My "Workhorse" Lens

canon 50mm 1.2 review sample images

Ratings
  • Value - 5.4/10
    5.4/10
  • Sharpness - 9/10
    9/10
  • Bokeh - 8.1/10
    8.1/10
  • Size & Weight - 7.1/10
    7.1/10
  • AF Performance - 8.4/10
    8.4/10
7.6/10

Quick Summary

50mm is the focal length I shoot most of the time so I take this recommendation very seriously. There’s lots of room for improvement, but for now if you shoot canon this is the best you’re going to find – and it’s nothing to complain about!

Pros

Sharp, Beautiful Bokeh, Reasonable Footprint

Cons

Heavy-ish, Slower AF than I think possible, Expensive

Every image you see in this review was made with the Canon EOS R and the 50mm f/1.2 RF lens. This is a completely unbiased review w/ no affiliate links, loaned gear, or sketchy indirect incentive other than equipping you dedicated photographers with information.

This review was originally posted to my patreon feed July 15th 2020

I’ve been staring at my screen for 10 minutes trying to figure out where to start. How do I even begin to talk about a lens solely responsible for well over 100,000 of my images in just under 2 years?

image count on lens

(I don’t have my 2018 catalog in front of me)

I’ve owned the Canon 50mm f/1.2 RF lens since the EOS R launched back in fall of 2018, and I was very excited to dive head first into my review of it after 10,000 images.

Long time patrons will know… that review never materialized.

Why?

I was buried in tens of thousands of images to edit for client work with NO time to even think of writing a long form review of what instantly became my workhorse lens.

20190511 16 47 02 3 fav fav

Coming from my previous workhorse lens (the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G) my hopes were sky-high for a 50mm lens that had stellar AF performance, character in its render, and beautiful skin tones/coloring at a wide open aperture. Something comfortable, lightweight, and with a recessed front glass element that I could put stuff in front of with low risk scratching.

2020 07 15 0001

The Build

2020 07 15 0002 2

As I write this I’m holding the lens in my hand. The smoothness of the matte finish is wonderful, the and texture/grip of the rubber focus ring is just spot on. The control ring is one piece of plastic with little diamond shape etchings for grip – no rubber.

Both rings are well-thought-out in placement and size/width. The focus ring is larger, which provides more grip for your hand to hold, even though you’ll probably use the control ring more often than the focus ring (unless you do video).

I do, having customized it to adjust my ISO.

At first, I was disappointed that Canon put the control ring on the far edge of the lens body instead of near the mount. I quickly got used to the control ring adjustment location on the EF to RF lens adapter, and really loved the quick access there, but eventually realized that I bumped it far too much by accident. It’s just better to have it on the far end of the lens the way it is on the 50mm RF.

It’s not the lightest lens in the world, but for a lens with max aperture of f/1.2 – the trade off is worth it.

20191029 15 20 14 2 Edit

AF Performance & Sharpness

Only having two bodies (at the time of the writing) makes it sort of difficult to judge the AF performance of any RF lens right now. Obviously half the equation is the AF system of the camera body you’re shooting with, and I fully expect the new Canon R5 and R6 to provide a noticeable boost in speed and accuracy. But, having tried the 50 1.2 RF on both the eos R, and eos RP, I can safely say the lens is SHARP and the AF snappy – enough. Very close to what I became used to with my Nikon bodies, and better than anything I’d ever used on any canon DSLR, ever.

Here’s about the best demo I can point to. A random bird flying by me as I was walking. I did not slow down, and every frame is at f/1.2 (note: some of these are rendered from edited smart previews so which render the blue colors weirdly)

2020 12 03 0001

So, that’s incredible AF performance.

Now, sharpness. This image was taken at f/1.2:

20200509 12 59 41 Edit

1:1 Crop:

Screen Shot 2020 07 15 at 4.23.14 PM

And another:

20200424 18 32 42 2

1:1:

Screen Shot 2020 07 15 at 4.25.20 PM

I do believe it’s wonderfully sharp, even wide open at f/1.2 at these resolutions. Will the larger megapixels of the R5 out resolve it? I doubt it, but will update here when I have the R5 to test with.

