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FORUMS Canon Cameras, Lenses & Accessories Canon EF and EF-S Lenses 
Thread started 05 Apr 2014 (Saturday) 20:07
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My 50L Review (compared to 35L, 85L, and 24-105L)

 
VirtualRain
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Apr 05, 2014 20:07 |  #1

You may have come across a couple of my threads when researching this lens before I decided to buy one. It’s certainly one of the most controversial lenses in the Canon lineup. Some people clearly hate it, while others adore it.

Here’s a sampling of some anecdotal comments you’re likely to come across when searching the forums on this particular product…

Depending on how you shoot it can be flawless or frustrating

The 50L is a great lens

Wide open its a dream.

It's breathtaking.

50L is a hot mess of a lens.

the 50L isn't exactly dependable

the 50L is either a dog or a wonderful piece of glass

After having owned one for a bit more than a week now, and spending the time to get it focusing properly and consistently through multiple MFA sessions, I can understand where some of these diametrically opposed views come from. But before we dive into the performance and see whether any of this is true or not, let me start by answering the most obvious question…

Why a 50L?

Owning both a 35L and 85L, you might be wondering why on earth I might want a 50L as well. As with most people, I generally use the 35L indoors for both contextual portraits and low light snap shots and use the 85L for head and shoulders portraits both indoors and out (although indoors you’re limited by it’s lengthy working distance).

I had originally looked to replacing my 24-105 with the 24-70II but came away from that comparison disappointed. So I decided that what I wanted was a wide prime I could use outdoors as part of my travel photography kit to augment my 24-105 zoom. I considered a 24L and even a 24TS-E but concluded my 24-105L is suitably sharp at 24mm and covered my tripod landscape and cityscape needs very well so deferred looking at either of those seriously for now. What I really wanted was something that could give me nice subject isolation and/or blurry backgrounds to be a bit more creative when walking around.

I used the 35L on my 7D a couple of years ago and really loved it and have missed that ever since switching to full frame. 35mm on full frame is just too wide for me when outside walking around. The 85L is too long and too heavy for a general purpose lens. Therefore 50mm seemed perfect and the f/1.2 max aperture is very appealing for creative outdoor shots as you’re often working with subjects a bit further away than typical portraits and that wide aperture really seems to help isolate subjects and offer more creative opportunities.

There seems to be a few 50Ls coming available at good prices these days, so I snatched one up. As usual, whenever I buy a new lens or camera, I spend the time to compare it to other pieces in my kit, and this one was no exception. But before you can even begin to compare it, you need to make sure it’s doing the basics correctly e.g. focusing. So let me start with that.

Focusing and MFA

Let me cut right to it... this lens requires accurate MFA to get it focusing accurately and consistently. If the MFA is off, I found the focusing could be very inconsistent - sometimes back focusing, sometimes front focusing, by varying amounts and apparently at random. It reminded me of a Sigma 30mm lens I used a few years ago. :)

Anyway, once you think you have the MFA dialled in, try a hundred shots (sometimes taking several shots of the same thing). I found taking images of signs at an angle particularly helpful. The idea is to see if your MFA is bang on, or still needs refinement. If necessary, go back and MFA it again. Rinse and repeat until you’re absolutely sure it’s dialled in. And don’t try to MFA it at a long distance… it gets harder to assess accuracy as the DOF increases. I found 1-3m (3-6ft) is a good range (I tested MFA at 1m and 2.5m and then a ton out on the street). Now that I’ve done that, the AF of this lens is super accurate and reliable. It will nail focus at short or long range every time.

See also member agog’s thread about MFA and this lens

Note, unlike Agog, I could not find any relationship between focus performance or sharpness and metering mode (I tried several shots at all metering modes after reading his post and couldn’t find any difference in focus or sharpness performance).

Focus Shift

One of the often discussed characteristics of this lens is it’s tendency to shift focus when stopped down at short range. I understand this is a characteristic inherent in the design and a trade-off in achieving a more pleasing bokeh. Basically what is supposed to happen is that when photographing a subject at close distance, the focal plane will shift slightly further away if the aperture is stopped down. As the story goes, this becomes less and less problematic at smaller aperture settings as the increase in DOF will more than offset the focus shift.

I tested for this focus shift at MFD (about 1ft) and at about 1m (3ft) and couldn’t really see any issues. According to what I’ve read, the DOF should be such that 1/3rd of the in-focus area is in front of the focal plane and 2/3rds in back of the focal plane. And as far as I can tell, this very close to what is happening with my lens.

