Canon 50mm f/1.0 L
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Canon 50mm Lenses Compared 05 Nov 2013
Canon 50mm f/1.2 L (2006-today)
Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM (1993-today)
Canon 50mm f/1.8 (1987-1990)
Canon 50mm f/1.8 II (1990-today)
Canon 50mm f/2.5 Macro (1987-today)
Canon 85mm f/1.2L II (same exterior, 2006-today)
Sample Image Files (more throughout the review)
Yes, it's sharp at f/1.0:
Here's a crop at 100% from a 22 MP image:
Crop from above 22MP full-frame image at 100%. Canon 5D Mark III, f/1.0 at 1/15 hand-held at ISO 500. If this is 6" (15cm) wide on your screen, then the complete image would print at 40 x 60" (1 x 1.5 meters) at this same high magnification. Camera-original file.
Palm at f/1.0. Super-sharp at f/1.0, and use the falloff to highlight the ball! Canon 5D Mark III, f/1.0 at 1/2,000. bigger. (note: only the center is in focus, the fronds on the sides are further away and out of focus.)
The Canon 50mm f/1.0 L USM is such an extraordinary lens that it took me three weeks to review it. Unlike all the other look-alike lenses out there, this unique masterpiece lets me create images that I can't make with any other lens.
The Canon 50mm f/1.0 L USM is 100% compatible with all Canon digital SLRs and every Canon EOS 35mm camera. With today's modern DSLRs with AF Fine Tuning and Live View AF, it's actually more useful today than when it came out in 1989! Today it works great with all the AF sensors; when it came out, cameras only had one AF sensor and no way to fine-tune the lens to your camera body yourself. Like all Canon EF lenses, this 50/1.0 is perfectly compatible with everything.
This f/1.0 lens has instant manual-focus override; just grab the ring at any time while the AF system is active. Manual focus is motor driven; the focus ring is an encoder that tells the camera to tell the motor what to do. The camera has to be awake for manual focus to work. It works better than the other similar systems I've tried, seemingly faster than the similar system in the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II.
This 50/1.0 L isn't sold new anymore, and it has no new replacement — but there are always plenty available over eBay. The closest optically is the much less expensive, slower and more plasticy Canon 50mm f/1.2 L (2006-today), while today's Canon 85mm f/1.2L II (2006-today) looks exactly the same as this 50/1.0 because it's housed in the same outer barrel.
This highly advanced 50mm f/1.0 is a thoroughly relevant and modern lens for all kinds of shooting. It's the one Super-Lens you can use for photographing anything and everything in any light. Technically it performs far better than it should, and used at its limits, which are the very limits of photography itself, it can help give unique renditions that other photographers with more limited tools will not be able to duplicate.
Considering its extraordinary optical complexity and the unique competitive edge it affords to its professional owner, it's a bargain at about $4,000 today.
This 50mm f/1.0 L USM is ridiculously expensive because it uses not one, but two ground aspherical glass elements. It is a Bi-Aspheric lens, quite different from the molded glass or plastic elements used in newer "aspheric" lenses. It's not overpriced; it really is that tough to build and has always been more expensive than its simpler 85mm f/1.2 L brother. Collectors haven't discovered this lens yet; it has always sold for about $4,000, so get yours while you still can.
Canon put everything they could into this lens. It wasn't designed to sell as much as it was designed to show once-great Nikon who was the new top dog in town. This is one of Canon's first lenses that was designed to push Nikon out of the pro market. Upon seeing it mentioned in 1987's sales literature, Nikon executives were seen covering their eyes and humming "it's not real, it's not shipping, it's not happening; pros don't shoot autofocus, so nothing to see here!" All Nikon had in 1989 was the 50/1.4 AF, the one with the very crappy hard plastic focus ring! This lens made Nikon look like turkeys, and helped Canon win the professional 35mm camera market away from Nikon in the 1990s.
This 50mm f/1.0 lens was so far ahead of its time that even today no lens comes close to its combination of speed and technology.
There are three primary reasons to own this masterpiece:
1.) Used at larger apertures, gives a unique look which cannot be duplicated any other way. There is no way in software or with other lenses to duplicate its precise combination of artistically pleasing falloff and its unique rendering of out-of-focus areas. If you want this effect, you need this lens.
2.) For ultra-low light, f/1.0 is 1/2 to 2/3 stops faster than common f/1.2 lenses. In fact, this f/1.0 lens as about as much faster than an f/1.2 lens as an f/1.4 lens is faster than an f/1.8 lens.
While the ultra-high ISOs of today's DSLRs let us capture anything in any light hand-held with slow f/2.8 or f/4 lenses, we still can't stop action at 1/125 in near darkness unless we have a lens this fast. High DSLR ISOs let us shoot indoor and night sports that are dimly lit, but if we're shooting where there isn't any supplemental lighting, we need the f/1.0 to stop action in the dark.
3.) Subject Isolation: no other 50mm lens can isolate a subject from its surroundings as strongly as can this lens. If you can't control your background when shooting outside your studio, this lens lets you make the background go away.
Today when every other amateur photographer is probably using the same camera (or better) than you are, one way to stand out and win more jobs is to master a lens like this and give your images something that weekend amateurs can't copy.
For instance, shot at f/1.0 in daylight, it so limits the depth-of-field of an otherwise normal image that it really does look like a shot made either with an 8x10" camera wide-open, or sometimes as if the subjects are just miniature models. (It seems that way because we're used to seeing limited depth-of field usually only if something is very small and therefore shot close-up.)
Perfect focus is required for sharp shots at f/1.0, and if you have perfect focus, this 50mm f/1.0 is surprisingly sharp and contrasty at f/1.0. At normal apertures, it's super-sharp, too, with no more distortion than Canon's other 50mm lenses.
