50 1.4-can you make use of the sub 2.8 stops?

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by dennis osipiak, Jan 15, 2007.

  1. I've read quite a few posts regarding the inconsistency of the sharpness of the
    Canon 50 1.4, ranging from sharp to very soft. Most people report the softness
    at 2.8 or below which creates the question...If someone is buying the 1.4 to use
    at 2.8 or below to gain the extra light and it isn't sharp then how useful is
    it? Since I own other lenses which are "L" glass there is a financial limit for
    the time being as to how many L lenses I can buy. Thats what created the
    interest in the 50/1.4. Am I rolling the dice for sharpess or is the issue
    overstated? (at 2.8 or below to get the extra light I need for church interiors
    etc, or to throw the backgrounds out intentionally). Since opinions vary, I
    expect to hear a variety but I'm still willing to listen before making a decision.
  2. It all depends what you're shooting and what you do with your pictures. for me in low light concerts a it's the only lens i can use in certain conditions and get a sharp bright image at 1600 or 3200

    i also use the dof abilities of it to totally blur a background out and you can't do that any other way, obviously you loose sharpness of the subject but it's simply a trade off between the two.

    to finish: a slightly soft picture is better than no picture at all
  3. I don't know if the issue is overstated, but my experience wasn't that great. I've only owned
    one copy of the EF 50 1.4 USM and mine was sharp at F8, decent at F5.6 and rather soft at F4
    or lower. Wide open, coma was so bad lights looked like comets. Barrel distortion was heavy
    at 2 meters or nearer. Also, it was sharper at close focus than at infinity. Most folks say their
    50 1.4 is sharp at F2.8 but such was not the case for me. I can say my EF 24-105 4L IS USM is
    head and shoulders above my 50 1.4 at the same F stop and focal length.

    I have an EF 50 2.5 CM and it's deadly sharp wide open at any focal length and virually
    distortion free.
  4. Sharpness is not the only thing that makes a picture.

    Don't be put off by reports on the web, take the lens and use it. I do use a 50mm 1.8 (not 1.8) and quite frequently below 2.8. While sharpness drops at lower apertures you could hardly call it unusable. Creative use of the very narrow DOF is more challenging than resolution.
  5. Buy the lens from a reputable dealer so if you have problems you can return it. I rented the 50/1.4 and found the biggest issue with sharpness is the shallow DOF as was previously mentioned. I wonder if some of the other people "complaining" about the softness is just confused with a very shallow DOF created with sub 2.8?
  6. I'd recommend that you check the Photozone reviews of the lens. they do very thorough and objective lens testing and i've found it to be very helpful.

    understanding the desire to avoid shelling out so much for the extra stops, i'd recommend you take a look at the 50/1.8 mkII. it's $79 i think from B&H, and I've been very happy with mine. It's a plastic body, so it has a little bit of a cheap feel, but the optics are fairly solid. here is a shot i made with the lens - i believe that i shot that at either 2 or 2.8, but i've gotten equally sharp at 1.8. after buying that lens, i couldn't justify the dramatically higher price for the 1.4
  7. Absolute razor sharpness isn't what makes an image good. Sometimes it can help, sometimes it can actually hurt (people deliberately use soft focus lenses or diffusers).

    If you can't make good images with the 50/1.4 at f1.4 it's not necessarily the lens that's at fault.

    The 50/1.4 is softer at f1.4 than at f2.8, but I doubt if any copy of it could be described as "very" soft. Even my 50/1.8 at f1.8 is more than usable.
  8. I have an EF 50 2.5 CM and it's deadly sharp wide open at any focal length and virually distortion free
    I gotta second "The Pupster's" advice on that one... The 50 2.5 CM is killer sharp, wide open.
    Maybe it's another one of those "got a bad copy" things, but *if* I use a tripod, hold my head just right and sacrifice a goat to the Gods, I can get my 50mm f/1.4 to get "acceptably" sharp at 1.4.
    Of course yours and my definition will probably differ as to what "acceptably sharp" is, and as Puppy noted, there are some distortion problems and when used wide open, there's also quite a bit of vignetting on FF cameras with the f/1.4.
    However, sometimes ya' just gotta have that speed or you might not get any shot at all. I'm not convinced that Canon's new 50mm L lens is worth the $1300 (approx) difference in price - although it is clearly a bit better. That'll be your call! Good luck!
  9. Often time, it's out of focus images that get mistaken for a "bad lens". At the widest apertures such f/1.4 the DOF is indeed very shallow.

