Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems

Started Aug 22, 2011 | Discussions
MarshallG
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Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
Aug 22, 2011

I bought the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens to use with my Canon XSi. I love this lens and it produces beautiful photos, but a high percentage of my shots are out of focus. For example, I photographed my daughter in our backyard, using f/1.4 to produce a bokeh effect behind her... which was fantastic, by the way! But her face was in sharp focus only a few times.

The last camera I had with a 50mm f/1.4 lens was my Nikon FE, it was the late 1970's, and my eyes were sharper and the viewfinder had a split prism right in the middle. I never had out of focus shots. But I find that the auto focus is very unreliable in this case.

I don't want to bash Canon or flame anybody, I only want useful, constructive help. I love the lens and I just want help in making it more effective, because it's a shame when you take a series of photos and the two best ones are no good because of focus. Thank you in advance.

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Chris Dodkin
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to MarshallG, Aug 22, 2011

I use the 50mm 1.4 for shooting children, and it's definitely a challenge

Are you using single shot focus, or AI Servo?

I find that kids move to fast for narrow DOF shots, so use AI Servo and make sure the AF point is over the face.

Or are you doing portrait type set-up shots?

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AlterHase
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to MarshallG, Aug 22, 2011

Had the same problem when I bought my EF 50 1.4 with my XSI.

My keeper rates improved with the following:

  • higher shutter speeds (I find I need at least 1/125s with a crop camera)

  • Use AI servo mode (the DOF on 1.4 aperture is so small that even my natural body movements often seem to prevent critical focus; focus&recompose for this reason is very challenging)

  • smaller aperture (I often find myself using F/2.0 instead of F/1.4 for slightly sharper pics with slightly larger DOF).

Obviously, the first and last recommendation will require you to shoot in manual mode.

It turns out that my copy does not need micro adjustment on my 7D, so I assume that my copy of the lens is not to blame.

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MarshallG
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Yes, I use it for people photography
In reply to Chris Dodkin, Aug 24, 2011

Thank you! I bought it to take candid people shots, and for photographing my daughter's theater performances (no flash allowed). I wish there was a way to configure the camera to a maximum aperture, e.g., not faster than f/2.8. It looks like Canon makes a split prism focusing screen, so I could focus it myself. Maybe that's what I'll need to do to tame this beast, or maybe aperture-preferred metering is the only way with this one.

But even when my daughter posed for me and I used the central cross focus area on her, I still got a lot of out-of-focus photos. These were in photos where I purposefully used f/1.4 to throw the background out of focus. I'm curious to know whether other owners are able to use f/1.4 effectively with auto-focus.

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Edward In Toronto
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Sounds about right
In reply to MarshallG, Aug 24, 2011

That's why I sold mine, erratic focusing. AI Servo mode helps this lens a lot, even for static objects.

The EF 50 f/1.8 has the same erratic focusing. Don't know what the 50L is like, I've never owned one, but I had both the EF 50 f/1.8 and the EF 50 f/1.4 and sold them both because of erratic focusing.

Now for primes I just have the EF 28 f2.8 and the EF 100 f/2, which do a great job focusing. If they didn't they would have been sold long ago.
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Chris Dodkin
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I've had good success
In reply to MarshallG, Aug 24, 2011

Doesn't nail it every time, but at f1.4 I can't be sure if it's me, the lens, the camera, the subject, or all of the above.

Some f1.4 samples from the 50mm f1.4

If I'm looking for more sharpness, I go to f2 as here:

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RobertBS
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to MarshallG, Aug 25, 2011

Try to focus on low to mid brightness object. Even focus on the face in direct sunlight might be too bright sometimes. I recommended AI-servo. I used to have same issue and sent to canon repair center without successful.

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AC1
AC1
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to MarshallG, Aug 25, 2011

I used to have similar poor, soft results with my f1.4 which really disappointed me until I learned how to 'drive' this lens better. The large aperture is great for blurred backgrounds but anything in the f1.4-2.2 range creates such a narrow DOF that it's very easy to lose sharpness unless you are spot on with focus point and remember it has no IS and needs decent shutter speed.

Here are some of my most recent pics using this lens fully open (at f1.4):

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gembis
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to AC1, Dec 13, 2012

I began thinking I am paranoyed...
First I got Sigma 50 f 1.4. It had great optics, but AF performance was horrible on my 5D MK II and 7D (less evident on 5D MK I). Microadjustment didn't work at all as the lens was frontfocusing in short distances and backfocusing in long...
Got back to the shop with the lens. We have tried ~20 lenses and all had the same problem — some more, some less. I returned Sigma and decided to go for EF 50 f1.4. Tested few lenses and was shocked with my discovery. They had the same problem and probably worked even worse than Sigma... Autofocus was terribly inaccurate and unpredictible. I ended up by buying EF 50 f1.2 L. Need to say, that it didn't solve the problem, but the level of inaccuracy is way lower.
I thought the problem may be in me, not the lens, but I also own Sigma 85 f1.4 and I do not have such problems with it at all (neither with any other lens that I own)...