Even more than today's simpler 85mm f/1.2 L II which is based on this lens, this 50mm lens can be shot everywhere for everything. It's super sharp in normal use, and when it gets dark, there is no lens that comes close to its light gathering power.
I'll start with a lot of superlatives, but know that this lens works great for every day photography. It's like a 1,000 horsepower car that also purrs for regular driving.
It is ultra-fast, but your viewfinder won't be any brighter or look any different. You can only see what this lens does by looking at the actual pictures, not by looking through your viewfinder. Canon's viewfinders are optimized for lenses of about f/2.5; faster lenses don't get any brighter in the finder and you can't see the more limited depth-of-field unless possibly you can use a special replacement screen optimized for lenses faster than f/2.5. Think I'm kidding? Try your depth-of field preview button, and you won't see much difference until you stop down to f/2.5, or look back into the camera lens from the front of the camera and you'll only see the middle of the lens lit-up from the finder screen!
Canon EF 50mm f/1.0. bigger.
der König der Nacht
Let's clarify superlatives:
The World's Fastest SLR and DSLR Lens
There has never been any faster SLR lens, or even any lens as fast as f/1, for any SLR.
In fact, except for this one lens, the fastest lenses for SLRs and DSLRs from everyone else are merely f/1.2 lenses, which are a half to 2/3 of a stop slower.
The World's Fastest Autofocus Lens
Ditto for AF, nothing else even comes close.
While Canon makes autofocus f/1.2 lenses, Nikon has never made an AF lens faster than f/1.4, a stop slower!
The most advanced manual-focus 50mm lens since 1980 has been Canon's FD 50mm f/1.2 L, which uses an aspheric element and a floating element design. Neither Nikon's aspherical 58mm f/1.2 NOCT or LEICA's 50mm f/1.2 NOCTILUX use floating elements; they use simple unit-focus designs which are optimized for only one focus distance; they don't continuously adjust themselves automatically as does Canon's first 50mm L lens. LEICA's 50mm f/1.4 ASPH of 2004 copies the one aspheric surface and floating element concept of the 1980 Canon 50/1.2 L, but is slower.
Leica is still back at 1910's manual-diaphragm technology in their optically simpler manual-focus NOCTILUX like the 50mm f/0.95, which can't focus anywhere near as closely, and Nikon still uses mechanical diaphragms as well.
Today, Canon's simpler and less expensive 85mm f/1.2 L II has only one aspheric element, and Canon's much less expensive 50mm f/1.2 L uses only one aspheric element, and that element is simply molded, not ground, glass.
This Canon 50/1.0 L leaves all these lenses in the dirt adding two ground aspheric elements, autofocus, electronic focus, focus-by-wire, an ultrasonic focus motor, and an electronically actuated diaphragm. Today, no maker has copied all this technology in any one lens.
The World's Fastest Practical Lens
There are faster lenses out there, but they aren't for practical photography. Any faster lenses are for copy machines, non-mainstream junk formats, recycled CCTV lenses, or old oscilloscope and x-ray cameras.
The fastest commercially available lens in 35mm photography is the Canon 50mm f/0.95, introduced in 1961. It's held the record every since, but only works on Canon's old rangefinder cameras.
Even if it was practical, f/0.95 isn't faster than f/1.0; it's only a sixth of a stop and done for marketing purposes since 0.95 seems like a big step from 1.0, like crossing a sound barrier or something — but it's a bit less significant than going from from f/5.6 to f/5.3!
Leica copied 1961's Canon 50mm f/0.95 lens back in 2008, but it only works on Leica's rangefinder cameras, won't autofocus on any camera and can't focus any closer than 3.3 feet (1 meter). The LEICA lens' only real claim to fame is that it's expensive, but as far as photography is concerned, LEICA's rangefinder cameras lack the accuracy to focus it perfectly unless you use Live View which is only available on the LEICA M typ 240, and by the time you get it all to work, your subject has left the building. Even if you get the LEICA contraption to work, rangefinder cameras went obsolete for good reasons back in the 1960s.
The fastest lens ever sold by Nikon for regular photography was their 50mm f/1.1 lens — again only for their rangefinder cameras. It wasn't sharp.
The World's Most Useful Super Lens
By Super Lens, I mean crazy things that cost more than a month's take-home pay.
Sure, you can pay more for plenty of crazy lenses like the Nikon 13mm f/5.6 or Canon 600mm f/4, but neither is useful for day-to-day photography and each is a lot bigger and heavier. We can use this 50mm f/1.0 L lens every day.
Lenses like the 14mm f/2.8 L II or a 300mm f/2.8 IS L II are in every amateur's dreams, but honestly, those lenses are not very useful compared to any 50mm lens. Really foolish lenses like the 800mm f/5.6 or 180º fisheyes are even less useful. See Assembling a System for the utility curve.
In this case, we have a super lens, and as a normal 50mm lens, it can be used for everything every day. Unlike the Nikon 13mm or other oddities, Canon made thousands of these f/1.0 lenses and they are easy to find every day at eBay.
Canon invented the world's fastest lens for a conventional 35mm still camera, the Canon 50mm f/0.95.
It works on their rangefinder cameras, and has been the fastest lens in 35mm photography for many decades until copied by LEICA in 2008.
The 50mm f/1.0 L USM was announced March 1987 with the dawn of the EOS system. It was shown in the catalogs for the EOS 650 and EOS 620, and no one heard anything else about it for a while. It scared the heck out of Nikon, who was hoping that no one, especially professionals, would notice.
Canon first announced this lens for sale along with the announcement of Canon's first professional AF camera, the EOS 1 in September 1989.
Along with the 50/1 becoming available, also announced was its brother, the EF 85mm f/1.2 L. Today's 85/1.2 L II is just about the same as the first EF 85/1.2 L, which is made of most of the same external parts as this 50/1.
