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Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Review Date: Aug 24, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Relatively cheap and sharp. Good contrast, AF fairly fast and accurate.
Fragile AF motor.

I try to rate lenses independent of one another at least on the 1-10 scale. But comparisons will always be drawn and I try to keep things into perspective, especially that of price, which is an important consideration to consumers.

I got this lens used for $250 which at the time was a fair price as it included a lens hood and generic HOYA UV filter. This is quite a step up from the 50mm 1.8 mkII. Build quality is much better and so are the resultant images.

Contrast is better and colors are much warmer. That alone justifies purchase over the 1.8 mkII, IMO. The AF is also faster and quieter. It does occassionally hunt in really low light. AF accuracy is also better but I still find it misses the mark, especially in low light. But, I get twice as many keepers than the 1.8 mkII. However the AF is fragile and if you happen to bump the front of the lens you can damage the AF motor. I had a lens hood on and someone walked past brushing their arm into the hood and it damaged the AF motor. It was a $150 repair. The manual focus in located mid body and is actually useable unlike the 1.8 mkII. But I grew tired of it and finally sent it in for repair.

This lens has a good half stop of sharpness over the 1.8 mkII and even on occassion a full stop especially in the corners on a FF body. But in comparison to the Canon 85mm 1.8 or the Sigma 50mm 1.4 and its sharpness is not that impressive. I've say it's roughly a stop behind either of those. Not to mention AF speed and accuracy aren't quite on par either.

The 85mm kind of spoiled me as I expected the same qualities in the Canon 50mm 1.4 and it just couldn't meet those expectations. The 85mm 1.8 is really a hidden gem.

However, I heard that the Sigma 50mm 1.4 has a sharp lens wide open. Well, it cost me $400 but it did deliver. AF while a bit noisy is damn accurate and conparable in speed. It is sharp wide open, with little CA or fringing that can plague the Canon 85mm 1.8 lens. People do complain about the Sigma's AF accruacy and mine did back focus slightly on a crop body. Sent it in only to have the same issue. Finally sent the crop body and lens in and it was calibrated properly. I would readily recommend the Sigma 50mm 1.4 over the Canon but the price difference is fairly steep too. But I have a tendncy to pixel peep and crop quite a bit so I'm a bit fussy over IQ.

The Canon 1.4 is vastly better than the 1.8 mkII and I would recommend it any day over the latter even given the price. But if you can get the Sigma, then that would be my recommendation. The Sigma does everything better though it is more costly. I just prefer the Sigma as it is easier to use and requires less post processing, but the Canon 1.4 is a perfectly adequate lens.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II

Review Date: Aug 24, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Cheap, lightweight, wide aperture, did I mention cheap? Acceptable sharpness, bokeh, contrast.
Cheap build quality, poor AF speed and accuracy

Many tout this as the nifty fifty or the fantastic plastic. I've been able to purchase this lens new several times for $75 and for the price I am willing to forgive some of its flaws.

It's an inexpensive and good introduction into primes and wide aperture lenses. And the 50mm focal length is fairly versatile too.

Wide open the lens is quite soft. Center sharpness is acceptable at 2.8 and quite useable at f/4. I don't find corner sharpness acceptable until at f/8 even on a crop, but especially on a FF body.

Now, let's talk AF, it's terrible. It's slow and hunts in low light. And I find its accuracy to be horrible as well, maybe only one quarter of the shots are in focus. Sometimes it will slightly back focus or sometimes front focus but half the time it just gives up entirely and what the AF was trying to focus on or if it just decided to give up completely. Unfortunately, the manual focus ring is not FTM focus and is small an located at the very front of the lens. It's quite difficult to use reliably, unlike it's mkI predecessor.

The build quality leaves much ot be desired. It's cheap thin plastic nad if you drop the lens it will likely break. On the plus side I've found the AF motor to be more durable than its 50mm 1.4 counterpart. But that's due to the inherent flaw in design of the USM AF on the 1.4 lens.

Bokeh is acceptable, especially wide open. But closed down and you'll notice the aperture blades as they produce a pentagon effect.

Contrast and color reproduction seem muted or washed out. Colors aren't nearly as vivid as the 1.4, again likely due to cheaper elements.

So, why did I rate this lens so high given all it's flaws. Well, cost is a considerable reason and the pictures can still be quite useable, well the keepers that happen to be in focus, anyways.

