Canon 50mm f/1.8 II Review

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II was the second lens I bought for my DSLR, right after I got my first telephoto (the Canon 55 – 250mm zoom, which you can also read my review of, should you wish to). I wanted a lens with a really wide maximum aperture so I could take photos in lowlight without a flash, and I didn’t want to break the bank – so the ‘nifty fifty’, as it’s sometimes known, was the lens I went for.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II review

Photo by G. Russell on Flickr

Price

It may seem a little strange to start this review off by talking about price, but the great value of the 50mm f/1.8 II really deserves to be spoken about, as it’s just such an affordable loens to add to your arsenal. For example, it’s only about $150 from Amazon US, or around £100 on Amazon UK.

Photography is an expensive hobby at the best of times, so it’s great to find an excellent lens (which it is, by the way) that doesn’t leave us eating cheese and bread for a month or two…

How Will It Improve My Photos?

This is the biggie – afterall, why would you bother getting a new lens if it’s not going to improve your photography at the end of the day? There are a few reasons why you can benefit from getting the Canon 50mm, and I’ll list them in order of importance (in my opinion, anyway):

1. No Flash Needed

Yep, with this little baby attached to your DSLR, you can put away that little pop-up flash on your camera, because you just won’t be needing it – this lens’ maximum aperture of f/1.8 means that it takes in a whole lot of light at a time, which in turn means that you’ll be able to take sharp shots in lowlight situations with ease.

Don’t believe me? Check out my shot of a friend’s cat, below. It was taken inside at night, with no flash whatsoever:

f/1.8, 1/60 sec, ISO 1600

Check out the sharpness of the cat’s eye!

A shot like this, in such a dark situation, would not have been possible to take without flash with the 18 – 55 kit lens that came with my Canon 500D / T1i – the aperture of that lens just ins’t large enough to allow enough light in. But, with the Canon 50mm f/1.8, I just set it at its maximum aperture, raised the ISO (which is the camera’s sensitivity to light) to 1600, and shot away.

By the way, I did a tutorial on how to take photos in lowlight without using a flash, which you may be interested in too.


 

2. Shallow Depth Of Field

I love taking shots with a beautifully blurred background; love the way this makes the subject of my photos ‘pop’. And what’s the main way you can achieve such out-of-focus backgrounds? Yep, by using a large aperture again – another reasons why the 50mm’s f/1.8 is just so darn great.

You can see an example of this in the shot below: the nice focus on the eyes, with the background (his body) and foreground (his nose) a lovely blur…

dog-blur-canon-50mm

f/1.8, 1/30 sec, ISO 3200

It’s also actually another example of the lowlight performance of the lens, as he is a dark dog, in a very dark room – there’s no way that my kit lens would have been able to take this shot without using flash, but the Canon 50mm had no problems.

Funnily enough, I’ve done a tutorial on how to blur the background in your photos too, which you may find useful.

3. Great Focal Length For Portraits

As most of us are probably using crop-sensor cameras – such as the Canon T2i or T3i – then the 50mm focal length of the lens is very similiar to an 80mm lens of a full-frame camera, and this focal length is just great for portraits. And if that talk of crop-sensors and full-frame doesn’t mean much to you, don’t worry, just know that by using the 50mm to take photos of your friends and family, you’re going to get some great results.

The 80mm-equivalent focal length means your subject will look natural, and not distorted – and the wide aperture means you can send the background out of focus with ease.

Check out the portrait of my mum (ah…) below as an example:

mum portrait

f/2.8, 1/1600 sec, ISO 100

I’m pretty sure my mum likes this shot, and she normally hates photos of herself, so the 50m is definitely working well here!

4. It’s Sharp.

Yep, it really is. At f/1.8 it’s good, and at slightly smaller apertures, such as f/2.8, it’s even better. You’ll definitely notice the improvement from your 18 – 55 kit lens.

I’ll include some more shots below – all showing great sharpness:

f/6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 200

f/2.6, 1/200 sec, ISO 1600

f/2.8, 1/400 sec, ISO 800

f/2.8, 1/3200 sec, ISO 200

Verdict

So, you’re probably thinking I quite like this lens, and you’d be absolutely right! But what of its downsides? Well, you may have heard or read about the build quality of the lens. Yes, it is plasticy, but, you know what? It doesn’t matter. At all. It fits on your camera, and works. Surely that’s all we need it to do? We’re not going to be playing ‘catch’ with it, after all. For amateur/enthusiast photographers, there is just no need to go for a more expensive option just because of the plastic build.

It works, and it works darn well.

A photo I took with this lens was even published in my local newspaper, so, yes, I am quite a fan!

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is available from Amazon US and UK.


34 comments

  1. Cindy Anderson /

    Your tutorial on blurring photographs is best I have ever read…you have a real gift for explaining all of this which I have not found anywhere else. Thanks!

  2. That’s so nice of you to say, Cindy, thanks a lot :)

  3. Leisa /

    Thank u for the information. Yours was very clear to understand! Any tip which magazine to buy for beginners? I have my toys but i don’t know where to start.

  4. Hi Leisa. Where in the world are you based, as photography magazines vary from country to country…

  5. Abhishek /

    Than you, it was very helpful. Did you edit these photos?

  6. I did do a bit of editing, yes, in Lightroom. Mainly adding a bit of contrast and vignetting, which is what I generally do with a lot of my shots.

