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Can Canon's Famous 50mm Lens Hold up To Modern Sensors?

Of all Canon's esteemed L lenses, the EF 50mm f/1.2L USM probably has the most controversial reputation of all. Though originally meant for DSLRs, it easily adapts to Canon and other mirrorless cameras. Can it stand up to the resolution demands of modern mirrorless cameras? This great video review takes a look at what you can expect. 

Coming to you from Christopher Frost Photography, this great video tests the EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens on the Canon EOS R5. Canon has the superlatively good RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens, but at $2,300, it is extremely expensive for a 50mm lens. On the other hand, the EF version certainly does not carry the same level of sharpness as its mirrorless counterpart, but it can be had for less than $1,000 on the used market and is well known for having some of the highest levels of character of any Canon lens, making it a favorite of many photographers. On the other hand, it is also known for being a finicky lens that demands very careful technique when shooting at wide apertures, but for many photographers, the dreamy images it produces are worth the hassle. Check out the video above for Frost's full thoughts. 

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10 Comments

Lee Christiansen's picture

I had a love / hate relationship with mine.

It was never particularly sharp when fully open and the shift of focus depending on distance of subject was a pain.

So I upgraded to a Sigma Art 50mm, and wow. Focus was more reliable. Images were sharp. Bokeh was still lovely. More keepers and more satisfying.

I never found the Canon 50 L to live up to an "esteemed" tag, unlike many of it's other fine optics.

(Speaking as a Canon L, and Sigma ART user - so no favourites here...)

Nico Gees's picture

I have the 50mm 1.2 L and the 85mm pendant. Both are awesome lenses, but tricky on dslrs because of back or frontfocus when wide opened. But I still love them. And now, with my Eos R, they are both even better. No more focus failures because of the mirrorless system. At the moment, we have the Eos R5 and R6 for testing in our studios with RF 85mm and RF50mm. And I must say - I have no reason to change my lenses.

Jerome Brill's picture

It didn't hold up on older sensors lol

John Rus's picture

I had the pleasure of shooting with the 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2 and Sigma 105mm f/1.4.

For me this pixel peeping deal is really silly, this is not a landscape lens where you expect pixel perfect sharpness. A lens like this still has very ussuable resolution for it's main use. PORTRAITS!!!! Which it is fantastic at, a lot of sharpness can be gained in post with lens corrections with DPP and other software.When you are shooting a portrait you're pretty much just dealing with a sliver of in focus image. Pretty much just one eye ball and most notably the eye lashes.

The Bokeh is excellent. It has a different look compared to the Sigma ART I have also used. Not that it was bad, and I would definitely own one at some point. It just has a overall image rendition and color that is just sweet and makes for stunning portraits. Is the Sigma sharper? Yeah. But even compared to the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 which has astonishing sharpness so little is in focus that it not jumping out at you or makes you think it is unusable. And with some basic post production it is capable of much much better sharpness and really turns out very decent.

Bottom line is the lens is most definitely relevant and after shooting with the alternatives (Which are still awesome and come highly recommended) in a professional setting it is definitely earns a spot in my bag.

Michael Ma's picture

EF 50mm 1.2 L has really lovely rendering that surprises you once in a while. Maybe one out of every hundred shots look like nothing you could shoot with any other lens. It's that soft focus, flare in the shadows, fidelity in the intertonal details, the CA that adds vibrancy to the image and gives it that organic look (as opposed to the modern sharp lenses where it feels like there is no glass between you and the photo.) If I get the RF one day, I'm definitely keeping the EF. But the EF stopped down is plenty sharp.

Dan Jefferies's picture

I agree. In photographing people I'm not going to worry about a smoother look. Anything else I just can't stand not being super sharp. People are just in a class all their own.

Hector Belfort's picture

This video seems to be a fair enough assessment of the 50 1.2 lens. What it doesn't capture perhaps is how the lens takes lovely images. Yes there is chromatic aberration and its easy to blow out the background at 1.2 , it can be difficult to focus. It's still a sharp lens, very sharp stepped down. Focus breathing has never been a real world issue for me. I find it works reliably and makes for great images. It gives a different look. I haven't used the Sigma lens, its supposed to be easier to use, a bit more clinical but with some focusing issues of its own. I also own the 85mm 1.2 which can be superb but definitely even harder to focus with. The focus by wire is slow, depth of field is shallow so any swaying of photographer or subject results in out of focus. When it hits its mark it produces beautiful images. It's great for portraits. I certainly will be keeping both for the long term. I think there is something more to photography than pure sharpness. The feel of the image is more important and both the 50 1.2 and 85 1.2 render a beautiful image.
Just on sharpness the 85mm 1.2 stopped down is incredibly sharp. I remember the first time doing a portrait with lights with the 5DSR and 85 1.2 at F8. The detail was incredible, if almost horrific. Every last flaw was visible in great detail when zoomed in. .

ignacy matuszewski's picture

50L is my fav lens, there are a lot of sharper lenses, but in most cases you use this 50 when you need to grab nice-looking images fast. In portraits you don't want to have too much sharpness, rather soft background and nice look. I use 24L, 50L and 135L for these tasks and they are awesome. If you need more technical look you simply use more technical lens like TS-E or macro lenses.

Daniel L Miller's picture

Christopher Frost really does very detailed lens reviews. His testing methods are so consistent from lens to lens which makes it easy to compare.

Johan Doornenbal's picture

I regret selling my EF 50/1.2L when I switched to the R system. I went through three copies to find one that focussed consistently and accurately, and loved it on my 5D IV. Two years ago I switched to the R system, and the RF 50/1.2L is by far my favorite lens, but I wish I had both. I plan to purchase it again sometime soon, as I believe the RF and EF versions are more complimentary than similar.