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Great News for Canon Shooters: The RF 50mm f/1.8 Is Going to Be Refreshingly Affordable

Great News for Canon Shooters: The RF 50mm f/1.8 Is Going to Be Refreshingly Affordable

Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.8 has near-legendary status as the definitive nifty fifty — i.e., a small, lightweight, affordable, fast 50mm prime lens. The news that its RF counterpart is going to be almost as cheap will be great news for owners of Canon mirrorless full frame cameras.

The DSLR nifty fifty has served countless photographers as their first prime lens, and for many, it would have been the first “proper” glass when moving on from the low-cost, small aperture zoom that typically ships with entry-level cameras. Having this eminently affordable lens as a stepping stone towards more serious glass has always been a fantastic means of developing as a photographer, and to see Canon maintaining this tradition is refreshing — especially given that RF lenses tend to be very expensive.

Canon’s EF nifty fifty has been $125 for what feels like forever, and I would argue that it's possibly the most important ILC lenses ever created. The Mark II appeared in 1991, tweaking the autofocus but maintaining the 6 elements, 5 groups, and a 5-blade diaphragm. This design was modified in 2015 through a second upgrade to the autofocus, with Canon introducing the Stepper Motor (STM) focusing mechanism, along with two more aperture blades.

Throughout its three iterations, this has been a wonderfully affordable lens, despite Yongnuo’s best efforts to show that it could be even cheaper with a design that looked suspiciously similar to the Canon and appearing not long after Canon moved some of its manufacturing outside of Japan.

The 50mm f/1.8 is found in the bags of professionals and beginners alike, offering levels of sharpness and bokeh that for years simply weren’t otherwise possible at such a low price point. It’s not the sharpest but plenty sharp enough, and the autofocus is noisy and a little slow. However, as a convenient lens that you can just throw in a bag and forget about (the STM is 5.64 oz / 160 g), it’s a piece of glass that always comes along for the ride, regardless of whether you plan to use it.

The Canon RF 35mm F/1.8 IS Macro STM has a minimum focusing distance of 6.69 " (17 cm).

RF glass is expensive, and justifiably so. The level of investment, design, and engineering that Canon has put into its new lenses is remarkable, but with the 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM coming in at $499, I was concerned that Canon might ditch the tradition of the nifty fifty and make something a bit fancier.

Canon has kept customers waiting for its not-so-fast prime lenses, and the RF 35mm f/1.8 has drawn excellent reviews. Canon could have opted to bring the price much lower but instead chose to include lens stabilization and a nice 1:2 ratio of macro reproduction.

Speculation was mounting as to whether the nifty fifty would follow suit, bumping up the price and making it more a stretch for those on tight budgets. Fortunately, it seems that this is not the case as Canon announced the price of the RF 50mm f/1.8 STM at $199 — less than $75 more expensive than its DSLR predecessor. This is a fantastic price.

Almost a year ago, I outlined my fears that the industry’s longstanding relationship with compact, affordable 50mm primes might be coming to an end. “Maybe I love nifty fifties too much,” I wrote, “but I were in Canon’s marketing department, I’d want a sharp, fast, affordable 50mm to give R and RP shooters something fun to use as an everyday lens, and give budget-conscious first-time full-frame buyers a piece of kit that makes the Canon line feel slightly more accessible.” While I’d love to claim credit for telling Canon what to do, it’s more likely that Canon was one step ahead of me and understood the importance of this lens for photographers across the spectrum.

Regardless of how sharp it is and however fast the autofocus (and I doubt either will be poor), Canon will sell a ton of these, and that can only be good news for the industry. I’m interested to see if other manufacturers might follow suit: Sony’s nifty isn’t amazing and is starting to feel dated, and while Nikon’s Z 50mm S f/1.8 might be stunningly sharp, it went on sale at $600 (currently discounted to $496.95). Fifty, yes; nifty, no. Should every system have a nifty as good as the EF 50mm f/1.8?

Will you add the new Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM to your arsenal? Let us know in the comments below.

Andy Day's picture

Andy Day is a British photographer and writer living in France. He began photographing parkour in 2003 and has been doing weird things in the city and elsewhere ever since. He's addicted to climbing and owns a fairly useless dog. He has an MA in Sociology & Photography which often makes him ponder what all of this really means.

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They should have made it a 1:2 Macro like the RF35/1.8 & RF85/2. It would make it very versatile.

It would have also made it very expensive, which I feel is conflicting with what the "nifty fifty" is all about. I can't speak for everyone, but the cheap 50mm f/1.8 was my first real portrait lens. In terms of value for money, it just can't be beat. The more expensive the lens becomes, it starts to lose that value.

I bought mine for $85. That was an amazing price. So the current price at $125 is already 30% more than it used to be. $199 is not really all that low.

Did canon paid all the reviewers to praise how affordable is the new 50mm RF while it cost double than the EF equivalent? Seems like all reviews goes with the buzz word "affordable".

