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Canon 50mm f/1.2 L
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© 2013 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Specs   Performance    Compared   Recommendations

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Canon 50mm f/1.2

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L (full-frame and APS-C coverage, 72mm filters, 20.9 oz./592g, 1.5'/0.45m close-focus, about $1,600).

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Color Rendition      performance     top

I see no differences from my other Canon lenses.

 

Construction Quality      performance     top

Canon 50mm f/1.2 L

Rear, Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L. bigger.

It has a rubber gasket on the lens mount to help keep crud out of your camera.

 

Filter Threads

Plastic.

 

Hood Mount

Plastic.

 

Focus Ring

Plastic, rubber covered.

 

Markings

Silver paint.

 

Switches

Plastic.

 

Mount

Metal.

 

Internals

Seems like plastic and metal.

 

Noises when shaken

Plenty of klunking. This is normal.

 

Made in

Lens Made in Japan.

Hood Made in Japan.

Case Made in China.

 

Distortion      performance     top

Distortion is typical, to a little bit better than normal, for an ultra-speed lens.

It's trivial to correct in Photoshop if it bothers you.

Wall of Shame. Roll mouse over to see correction in Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter.

Plug +1.4 into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter to correct the distortion. It takes me hours to calculate this stuff and its all © and registered, so you'll need permission to use these figures for anything else. Thanks! Ken.

 

Ergonomics      performance     top

Cnaon 50mm f/1.2 L

Canon 50 1.2. bigger.

It handles well. Controls and manual focus are fine. It feels good and solid, and not nose-heavy beast like the 50/1.0 L.

Manual focus is reasonably firm and very damped as the other good USM lenses. You can't flick it around as you could with Nikon's AI-s manual focus lenses from the 1970s and 1980s.

Oddly it feels very good on an XTi, since you hold the lens and the body is only along for the ride. It's a solid little package.

Canon 50mm f/1.2 on a Digital Rebel XTi

Canon 50mm f/1.2L on a black Canon Rebel XTi.

 

Falloff (Darkened Corners)      performance     top

For portraits and many other subjects, falloff makes a better picture by concentrating the viewer's attention on the subject and away from the corners. I like the falloff in the f/1.2 gazebo shot above.

For photos of blank sky or brick walls it's bad, but Canon's newer DSLRs all have profiles to correct it, so who cares?

At f/1.2 on a full frame camera it's got a lot of falloff.

Shooting flat fields and laying them on another flat field is a tough test which exaggerates even the slightest falloff. You'll never see it this bad in normal photography.

 

Canon 50mm f/1.2 L falloff on full frame at infinity, no correction.

f/1.2
f/1.4
f/2
f/2.8

© 2013 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

 

Canon 50mm f/1.2 L falloff on APS-C at infinity, no correction.

f/1.2
f/1.4
f/2
f/2.8

© 2013 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

35mm EOS Cameras, use with      performance     top

Perfect; the Canon 50mm f/1.2L is designed for them, too.

 

Filters, use with      performance     top

Canon 50mm f/1.2

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L

Easy! The 72mm thread is much bigger than the lens' glass.

Throw any thick filter or combination of stacked filters you want on it — it's not going to vignette.

 

Flare and Ghosts      performance     top

It's great. You'll go blind trying to get it to ghost or flare.

You'll notice in the examples below that the sky is completely washed out — it's much brighter than it appears and this lens is doing a great job.

This Canon 50mm f/1.2L is is better than the 85mm f/1.2L II, which isn't bad either, and much better than the 50/1.0 L.

I see no difference with or without a Hoya HMC multicoated filter.

These examples are with a very bright sun - it isn't sunset yet!

Canon 50mm f/1.2

Ghosts at f/1.2: a slight blob in the lower left.

Canon 50mm f/1.2

Ghosts at f/5.6: a slight green ghost just inside of the the sun radially.

 

Built-in Flash, use with      performance     top

Built-in flashes are often so close to the camera that wide lenses can see far enough down to see their shadow cast by a built-in flash.

No problems with this lens, even at 1.5 feet (0.45m) with my XTi.

