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Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Review Date: Mar 2, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,400.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharpness, bokeh, low light capability, color, contrast, compact, rugged

The only downside I listed is the price, but this is a cheap lens compared to a Noctilux, and it reminds me of my Noctilux at less than 1/4 the price. Expensive is relative. I might even say this lens has what I like about the Noctilux, and one-ups it with easier focus, auto focus, and I think the color is much more accurate.

I was reluctant to buy this lens. In fact it was the last purchase in my latest prime buying spree. I used to have the 50 f/1.4, and it was nice, but not up to the L prime image quality. Based on my initial research, the 50L was similar to the 50 f/1.4, so I was reluctant to drop $1400 on it. I must say though that after using the lens for a while, my fears were un-founded. It easily has an obvious IQ edge over the 1.4.

The back-focus problem is not really a big problem for most people. Many Leica lenses also lack a floating element to correct back focus, but it's easy to work around, and if you can deal with it, you are using the finest optics in the world. I feel the same way about the 50L. I tested and re-tested the issue and was surprised at how minor a problem it actually is. Learn what it is, test extensively, and work with that limitation in mind. Otherwise you are forcing yourself to use either the 35L or the 85L, or the 50 f/1.4. If you need a normal perspective, this is the best normal lens Canon makes. All you have to do is use the outer focus points and your problem is solved.

I gave the lens a 9 for build quality. The focus ring is a bit narrow for one that is so stiff. Also, I have been spoiled by the click-on hood of the 85 f/1.2L II. I wish the 50 had the same hood type. Minor issues. I might even gripe a bit that this lens is front-focusing. That means that every time you go from MFD to infinity, you are sucking air into the camera body. With air comes dust. Another minor issue.

I mentioned that this lens is compact. Again, relatively speaking it is. It's much smaller than the 85L, and it's quite a bit shorter than the 35L. I was surprised to find that the front element is small compared to the lens diameter. The 85 and 35 are bigger on the business end.

If you like to shoot in the dark, like smooth bokeh, and prefer to work in a normal focal length, this is the best option out there.