New Toy: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens

I have been wanting a new lens for a while (what SLR photographyer — amateur or otherwise — doesn’t?) and had been eying up some serious pieces of glass.

Roger Climbing Tree

After doing a bunch of research, I ended up with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens. Complete opposite end of the spectrum from the various L series bits of glass linked above. Instead of dropping $1,500 or even $5,000, it cost me all of $76.30.

Why such a cheap lens?

Because it is a total gem.

The build quality is crap, but the image quality is outright amazing — doubly so for less than $100.

It is an all plastic lens with a focus motor that sounds akin to an old 110 film camera with an autowinder. Yet, that also means the lens is extremely lightweight. Combined with my Rebel XT body, it makes for one very small picture taking machine. It is probably 1/3rd of the weight of my 100mm Macro lens (that was pretty much my default lens until now).

With a maximum aperture of f/1.8, the lens eats light. Better yet, I’m finding that I can use the ISO 200 and ISO 400 settings of the camera without worrying too much about noise.

For example, the picture at right was one that I could not have taken with my other two lenses (the 100mm and a 17-85mm IS EF-S lens that is effectively a kit lens). I was shooting under a fairly dense pine tree in a relatively dark environment (all things considered). This is at ISO400 so could capture the always-in-motion nature of a 7 year old in a tree at a fairly high shutter speed (1/200th at f/4). It isn’t the best picture in the world — legs are a bit washed out — but I’m just happy I could take it at all and much more so that I could take it without really having to work at it much.

Old Wagon Road

Pictured here is an old wagon road that runs through the woods behind my parent’s house. 1/60, f/2, ISO100.

Again, another shot that would have been inconvenient with my other lenses or would have required a tripod (the shot at left was hand held — even forgot my silly stringpod).

The new lens captured what I wanted — a nice walk on an old trail — quickly and easily.

I also took this shot of Roger walking up said trail.

Not bad for $76.30.

Morning Glory Detail

It was a little breezy out and, thus, that I could take this shot at 1/1000th of a second (f/9, ISO400) made it quite totally convenient. I could likely pull off a better quality shot with a tripod and the 100mm macro, but not with the same convenience.

That and it seems that higher ISO noise is much more apparent with the 100mm lens.

Water Fountain

Frankly, I had forgotten that I had the ISO at 400. As a result, the shutter speed was a ridiculous 1/4000th of a second (f/4.5).

Whatever. I like the result.

Morning Glory

This is a pile of morning glories growing on top of the deck awning in back of the house. It used to be a 30 foot tall tower of morning glories, but a storm broke the tower. Dad dragged it back onto the trellis and the morning glories then exploded with flowers. It is gorgeous.

50mm, 1/800th of a second, f/8, ISO400.

Roger Playing with Lego

At left is Roger playing with Lego(s?) in a relatively dark room. 1/50th of a second, f/1.8, ISO1600.

Yup — ISO1600. The noise is apparent in the left side of the pic; the windows, the left side of the plastic box, etc.

But the image is still quite usable. Certainly good enough to share with family.

And it is an image I couldn’t have taken with my other lenses.

In any case, I’m sure none of this is news to any photographer with even half a clue.

As I have less than 1/4 clue, I’m just utterly blown away by the results from this lens! It is a total blast to shoot with and I’ll definitely second the oft repeated notion that every Canon SLR user should seriously consider adding this lens to their kit! It is just stupid cheap!

If you think it is too cheap, Canon does make an EF 50mm f1.4 USM Medium Telephoto Lens for about $310.

It looks to be of a considerably better build quality (metal mount, instead of plastic) and is a bit faster than the f/1.8. Given that it uses an ultrasonic focus motor, it is likely to be quite a bit quieter, too.

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23 Responses to “New Toy: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens”

  1. Steve Madsen says:

    I won’t disagree at all. I’ve had this same lens for a couple of years and it’s fabulous. I also find myself using the Canon 50mm macro a lot these days for portraiture, though the focus speed on it can be very frustrating with kids.

    You can sometimes find the Mk. I (used) on eBay, which has a metal mount, though it’ll set you back about 2x a brand new Mk. II.

  2. archie4oz says:

    Well I can personally vouch for the EF 1.4 50mm in terms of being quieter and of higher build quality and I’ve seen it floating around for as low $280…

  3. D'Arcy Norman says:

    I picked up a 50mm f/1.8 a couple months ago, and it’s been surgically attached to my XT ever since. Absolutely amazing little lens. It takes some getting used to, dealing with a prime (zoom with your feet), and 50mm is a bit long for some uses (indoors can get a bit cramped, but that’s when you really need the f/1.8). Anyway, I love the cheap little bugger.