As a weird bit of trivia, if you shot Canon EOS from 1989-1992, your only two 50mm lens choices were the inexpensive f/1.8, or this over-the-top professional 50mm f/1.0. With no f/1.4 lens until 1993, Canon let the world know that "good enough" and "the way things have always been done" was no longer good enough.
As the EF lens system matured, Canon published "Lens Work" describing all its lenses.
This 50/1.0 was the most incredible and useful thing in the catalog, literally defining professional photography, and was therefore used as an icon on the front hot-stamped foil cover:
Canon EF Lens Work, 1992.
This lens was also used as a shadow image behind the cover page for each section:
The Definition of the Professional Eye: The EF 50mm f/1.0 L USM.
With this book, Canon subtly reminds pro photographers that Canon are unquestionably today's leaders in professional photography, regardless of whatever brand you used to shoot.
The 50mm f/1.4 USM became available, and for a fraction of the price of this f/1.0 it was usually good enough, so Canon sold much fewer of the f/1.0.
This 50mm f/1.0 lens was so expensive that no one bought it anymore, so Canon stopped making it. Canon did continue to make the very similar and less expensive 85mm f/1.2 L.
Canon introduced the much smaller, more plasticy and less expensive 50mm f/1.2 L in August 2006.
Canon also introduced the 85mm f/1.2 L II, which is also made today and still uses most of the same body parts as this original 50mm f/1.0 L. These two lenses are almost exactly the same size and look the same!
There is only this one original version of the 50mm f/1.0 L. There was never a -II version.
I doubt we'll see a -II version; the used market has plenty of this original f/1.0 for everyone.
Canon calls this the Canon Lens EF 50mm f/1.0 L ULTRASONIC (USM).
EF: Electronic Focus. All modern Canon lenses focus with a motor in the lens.
L: Expensive as L.
ULTRASONIC (USM): UltraSonic focus Motor. The focus motor is silent.
Canon EF 50m f/1.0 L internal diagram. Ground aspheric elements.
11 elements in 9 groups.
Bi-Aspherical: TWO ground glass aspheric surfaces: G3 R1 and G8 R2.
Four elements of high index-of-refraction glass: G4, G7, G9 and G10.
Front-group focus; the front 10 elements extend as focused more closely while the rear element stays put. Back focus (distance from rear element to image plane) is 38.95mm. The optics are 83.18mm long at infinity.
The Super Spectra coatings look much different than most other lenses. They almost look as weird as some of the ultraspeed copy machine lenses I've seen. They are optimized to the high refractive index glass and thus look different.
The rear nodal point seems further away from the image plane than most of Canon's other lenses. This becomes apparent as weird corner darkening seen only in the finder (not actual images) with depth-of-field preview.
Ultrasonic motor (USM) runs at 29.6 ±0.5 kHz.
Lens focuses only with the USM; manual focus keys the computer which in turn runs the USM to focus the lens.
Focus from infinity to 0.6 meters is 196º 07' rotation.
Front, Canon 50 L USM at f/1.0 (EF diaphragm not visible). bigger.
Stops down to f/16.
Conventional blades give better sunstars than the rounded blades of the 50mm f/1.2 L, while blur circles are equally round.
2 feet (0.6m).
Maximum Reproduction Ratio
Angle of View
46º diagonal on full-frame and 35mm.
3.60" (91.5mm) diameter x 3.21" (81.5mm).
35.890 oz. (1,017.55g) measured.
Rated 34.7 oz. (985g).
Canon LH-D12 Hard Padded Velvet Case.
Canon includes an LH-D12 hard padded case. It has a red velvet interior — aaah!
It's the same case as supplied with the EF 85mm f/1.2 L USM.
Canon got cheap with today's otherwise identical EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM and supply it only with the cheap LP1219 pouch. Therefore, today's $31 LP1219 pouch should also work great with this 50mm f/1.0.
Included ES-79 hood.
$50 plastic snap-on ES-79, included.
Much better than the fidgety bayonet hoods of amateur lenses, this hood simply pushes-on and locks all by itself. There's no need to stop shooting and have to line-up dots; just push it on any way you like. Press the tabs to release.
It reverses the same way — never any need to line-up or turn anything.
March 1987, with the first mention of the EOS system. Imagine people's surprise at seeing the quiet mention of a 50mm f/1.0 in this first lens listing from 1987:
All Canon EOS EF Lenses, 1987. enlarge.
Available for purchase with the announcement of the EOS 1 in September 1989.
It only took Canon two and a half years to complete this masterpiece.
The service manual is part number CY8-1200-059, and covers the 85mm f/1.2 L as well, which is almost identical.
As you'll see, today's $4,000 used price is about the same real price for which it has sold. The price isn't yet driven by collectors; the 50mm f/1.0 has always sold for much more than its brother, the common 85mm f/1.2 L.
The Canon 50mm f/1.0 is optically far better than I had expected. I find it easy to get sharp and contrasty images even at f/1.0, and I really like the character of the falloff that gives strong emphasis to my subject without being noticeable as falloff at f/1.0.
If other people can't get sharp, contrasty images at f/1.0 it's because they didn't get it in perfect focus. Getting perfect focus requires skill, and I explain that at Usage. If you're even a fraction of a human hair off in focus, you'll get soft magenta halos instead of sharpness.
I'm also impressed that this f/1.0 seems to have a flat field at all distances. Unlike many other ultraspeed lenses, the sides and corners are in focus at the same distance as the center. I can focus at f/1.0 and then recompose.
If you can't get brilliant, sharp and colorful photos with this lens, you're doing something wrong.
Getting perfect focus is covered at Usage. You have to know what you're doing to get great results at f/1.0.