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William DIllard
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to MarshallG, Dec 13, 2012

MarshallG wrote:

I bought the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens to use with my Canon XSi. I love this lens and it produces beautiful photos, but a high percentage of my shots are out of focus. For example, I photographed my daughter in our backyard, using f/1.4 to produce a bokeh effect behind her... which was fantastic, by the way! But her face was in sharp focus only a few times.

The last camera I had with a 50mm f/1.4 lens was my Nikon FE, it was the late 1970's, and my eyes were sharper and the viewfinder had a split prism right in the middle. I never had out of focus shots. But I find that the auto focus is very unreliable in this case.

I don't want to bash Canon or flame anybody, I only want useful, constructive help. I love the lens and I just want help in making it more effective, because it's a shame when you take a series of photos and the two best ones are no good because of focus. Thank you in advance.

Your lens is doing what it does. This lens is only going to be in focus on occasion when used wide open. It is very good at 2.2 and that is the only wide aperture that i could count on with this lens. But it works well at 1.4 when it works. I got tired of the fickle nature of it's focusing capability so I got the 50L.

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William DIllard
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to AC1, Dec 13, 2012

AC1 wrote:

I used to have similar poor, soft results with my f1.4 which really disappointed me until I learned how to 'drive' this lens better. The large aperture is great for blurred backgrounds but anything in the f1.4-2.2 range creates such a narrow DOF that it's very easy to lose sharpness unless you are spot on with focus point and remember it has no IS and needs decent shutter speed.

Here are some of my most recent pics using this lens fully open (at f1.4):

Beautiful !

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jbjones
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to William DIllard, Dec 13, 2012

I'm looking to get this lens, I'll be sure to thoroughly test it when I get it. I had the f1.8 previously, and found that sometimes the DOF was just so small that it might have appeared to be a missfocus but really the DOF is just so small.

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Capaz
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to MarshallG, Dec 13, 2012

I recently started using this lens too and i have found the same problem. So, I figure if I have enough lighting, just use the lens on f/2.0 or above for better sharpness, and in low light situations, this is my only lens at f/1.4 so if I have to go wide open to get the shot so be it. Anyways I dont think the results are so bad.

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Freneticburn
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to MarshallG, Dec 14, 2012

I find my Canon 50mm 1.4 really good on my T2i.  I even typically shoot in single focus mode but I don't try to shoot moving subjects at 1.4.  I get plenty of out of focus pics or pics not quite focused on what I thought at the time of the shot (nose vs. eyes) at 1.4 but most of those I could easily blame on me or the subject moving.  Shooting at such shallow areas of focus can be really challenging.

Quite frankly I'd bet most issues people here have with these lenses is with them or their subject moving.  I'd see if the problem persists using a tripod and still object and if it's still inaccurate then you could blame the lens.  Until then it's too easy to point blame at the guy behind the camera.

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MarshallG
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to Freneticburn, Apr 9, 2013

Freneticburn wrote:

Quite frankly I'd bet most issues people here have with these lenses is with them or their subject moving.  I'd see if the problem persists using a tripod and still object and if it's still inaccurate then you could blame the lens.  Until then it's too easy to point blame at the guy behind the camera.

The last time I had a 50mm f/1.4 lens was in the late 1970's on my Nikon FE. My shots were always in focus. ALWAYS.  I focused the lens myself, of course. But the Nikon FE had a larger, brighter viewfinder and a split prism. I took almost all of my photos with that lens and I didn't have any trouble with focus. So I don't believe the claims that f/1.4 doesn't have enough DoF for good focusing. What I found was that you can focus better with an f/1.4 precisely because there is no DoF. Images "snap" in and out of focus much better than with an f/3.5~4.5 lens, which presents a dark viewfinder image and vague DoF.

I don't know if the problem is with Canon's auto-focus system or this lens, but it's a very frustrating problem.

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Tippler
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to MarshallG, Apr 10, 2013

MarshallG,

The EF 50mm f/1.4 lens is difficult to work with at f/1.4 but not impossible. I find that whenever I shoot this lens wide open, only a percentage of shots are in focus. Consequently my first tip is to take an number shots and refocus in between each shot. Take 3 or 4 shots and at least one will be in focus. Later when editing, discard any out-of-focus shots, show off only your sharp pictures.