Let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum with small apertures. This photo is at f/14 (the lens gets as small as f/16):

20190428 19 10 50

The sunstar is… standard. Nothing particularly fun about it. Here are a few more samples @ f/16:

sunstar2020 07 15 0004

20191112 20 11 19 2 Edit

Let’s dive into some tricky shooting scenarios, like… backlight!

50comp2020 07 15 0005

Now, this is one area where I do feel the lens hunts a bit more than I’d like. When it finally locks on its very reliable, but I do want you to be aware that backlight consistently makes it focus rack. This could also be because I don’t tend to keep my lenses super duper clean, because I like organic/random artifacts in my work. Call me crazy, but I think it adds something unique. Here is an example of the rear element having a bit of a smudgy fingerprint resulting in… a haze that’s right at the edge of being too overbearing (to me):

20200711 15 15 56 3

Of the 36 or so images I have of this bride sequence only 2 missed focus so bad they were unusable

Screen Shot 2020 07 15 at 5.38.48 PM

2020 07 15 0006

So, not bad and it’s hard to know where the line between this being a lens issue vs this being a camera body/sensor issue is. The canon mirrorless bodies rely on having enough light to AF properly, and this spot was actually rather low light.

Color & Skintone

Some of the best I've ever seen

20190507 09 32 13 3

I don’t think enough photographers realize or stress the impact on color coming from lenses. It’s not nearly as much a factor as the sensor, but it’s there. Certain lenses just render color, and in my case being a portrait photographer, skin tones more pleasingly than others.

20200703 18 28 06 2

20191228 17 39 52

This is also, a completely subjective topic, so YMMV. But golly do I not just get the easiest tones in the world to work with in these files:

2020 07 15 0007

Front Bokeh Render

Diving into my favorite part of lens reviews, the bokeh! Let’s start with the less interesting part of bokeh – foreground bokeh. It actually renders it pretty well when something is extremely close to the lens:

20191113 19 57 12

20190828 19 55 40

20191015 06 35 46

2020 07 15 0008

20190915 18 23 06

Background Bokeh Render

But (and this is where this lens really shines) the background bokeh has the potential to turn scenes into damn paintings:

20190915 18 10 27

I mean it really really realllllly can:

20190511 16 55 29

20190507 13 52 40 Edit

155A4302

Lens Flare

Back in my Nikon days… one of the things I was always envious of with Canon photographers, was the ability to get glorious lens from the EF mount 50 1.2 lens. A part of me was hoping that Canon would still have an echo of that character in the 50 1.2 RF, but alas… nope.

The lens absolutely almost never flare. Here’s one of the closest I could find:

20200229 17 16 16 3

20191109 17 48 24 2

Flare just isn’t really happening with any modern lens. They’re become incredibly rare, and that’s one reason why I continue to use the ring of fire so much:

20200118 22 54 47

Conclusion

Buy this lens as soon as you possibly can.

For as long as I shoot Canon equipment, I will never sell this lens. Only if Canon issues an update. It would be the first lens I recommend someone buy using the RF mount with one exception…  shooting with the RP camera body on a budget.

I don’t mean this review to be a comparison shoot out, but at 20MP the RP and original Canon 50mm f/1.2 EF lens is going to perform beautifully. It’s not very sharp at all when compared to the RF version, but that’s not really a huge issue at 20MP. The EF lens has a beautiful character, is very light weight, and has a beautiful flare.

So, if you are on a tight budget AND shooting with the RP camera body, I’d recommend sticking with the adapted EF 50mm, or see what Sigma has to offer next year.

Literally everyone else? Buy this lens as soon as you possibly can.

Any questions? Feedback?

Enjoy a some sample RAW files

Comment in the group discussion forum. 

Sam Hurd

Sam Hurd

Photographer
DC/NYC/Anywhere

Starting as a political news and celebrity portrait photographer in DC, Sam was instantly drawn to wedding photography as a space to promote more inventive ideas. Sam’s focus is on photographic techniques that are deceptively simple but have the potential to transform difficult or uninspiring shooting environments into one-of-a-kind opportunities for every photo made.

Most reviews, technical write-ups, and other photo nerd content is posted first, and exclusively, over on his patreon.