Is there any other modern 1st party 50/1.8 available for less?

It seems reviews these days is to state the spec sheet and praise the company for access to more test products.

Well, it is the most affordable lens made for the R system from any manufacturer. I'd say they can get away with using a word like 'affordable.' It's kind of a strong differentiator for this lens. Canon has the extremely expensive one, and now the affordable one.

hm, I was wondering why the new nifty fifty has no IS included like the RF 35mm and the RF 85mm. But maybe there will be another 50mm in the near future. Just to "copy" the actual lens lineup in our EF universe. Because there is the the cheap nifty fifty, the 50mm L and the "mid range" 50mm.
Whatever, I never understood why they built an IS in the RF 35mm, but now I don´t understand why the 50mm is missing it. Only for a low pricing?

The multiple use of the word nifty disfigure this text and makes it uncomfortable.

The EF 50mm f1.8 is currently £99. This new RF is £219. I wouldn’t say ‘refreshingly’ affordable. Whilst the EF lens was over £100 when launched, this RF is still a significant price hike for a nifty fifty, no matter how affordable it might be. It better have some improvements to justify the extra £100 or is it just a mirrorless tax?

You're honestly comparing the discounted price of a lens with 30-year-old optics with a brand new lens? 😂

Ok, to be fair it’s around £90 more expensive than the EF 50mm launch price (just found the exact original cost). Just because it’s a brand new lens, does this really justify the price hike over the older EF 50mm? Technology is always improving but you’d think a lens like this should cost about £130.

Launch price of EF in 2015: $130
Adjusted for inflation: $143
Launch price of RF: $199
Difference: $56.

But you know, if you don't think it's worth the money, don't buy it. 😊

Is it really that exciting?

C'mon people. Why are we complaining that it's "a little" more expensive than the EF counterpart? If $200 is gonna break the bank, you're in the wrong hobby.

As much as I like Nikon they are really shooting themselves in the foot with their pricing on their 50mm f1.8Z. The Nikon 50mm f1.8D was the first lens I bought that showed me what a sharp image was and helped me understand DOF. Every other lens I used before that were equally cheap but woefully soft and of poor build compared to the 50mm f1.8D and it's already really plasticky. This lens helped me start to understand what I need to look for in the quality of a lens. It was my stepping stone to the big boy lenses. If Nikon keeps with this pricing structure, that stepping stone lens will be out of reach for a lot of new photographers.

Very true. And in addition: It is almost free of distortion. You can get it used for a very low price. The more modern 50mm AF-S is even a bit sharper but has some distortion. The 50mm Z is again free of distortion.
I don't think, Nikon will keep the price up this high over the time.

It’s hard to imagine how this lens will be anywhere near as popular as the old EF50/1.8. The cheap and cheerful nifty fifty was ideal for many photographers buying cheap entry level APS-C DSLRs, because on a crop sensor camera the 50mm is a portrait lens. It isn’t at full frame. And having broken the piggy bank to fork out for the highly priced R bodies, why would someone look for a cheap specialist lens like this? They’ll want something more versatile. The nifty fifty filled a mass market niche very well. I’m not sure this RF50 does that.

Right now, the RP is $900 and Canon has an APS-C RF camera on the way. I think in time you'll see an RF equivalent of the Rebel, so this lens (which I'm not sure qualifies as specialist!) will have the same role in the Canon ecosystem as the EF 50mm. And yes, for many 50mm is not a portrait, but there's thousands of photographers who use it as such - Sean Tucker being the example that immediately springs to mind.

It depends where you live. Where I am, in Sri Lanka, an RP body is $1,385, and in a country where wages are a fraction of what it is in the western world, that's a far reach for most amateurs. And let's face it, no one but a hobbyist would buy an RP. Even the R isn't up to real pro work (I've shot with it). I'm not sure Canon plans to produce new models of these, as they were likely forerunners of the R5 and R6s. Even if they do, they're not comparable in price to an entry level DSLR. An 850D is $929 over here. So APS-C DSLRs and M mount mirrorless remain the entry level for Canon in a large part of the world, and the RF50 can't be used on them. If Canon does indeed bring in an APS-C mirrorless in RF mount, then I agree that the RF50's role will expand.

I received my canon rf 50mm 1.8 yesterday and I am returning it. Lens has focus issue and it’s supposedly quiet STM is a constant noise machine. No way this can be used for video with its constant noise and focus hunting. Run and don’t walk away from this lens. Think I may be better off buying an ef 50mm and use with the adapter.

I’m an enthusiast Canon shooter for last twelve years and possess lenses ranging from $100/- to $6,200/- a piece. Nevertheless, the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM, the cheapest one, is by all means my dearest. Since it operates equally well with MILCs, I don’t need a similar glass for my mirrorless camera when I actually buy one.

Thanks Canon for this wonderful glass. And don’t kill your gold egg laying duck.