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Canon EF 50mm F1.4 USM review

September 2008 | By Andy Westlake
Buy on From $349.00

The EF 50mm F1.4 USM is Canon's mid-level offering in a range stuffed full of 50mm primes, covering all budgets from the ultra-cheap 50mm F1.8 mkII through to the stratospherically-priced 50mm F1.2 L USM. Although it was introduced in June 1993, fully seven years after the birth of the EOS system, it can actually trace its roots back much earlier, being based on the classic manual focus FD 50mm F1.4 design of 1971. As such, it's designed as a 'standard' lens for the 35mm full-frame format, with an angle of view offering none of the 'perspective distortion' associated with wideangle or telephoto lenses. More recently, with the popularization of APS-C as the dominant DSLR sensor size, it's taken on a new role, and behaves like a short 'portrait' telephoto on this format.

The lens uses a conventional optical design for its class, with 7 elements in 6 groups, two of which are made from high-refraction glass. Focusing is achieved by an ultrasonic motor system, with full-time manual override; however unlike Canon's other mid-range primes, this is of the micro-USM (as opposed to ring) type. Canon claims the lens produces a 'beautiful, natural blur of the background', an important attribute for a fast lens capable of a high degree of subject isolation. The company is also keen to point out that the lens's colour balance is virtually identical to the ISO recommended reference values.

The Canon EF 50mm F1.4 USM has always occupied a slightly precarious position in the Canon line-up, with the F1.8 lens offering remarkable value for money below it in the range. It now faces fresh pressure from Sigma's 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM with its brand-new, bang up-to-date optical design (albeit currently at a far higher price). So is this lens an obsolete throwback to the silver halide era, or worthy of serious consideration in the high resolution digital age?

Headline features

  • 50mm focal length; fast F1.4 maximum aperture
  • Micro-type USM autofocus with full-time manual override

Angle of view

The pictures below illustrate the angles of view on 35mm full frame and APS-C camera bodies:

50mm (35mm full-frame) 50mm (APS-C; 80mm equivalent)


Canon EF 50mm F1.4 USM specifications

Street price • $325 (US)
• £235 (UK)
Date introduced June 1993
Maximum format size 35mm full frame
Focal length 50mm
35mm equivalent focal length (APS-C) 80mm
Diagonal Angle of view (FF) 47º
Diagonal Angle of view (APS-C) 31º
Maximum aperture F1.4
Minimum aperture F22
Lens Construction • 7 elements / 6 groups
• 2 high refraction glass elements
Number of diaphragm blades 8
Minimum focus 0.45m (1.5 ft)
Maximum magnification 0.15x
AF motor type • Micro-type ultrasonic
• Full-time manual focus
Focus method Unit focus
Image stabilization • None
Filter thread • 58mm
• Does not rotate on focus
Supplied accessories Front and rear caps
Optional accessories ES-71 II hood
Weight 290g (10.2 oz)
Dimensions 73.8mm diameter x 50.5mm length
(2.9 x 2.0 in)
Lens Mount Canon EF only

* Supplied accessories may differ in each country or area

Foreword / notes

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read some of our Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / recommendation / ratings are based on the opinion of the author, we recommend that you read the entire review before making any decision. Images which can be viewed at a larger size have a small magnifying glass icon in the bottom right corner of them, click to display a larger image in a new window.

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Dpreview use calibrated monitors at the PC normal gamma 2.2, this means that on our monitors we can make out the difference between all of the grayscale blocks below. We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X,Y and Z and ideally also A, B and C.

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Total comments: 4
paul simon king

perfectly ok when not used wide open, a bit sketchy wide open. Otherwise a cracking lens (i.e stopped down) BUT AF started palying up and did so for a few years then diesd altogether. A known prob apparently . the ONLY Canon lens whose AF has died on me so unless you can live with MF get another lens


The data and the shots don't match what photozone reports with the 350D in terms of sharpness by a long way. Also the dreamyness of the f/1.4 shots is because the lens is front-focusing in most of the samples.
Here's the obvious thing that you should have reported - it's a tough lens to get to focus right especially wide open.
This indicates the DPreview botched the test and botched the review failing to take correct measurements by focusing manually or on a rack and failing to report the AF shortcomings.

T800 model 101

I have this lens and it is rather amazing, at 50mm why would anyone take wide photo's? This PRIME is clearly designed for PORTRAITS (stills, people, larger animals) and they come out with strong quality every time, if you are looking for a lens to shoot wide then purchase a wide angle lens, if you happen to be looking to shoot portraits and close ups then this lens is a great fit.

1 upvote
paul simon king

"If you're looking to shoot wide get a wide angle lens" have you confused wide-open with wide angle?

Comment edited 34 seconds after posting
Total comments: 4