At f/1.4, focus and recompose is often recommended. The strategy is to use the center focus point to pre-focus, say on the eye of the subject, lock the focus, and recompose. The problem with that strategy is that when you recompose, the point of focus moves to a new location. This is because the “plane of focus” is not really plane at f/1.4, but a curved surface and when you recompose, the subjects eye is no longer on the plane of focus. This is explained in the Canon publication, “QuickGuide to Accurate EOS Autofocus” available here:

http://learn.usa.canon.com/resources/articles/2011/quick_guides.shtml   You need to scroll down a bit.  Note that it’s best to download the PDF file to your computer to see it.

The work around this is to first compose the scene as you prefer, note which of the various focus points in the viewfinder is closest to the subject’s eye, manually select that focus point, focus on the subject’s eye with that focus point, lock the focus, recompose and shot. The idea is that this method will bring the subjects eye closest to the actual plane (curved) of focus.

I have a problem using the Rebel series cameras on account of the tiny, tunnel-like viewfinder. I can’t explain why, but these viewfinders make even autofocusing difficult with any lens. I use a EOS 5DII instead.

Using your EF 50mm f/1.4 wide open takes skill, which you can develop with practice.

Good luck,

Tippler

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mike clemens
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to Tippler, Apr 10, 2013

My 50/1.4 was pretty cooperative on my 10D.  Then one day I put it in the camera bag and the front barrel got pushed on. Now it doesn't autofocus at all, and is at Canon. Just a warning to really baby this lens. I am going to get a telescope eyepiece "bolt jar" to put mine in when not in use.

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James Cricket
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to MarshallG, Apr 10, 2013

This is kinda an old thread. But, yeah, I have some of the same issues on a 6D. A lot of keepers, but a lot of out of focus shots when using it at 1.4. I try to stick with f/2 and around 1/100.  When I'm using it at 1.4 I take lots of shots and toss the blurry ones. I'm taking pictures of kids so that doesn't help either.

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Freneticburn
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to MarshallG, Apr 10, 2013

MarshallG wrote:

Freneticburn wrote:

Quite frankly I'd bet most issues people here have with these lenses is with them or their subject moving.  I'd see if the problem persists using a tripod and still object and if it's still inaccurate then you could blame the lens.  Until then it's too easy to point blame at the guy behind the camera.

The last time I had a 50mm f/1.4 lens was in the late 1970's on my Nikon FE. My shots were always in focus. ALWAYS.  I focused the lens myself, of course. But the Nikon FE had a larger, brighter viewfinder and a split prism. I took almost all of my photos with that lens and I didn't have any trouble with focus. So I don't believe the claims that f/1.4 doesn't have enough DoF for good focusing. What I found was that you can focus better with an f/1.4 precisely because there is no DoF. Images "snap" in and out of focus much better than with an f/3.5~4.5 lens, which presents a dark viewfinder image and vague DoF.

I don't know if the problem is with Canon's auto-focus system or this lens, but it's a very frustrating problem.

You actually may have been slightly out of focus back in the 70s with a 1.4.  You probably just didn't know because you didn't print large or put a microscope to your film (zooming in with editing/viewing software).  Lenses and sharpness/resolution (as far as 35mm tech goes) was probably quite soft back then.

The lens focuses perfectly at f2.8 and even at f2 most will agree it's still reliable.  So why when people have issues at f1.4 they blame the AF?  There's a sliver of a chance it might be the AF is off but if you're getting fine images at f2 maybe it's more realistic to accept the fact that it's challenging to nail focus at such wide apertures and it's not the gear.

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RS_RS
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Re: Canon 50mm f/1.4 auto-focus problems
In reply to Tippler, Apr 10, 2013

Tippler wrote:

At f/1.4, focus and recompose is often recommended. The strategy is to use the center focus point to pre-focus, say on the eye of the subject, lock the focus, and recompose. The problem with that strategy is that when you recompose, the point of focus moves to a new location. This is because the “plane of focus” is not really plane at f/1.4, but a curved surface and when you recompose, the subjects eye is no longer on the plane of focus. This is explained in the Canon publication, “QuickGuide to Accurate EOS Autofocus” available here:

You have misunderstood the issue. The reason why focus-recompose is a problem is precisely that the plane of focus is a plane. If the lens has aberrations that make the surface-of-focus slightly non-planar, that is unlikely to have much impact on whether focus-recompose works or not.  For focus-recompose to work accurately the surface-of-focus would need to be a spherical surface centred on the lens.

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