First week with the 50mm f/1.4 USM

January 16, 2014

So it’s been almost a week since I acquired the Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM and although I haven’t had a lot of time to seriously play with it, I thought I’d write a bit on how I feel about it. Of course, this isn’t going to be a technical review (no pixel-peepings, spectro chromatism, aperture, sharpness tests) and if you need one, you should be going to Ken Rockwell who has the best and most comprehensive technical reviews of lenses ever.

The internet is full of comparisons for the Canon 50mm f1.8 II and this Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM, and the general opinion is that the 50mm f1.8 has downright shitty build quality – which may not be a bad thing sometimes because the plastic barrel makes the lens super light and portable – but gives superb image quality for the price. I’ve always felt that my 50mm f1.8 was a bit iffy with the focus and horrible in low light. The lens constantly hunts for focus and is slow doing it too. The 50mm f/1.4 USM however, is three times the price but has better build quality, wider aperture, manual focus override, and USM motor for quiet and quick focusing. 

1/1600, f2.2, ISO 100, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/400, f2.2,ISO 100, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/40, f1.8, ISO 320, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/60, f1.4, ISO 800, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/100, f1.4, ISO 800, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/500, f1.4, ISO 4000, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/30, f1.4, ISO 2000, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/60, f1.6, ISO 400, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/100, f2.8, ISO 800, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/2500, f1.4, ISO 100, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/1000, f1.8, ISO 100, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/2500, f1.4, ISO 100, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/1000, f1.4, ISO 500, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/2500, f1.4, ISO 100, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/1600, f1.8, ISO 100, 50mm f/1.4 USM

1/1000, f1.8, ISO 100, 50mm f/1.4 USM


At f1.4, the 50mm USM is not the sharpest lens in the land but as you stop the aperture down, sharpness improves across the frame (as is common with wide aperture prime lenses). Because the focus is so narrow at f1.4, the slightest mistake could make you lose focus or focus on the wrong thing. About a third of the shots I got back were out of focus, and I’m usually tempted to blame the lens in this case but after looking at more sample shots from other photographers, I’m inclined to think that it’s all human error here.

For the pixel peepers, here’s a 100% crop (no grain added so there’s nothing in the way of sharpness) at f/1.4:

1/640, f1.4, ISO 100, 50mm f/1.4 USM

100% crop at center of the frame

Not so bad at f1.4 when used properly after all. If you’re looking really closely, the bokeh of this lens is much better than the one from 50mm f1.8 because the USM model has 8 aperture blades whilst the cheaper one only has 5, which sometimes results in pentagonal bokeh and harsher backgrounds (which this image illustrates very well). The bokeh I’m getting from this one is creamier, smoother and not as distracting as with the 50mm f1.8. At f1.4, it works really well to add a dreamy swirl to the background (as I tried to do with the black and white leaf shots at the beginning of the post).

The 50mm focal length will always stay in my lens collection because of it’s versatility, and therefore this USM lens will definitely be staying with me permanently (the next best 50mm would be Canon’s crazy heavy and expensive 50mm f1.2L which isn’t that much better). No more of this use-few-months-then-sell nonsense anymore. Next up, I’ll put up a field review of the 100mm f2.8L Macro which I no longer own (sob). Also, special thanks to Jane for being my test model! :D


  1. Great review thanks! I currently own the 50mm f/1.8 and the 35mm f/2. I really want to invest in a f/1.4 and dont know whether it is worth the money at this current stage of my photography venture.

    I am a shopaholic when it comes to my camera. Shoes? no interest. $1000+ lenses? Yes please

    1. Are you happy with the performance of your 50mm f/1.8? If you are, then you could keep that for longer first until you feel like you want a step up. The 50mm f/1.8 in itself is a great lens that is great value.

      And same here! I can't remember the last time I bought clothes or makeup, but I'm constantly gorging myself on lens reviews and image samples!

  2. stunning pics. I haven't used any of those lenses, so I wouldn't know... great review nevertheless!!

  3. This is so helpful! I currently have the 50mm f/1.8 like Samantha but was thinking about upgrading to the f/1.4. Think this (and the gorgeous images) have convinced me! xoxo

    1. Thank you, glad my post helped! Try this lens out at the camera shop or rent it (if you can - in Malaysia you can only rent the really high-end expensive L lenses) and see if you like it! I am loving mine though I had to overspend a little bit to get it.