  7. The IQ you get for this price is amazing I think. I love this lens!

  8. Thank you so much for the information. As a beginner it’s difficult to know where to start when it’s time to move onto a new lens.

    Although I’m a bit confused, the EF 50mm is a full sensor lens… but the camera used is a crop sensor… how does that work? Does that mean my 500d is compatible with EF lenses as well?

  9. Hi. Yep, your 500D is compatible with all EF lenses, as well as EF-S.

  10. Sandeep /

    Nice learning. Does 18-135 lens get same result?

  11. If you mean the Canon 18 – 135 EF-S lens, then it won’t really be very good for lowlight photography, as the maximum aperture is only F/3.5 – nowhere near letting as much light in as the f/1.8 50mm…

  12. Quyen Hoang /

    Hi,

    I have a Canon 40D and the 50mm, 18-55mm, and 24-105mm lens. Do you feel that the Canon 40D works well with these lenses or should I upgrade?

    Quyen Hoang

  13. Hi Quyen, thanks for your comment. I think it works well with those lenses, yes – perhaps if you want to get a bit closer to your subjects you could get a telephoto as well? It all depends on what you want to photograph, and your budget really…

  14. Hi,
    I got the 50mm f/1.8 lens just recently, and I was wondering what is the minimum distance for it to focus properly? I had images in my head of close-ups, but I know that’s not possible. What do you suggest?
    Beth

  15. Great review….Thanks a lot.

  16. Hi Beth. The minimum focus distance for that lens is 45cms. Using it on a crop sensor camera (like a T2i, for example) means you do have to stand a fair way back from your subject really.

  17. No probs; hope you enjoy thr lens if you decide to get it!

  18. Wow! Great read.. Thank you very much! Just bought my 50mm awhile ago and trying to read some tutorials about it. I got across this article and it was surely helpful.. Thank you again..

  19. No problem, Ranel, glad it’s been helpful.

  20. Hi! I am so thankful I’ve found your site!! It has been extremely helpful, as I’m just starting out. I received a recommendation to purchase this lens but have some questions. I have a Canon Rebel XS with the kit lens on it still. My purpose is to take indoor portraits of my kids. Do you recommend this lens for that. I’ve heard if I want to get full body shots that I’ll have to stand practically in the next room. Someone also told me to be careful because the lens they purchased wasn’t autofocus. Is this lens auto focus? Thank you again sooo much :)

  21. Guess what, after reading your review of the lens, I ordered one from an Indian online mart and it’s going to be my first lens beyond the 18-55 mm kit lens for my 550D.

    & you are right about the plastic thing, there’s too much plastic around me and I do not keep breaking those things everyday.

  22. Great stuff! I’m sure you’ll love it :)

  23. Thanks for your kind words, Liz. Yes, this lens will autofocus on your Rebel XS, no problem, and it will be great for lowlight photos indoors. It may be tricky to catch fast-moving kids, but that’s always going to be a challenge, no problem what lens you use! The focal length is quite long on a cropped camera like yours, but you won’t have to be standing in another room – but perhaps near the back of the room for a full body shot.

  24. This information is very useful, thank you! Tonight I will be shooting a disco party as I know there’s no chance to get more light. I found good solution to use my 50mm to shoot this party. Thanks.

  25. Hi ! Im new to photography, in fact my newly ordered Canon T2i is still in the mail on its way ! ;) I wanted to know how do you calculate what to set the shutter speed to ?
    Also, what cheap priced lense would you propose for panoramic shots day AND night time?

    Thanks in advance

  26. Congrats on your T2i purchase, it’s a great camera. If you shoot in Aperture Priority mode, which is what I do about 90% of the time, then the camera will set the shutter speed for you. And the kit lens that comes with your camera will be just fine for panoramic shots in the day and night – you’ll need to use a tripod for the night panaormaics, but the kit lens will still be just fine. (getting a lens with a wider aperture is good for lowlight/night shots, but not night-landscape shots, as you’ll be needing a small aperture anyway – so the kit lens will be fine).

  27. Felix /

    Hi,
    I have the 550d and I also have the 50mm f1.8. It is a great lense. However, mine frontfocuses when used at f1.8. I have read in other websites that this is a common problem. Have you also experienced this problem? Do you have a solution that does not involve sending it back to Canon for repair? Do you observe any difference in focusing performance when using the viewfinder compared with using the screen and live mode?
    Thanks.

  28. Hi Felix, sorry to hear you’re having problems with the lens; I’ve not experienced that before, so I don’t think it’s a common problem with it. I wouldn’t know what to do, though, apart from sending it back I’m afraid. Viewfinder focusing is always quicker than using live mode, though.

  29. Your review helps me a lot to take decision in buying the 50mm f/1.8, I am new in photography and bought my 600D with kit lens last month and I enjoy it.

  30. Great; I’m sure you’ll love the 50mm f/1.8! :)

  31. Joel Cordero /

    Nice review it helps me alot as a beginner.

  32. ste beswick /

    Hi,ive been taking some photos of my daughter with my 50mm f/1.8 lens.My question is do i use manual focus in aperture priority mode,i’m not getting the sharpness i need.I’m shooting with a canon 500D

  33. Hi Ste. I have the 1.8 too, and find it a little soft at 1.8. Try using it at a slightly smaller aperture, and it will be sharper. Auto focus should be fine.

  34. ste beswick /

    Thank you,i’ll give it a go.The 500D is a great stills camera,though im still learning.Great website,and on facebook too,very easy to understand,thanks again.

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