 

Macro      performance     top

Close focus distance is typical for a fixed 50mm lens. No news here. This example is from my 1.6x Rebel XTi. It will be a much looser composition on a 1.3x or full-frame camera.

The optics are great at close focus distances.

Canon 50mm f/1.2

At closest focus at f/2.8, full image from 1.6x Rebel XTi.

Canon 50mm f/1.2

Unsharpened crop from above image at 100%, no extra sharpening.

If you print the entire image at the same 100% magnification as the crop above, you'll have a 38" (1m) wide print!

 

Program Exposure Mode      performance     top

Every camera chooses its favorite combinations of apertures and shutter speeds. These may or may not be your favorites. Canon bugs me because even though every modern SLR lets you shift these preferences, Canons revert to their own preferences every time the meter turns itself off. Nikons stay where you put them unless you turn off the camera yourself.

My 5D and XTi choose:

f/1.4 @ 1/60

f/2 @ 1/125

f/2.8 @ 1/250

f/4 @ 1/500

f/5.6 @ 1/1,000.

 

Serial Number      performance     top

The serial number is engraved in the lens mount and filled with black paint. You have to remove the lens from a body or remove the rear cap to see it.

 

Sharpness      performance     top

This lens is very sharp. This Canon 50mm f/1.2L is the sharpest high-speed 50mm I've ever used; it's just as sharp as slow 50mm lenses, which are the sharpest lenses there are.

Ryan Rockwell

Who cares about sharpness?

This is how much isolation (shallow depth-of-field) you get at f/1.4 on a 5D, one of the main reasons people shoot fast lenses.

No real photographer buys an f/1.2 lens for shooting subjects that care about sharpness. You buy it to throw almost everything out of focus, or to shoot in crappy available darkness where you're happy to see anything at all.

These strong caveats aside, this Canon 50mm f/1.2L is so good that it's as sharp as it can get by about f/2.8.

To see how sharp it is you need to be shooting flat test targets, Walls of Shame or landscapes at infinity.

If you're shooting landscapes at infinity and want sharp, use the 50mm Macro (or 60mm Macro on the 1.6x cameras). If you're doing astronomy and want insane sharpness edge-to-edge at f/1.2, get the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II instead.

Focus is everything with an f/1.2 lens shot at f/1.2. Your AF system is probably going to be your biggest limitation to sharpness at f/1.2, not this lens.

Diffraction is usually the sharpness-limiting factor for all lenses, especially digital SLRs, at about f/11 and above. See also How Sharpness Varies with Aperture.

Here are my observations, presuming unreasonably perfect focus each time. Letters correspond to center - side - corner, or center - corner. Possible ratings are E - VG - G - F - P. These are subjective. Don't fret over differences between adjacent grades. You're never going to see how sharp this lens is in most actual use, since subjects and realities of focus will obscure it.

 
f/1.2
f/1.4
f/2
f/2.8
f/4
5D
VG - F - F
E - F - F
E - G - F
E - VG- VG*
E - E- E*
1.3x body
E - F
E - F
E - G
E - VG
E - E
1.6x body
VG - F
E - F
E - G
E - G
E - VG

* The last millimeter suffers a little.

Here's a comparison to the inferior combination of a Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 on my Nikon D200 (Sorry, I didn't have them both at the same time):

Zeiss 50mm f/1.4

Crop from center of 100% 5D image with Canon 50mm f/1.2L at f/1.2.

Canon 50mm f/1.2

Crop from center of Nikon D200 image with Zeiss ZF 50mm f/1.4 at f/1.4.

Most lenses, including the Zeiss, are common spherical designs. They have high resolving power wide open, but the spherical aberration gives rise to a veiling haze, which gets really bad at the corners. The Canon 50mm f/1.2L uses an aspherical element to eliminate most of the spherical aberration, which clears away the haze at large apertures.

All these differences go away stopped down. By f/2.8 to f/4 all 50mm lenses look the same on these cameras, if they're in perfect focus.

 

Spherochromatism      performance     top

Spherochromatism, sometimes mistakenly called "color bokeh" by laymen, is a common aberration in fast lenses which adds color fringes to out-of focus highlights.