  4. Bob Frank says:

    I’m so glad to see your pics. They’re very nice. I’ve been on the fence the past several weeks about upgrading from a Canon G7 to a Rebel XTi (or XT) — going to make the leap next week I think. I was debating on adding this lens to my list, but its on the list for sure now.

  5. n[ate]vw says:

    I was fortunate enough to snag a Mk I on eBay last year, attached to an old film camera and flash, for not much over $100. I’ve gotten some very nice shots with it, but like D’Arcy I find it’s too often too long to leave on my 350D when indoors or on wooded trails. I’m still working up for a week’s commitment — (en)forced creativity — to using it solely.

  6. Chris says:

    I could not agree more! Your review is spot-on. I got mine last February, and it has been on my Rebel almost non stop since then. Best portrait lens I have ever owned, and I got an even better deal than you did- $63.00! Neener-neener! 😉

  7. David says:

    I have had my 1.4 50mm a few weeks now and I love it. I’m taking pictures that I didn’t know I was capable of with it. The fixed focal length also seems to force me to compose my shots a bit better. The one thing that surprised me with the lens is how close in the 50mm gets on my XTi.

    I also blogged my 50mm at


  8. Victor Trac says:

    I was just telling a friend last night about this lens. I’ve had it for a few years now, and it’s the best deal in photography. I only wish Canon made a wider version of this lens in the same price range.

  9. houman says:

    I’ve used the 1.4 but not the 1.8 – i was very impressed with the 1.4. I really wish i could fork out the extra$$ for a full frame body and use the 50mm as a 50mm instead of its current function as a portrait lens.

  10. Frank says:

    I agree, the image quality you get from these inexpensive lenses is impossible to beat in this price range. Unfortunately due to the reduced sensor size or crop factor of the DSLRs within my price range, the 50mm focal length isn’t as versatile on a DSLR as it was on a 35mm film SLR. The crop factor makes the field of view of this lens more like an 80 or 85mm lens on a 35mm camera, which is creeping in to portrait lens territory. Also unfortunately, prime lenses in the 32 to 35mm range that would give you that versatile 50mm effective on a 1.5x or 1.6x crop factor DSLR body are much more expensive than these wonderful 50mm lenses.

  11. hibiscusroto says:

    a 50mm lens with the xt/xti is perfect. like some other commenters, i opted for the 1.4 (mainly for the marginal gain in low-light performance and clarity)…but for 80 bucks this lens is a steal. fyi, you can find this lens on craigslist from time to time for about 40-50 bucks.

  12. John Faughnan says:

    I have one too as well as an image stabilized zoom. Those two together are all I’ve needed so far.

    One warning. The 50 is pretty fragile. No problem you might think — it’s also very cheap. Except the camera is not cheap. I once hit the lens in such a way that the lens seemed fine, but the plastic inside the lens mount broke. There was no obvious way to get the lens off, it looked like I’d need to send the camera in for repair!

    In a moment of poor judgment I forced the lens off, and slightly damaged the XT mount, bending a gold contact pin. Eventually I got the pin to pop out properly and the camera is fine 98% of the time now, but ever so often, when changing lenses, I have to pull that pin out with my fingernail.

    So if you hit the lens so that the mount breaks, be careful!

  13. akatsuki says:

    It is a very nice, inexpensive lens. I just wish that Canon would make a cheaper 30mm to go with small-chipped cameras like the 10-20-30-40d series…

  14. Peter Hestbaek says:

    While I agree that is is cheap and there is a long way (moneywise) up to the L glass, I think that the difference is well worth the money, of course depending on your needs.

    I just bought the canon 50mm f/1.2 L and while you, under some circumstances, may be able to get just as good results with the 1.4, but… if you use the L combined with a pro camera (5D and up) and pro software (capture one), you will be able to get better results with the L glass.

    Thats my take on it 🙂


  15. bbum says:

    I don’t think that I or anyone else commenting on this post has implied that the $76 50mm f/1.8 is a great lens considered in any other context but performance for the price.

    At a price point of $76, it can’t be beat. The lens you are referring to — the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L — comes in at around $1,300. Huge price difference for only incremental performance improvement. Sure — it is a huge increment, but does not compare to the transition from “no 50mm fast lens” to actually having a 50mm fast lens.

    One area that the 1.2L simply cannot compete is that of weight; the f/1.2L is 4x the weight of the 50mm 1.8 consumer lens.

    Frankly, I would rather spend $1,100 on the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L USM and keep the 50mm f/1.8 as the always-on-the-camera general purpose beater lens.

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  23. Adam Parker says:

    This is a great little lens. I have been able to get great shots with it, and, like you said, the price can’t be beat. I put a review of the 50mm f/1.8 up here and I hope it helps show some more about the optics of this lens.

    I think I will bite the bullet at some point and pick up the f/1.4 USM at some point, I would like the better focus speed it offers.

    Thans again for the post, good read.

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