Focus is entirely electronic. Even in manual focus, the lens has to be attached to a working EOS body for the lens to focus. Turn the ring when it's not on a camera or with the camera turned off, and it won't do anything.
AF is fast enough and consistent. On a 5D Mark III, it focuses very well down to pitch black. Contrary to folklore, this lens' super-speed doesn't help it focus any better in the dark than other lenses Like focus screens, cameras are optimized for slower lenses and thus faster lenses don't help it focus any better in the dark.
Here's a sample of bang-on sharp eyeballs and eyelashes at f/1.4; the 50mm f/1.4 USM is still veiled from spherical aberration at f/1.4 and can't do this:
Autofocus isn't as fast as slower lenses because it needs to be so much more precise for f/1.0.
It is fast enough to catch my kids at play, which surprises me. It's about as fast or faster than what people accept today from iPhones or mirrorless cameras; more than enough for almost anything if you know what you're doing.
On my 5D Mark III and EOS 1V it's plenty fast — much faster than was the awful EOS-M even with its own dedicated STM lenses! This 50/1.0 is slower on cameras like Canon's very first EOS 650 from 1987, but not that much slower.
For the most accurate autofocus, use Live View AF. It takes longer, but if the subject holds reasonably still (say "cheese!"), Live View AF is perfect every time at f/1.0.
Using regular AF on my 5D Mk III there is some shot-to-shot variation; not every shot will be perfect with living, breathing subjects and photographers that move around a few inches here or there.
I use regular AF for any kind of action and daytime shooting as seen here, and use Live View AF only for still subjects if shooting at f/1.0 and I have the time.
This is awesome: it's nearly pitch-black outside, and with this lens I can shoot at 1/125 at ISO 320 and still autofocus well enough to get his shirt in focus as he screams on by.
I'm astounded that autofocus on the 5D Mk III easily can track kids in motion in AI SERVO, even this close and moving fast on a swing:
Just grab the ring anytime AF is active for instant manual-focus override.
To lock it into manual mode only, move the switch on the lens, by your thumb.
The lens is so big that the switch isn't quite where Canon shooters expect it; you have to reach up a bit.
See Usage for details.
AF Accuracy and Consistency
Regular AF probably will need AF Fine Tuning for perfect results at f/1.0. If you are really picky, you will probably need different AF Fine Tuning values at close versus far distances.
If your camera lacks AF Fine Tuning, it's not likely that any given sample of lens will give perfect results on your camera at f/1.0. No worries, just as LEICA shooters learn to compensate an inch here or there, if shot with an older camera, learn how or where to focus for perfect results with your lens. The service manual tells a licenced service facility how to adjust the lens digitally for any sample of camera.
My 5D Mark III gives consistent results with regular AF, however it's not always perfect. I'm still trying to find the best AF Fine Tuning values for different distances. The sample tested here seems to need a value of about +10 on my 5D Mk III; yours will be different.
My 2006 Rebel XTi isn't as consistent; focus will vary by larger amounts from one frame to the next. Even without AF Fine Tuning, my Rebel XTi gets plenty of in-focus shots, not bad for Canon's cheapest DSLR from 2006.
For perfect results every time at every aperture, focus with Live View. Every sample of lens is different.
Manual focus is very precise. It takes a long, smooth 290° turn from infinity to minimum focus, or 280° from infinity to 2 feet (0.6m).
The focus ring is an encoder. It spins continuously without stops.
Bokeh, the quality of out-of-focus areas as opposed to the degree of defocus, is fair, but since out of focus areas are usually so wildly out of focus, it doesn't matter. Blur circles at the largest apertures are a little weird, as expected for a bi-aspheric lens.
If the background has point sources of light, as opposed to just background, bokeh can get messier:
Did you catch that this shot was made at ISO 8,000 at f/1.0? If I had only a 24-70/2.8 L II, I'd have needed ISO 64,000 or 1/15 of a second to get the same shot, and neither would have been pretty. With this 1.0, even my six-year-old can successfully shoot in the dark! On a modern DSLR, this lens can see and stop action in the dark even better than the human eye.
This shot is a perfect example of why this lens is needed today for action shots in the dark. The only source of light is the game's screen, and I needed ISO 1,600 to shoot at 1/125 to stop the action. At f/1.0, Ryan's eyes are super sharp. With the ordinary 24-70/2.8 L II that costs almost as much, I'd need ISO 12,800, and the background would have been distracting rather than helpful.
Point-source blur circles will take on weird shapes at the sides at f/1.0:
Focus on center of image at f/1.0, full-frame. Note how sharp and well defined are the branches in the center and towards the top; the only things actually in focus. bigger.
If you want an effect, the blur in the corners starts to look a bit like Photoshop's Radial Blur, which simulates period cameras.
At f/5 on full-frame. Bokeh is normal. bigger.
At f/1.0 on full-frame, 01 Nov 2013. Bokeh gets weird on the sides. bigger.
Finish the f/1.0 shot as a platinum print, and you've got an instant period look without the view camera and plates. bigger.
Rockwell in the bumper at f/1.0. Crop from above at 100%; sharp enough?
If the background isn't sparkled with point sources, the background goes away:
The color balance of this 50 seems the same as my other Canon EF lenses.
I'm shocked by how vivid is its color rendition in dim light:
I couldn't think of any reason the 50mm f/1.0 L USM would be any more vivid at night than in daylight, and then it hit me: digital cameras usually have lower saturation at very high ISOs. This is done to reduce chroma noise, and also dulls colors. We rarely notice this, because our own eyes are less sensitive to color in very dim light as well. In fact, our eyes only see in black-and-white under moonlight.