    But, as stated above, a good image has little to do with razor sharp images(unless such shrpness is part and parcel of the subject matter, in which case it would be foolish to shoot at f/1.4).

    My sample was reasonably sharp at its widest aperture.
  10. something to consider about f/1.4: according to the DoF calculator, a Canon 20/30D with a 50mm f/1.4 from 10 feet away gives you 0.65 feet (7.8 inches) of sharpness. that's a pretty tight range to hit sharply.
  11. My 50/1.4 is, to my tastes, unusably soft wide open. By f/2.8, it is excellent, and I don't hesitate to use it as wide as f/2 if that's the right aperture for the situation. Wider than that and I get nervous.
  12. At one point I decided it would be a great idea trying to find and buy the "ultimate" 50mm f/1.4, so I bought 4 copies at once and tested them against each other (to return the other three). What I found is that there wasn't that much sample variation and all were acceptably good when shot wide open. The greatest difficulty I had during testing was realizing how difficult it was to get the exact perfect focus needed to show the lens' performance. At close distances and at infinity the lens focuses fairly accurately, but at middle distance the lens has a little more difficulty (on a 20D). My guess is that the micro-motor USM focusing mechanism strugles with absolute focus precision when compared against the nicer ring USM motors in L glass and other USM lenses. The biggest thing you would notice is that there is a bit of reduced contrast when shot wide open vs. f/2.0 or f/2.8 and above. Here's a couple shots I just took this morning - hope they are of some help to you. The top shot is at f/1.4 and the bottom is at f/2.0 (sorry for the slight exposure differences). The crops are 100% crops (standard sharpening 75,1 in Capture One LE with no NR).
  13. And the 100% crops...
  14. I used to have the 50mm f1,4, and it was very sharp at f1,4, when focused properly. But often it wasn't focused properly, because either the lens or the camera (350D) backfocused with soft images as a result.

    (I know some people here at Photo.net will tell me, that it was user-error, but I several test under controlled conditions, and the result was still out-of-focus-pictures.)

    So I sold the lens and the camera and bought the 30D (with better AF) and the 17-55mm f2,8 IS. Now I get sharp photos all the time.
  15. My experience is similar to what Sheldon describes above. Other than the somewhat strange flare or halo effect at 1.4 (which I personally find more interesting than objectionable), it's very, very good.
  16. My experience with my 50mm 1.4 is the same as Sheldon's. Wide open, pretty sharp, but slightly less contrasty. I don't even bother with autofocus but use manual focus in critical conditions. I use the sub 2.8 stops all the time for wedding no-flash ceremony shots.
  17. Dennis,

    You can rent the lens for $25-$35 for a week and find out for yourself. That will tell you if is is sharp enough for your purposes, something no one else can tell you.

  18. My 50/1.4 is quite sharp at 1.4, and the only reason I hestitate to use it there is because it is so difficult to get accurate focus, esepcially when I use it on my 2.5 year old toddler who doesn't sit still very long. It looks like there are a couple of people here on p.net who have had bad copies and never tire of repeating their story ad infinitum, so perhaps it seems like it's a crap shoot...Maybe I should respond to every thread that comes up about this lens and repeat "mine is sharp".
  19. I have the 50mm 1:1.4 and I'd say you definately can, although it is sharper at 2.0 and sharper still at 2.8. I just tested my lens in response to your question.
  20. At 1.4 the depth of field is very narrow, I've nailed a few at that aperture and been happy with the results. As most lens' will, the 50mm 1.4 sharpens up quite nicely at smaller apertures, mine is very good by 2.0. My experience with this lens has been very positive, as per that experience, I don't hesitate to recommend it.Good luck.
  21. "can you make use of the sub 2.8 stops?"

    Yes I can.