The 50/1.2 a reasonable amount of spherochromatism. Out-of-focus foreground highlights may show magenta fringes and background highlights may show green fringes.

 

Sunstars      performance     top

Sunstars will be ordinary 8-pointed stars.

The rounded diaphragm of the 50/1.2 will attenuate sunstars; the 50/1.0 L ought to have stronger sunstars, while the 50/1.8 II has even better 10-pointed sunstars.

 

Image Stabilization      performance     top

see also Why IS is Important.

There is NO image stabilization, however I tested the slowest speeds at which I could hold it.

This is the percentage of sharp shots that I get at each speed, hand held without bracing any part of my body above my waist.

Percent perfectly sharp shots held free-hand:

1
1/2
1/4
1/8
1/15
1/30
1/60
1/125
5D
0
7
10
15
33
85
100
100
XTi
0
0
0
15
33
75
85
100

This data tells me that 50% of the time I get a perfectly sharp shot at 1/20 of a second.

I wouldn't take any of the slight differences between cameras seriously. I was getting bored by the time I ran the XTi test. They are the same; I was looking to see if there was any significant difference between the two. There isn't.

By "sharp" I'm applying the highest standard. Sharp for the purposes of this test is perfect tripod-sharpness when viewed at 100% magnification, which is equivalent to a 40' (1m) wide print. We're all usually printing smaller, in which case slower speeds work even better. For instance, here's what I flunked for sharpness shot at 1/2 second on the XTi, which has higher liner resolution and magnification than my 5D:

Canon 50mm f/1.2

Full XTi image, shot free-hand at 1/2 second, which looks perfect here.

Seen at 100% I consider this blurred.

The bad shots at faster speeds were even better. When I say I got 33% of my shots sharp at 1/15, that means one out of three were absolutely perfect. The other two weren't bad either. That means you can make a three-shot burst and usually pull one absolutely perfect one out of it.

Since marketing people use the old-wives-tale speed of 1/focal length as a minimum sharp speed, we can Lie with Statistics as they do and claim that, even without IS, I get a 1-1/3 stop improvement with this Canon 50mm f/1.2 lens.

 

Compared     top

Intro   Specs   Performance    Compared   Recommendations

See Canon 50mm Lenses Compared.

 

Recommendations     top

Intro   Specs   Performance    Compared   Recommendations

This is the sharpest 50mm high-speed lens I've ever used at large apertures, presuming it's in perfect focus.

If you need a fast 50mm, this is much sharper than the 50/1.4 USM at large apertures.

If you need sharpness at normal apertures, the 50/1.8 II is just as good, but lacks instant manual focus override.

For instance, this shot was made at f/11 with the f/1.2 lens, where all these lenses look alike:

Rancho Santa Fe Mustard

Rancho Santa Fe, California.

The f/1.4 has better rated MTF (sharpness) at f/8 than the f/1.2 version, but there isn't any visible difference. The f/1.4 offers the same excellent "just grab the ring" instant manual focus.

The f/1.8 has better rated MTF than any of these three 50mm lenses at f/8, although its images look the same. The 1.8 requires you to slide a switch to focus manually. For $125 you won't be disappointed, so long as moving a switch for auto or manual focus is acceptable.

If you're an astronomer you'll prefer the insane flat-field and corner performance of the 85mm f/1.2L II over the merely very good performance of this 50mm f/1.2, and you won't mind the slow AF of the 85mm. The 85mm f/1.2L II autofocuses more accurately and slowly than this 50mm f/1.2L, although the 85mm is a pig to use and carry.

For the very best performance with manual focus Canon makes special focus screens optimized for fast lenses. Live View is the most accurate method for auto or manual focus at large apertures, no screen required.

If you're a collector, the 50mm f/1.0 is built better and is a much higher class of lens, but it's a pig to carry around and doesn't focus as fast. The results are surprisingly the same.

For low-light shots, the Canon 35mm f/1.4L will give much better depth of field and can be hand-held at slower speeds because of its lower magnification.

As an all-around practical and professional 50mm lens that can be used to shoot anything and everything, this 50mm lens is unsurpassed

 

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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

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March 2007