Here’s the shots at MFD with focus point on the H-key. Note that at all apertures, the H remains in focus. Of course you can see the DOF increase to the back more readily than the front, but this is consistent with the 1/3rd front, 2/3rd back rule of thumb. So you wouldn’t expect to see the B or N key in focus until the 6 and 7 keys are also in focus.

IMAGE: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7195/13654582593_8e2e72cc42_o.png

Here’s the shots of a yard stick at about 1m… the 20” mark on the yard stick is at the focal plane. Again, the DOF seems to increase roughly in line with 1/3rd front and 2/3rds behind. For example, at f2.8, the DOF extends forward about 1-2 inches and backward about 3-4 inches.

IMAGE: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7172/13654550665_94c9ba6451_o.png

I’m guessing when you MFA the lens, you can bias it more towards front focusing or back focusing to equal out the DOF both in front and behind the focal plane if you so choose.

The bottom line is that I can’t see any significant focus shift here.

Sharpness

Based on a few reviews I had read, I didn’t have very high expectations for the sharpness of this lens - especially off-center. I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised.

For reference, here’s the full frame shot so you can see where the 100% crops below are coming from in the frame. It’s a 40” TV box with both some large and tiny print in the middle and in the corners. I filled the frame with it for each lens (moving back as required as FL increased).

IMAGE: https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2842/13654990084_4b1eb08c3b.jpg

First let’s look at center sharpness wide open. My 35L and 85L are ever so slightly sharper in the center but the 50L is certainly in the same league… In fact without 100% crops side by side, you probably couldn’t tell which lens was which. My 24-105 (which seems to have legendary sharpness :lol:) is a hair sharper to my eyes at the wide end, but looses out to the 85L at the telephoto end.

100% Crops from Center (wide open)...
IMAGE: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7021/13654584433_9a8b2f72f7_o.png

Next, let’s look at the corner sharpness wide open for the 35L and 50L first. The 35L and 50L are still both adequately sharp. Even the tiny print is still readable. Keep in mind this is at f/1.4 and f/1.2 respectively. Impressive. The surprise here is the corner sharpness of my 24-105 at f4.

100% Crops from Corner (wide open)...
IMAGE: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7419/13654551235_8654e2bfd4_o.png

Looking at the 85L it is my sharpest prime in the corner wide open and you can see the corner sharpness of the 24-105 has really fallen off here compared to the wider focal lengths.

100% Crops from Corner (wide open)...
IMAGE: https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2909/13654582113_e0a5edbbde_o.png

Sony a7rII / 24-240 / Zeiss 25, 55, 85

  
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VirtualRain
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Apr 05, 2014 20:09 |  #2

I thought I would also compare all these guys at f4 to see how much the primes sharpen up. Center sharpness at f4 is nearly indistinguishable amongst these lenses with the exception of the 24-105 at 85mm that looks just a bit softer. It’s still remarkable to me that my 24-105 is prime sharp wide open at wider focal lengths. :)

100% Crops from Center (f/4)...

IMAGE: https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2819/13654552935_02541c392a_o.png

Corner sharpness improves for all three primes stopped down as you might expect with the 35L and 50L being very similar but out-resolved in the corner by the 85L.

100% Crops fro Corner (f/4)…
IMAGE: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3702/13654583253_42f0486aee_o.png
IMAGE: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7446/13654583223_3e1f2b0162_o.png

Vignetting

All of my lenses vignette wide open and the 50L is no exception. Correction can be done in-camera (shown below) for JPEGs or you can eliminate it in post working with the RAW files.

IMAGE: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7300/13654637755_575b39ea8f_c.jpg
IMAGE: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3686/13654639885_867368bb74_c.jpg

Sony a7rII / 24-240 / Zeiss 25, 55, 85

  
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VirtualRain
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Apr 05, 2014 20:10 as a reply to  @ VirtualRain's post |  #3

Shooting at f8

As you might expect, the 50L is great at smaller apertures too. Here’s a shot I took from the window of my dentist's office the other day… through the glass (and a polarizer filter). It captured plenty of detail. I actually made a nice 3-photo 6000px panorama in Photoshop with images that came out of this lens.