With the f/1.0, I can shoot at reasonable ISOs even in the dark, like at ISO 400 above for this LV 3.7 scene. Shooting at ISO 400 gives bolder colors than if I had shot it at f/2.8 at ISO 3,200 with a 24-70mm f/2.8 L II, or at ISO 6,400 with an f/4 lens for the same exposure. Aha!
Coma, or saggital coma flare, is when bright points of light in the corners turn into batwing-shaped blobs. This is often a problem with conventional fast normal or wide lenses, and one of the main reasons aspherical elements are used.
While the bokeh gets funny for things in the corners that aren't in focus, if you're in focus, points of light in the corners stay as remarkably tight points, far better than conventional lenses:
Incandescent point sources. Canon 50mm f/1.0 at f/1.0. bigger.
While the corners get may softer at f/1.0 if you look very closely, in-focus points of light stay as points of light.
The Canon 50 1.0 has minor barrel distortion:
Brick wall at f/6.3. bigger.
For more critical use, use these values in Photoshop's Lens Distortion tool to remove the distortion. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires hours of photography and calculations on the resulting data.
© 2013 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.
* Still a bit wavy after correction.
As the table shares, the barrel distortion gets stronger at the closest distances.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.0. bigger.
This is a big hunk of a lens. My wife says this lens looks way too fat, way too big and way too heavy —and wants to know how soon I'm sending it back! She thinks the 24-70mm f/2.8 L II looks OK because it's longer and not as fat.
This is huge for a normal lens, and still smaller and lighter than most of the teles people hump around without complaint.
Most of its body is a strong grippy grip, made of moderately stiff rubber like the heel of a man's dress shoe or a hockey puck.
The focus ring is solid alloy precision. It turns smoothing without play. It controls manual focus as an encoder to the camera's computer, which in turn drives the electronic focus motor in the lens.
When you use the depth of field preview button, the odd position of the rear nodal point makes the corners of the viewfinder dim much more than you'd expect. The pictures of course don't show this.
Exposures are always swell. There is no funny business at any aperture; of course the corners are supposed to be darker at f/1.0.
F/1.0 on digital?
Even with DSLR sensors and their microlenses, all the photons, even when shot at f/1.0, are captured.
Here are crops of an out-of-focus point source at 3 meters (10 feet) with the lens focused at 1 meter (3 feet):
As you can see, even as the cone of light coming into the sensor grows and grows to f/1.0, all of the light is captured. If the sensor wasn't accepting photons from stronger angles, the blur circle would cease to grow at larger apertures, and take on some weird, probably rectangular, form.
The reason we see rings is from the way the two aspherical elements are ground to approximate the desired asphere.
Of course the blur circle gets brighter at smaller apertures; exposure was constant (more time at smaller apertures) so it's in better focus and thus the same light is concentrated in a smaller area at smaller f/stops.
I was curious about the slight top-and-bottom cut-off at f/1.0, and a quick look into my 5D Mk III showed me that obstructions in the 5D Mk III (flipped-up mirror on top and black plastic shelf on bottom) caused that. By comparison, my professional EOS 1V has conical cut-outs in its bottom to prevent this.
Different cameras use different exposure programs.
Here's what some of them do with this lens.
* Digital Rebel XTi is very similar.
There is strong falloff at f/1.0, some falloff at f/1.4, and no more visible falloff at f/2 and smaller.
This strong falloff is very helpful for isolating our subject.
If you don't like it, there is no automatic correction profile for digital Canons, however it's easy to correct with Photoshop's Lens Correction tool.
Use the Vignette control in Photoshop's Lens Correction tool. Use the amounts listed below for the most complete correction, although using less correction usually looks better artistically. Leave the Midpoint adjustment at +50.
I've greatly exaggerated the falloff by shooting a flat gray target and presenting it against a gray background, In actual use, it's nowhere as obvious as this. The dim line along the bottom is actually not in the lens, but a defect in the 5D Mk III where an obstruction in its mirror box is obstructing some of the light along the bottom of the image:
There's no need for thin filters, regular thick and rotating filters work great.
It may have been my imagination, but I think I once had the entire front cell of the lens start unscrewing as I turned the filter. I haven't seen this again.
If I use an ordinary filter on a DSLR, I get a mild inverted ghost image of bright points of light reflected from the sensor. If shooting something like this below, take off your filter or use a multicoated one to avoid the point ghosts.
The little dots are reflections from my single-coated filter. I should have removed it, or used a multicoated one.
There's some weird flare when shot wide-open directly into light sources. See the little red-green wavy lines above? Those are artifacts of internal reflections. If you really want to make it look bad, shoot a strong light source in the frame:
With strong, direct light sources in the image at f/1.0, you'll see curved lines coming from the light sources. Stop down or get them out of the image and they go away.
Shoot into the light stopped down and this lens performs like any other. See the sample under Sunstars below. Be careful if shot wide open and you don't want this flare.
If you get over the flare, you'll see it's very sharp at f/1.0.
At smaller apertures, the weird rings go away, and there are a few dots if you shoot into the sun with something dark in the foreground against which for them to show:
Ghosts at Noni's Park at f/11, 14 Nov 2013. Bigger.
Focus breathing (the image changing size as focused) is mostly of interest to cinematographers who don't want the image changing size ("breathing") as the lens is focused among different subjects.
The image from the Canon 50mm f/1.0 gets bigger as focused more closely.
There is some mild magenta-green lateral color.
There is no lens profile for this lens, so there is no automatic correction.
Noni's gate at f/11, uncorrected, 14 Nov 2013. Uncorrected 22 MP JPG.
Photoshop's Lens Correction tool makes fixing this easy. I tried setting Red/Cyan at +5 and Green/Magenta at -30, and got this result (22MP JPG). I'm sure you could do better if you spent more than the moment I did trying to find better settings for these corrections, if you care.
