Introduction

Priced at approximately $70 in the U.S. (as of January 2007), Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens is the cheapest lens in Canon's current lineup. The lens first first  released in December 1990, replacing the first generation Canon EF 50mm f/1.8. Don't expect a technological or optical marvel at that price level - the lens looks and feels cheap. The lens barrel is made of inexpensive plastic and even mount rings are plastic. On a positive side, the lens weighs only 130g (4.6oz) and is very compact - only 68.2x41mm (2.7"x1.6"). EF designation means that the lens is compatible with Canon's all modern digital and film SLR camera mounts.

 

Image

 

The lens construction consists on 6 elements in 5 groups, has a minimum aperture of 22 and a maximum magnification of 0.15x. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II features a micro motor, which is quite fast but somewhat noisy. Manual focus ring is located in the front of the lens and is very thin, making it somewhat inconvenient. On APS-C digital SLR cameras such as EOS 400D used in testing, the lens' field of view resembles that of a traditional 80mm medium telephoto lens, making it an interesting choice for portrait photography. Because the lens is quite fast, it is also suitable for low-light photography. The front element of the lens does not rotate, which allows attaching a filter to the mounting thread on the front of the lens. The filter size is 52mm and has a minimal focusing distance of 45cm (1.5ft). The lens accepts Canon's EF-62 lens hood which has to be attached to the hood adapter screwed to the front of the lens.

The factory box includes Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens, front and read lens caps and informational booklet.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 6 elements in 5 groups
Angular Field 46 degrees
Minimum Focus 45cm/1.5ft
Focusing Action AF/MF, Micro-Motor
f-stop Scale f/1.8-f/22, camera-controlled
Filter Size 52mm
Lens Hood ES-62 (optional)
Weight 130g/4.6oz
Dimensions 68.2x41mm/2.7x1.6"
Lens Case LP1014 (optional)

 

Field Tests

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II was full of surprises. And most of them are positive. The lens produced outstanding results across all aperture levels, with best overall performance at f/5.6. As expected from a fixed focal lens, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 does not produce any noticeable distortions. The only weak aspect of the lens (besides its build quality) is the AF mechanism. While AF is fast and accurate (most of the time at least), it occasionally hunts in low light. Releasing the shutter button and then pressing it again typically solves the problem.

 

ISO 400, 1/250, f/1.8, 50mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 400, 1/250, f/1.8, 50mm (Canon 5D)

 

Bokeh handling was sort of on an average side - both near and far OOF objects were nicely blurred, leaving a pretty narrow focused focal place, however, OOF highlights were not quite uniformly lit and carried distinct bright edges. OOF contrast transitions were pretty smooth and there were no noticeable double edging around background objects.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II produced pretty decent quality bokeh. OOF highlight areas were round and more or less uniform in shape, with some minor double-edging. Images carried pretty smooth blurring transitions from near to far distance OOF objects, which resulted in a quite pleasant effect.

 

Vignetting @ f/1.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop
Vignetting @ f/1.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop

 

The lens produced negligible amount of vignetting on a full frame Canon 5D at f/1.8, which becomes non-existent once stopped down to f/2. On an APS-C camera vignetting was non-existent to start with.

 


 

Lab Tests

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for both types of cameras.

 

Canon APS-C: For a $70 piece of plastic, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II performed really well. Image remained sharp pretty much across all focal lengths and at its peak (from f/4 through f/8) would produce excellent 19in and decent 24in prints. The only weakness is at f/1.8 where performance in the center is average, but border quality suffers. Conclusion? This lens continues to surprise me as I have yet to see one priced as aggressively and producing as good results.

 


MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 50mm

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 50mm


Normalized raw MTF50 @ 50mm

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 50mm

Chromatic aberration remained well under control in controlled shooting environment. At f/1.8 chromatic aberration did not exceed ~1 pixel both around corners as well as in the center. CA completely disappears once stopped down to f/4.

 

Image borders @ 50mm (100% crop): f/1.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 50mm (100% crop): f/1.8 vs f/8

 

Canon FF: The lens showed very solid performance on a full frame camera. Performance in the center is pretty decent at the widest aperture level, progressively getting better as you stop down aperture and peaking at f/4. Border quality suffers at f/1.8, but also gets better with stopped down aperture. Conclusion? While performance at the widest apertire settings is nothing to drool about, overall image quality is pretty good for a prime lens and especially for one priced so low.

 


Normalized raw MTF50 @ 50mm

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 50mm

 

CA remains under control on the full-frame Canon 5D, averaging ~0.2px in the center and ~0.5px around borders with wide open aperture. Once stopped down to f/2.8, CA becomes pretty much non-existent.

 


Image borders @ 50mm (100% crop): f/1.8 vs f/8

Image borders @ 50mm (100% crop): f/1.8 vs f/8

 

Alternatives

There are simply no alternatives to Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II that fall in the same price range and have same image quality! Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM (review) is slightly faster and has better build quality but is also significantly more expensive. So is Sigma's 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro (review), which is also a slower lens.

 

Recommendation

With the exception of its build quality, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is a fantastic value for your money. But even with sub-standard built quality, it is a highly recommended choice for anyone considering expanding their lens collection beyond kit lenses or interested in acquiring a fixed focal lens for portrait photography.