Who Makes the Best 50mm Lens: Canon, Nikon, or Sony?

50mm lenses are a peculiar bunch, as you can spend anywhere from under $100 to well over $2,000 depending on the sort of parameters, performance, and image quality you are looking for. Canon, Nikon, and Sony all make 50mm f/1.2 lenses as their premium options, and this excellent video comparison takes a look at all three to see which comes out on top. 

Coming to you from Christopher Frost, this great video comparison looks at the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USMSony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM, and Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S lenses. No doubt, a premium 50mm lens can be highly useful, offering a very neutral focal length suitable for everything from portraiture to events coverage and a wide aperture for both low light and shallow depth of field. It used to be that such lenses were not particularly sharp at wider apertures (my EF 50mm f/1.2 is a good example of this), but manufacturers have made some remarkable steps forward in recent years, and you can now get great image quality pretty much wherever you set the lens, making one quite an appealing tool to have in one's bag. Check out the video above for Frost's full thoughts. 

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24 Comments
Hans J. Nielsen's picture

Without even having looked at the video, for me, I say Nikon, cause they fit native to my Nikon camera.

Not going to switch system, so don't care what the others are like.

Whatever the result is for the Canon or Sony lens, I bet the Canon user will buy the Canon lens and the Sony user will buy the Sony lens, regardless.

This obsession with direct comparisons are the result of the internet and especially YouTube. It is to get a quick gratification if your favorite brand wins.

Yes we had comparisons in the days before the internet too, but they were few and far between, and more of interest to see how the lenses worked, what the difference actually was and not catering for someone to get a bragging right.

That being said, Christopher Frost is definitely one of the most trustworthy lens tester and YouTuber out there.

So congrats to whomever lens come out on top.

Michael Ma's picture

Best is subjective. I like Christopher Frost's videos. I've watched at least a hundred of them. But I don't agree that best is the sharpest with no CA and no flaring. Sometimes you want the smallest, lightest. Softness hides blemishes. The dreamy look is a good way to stylize memories, dreams, and fantasies. Vignetting adds dynamic range and focus to your images. CA adds color and life to the subject, like how flare adds a color gradient to backgrounds. But if you're shooting product shots, you want none of that. So it all depends what you are shooting.

Stuart C's picture

Fuji do, because those others don't fit on my camera.

Scott Hussey's picture

Any "best prime lens comparison" which doesn't include Zeiss is ignoring the obvious front-runner. They may not be right for everybody, but they are clearly among the best prime lenses available.

Stuart C's picture

You could have just used the first 5 words of your comment followed by 'is a pointless conversation that means nothing'

Sam Sims's picture

Voigtlander ;-) .

charles hoffman's picture

1. all 3 are "super-premium" because somewhere, someone is willing to pay for that xtra half-stop over the 1.4 or for the greaater premium over the 1.8 or 2.

2. these lenses are each designed to work with a specific focusing system - so to evaluate them on ease and consistency of focus on their own is a fool's errand; one can only read the package - not the components.

The true test is which works better in its intended environment - ie its designated camera. and there, one can't realistically separate cam from lens without using identical cameras as test beds
so match your respective lenses with the base camera for which they're intended - not with the top end, where the differences in camera might overwhelm any real diff in lens.

and btw - when all the camera bodies are stabilized and all have the massive iso range to shoot at any speed, why would anyone want to lug around a 2lb lens when a 8 ounce one will do the job just fine

R Adams's picture

I would suggest that the "best" prime 50 for ANYONE comes down to the camera system you are in bed with.

Michael Clark's picture

Even then, there are usually a number of choices. For Canon EF, for instance, there are three options from Canon, Sigma's ART, several Zeiss lenses, as well as other third party makers. And don't just assume the most expensive from the same brand is always the "best". For flat two-dimension reproduction, like a test chart or 2D art archiving, the EF 50mm f/1.4 wipes the floor with the EF 50mm F1.2L. But when you want that magically creamolicious bokeh in out of focus backgrounds, you need the 1.2L.