As a floating-element lens, it's equally sharp at every distance.
The 50mm f/1.0 doesn't get quite as close as other 50mm SLR lenses; only to 2 feet instead of 1.5 feet (0.6 instead of 0.45 meters), but it's still closer than any LEICA rangefinder lens made in the past 50 years, which is more than close enough for everything I shoot with this lens.
At close-focus distance on full-frame at f/10.
It's super-sharp stopped down; here's a crop from the 22MP image at 100%:
Crop from above image at 100%, shot at f/810 on a Canon 5D Mk III. If this is 6" (15cm) wide on your screen, the full image would print at 40 x 60" (1 x 1.5 meters)!
The sparkles aren't noise; they are the texture of the watch crystal, face and bezel.
I wasn't expecting anything at f/1.0, but astoundingly it's actually sharp in the molecule-thin plane of focus:
At close-focus distance on full-frame at f/10.
It's actually at f/1.0 at 2 feet; here's a crop from the 22MP image at 100%:
Crop from above image at 100%, shot at f/1.0 on a Canon 5D Mk III.
Yes, the bezel is soft as a ghost, but that's because it's not in focus. Look at the two small dials on the left and right, the only things in focus, and it's actually sharp! If this is 6" (15cm) wide on your screen, the full image would print at 40 x 60" (1 x 1.5 meters)!
Rear, Canon 50 1.0. enlarge.
Rear, Canon 50 1.0. enlarge.
The Canon 50 1.0 is much better made then any other EF 50mm lens ever made by Canon. Except for the f/2.5 macro, every other Canon EF 50mm has a plastic filter thread, and as another piece of trivia, this is the only EF 50mm with a genuinely useful depth-of-field scale. The others are all very compressed or nonexistent.
Watch out for the rear element if you set this on a table without a rear cap; the rear element is only very slightly recessed from the rear of the mount.
Painted on front metal focus ring.
Solid alloy, rubber covered.
Plastic, tough like a hockey puck or the heel of a man's dress shoe.
Moisture seal at mount
Engraved into metal of the lens mount, only visible with the lens unmounted.
Ink-stamped on the metal of the lens mount, only visible with the lens unmounted.
Noises When Shaken
The one I borrowed sounds like there's a small part rolling around inside.
Lens, case and hood all made in Japan.
Anyone who can't get sharp and contrasty images from the 50/1 at f/1.0 throughout most of the image just doesn't have it in perfect focus.
If you want to shoot in daylight, here's a shot of a 3D subject. Know that only the palm in the center is in focus, everything else is closer or farther away and therefore not in focus.
Martinique at f/1 in broad daylight. Canon 5D Mark III, f/1,0 at 1/4,000 at ISO 50. Original file (7 sharpening, +4 saturation). Note that only the tree in the middle is in focus. All the white things are too close, so the magenta fringes are due to spherochromatism, and the things on the sides are farther away. Since they aren't in focus, they are not supposed to be sharp.
Image sharpness depends more on you than your lens, and lens sharpness doesn't mean much to good photographers. It's the least skilled hobbyists who waste the most time blaming fuzzy pictures on their lenses, while real shooters know that few photos ever use all the sharpness of which their lenses are capable due to subject motion and the fact that real subjects are rarely perfectly flat.
This said, this Canon 50 is the world's only f/1.0 SLR lens, so as the only lens at this level, it is literally beyond comparison at f/1.0.
At f/1.4, it's sharper than the 50/1.4 USM.
At f/2, it's sharper than the 50/1.4 USM and 50/1.8 II.
See Canon 50mm Lenses Compared for more details.
Here's how it looks on a full-frame 22MP 5D MK III:
Surprisingly sharp and contrasty throughout most of the image, but often with a slight magenta or green haze if you're not perfectly in focus.
The last 5mm of the corners become much softer.
Sharp and contrasty throughout most of the image. There is no lowered contrast from spherical aberration as in Canon's other conventional lenses.
The last 5mm of the corners become much softer.
Super sharp and contrasty throughout most of the image.
The last 3mm of the corners become much softer.
Super sharp and contrasty throughout most of the image.
The last 3mm of the corners become softer.
Super sharp and contrasty throughout most of the image.
The last 2mm of the corners become softer.
Super sharp and contrasty throughout most of the image.
The last millimeter of the corners become a little softer.
As stopped down more, the last millimeter of each corner becomes even sharper.
The rest of the image becomes a little softer at f/16 from diffraction.
Canon's specified MTF curve:
Spherochromatism, sometimes mistakenly called "color bokeh" by laymen, is an aberration which adds color fringes to out-of focus highlights.
The 50/1 has a normal amount of spherochromatism for its speed, which is plenty. Out-of-focus foreground highlights usually have magenta fringes and background highlights sometimes have some slight green fringes.
Here's as bad as I can make it. This is an extreme crop from the very center of a full-frame 22MP image at 100%. If you printed the entire image (not shown here) at this same high magnification, the print would be 40 x 60" (1 x 1.5 meters):
Enlarged crop from center of image.
Spherochromatism is usually invisible:
Notice how my side AF areas focus just fine, even at f/1.0. In this shot, I used the right-most AF area to focus, and bingo, perfect focus on the middle of the badge.
Sunstar on Ryan's helmet, 03 November 2013. Canon 5D Mark III, crop from horizontal, Canon EF 50mm f/1.0 L USM, +2/3 stop exposure compensation, f/6.3 at 1/250 at ISO 100, 6 sharpening, Athentech Perfectly Clear. bigger or Full-Resolution.
Sunstar on Ryan's Helmet. (cropped from above).
If this page is 6" (15cm) wide on your screen, the full image printed at the same magnification as this crop will be 20 x 30" (50 x 75 cm).
