You might be surprised how sharp the 1.8.

I have always loved my Canon 50mm 1.8. I have always known it was sharp. I use in most all of my videos at my desk.

It has two nick names, the ‘nifty fifty‘ (t-shirt link) and ‘fantastic plastic’. Certainly not high on build quality, but if you take care of it, it will treat you well.

At NAB a Canon rep told me when they released the 1.8 version II they were blown away by all the reviews that came in saying how sharp it was.

It’s great lens to travel with and limit yourself to. It is also a great lens to learn on as your first lens.

I wanted to compare it to the Canon 50mm 1.4.

Build Quality

  • The 1.4 is far better than the 1.8, you can really hear the difference.
  • The 1.4 comes with a window for focus distance and the 1.8 does not.

Focus Ring Travel

  • The 1.4 travels about 180 degrees or half a turn which is really good.
  • The 1.8 only turns about 90 degrees or a quarter turn.
  • It is hard to grip the 1.8 focus ring and can add extra camera shake while trying to pull focus.

Stills Sharpness

The day I shot this brick wall it was too bright and I didn’t want to use an ND filter to screw up the test, so instead of going all the way down to 1.8, I went to 2.2 for the comparison.

  • At f2.2 you can see the 1.8 has a lot of vignetting, and even in the center I calculated that the 1.8 is about a 1/3 of stop darker than the 1.4. However when you look in the corner of the shot the 1.8 is ever so slightly sharper than the 1.4. Then when you move to the center is appears that the 1.4 is ever so sharper, but they are so close I would almost call it a tie.
  • f5.6 in the center I would call it a tie, and in the corners perhaps the 1.8 is winning ever so slightly again.
  • f16.0 they are both a tie in the center and the corners.


  • If you are just shooting stills and you are concerned about the 1.8’s vignetting, in the develop module of Lightroom you can enable the lens profile corrections and magically get it looking awesome again.
  • It really is amazing what Lightroom can do even for cheap lenses.

Video Sharpness

  • Interesting when you compare the two in video mode there is no vignetting at f2.2 like in the stills.
  • And the sharpness seems the same.

Which one to buy?

If you are just starting out like I was 2 years ago and you are really short on cash and you are not sure if you are you going to take this camera stuff seriously – get the 1.8. If you know you are going to do a lot of video and pulling focus manually, then get the 1.4 if you have the cash.


So don’t be embarrassed if you put this lens on your Canon 5D Mark III, will it look odd sure, but be proud of your nifty fifty.

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Canon 50mm 1.4
Canon 50mm 1.4
Canon 50mm 1.8


  • I agree with the focus ring. I have the 1.8 -love, love, love it…except for pulling focus. That ring is too small. Great to see that the other aspects seem to match the 1.4 pretty well. Thanks Dave.

  • Dave, I own the two and like them both, on one side your 50 1.8 lens hood is not ideal Canon sell one that gives some extra distance to use the finger focusing, how ever as you said the 1.4 feels more solid.
    Now be ALERT of this Canon and Nikon are struggling with all the video DSLR Problems, and despite of being a Canon user, have to accept that they make the best photography, but as far as video Panasonic with the mirror less is doing better, as much as pushing Canon to release a equivalent system
    This new system will have new lenses for video, noiseless and very easy to focus, this regarding the glass investment, and even the camera investment.I bet you don’t agree with me , in fact I don’t want to agree with me since I have a Canon Arsenal.
    What do you think ?

  • @Felipe very good question.

    I think it might head that direction but the thing is I am passionate about both stills and video, and the DSLR’s give me a way to shoot both extremely well.

    I am open to change, but I have a ton of things I want to shoot NOW, I don’t want to be always waiting for the next best thing when I can get the results I want now.

  • How do I know those lenses are going to be noiseless and easy to focus ?
    Try Panasonic GH2 Lenses or Sony NEX They are made for video , you can feel it

  • Yes Dave, that is why I’m considering to use
    My Canon Mark II for stills, and take advantage of the superiority of Mirror less
    systems either Canon or Panasonic for video NOW. I have been reading about what is coming for GH3 not NOW but in two months and is going to smash the old school concept

  • I’m really interested in the GH3 since I never got to play with a Gh2.

    I think they will sell a lot of them after zacuto’s shoot out.

    But the point of the shoot out is that all these cameras are so good already and that we shouldn’t wait, we should just get out there and shoot.

  • Yes Dave that is how I eat and feed my kids
    going out and shooting, that is why I’m so concerned about good investments, and as I told you couple of years ago, we can not allow manufacturers play with our pockets, using their clever marketing strategies, We have to support investing on the best options, considering that some times the best options at the moment or NOW are not the most expensive.

  • Any way Dave I don’t want to spoil your show, I like you and that is why I follow you since long ago

  • I rented the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens for some concerts I was shooting pictures of, and found the sharpness at f/1.4 to be to soft to my liking. Instead I later on bought the Sigma 50mm f/1.4, which is much sharper wide open but also weights and costs more than the Canon version. It may also be slightly slower at focusing, but that haven’t been a problem for me.

    For the extra cost of the Sigma lens you also get a lens hood and bag, so that makes the price difference easier to justify.

  • I am using Canon f1.8 MkII lens with my Canon EOS 550D for few months now. I brought that lens based on Dave’s review done a while ago. I am completely happy with its performance. As for the bokeh I found that if we use the cheaply available macro filter attachment lenses along with 50mm f1.8 then we do get that really smooth background for subject with very shallow DOF. specially useful for macro shots of flowers, insects etc.
    I also found that 50mm f1.8 does works pretty well with indoor lighting and give good details without use of flash.
    The videos taken using this are simply superb. however only thing it lacks is inbuilt Image Stabilization. But considering the price of f1.8 that could be a do away for basic use.
    all in all I really go with Canon 50mm f1.8

    Thanks for all your reviews Dave really helpful.

    check out the following video I took using Canon 50mm f1.8 & Canon EOS 550D


  • Hi,

    If money’s tight and you still want a chunky focus ring the Mk1 version of the nifty fifty (on ebay now and again) has the focus window and big focus ring for less than the 1.4.


  • Dave do you see yourself pulling out the nifty fifty much now that you have the Tamoron 24-70 with VC?

  • I use a 50mm f/1.8 and yeh the focusing ring is way too small, plus Canon charges what I think to be too much for a simple lens hood (which seems to be the norm). Anyway, I prefer the 50mm f/1.4 but I have been hearing about a number of owners who are disappointed b/c the autofocus died. Any insight on this?

  • Dave, I believe that the ‘brick wall’ test is not really ideal for many reasons. For instance, you are not testing the lens’s chromatic aberration, proneness to flaring, etc. You are also not testing the AF speed (for stills at least) which is reported to be quite different in both lenses. You are also not testing for focus hunting under dim light.

    Of these, perhaps the CA is the more important when thinking about video and the brick wall certainly is not the best test subject.

    That’s just my 2 cents. Best regards,

  • sir i want to order this lens , but i want you to get credit.. do i just click on it on you stie..?

  • Hey Dave – Just watched your comparison. I just received my 50mm f/1.4. My question is… Do the 50mm f/1.4 suppose to have hard stop on the manual focus or is it suppose to keep moving? Thanks

  • Hi Dave,

    I’ve been following all of your videos on the YouTube channel, and although I have the 50mm 1.8, I much prefer the 35 f/2 field of view. You never seemed to consider this when you went for the sigma 30 1.4, and I thought might like to see a sample here:

    I have simply used available window light (through a blind) as you often do, so the comparison should be close. Also, shot tethered to a PC for focusing.

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