IMAGE: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3746/13654667593_602cbedfb9_c.jpg

IMAGE: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7366/13654900014_aff55b213c_o.png

IMAGE: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5349/13654986784_31c79c6040_c.jpg
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/mNDn​QC  (external link)

Real World Photos

Look at the sharpness of the blackboard from the corner of this image shot at f/1.2. (No post sharpening applied here at all). Of course the key with shots like this is keeping the focal plane in alignment with the wall. At this distance the usable DOF was only about a foot.

RAW Image...
IMAGE: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3778/13654676323_7927865ba3_c.jpg

100% Crop (no post sharpening applied at all)
IMAGE: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7425/13654580663_760b24791a_o.png

As you might expect, it works brilliantly indoors for portraits as well (this one at f/1.2, 1/160, ISO1000)...

RAW Image...
IMAGE: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3797/13655550214_4acab80d95_c.jpg

100% Crop of the RAW image above (again no post sharpening applied at all)
IMAGE: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3796/13655250283_c5dd13399d_o.png

Sony a7rII / 24-240 / Zeiss 25, 55, 85

  
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VirtualRain
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Apr 05, 2014 20:11 as a reply to  @ VirtualRain's post |  #4

I love the look of photos shot outside with this lens at f/1.2… Here’s a couple of snap shots (a polarizer helped keep these from being over-exposed at f/1.2)...

IMAGE: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5348/13654987794_03a0986cfe_c.jpg

IMAGE: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3739/13654993194_0361478831_c.jpg

Conclusion

So, does this lens match up with any of the anecdotal comments I quoted at the beginning? Well, not all of them... It’s neither a dream nor a dog… But it is a great tool that I believe performs better than most people give it credit for. I suspect any negative feelings towards this lens are likely a result of what can be a very frustrating first few days with it. But once you get it dialled-in, the 50L can be an outstanding lens and a great photographic tool on a full-frame body. At least, that’s how I see it.

I hope this review was helpful. At the very least, I hope my experience puts prospective owners at ease over any potential focus issues with this lens. As I mentioned above, any issues are most certainly related to not having the MFA dialled in correctly.

For me… When I go out and about travelling or even around Vancouver during the day, I’ll take my trusty 24-105 with me and this 50L. In my opinion it makes the perfect walk-around kit for shooting in nearly any light. I still plan to keep my 35L and 85L for indoor and portrait shots respectively. Those two lenses are perfect for shooting pics of people indoors. The 50L is a bit redundant for this task so I’ll leave it at home or in the hotel room when going for dinner or out for an evening with the GF.

Sony a7rII / 24-240 / Zeiss 25, 55, 85

  
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Dillan_K
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Apr 05, 2014 22:38 |  #5

Interesting review! Thank you very much for taking the time to post your thoughts on this lens. I appreciate it.


Gear: Canon 24mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8, 100mm f/2.8 Macro, 300mm f/4L IS, 5D, Elan 7, 420EX, Metz 52 AF-1
flickr (external link)

  
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hawkan
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Apr 06, 2014 10:57 |  #6

Thanks for sharing your findings. I am sure they will help others contemplating the intimidating 50L!




  
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agog
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Apr 06, 2014 14:27 |  #7

Outstanding review… IMO the setup of the 50L is critical but once achieved, it stays setup. It is only inconsistent when it is not set up correctly.


70D, 6D, 50mm f/1.2 L, 70-300mm F4-F5.6L, 400 mm f/5.6L, Zeiss 2/35 ZE, 135 f/2.0L, 85mm f/1.2L, 70-200L II,
Zeiss 2.8/21 ZE, 40mm f/2.8

  
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VirtualRain
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Apr 07, 2014 18:19 |  #8

Dillan_K wrote in post #16812702 (external link)
Interesting review! Thank you very much for taking the time to post your thoughts on this lens. I appreciate it.

hawkan wrote in post #16813489 (external link)
Thanks for sharing your findings. I am sure they will help others contemplating the intimidating 50L!

agog wrote in post #16813835 (external link)
Outstanding review… IMO the setup of the 50L is critical but once achieved, it stays setup. It is only inconsistent when it is not set up correctly.

Thanks guys!

I certainly welcome others to share their thoughts or findings on this interesting lens.


Sony a7rII / 24-240 / Zeiss 25, 55, 85

  
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MatthewK
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Apr 07, 2014 21:22 |  #9

Nice review and demonstration of the 50L's characteristics. You put a good amount of work into this, thank you for sharing your findings!