The lens tested here was made in 1990. It's 24 years old and obviously working great.
Canon USA stopped servicing this lens in 2008, so if you need service, you'll have to go elsewhere than Canon USA. If you have the service manual (part number CY9-1200-059 from 1989) you'll see that most of the parts and even the circuitry is the same as the 85mm f/1.2 L, and possibly the same as today's 85mm f/1.2 L II, so parts may be easier to find than you think.
I've never seen any broken samples, and considering how I own other much cheaper and older Canon lenses that have never had a problem, I'm not going to worry. Worrying about something that might break is FUD used by other pros to keep you from trying to own a pivotal tool like this that might make you competitive with them.
If you have one and if the focus motor or system breaks and you can't fix it, you won't be able to focus the lens manually; it only focuses electronically.
See also Canon 50mm Lenses Compared.
This 50mm f/1.0 is the only autofocus 50mm lens with a useful depth of field scale. Sad, but true.
I've been making comparisons throughout this review, for instance, where I explain how this is the world's most advanced 50mm lens.
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L is a consumer lens with a plastic filter thread. Its single aspheric element is molded, not ground glass as are the two aspheric elements of this f/1.0. It's the same as the difference between a cut-glass vase and pressed glass. The 50/1.2 can be sharper wide-open and focuses faster, but it's slower. Back in 2007 the sample I borrowed of 50/1.2 didn't focus reliably on my original 5D, while today both the 50/1.2 and 1.0 focus just as well. Honestly though, the real-world results shot side-by-side are almost indistinguishable between these two.
Zeiss just announced a hotrod 55mm f/1.4, but it's only manual-focus, is a stop slower and costs as much, so again, who cares?
LEICA's NOCTILUX are toys for adult children. They rarely focus accurately, have primitive manual diaphragms, only focus manually, usually block most of the LEICA's viewfinder, and can't focus more closely than 3.3 feet or one meter, so who cares? The LEICA 50/0.95 (8 elements/5 groups, 2-ASPH, 700g, 75.1 x 73mm diameter, 1:17 macro, 1 meter) can't focus close, or well.
Canon's identical-looking 85mm f/1.2 L II uses much of the same mechanics as the 50/1.0. It's 2mm longer and the same weight and diameter. As a longer focal-length lens, it focuses even more slowly, but is ridiculously sharp straight out to the corners, even wide open. This 50/1.0 is a speed demon at focusing compared to the 85 L II. As a longer lens, the 85mm will get even less in focus at f/1.2.
The 1.0's bokeh is crazier than the 85/1.2 that every other weekend wedding shooter has. The 85/1.2 is better if you want completely soft backgrounds, while this 50mm makes those backgrounds a little edgier for a shot that stands out from the rest.
At f/1.0, depth-of-field isn't paper-thin, it's vapor-thin. Don't expect every shot to have bang-on-perfect focus unless you're using the latest camera and have a lot of practice with it.
When photographing people, always focus on the nearer eye.
I'm impressed that I get results as good with any of my 5D Mk III's AF points, not just those marketed as "high precision." Likewise, I'm impressed that I can recompose after focusing and get swell results.
For perfect focus, use Live View AF if your subject holds still.
For instant manual focus override, just turn the ring anytime AF is active, which is usually anytime the shutter is half-pressed.
For manual focus, move the switch to "M" and the camera needs to be awake. This means that manual focus works for about two minutes after you last touched the shutter button.
To save having to move the big AF-MF slider switch, I prefer to set my 5D Mk III menus to program my AF ON button to "AF off" in Menu > CFn > Custom Controls. I now leave my lens in AF all the time, and pressing the AF ON button locks focus in AF, and turning the focus ring gives me manual focus. In other words, I now get to MANUAL by holding my reprogrammed AF ON button, which also serves as an AF LOCK if I don't move the focus ring. The AF ON just became my MF ON button, and so long as you hold that button and don't touch the ring, your focus distance is locked.
There are some specialized menu options in the newest Canons especially for this lens' focus system. Look for the "USM lens electronic MF" option in the AF menus.
I always leave my lens in the 0.6m — ∞ AF position. Use the 1m — ∞ AF position if your lens is hunting in and out over its full range and your subject is at least a meter away. I doubt any modern camera needs this position today.
I set my Sharpening to 7 (the highest) if I'm shooting at large apertures. At normal apertures, I set 6.
If you play with AF Fine Tune, know that AF actually varies a bit for each and every shot. You'll have to make dozens of test shots to see what is the best setting; you can't just make a few shots and go on that. I see the results better on my 30" monitor, but using the camera's magnified playback works well in a pinch, like if a friend just loaned you his lens while you're out in the field shooting.
AF Fine Tuning has no effect — and isn't needed — in Live View.
If your camera lacks AF Fine Tuning and you have some consistent focus error, no worries. As soon as you know by how much and in what direction is the error, simply either focus on another object at a different distance that will render your intended subject in perfect focus, or step forward or back just enough after locking focus to compensate for the known error.
If you want to shoot at f/1.0 in daylight, don't forget that your DSLR probably can be set down to ISO 50 if you unlock that feature.
You might need a neutral density filter, especially if you're shooting fast film or a DSLR in direct sunlight. I never use one since I rarely shoot at f/1.0 in direct sunlight, but if you do, I'd suggest a 72mm three-stop (0.9 or 8x) ND filter.
If you want to shoot ISO 400 film in direct sunlight at f/1.0, use a 72mm five-stop (1.5 or 32x) ND. Here are links to 72mm four-stop (1.2 or 16x) ND and 72mm six-stop (1.8 or 64x) ND filters while I have your attention.
