragm blades, but it can still deliver a very shallow depth-of-field at a very low price – a killer combination which has made it Canon’s best-selling prime lens. And lest we forget, the EF 50mm f1.8 II actually delivered a sharper result across the entire frame at larger apertures than the EF 50mm f1.2L USM in my distant landscape tests.

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II
Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM
Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM
Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II
Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM
Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM
f1.2 not available
f1.2 not available
f1.2 centre
f1.4 not available
f1.4 centre
f1.4 centre
f1.8 centre
f1.8 centre
f1.8 centre
f2 centre
f2 centre
f2 centre
f2.5 centre
f2.5 centre
f2.5 centre
f2.8 centre
f2.8 centre
f2.8 centre
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