    But sharpness is inly one aspect of the whole thing. I suspect that the so-called "softness" people report is actually just the very short depth of field, that gives pictures a very special, well, soft aspect.
  22. The Canon 50/1.4 is an excellent lens. Of course it's softer at f1.4 than at any other aperture--all lenses are at their widest apertures. The 50/1.4 is certainly usable at f/1.4.

    While I appreciate fine photo gear and have a particular love of fine optics, the obsession with absolute lens sharpness and perfection that shows up constantly on this forum is bewildering. There's more to photography than lines per millimeter and MTF. Does anyone here shoot anything other than lens test targets?
  23. trw


    I'm quite enamoured with my nFD 50mm 1.4, and I've seen the contrast improve when wide open since I started using a BT-52 (flock-lined lens hood). The focus is helped greatly by making use of the split image rangefinder. I understand there are aftermarket focusing screens with these for the EOS series bodies.
  24. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    > 50 1.4-can you make use of the sub 2.8 stops?

    Yes often, mostly F2 and F1.8 more than F 1.4

    > Most people report the softness at 2.8 or below

    Yes mine gets softer from F2.8 to F1.4

    > If someone is buying the 1.4 to use at 2.8 or below to gain the extra light and it isn't sharp then how useful is it?

    To me very useful, it is merely softer, not useless.

    > there is a financial limit for the time being as to how many L lenses I can buy.

    Me too, I think value for money all up comparison L to non L the 50F1.4 and 85mmF1.8 represent the better options than their L counterparts (note I have used a 50mmF1.0 not the new F1.2, but I would still take a lot of convincing).

    > Am I rolling the dice for sharpness or is the issue overstated?

    The bottom line: generally overstated for most practical purposes.

    > Since opinions vary,

    Yep they do, mine is practicality and output based then taking into consideration value for money: so FYI, I want (and will get) a 35mmF1.4L and a 135F2L, but I am happy with my choice of 50mm and 85mm being the non L versions.

    Good luck with the decision.

  25. Of course you can, it is just a question of softness. Unless you printing very large prints you will have trouble noticing the difference anyway. There is a big difference between pixel peeping and practical use of an image.

    This is a plot of my 50/1.4 sharpness http://www.zen20934.zen.co.uk/photography/LensTests/EF_50mm_f1.4_USM/Plots/ISO%20MTF%2050pc%20lp%20per%20mm.jpg.

    The reason people talk about f2.8 is that is the point that the sharpness hits what is easily distinguishable at 100% pixel peeping. It does not mean it is not useable.

    You need the correct focus technique also due to the very limited depth of field, don?t focus and recompose for example.

    I suspect a lot of reported issues are down to poor focus technique and not understanding how much sharpness is actually needed for real world applications.

    Of couse if you need significant DOF you will need to stop down. This is where slower IS lenses may help. But the real solution is to use a tripod.
  26. Not to beat a dead horse, but it is all relative. You can use f/1.4 depending upon the subject and the circumstances and what you will do with the photo later on. If you want maximum sharpness you'll want to shoot at around f/8, as you would with almost any lens on an APS-C camera.
    I'm happy shooting indoor natural light photos at f/2 with this lens, most often photographing people in situations like dramatic or musical productions. I'll go to f/1.4 if necessary, but recognizing the tradeoffs of sharpness and DOF.
    There are different ways of looking at the "why" of buying wide (e.g. f/1.4) lenses. Some believe that a lens that is OK at f/1.4 is likely to be better at f/2.8 than a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8. Some actually plan to shoot a lot at f/1.4. Others just have to have "the best" - whatever that means. Some are looking for the very narrow DOF at these wide apertures (which, by the way, can be a bad thing if you are shooting moving subjects in low light).
    For interiors, I would lean toward shooting at a smaller aperture and using a tripod and longer exposure. The DOF issues alone are going to create problems shooting such subjects wide open. (Not to mention that you would likely want something wider for this purpose in many cases.)
  27. "I have an EF 50 2.5 CM and it's deadly sharp wide open at any focal length and virually distortion free"

    That is stange. My EF 50 2.5 CM is deadly sharp at 50mm but struggles to take a photo at all at any other focal length. :)

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