If shooting negative film, I wouldn't bother with ND filters or turning on Safety Shift, which is letting the camera start to stop-down the aperture if it needs to in bright light. Negative film lets you overexpose a few stops with no loss in quality, so shoot in Av mode and don't worry if you're overexposing a couple of stops.
I'd suggest a 72mm Hoya HD2 UV or Protector filter because they are extra tough in case you bang your lens against something pointy, and because they are multicoated to reduce ghost images.
I use a filter all the time to protect my lens against my own stupidity. I never know when something is going to hit me.
I shoot with JPG sharpening set to 7 at large apertures, and 5 or 6 otherwise.
You might want to use your different Picture Styles to set this more quickly, if you care.
I'd suggest using this lens as part of a complete system with the 20mm f/2.8 USM, 35mm f/1.4 L USM and 80-200mm f/2.8 L, all of which also have metal 72mm filter threads. These few lenses cover everything you'd need for any pro job.
Of course the 85mm f/1.2 L and II looks exactly the same as this 50/1.0 and shares the 72mm filter thread, so they are perfect matches — except that the 85/1.2 focuses so slowly that I consider it more of an astronomy lens than one for general photography.
Strange but true, if you shoot at f/1.0 outdoors, the restricted depth of field often tricks our eyes into thinking that we're looking at a photo of a toy or of a model.
Real miniature items are photographed at macro distances so there is very little in focus.
Shooting real objects in daylight at f/1.0 makes them look as if they were possibly just models, since there is as little in focus.
This sounds crazy, but this really is why our brains will sometimes think that what we've shot at f/1.0 outdoors is just a model.
Adapting this f/1.0 to other cameras
It ought to work fine with the adapter for the EOS-M.
It will not work adapted to any other non-Canon or non-EOS camera because you'll have no way to focus manually. Without connection to an EOS' life support system, the lens won't be able to focus at all.
Your best hope if used on some other brand of camera would be to focus this lens first on a Canon, and then use it on the other camera locked at that distance.
Luckily if you're in public, this exotic f/1.0 looks exactly like the ordinary 85mm f/1.2 L and L II, so you won't have nosey photo nerds pestering you with stupid questions about it.
I remember I had a friend who had printed sheets to hand out to people who saw him snapping birds with his 600mm to answer their questions. It read "600mm." "No, I'm not a pro, I just like to take pictures of birds." etc., and saved him from getting distracted.
I'd forget about it because this lens' floating element system will no longer be optimized for the closer distances. Canon cautions against close up tubes, probably for this reason.
If you've read this far, you know you want one, and they aren't getting any less expensive. Get one now while you still can instead of throwing that same money away on a DSLR whose value only goes down. The smart money is always on lenses, not cameras. The LEICA 50/1.2 sold used for $5,000 in 2009, and today has skyrocketed to about $15,000 or more. With potential collectibles like this, the prices only go up.
Long term, it's always better to get this lens and skip a generation of DSLR than throw the money away on a camera. DSLRs values go nowhere but down.
This lens lets me do things and make images that I can't make with any other lens. I only was able to borrow it for a couple of weeks; the longer you practice with it, the better your images will become. You can't just borrow or rent one for a week and become proficient; you have to own one and use it often.
Even if I didn't like the unique renditions it lends to images, its ultra speed significantly increases my performance envelope and lets me shoot faster, longer and deeper into the night. With f/1.0, I can stop action in no light.
For landscapes where we want more in focus and aren't concerned with stopping subject motion as much as we are about preventing camera shake, the EF 35mm f/1.4 L is sharper and has much more depth-of-field.
While this 1.0 is an unsurpassed technical landmark whose monetary value is going nowhere but up, today for one-third the price, the results from this f/1.0 and the smaller and lighter EF 50mm f/1.2 L lenses shot side-by-side are pretty much indistinguishable from each other, even at full aperture. The 50/1.2 feels much better in-hand and around my neck, and is a much more intelligent choice for practical photography. If you just want great shots and don't mind the plastic filter thread of the much smaller and lighter EF 50mm f/1.2 L, get the 1.2 L instead. Most people will prefer the f/1.2 lens even if the price was the same; the f/1.0 is a big lens to carry, its results at f/1.0 aren't visibly different than from the 1.2 lens, and this f/1.0 costs three times as much. The main reason to own the 1.0 is as an investment in the future, and if your photography is at such a competitive level that the price difference means less than any competitive advantage the 1.0 gives you. Between friends, 2/3 of a stop never matters. Even their bokeh and spherochromatism look almost the same when each is shot wide-open, and the 1.2 focuses faster. When I shot them side by side wide-open, there is no clear winner as far as the image is concerned, while the f/1.2 is much more fun to carry and shoot.
The f/1.0 is an investment that works. Don't gamble with your money on Wall Street where it does you no good when you can invest it in a lens like this that will set your work ahead of your competition, and if you tire of it, you'll probably make even more money at resale time. These aren't made anymore, so the price will only be going up. Even if a -II version came out, this original will still fetch collectors dollars, and will probably be better made than a -II, too. Be sure to get the hood, case and the strap for the case when you buy. It seems to add no more to the selling price today, but in the future as a collectible, missing any of the included accessories will lower your resale value.
AF isn't as instantaneous as with the slower 50mm lenses, and if you know how to shoot moving subjects with iPhones and mirrorless cameras, this f/1.0 is even faster.
Will this lens make you a pro? Of course not, but if you are a pro, it will help set your work apart from the weekenders who offer to do your job for free.
Hopefully this review has shared enough information so you confidently can gauge if your work demands a lens like this. Too many amateurs just want to play with this lens once, so most are sold without a return privilege.
Digital makes it far tougher to stay ahead of the pack who probably already use the same camera you do. It's not like 1970 when you, as a pro, had the Hasselblad no hobbyist did. This lens is one way today to regain your edge.
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