The EF 50mm F1.4 is a member of Canon's mid range of primes, and build quality is good if not excellent. The lens mount is metal, and the barrel plastic; however whilst the construction is distinctly superior to the (much cheaper) EF 50mm F1.8 mk II, it's not quite up to the standard of Canon's similarly-priced primes such as the EF 85mm F1.8 USM and EF 100mm F2 USM telephoto twins. The front element is recessed by about 1cm from the filter thread, offering useful protection against stray light at all focusing distances, and the entire optical assembly moves backwards and forwards as a unit by about 8mm for focusing.
On the camera
The 50mm F1.4 is slightly larger than usual for its class, due mainly to the need to fit in an autofocus motor system; however it's much more compact than Sigma's monster 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM. It balances well on all Canon DSLRs (and unlike the Sigma doesn't completely dwarf the compact entry-level bodies), with the focus ring falling readily to hand when required.
This lens uses an autofocus system unique within Canon's lineup, namely a micro-type ultrasonic motor which features full-time manual override. This isn't quite as refined as the ring-type USM systems that Canon use in their other mid-range lenses, as it still requires an internal gear train. Autofocus is fast and reasonably quiet on all Canon bodies, if again not quite up to the standard of ring-type USM lenses. As always, it must also be noted that focus speed and accuracy is dependent upon a number of variables, including the camera body used, subject contrast, and light levels.
Lens body elements
The lens uses Canon’s all-electronic EF mount, and will fit all of their DSLRs regardless of sensor format (APS-C, APS-H or 35mm full-frame).
A 6mm wide moulded plastic grip is located towards the rear of the barrel, to aid lens changing.
The filter thread is 58mm, which is quite large for a 50mm F1.4, but shared with many other low- and mid-range Canon lenses. It does not rotate on autofocus, which should be welcome for polariser users.
This view also shows how deeply-recessed the front element is within the lens barrel.
The bayonet-mount, ES-71II lens hood is a generous 41mm/1.6" deep, has black flocking on the inside to minimize reflection of stray light into the lens, and reverses neatly for storage.
As is Canon's way though, it doesn't come in the box but only as an optional extra - not a policy we particularly commend (although to be fair, only Sigma and Sony include hoods as standard with their 50mm F1.4s).
The focus ring is 11mm wide with a reasonably smooth action, and does not rotate during autofocus. Thanks to its highly geared design, it rotates fully 200 degrees clockwise from infinity to the closest focus position of 0.45m, allowing extremely precise manual focus.
The angle of view noticeably decreases on focusing closer, as is inevitable with unit-focusing primes.
A conventionally placed switch on the side of the lens barrel selects between auto and manual focusing modes. The 'full-time' manual focus design provides the ability to tweak the focus setting even when the lens is set to AF.
A distance scale is provided with markings in both feet and meters, and includes an infra-red focusing adjustment mark, plus a rudimentary depth of field scale. As might be expected for a lens designed before the word 'digital' really applied to photography, the latter is calibrated for the 35mm full-frame format, so won't be terribly useful for the majority of users (and could be positively misleading for some)
Reported aperture vs focal length
This lens allows an aperture range from F1.4 to F22 to be selected.