But I feel that it's flaws can also discourage some and turn them off to low aperture or prime lenses, which would be a shame. And should you really like low aperture primes you'll certainly want to upgrade from this lens. Like I said, a cheap foray but also a frustrating one at times.

I think in the long run you are better off going with the Canon 50mm 1.4 right off the bat. It's a better lens in many regards though again not without its flaws. I've routinely found them used or refurb for $250USD, and while it's certainly a vast price difference at least in terms of percentages, I think it's quite worth it.

In retrospect I really should reconsider my ratings as it probably should be much lower. But again it was cheap and let me get my feet wet in primes and low apertures. And the keepers were good enough and furthered my interest hence the purchase of better lenses. That, and I'm not really sure what to expect from a $75, or now $100 lens. For the price it probably is a great value, though I place a greater importance on metrics such as IQ, AF speed and accuracy, etc. Price being only a secondary factor, not that I'm fabulously wealthy and can afford nothing but L-glass.

Sigma 15mm f2.8 EX Diagonal Fisheye

Review Date: Aug 24, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp, good AF, nice build quality, great contrast, and the unique diagonal fisheye effect
Integrated petal lens hood so you cannot use any protective filters which is a shame since I lens scratches easily.

I'm going to compare this to the Canon 15mm as it is a replacement since the Canon met an unfortunate demise. The price is roughly $100USD cheaper than it's Canon counterpart. I find AF speed to be nearly identical though perhaps the Canon is ever-so faster in low light. AF noise is a bit louder in the Sigma but both have excellent AF accuracy.

Biuild quality is roughly the same. Neither can accept front lens filter which is a shame. I found the front element on the Sigma to scratch more easily. Shooting in the desert, I have some pits on the lens coating on the Sigma. Never had any on the Canon but I only shot in sandy wind blown conditions with the Canon twice as opposed to over 14 times with the Sigma. I've found a few occassions where I'd like to have used a ND or polarizing filter on the front element but again it's not an option for either lens. On the plus side the Sigma hood is metal so it far less likely to bend. I've bent the hood on the Canon just trying to place hte lens cap on it.

Now, onto sharpness. At least with the copies I've had I think the Sigma has better corner sharpness though wide open the Canon might have slightly better center sharpness. On a crop body however you cannot tell much difference except for maybe Sigma's slight edge in corner sharpness. But past f/8 or even 5.6 you cannot tell much difference.

As for contrast, color reproduction, etc, I find the two to be quite comparable.

In the end you can't go wrong with either but given the price difference and the better non plasticky feeling build quality, I'd go with the Sigma. The Canon really has no advantages over the Sigma in this focal length.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

Review Date: Aug 24, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: AF Speed, Contrast, Bokeh, Sharpness, Aperture, price
Purple fringing in high contrast areas

I got mine used and at $250 it was a steal. The AF is very quick and accurate even in low light, not to mention quiet. The lens is fairly sharp at 1.8 and has excellent center sharpness @2.8 and all round at f/4. On a full frame it exhibits some vignetting until 2.8 but still quite useable. I've noticed purple fringing in high contrast areas even when using the et-65 lens hood. The wider the aperture the great it becomes, but still quite acceptable. I find it is a tad soft wide open but this make it excellent for portraits expecially with the wonderful bokeh.

Build quality is great for the price. It certainly isn't L glass quality but it is far better than the plastic 50mm 1.8 that people rave about. The lens has a good heft to it for the size but still balances well on cheaper plastic bodies like the 1000d. The AF motor is durable as with the lens hood attached I've bumped into objects and it still functions well. The same cannot be said for the 50mm 1.4 as even a slight jolt can damage it's AF motor.

The manual focus ring is decent, though it feels a little gritty. But with the superb USM AF you'll probably rarely use manual focus.

While it does lack IS, I really haven't found it to be an issue at this focal length even on a crop body. But it does tend to be a tad long on a crop to use a walkaround lens.

This is by far my favorite Canon non L-glass prime. The 100mm f/2 is great but a tad too long on a crop, and I find the AF on the 85mm better in all regards.

I know people like the 50mm because of their focal length but the 1.8 and 1.4 have poor build quality/durability and their AF is horrendous. And wide open or at comparable apertures they aren't anywhere as sharp as the 85mm 1.8 is.

I think when you factor in all the qualities of this lens and it's price it is probably the best value.