Comparing Results Between an $80 and $1,500 f/1.2 Prime Lens

When it comes to photographic equipment, do you always get what you pay for? Starting out, is it worth breaking the bank to acquire the same glass used by the industry’s leading professionals? One photographer decided to compare the results of two lenses with the same focal length but drastically different price tags.

Always game for a photography experiment, Mathieu Stern has uploaded a new video to his YouTube channel, wherein he purchased an $80 f/1.2 prime lens on eBay. Specifically, it’s a Porst Color Reflex vintage manual lens. Its competitor for the test was the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L autofocus prime lens, which weighs in in the region of closer to $1,500, almost 19 times as much as its counterpart.

He and his friend each took a lens to photograph the same model. The shoot was set mostly in nature, with the duo using trees in order to illustrate the bokeh both lenses produced.

Sure, the pair’s individual photographic style and artistic choices may be variables, but for the most part, the results clearly present the distinctions between the two lenses. Have a look at the comparisons in the video above.

Which of the two do you lean towards? Is the price difference justified?

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28 Comments

Bokeh on the $80 lens is ugly. Having said that, I don't think it's a meaningful comparison. Nobody looking at either lens, would be considering the other.

Peter Gargiulo's picture

I agree, Bokeh is pretty horrible, but the color reproduction is better! Expensive one looks too washed out.

Uhhh no, how are you judging color when the photos are completely different white balances

Color reproduction is difficult to judge without knowing the history of the image but, since they're comparing two f/1.2 lenses, I assumed bokeh was the point. For overall image quality, I wouldn't choose either.

Alexander Lobozzo's picture

Also, every image they showed from the expensive lens was over-exposed lmao!

Peter Gargiulo's picture

That was what I meant by color reproduction...Of course, I"ve no idea what the real situation looked like, but the expensive lens looked over-exposed and washed out.

Yeah, it's kind of like one of those before/after shots of weight loss or teeth whitening. They do a horrible lighting, no smile, bad color in the before, and make it all look better in the after. :D

Rob Watts's picture

I can absolutely tell the difference in lower end lenses. My son had his individual and team photo for T-Ball and some local company that does that for sports and what not, took the photos. Had what looked like a 6D2 or 5D body, but a lousy kit lens. When we got the photos, the contrast and clarity was terrible. If you're charging parents $20-50/package and making a ton of money, invest in some decent glass. These are photos that are cherished.

Aaron Duke's picture

Define "a ton of money".

I suppose if you live in England, it would be ₤2,000. ;-)

Aaron Duke's picture

I would enjoy photography much more if I didn't have a mortgage.

Leigh Smith's picture

"$20-50/package", "ton of money" hahahahahaaaahahahaahahahahaaaahahahahaaaaa

Bill Larkin's picture

yes, because usually around here for those sports events, it's $50 x 475 kids. - thats over $20,000 for a weekend's worth of work.

Fun idea, but using a vintage lens isn’t a fair comparison. How much did it cost when first released, that’s the question. Was it still low-end then?

A comparison between two modern lenses would make more sense, although it’s pretty obvious there would be a difference. They don’t charge these astronomical prices for fun (unless they’re Zeiss or Leica? Lol)

Andy Day's picture

Not everyone conforms to the stereotype of patriarchal heteronormativity. Step outside.

Johnny Rico's picture

I mean, at least match exposure and WB... Actually just shoot a color checker or gray card because these are all over the place through the set.

So, the $80 lens definitely looks like crap, but you can’t blame it all on the lens. On Sony mirrorless bodies if you shoot large aperture lenses at high shutter speeds (1/500th and up) with Electronic First Curtain Shutter turned on it has a drastic effect on the amount and appearance of the bokeh. The images where the out of focus highlights look like half moons or half smeared dots demonstrate the effects of this phenomenon perfectly. Not that I think this $80 lens would look nicer than the Canon L anyway, but the test is, unfortunately, mostly pointless because EFCS + f1.2 + shutter speeds over 1/1000 would make even the $8,000 50mm f0.95 Leica Noctilux look like crap.

Nicolas KIEFFER's picture

How could that be possible ? I thought EFCS and mirrorless technology was the future ? Did SONY mess a thing or two on their cameras ? Do you have some links showing that effect ?

Robert Sakowski's picture

From a artistic point of view the 80$ lens is very interessting. It gives a uniqu look and I really like the bokeh. If you use the chromatic abborations and match it with the general look of a entire story, that could be very nice. When we retouching sotries for vogue etc. we can see a shift to intentionally inperfection in every aspect like lack of sharpness, fail color etc. If you want to achive a very realitic and consistent result you should go for the high end lens. Its always nice to try something new.

Spy Black's picture

Strange that the old lens has better color and contrast than the Canon. The bokeh is definitely weird. The Canon however is an ancient lens and not representative of modern optics. It's just another overpriced dinosaur like like the 105 and 135 Nikkor DCs.

Call me crazy. I prefer the vintage lens.

Karl Johnston's picture

Skin tones look more real

Yeah! I'm inclined to think that there was some flaw in the testing... exposure, saturation and and colour all look strange from the new lens.

F-stops are not equal to t-stops. Lenses don't produce more dynamic range (the 1500 lens photos are blown out a lot), he should have figured out the exposure equivalence, and adjusted shutter speed so they would have the same exposure at each aperture. The only thing this test is showing, is that modern lenses let in more light, and that the color balance between these two lenses is different. If we zoomed in to see detail, I'm sure it would be over there as well.

Of Course, the $ 1500 lens is superior. It goes without saying. The real question is; Is it worth 19 times the price difference?

Karl Johnston's picture

I prefer the 80 $ ..skin tones look far too pale on the other one. Kinda weird. Is that the white balance setting that changed ? Or did that literally produce a super white skin complexion vs the cheaper lens ?