Canon 50mm f1.8 STM hands on review – Is it better than the 50mm f1.2 and f1.4?

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The new Canon 50mm f1.8 STM is latest 50mm lens which was last updated 25 years old. The new 50mm f1.8 STM features a stepper motor for quieter and more responsive autofocus for video. It has a 7-blade circular aperture to deliver more circular out of focus blur and minimum focus distance of 35cm allowing you to get even closer to subjects to achieve a greater level of magnification. Compare to the older 50mm f1/8 II,  the new 50mm f1.8 STM is 2mm shorter (39mm) but weighs 29g heavier (159g) probably due to the metal mount that it has been added.  It also has improved lens coating to minimise internal reflections, ghosting and flare

The 50mm f1.8 (known as the nifty fifty) is popular for its compact size, good optics and cheap price. It is great to see Canon has made the new 50mm STM faster, quieter and better designed, yet kept the price about the same as the 50mm f1.8 II. This is because Canon wants to compete with Yongnuo’s super cheap 50mm f1.8 that is half the cost of Canon’s, by introducing STM and new optics on the new 50mm Canon hopes to make it more attractive.

What the 50mm f/1.8 STM is good for:

  • A fantastic lens for portraits
  • Fast, virtually silent focusing
  • A great performer in low-light conditions
  • Good image quality
  • Compact general purpose lens

Canon offers a variety of 50mm to suit everyone. There are the cheapest 50mm f1/8 STM, a more expensive 50mm f1.4 USM and the ultimate 50mm f1.2 L USM. The three lenses are very different in build quality, optic design and performance despite having about one f-stop difference. The 50mm f1.2 costs 10x more than the 50mm f1.8, so it would be injustice to compare the two lenses. If you are comparing image quality, I can tell you straight away that most of the time you are not going to notice much difference. Your choice of the 50mm is going to be decided on how fast of the lens you want and how much you willing to spend. To proof my point, I took the 50mm f1.8 STM and 50mm f1.2 L USM to a recent photo shoot and took a bunch of photos. Out of all the images in this article, can you tell which one(s) is/are from the $1500 50mm f1.2 L? Find it/them and leave a comment below.

 

Canon 50mm f1.2 L USM

Canon 50mm f1.4 USM

Canon 50mm f1.8 II

Canon 50mm f1.8 STM

Release date

2007

1993

1990

2015

Focal Length

50mm

50mm

50mm

50mm

Ultra Sonic Motor (USM)

Yes

Yes

No

No

Image Stabilisation (IS)

No

No

No

No

Stepping Motor (STM)

No

No

No

Yes

Aperture

f/1.2-f/22

f/1.4-f/22

f/1.8-f/22

f/1.8-f/22

Min. focus

0.45mm

0.45mm

0.45mm

0.35mm

Max. magnification

0.15x

0.15x

0.15x

0.21x

Construction

6 groups / 8 elements

6 groups / 7 elements

5 groups / 6 elements

5 groups / 6 elements

Diaphragm blades

8

8

5

7

Filter size

72mm

58mm

52mm

49mm

Size

85.8mm x 65.5mm

73.8mm x 50.5mm

68.2mm x 41mm

69.2mm x 39.3mm

Weight

545g

290g

130g

159g

RRP (as of Jul, 2015)

$1499

$349

$110

$125

The new 50mm f1.8 STM is best to pair up with a smaller DSLR, it is a compact fast lens that won’t take up a lot of space. When I first picked it up, it felt better than the 50mm f1.8 II. I also noticed the new 50mm STM has a better focus ring, after all it is designed for video in mind. The focus ring on the 50mm f1.8 II is ridiculously tiny to use. The metal mount also made the lens feel more durable.

At the photo shoot, the 50mm STM is a joy to use, it almost felt nothing in the hand. Compare to the 50mm f1.2, the 50mm f1.2 is big and heavy to move around, but it does focus slightly faster. In terms of image quality I am not going to pixel peep and compare the images from each lens. The fact that in real life many factors can influence the quality of an image; the slightest hand shake, subject movement or mis-focus can affect the image. All I can say is the 50mm f1.8 STM performed no hiccups during the shoot, it produces superb images with good contrast and sharpness and there are any noticeable difference compare to the image shot with 50mm f1.2.  However, I did notice the bokeh from the 50mm STM is not as smooth as the 50mm f1.4 and 50mm f1.2, it can be a bit rough in some situation. Also Chromatic Aberration (CA) is quite strong when shooting wide open. Check out the image below on the left hand side, there is noticeable purple fringing on the splashes.

Overall, this is a great lens to add to the kit for most enthusiasts. Pick the 50mm based on the fastest aperture that you want/can afford and not so much on the image quality. All the 50mm are capable of producing superb images with some differences that most people won’t notice. I highly recommend the 50mm 1.8 STM unless you want something a bit faster then go with the 50mm f1.4 USM. There is always the 50mm f1.2 L USM for those who want the best. As for those who shoot videos, the 50mm STM is a better choice if you don’t need f/1.4 or f/1.2.

You can order your 50mm here

Canon 50mm f1.8 STM

Canon 50mm f1.4 USM

Canon 50mm f1.2 L USM

By the way have you found the image(s) shot with the 50mm f1.2 L USM in this article? Leave you answer below

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About Kent Yu

Kent is a professional wedding and portrait photographer based in Wellington, New Zealand. He and his team specialise in modern and contemporary weddings. Kent has his work published in international magazines and is a regular author to a number of photographic publication. He is fascinated by photographic equipment and enjoys showcasing the gear used in creating his images. You can find him on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google+
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