I found pretty much the same as you, that getting the thing MFA'd is very much an iterative process. I used Reikan Focal, staggered batteries, brick walls, DotTune, and each one would return a different value. Only after taking it out and shooting real stuff did I finally land on the "golden" value and It now hits AF consistently, at whatever distance or aperture. While it naturally still focus shifts, it's not a drastic hindrance to my shooting because the effect is very miniscule.

My advice: find a good copy that works on your camera body, and don't let go of it! I almost made that mistake recently... stupidest thing I have ever done since getting into photography.


well that didn't last long...

  
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VirtualRain
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Apr 08, 2014 23:51 |  #10

MatthewK wrote in post #16817391 (external link)
Nice review and demonstration of the 50L's characteristics. You put a good amount of work into this, thank you for sharing your findings!

I found pretty much the same as you, that getting the thing MFA'd is very much an iterative process. I used Reikan Focal, staggered batteries, brick walls, DotTune, and each one would return a different value. Only after taking it out and shooting real stuff did I finally land on the "golden" value and It now hits AF consistently, at whatever distance or aperture. While it naturally still focus shifts, it's not a drastic hindrance to my shooting because the effect is very miniscule.

My advice: find a good copy that works on your camera body, and don't let go of it! I almost made that mistake recently... stupidest thing I have ever done since getting into photography.

Yeah, good advice... I MFA'd mine three times with different techniques/lighting and lots of real world tests in between before finding the ideal setting


Sony a7rII / 24-240 / Zeiss 25, 55, 85

  
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K ­ Soze
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Apr 09, 2014 06:05 |  #11

Nice write up. I too use my 50 1.2 for walk around and more than my 85 1.2


I try to make art by pushing buttons

  
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InfiniteDivide
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Apr 09, 2014 06:08 |  #12

Your review JUST COST ME $1,250!!! ;) Order my 50L an hour ago. Lucky it's tax refund time. What is your date codes people?
Just curious if these are all newly dated lenses being used.


James Patrus
6D | 16-35L F4 | 24L II | 50L | 100L | |  -> Website (external link) & Gallery (external link)
For Sale:Canon 16-35mm f4 IS l Do you enjoy Super Famicom games? (external link) PM me directly.

  
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K ­ Soze
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Apr 09, 2014 06:14 |  #13

Mine was a referb from the Canon on line store last year. No MFA was needed.


I try to make art by pushing buttons

  
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Bakewell
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Apr 09, 2014 13:08 |  #14
bannedPermanent ban

VirtualRain wrote in post #16812447 (external link)
I love the look of photos shot outside with this lens at f/1.2… Here’s a couple of snap shots (a polarizer helped keep these from being over-exposed at f/1.2)...

QUOTED IMAGE

QUOTED IMAGE

Conclusion

So, does this lens match up with any of the anecdotal comments I quoted at the beginning? Well, not all of them... It’s neither a dream nor a dog… But it is a great tool that I believe performs better than most people give it credit for. I suspect any negative feelings towards this lens are likely a result of what can be a very frustrating first few days with it. But once you get it dialled-in, the 50L can be an outstanding lens and a great photographic tool on a full-frame body. At least, that’s how I see it.

I hope this review was helpful. At the very least, I hope my experience puts prospective owners at ease over any potential focus issues with this lens. As I mentioned above, any issues are most certainly related to not having the MFA dialled in correctly.

For me… When I go out and about travelling or even around Vancouver during the day, I’ll take my trusty 24-105 with me and this 50L. In my opinion it makes the perfect walk-around kit for shooting in nearly any light. I still plan to keep my 35L and 85L for indoor and portrait shots respectively. Those two lenses are perfect for shooting pics of people indoors. The 50L is a bit redundant for this task so I’ll leave it at home or in the hotel room when going for dinner or out for an evening with the GF.

Good review. One big question. Why are virtually all the photos shot at 1.2? Except for the city scape? Why not choose 1.4 or 1.8 since there's virtually no difference from 1.2 and possibiliy better detail if shot at say f11 or f16? Again, why shoot at 1.2?


Dave

  
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Jerobean
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Apr 09, 2014 14:09 as a reply to  @ Bakewell's post |  #15

Here's a bakewell setup if I've ever seen one.

queue the trolling.

Nice review OP, hope bakewell doesn't derail it. Your 24-105 seems quite sharp, not sure mine is that good.


_______________
6d, 24-105L, Tak SMC 50 1.4, 85 1.8, 135L

  
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My 50L Review (compared to 35L, 85L, and 24-105L)
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