Michael Clark's picture

"Best" for doing what, exactly?

The same lens that is best for shooting flat test charts is usually not the best for shooting a three-dimensional scene when one desires smooth bokeh in out of focus areas. The same flat field correction that is needed to win a test chart reproduction war will likely make out of focus areas busy and harsh.

Nate simpson's picture

This article is beyond useless.

Deleted Account's picture

Don't say that. After watching it you know that your cheap 50mm f/1.8 is still quite up to date.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

"Marcia, Marcia, Marcia"

:)

Deleted Account's picture

For the normal photographer they are all the same. I still use my old Nikon AF-D 50mm f/1.8. It is super sharp, has no distortion, is tiny, weighs nothing and costs less than $100 used. I dare say that at f/1.8 you won't see much difference in performance from the more sophisticated lenses in the video.
I enjoyed the video. It is well done. I like the side by side style of comparison. He has a pleasant voice.

Stuart C's picture

He is a vicar by trade so the pleasant voice is probably number one on his CV:)

Roger Melen's picture

I have always enjoyed the detailed in his reviews. I see with my own eyes his charts and his comments make sense. He says he does not like what he calls the plastic feel of the Canon as being not as much to his liking as the older EF lens finishes. Not all plastics are cheap or worse for ruggedness and strength. I like the fell of new RF50f1.2 finish more than predecessors. I would not like the chroma issues of the Sony that he found. That is just me and love of the Canon colors. All three lenses are amazingly good and I would given all three tie scores overall and have no weighing to overall score for size, weight and feel. It is good to note them but these are personal preference quite distinct from IQ issues. Alternative have two overall scores with one just IQ issues and other include these preference issues. I have a smart phone that take very good pictures but I have $20K or more sunk in Canon to produce pictures that are of high IQ in taken demanding non repeating circumstances with outcomes of higher importance to me from a shooting event that I will choose to not trust to a smartphone or a point & shoot camera. The RF50mmf1.2 is clearly the best 50mm Canon has ever produced and 50mm is a very important focal length to me.

Stuart C's picture

I mainly like his reviews but his massive disparity when testing the Fuji and Sony 16-55 lenses was poor, it was obvious from the outset that he has a strong bias towards the Sony lens but ignores its massive caveats, whereas he went in both barrels on the Fuji one, basically calling it no better than the kit lens.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

I think comparing these lenses are pointless use of energy. They all are more then sufficient.

But funny he think Sony makes the bests lens. Also the smallest? I wonder if that is due to the small size of the mount? Smaller mount=smaller, cheaper and better lenses? :)

Robert Molan's picture

Actually the reverse is true smaller mounts tend to have more limitations when designing lenses, which is why nikon moved to a new large mount for its mirrorless system. It’s a pointless comparison, sometimes i want a particular look in an image and a clinically sharp lens is not always ‘best’. Best on paper perhaps but a photograph is more than clinical sharpness.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

It’s a joke referring to the new Nikon mount. It was claimed Sony mount was to small, and Nikon would be able to make better lenses. Still the new GM is smaller then Nikons offering, and as good. Just goes to show the argument about mount size is not valid. Pardon me if it was not obvious I was joking.

Roger Cozine's picture

This comparison would be far more valid if every camera brand was represented. There's no Fuji, OM Systems, Panasonic...ect. Nor is there any legit proof that one lens is better than the other. Furthermore, the "best" lens is usually never the sharpest, or handles flare the best, or has minimal distortion. The best lens generally has the most unique character that sets it apart from the others. All in all, this topic is purely subjective as each lens will display differently based on which camera sensor its paired with.

David Harrison's picture

Leica, obviously.

Tom Bryant's picture

Hmmm. My $90 Canon 50mm f/1.8 "nifty fifty" is small, light, and in it's center, and f/4 and below, pretty much indistinguishable from these $2000+ monsters, especially hand held, with a 20Megapixel sensor (e.g. my 6D). On my 50megapixel 5Ds, on a tripod, there is a small but visible difference between the nifty 50 and a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art. Each lens has its place.