Monday, July 8, 2013

50mm lens Comparison

"I think the 50mm lens is an extremely good discipline lens; it requires you to see in a more refined way, not just tighter.”
-William Albert Allard

 Like most of Canon SLR users I own the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II lens. I decided to check how this 'nifty-fifty' lens compares to my other, much older, manual 50mm lens.

Pushkar, India, 2012

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II lens might be the cheapest Canon lens you can buy but it's an incredible piece of optics for the price. It was a noticeable improvement over my first lens (the decent kit Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS). If you're looking for a great inexpensive lens to add to your DSLR it's an excellent choice.

Other cheap alternatives are to give up the auto focus and go old school. eBay is full of great, old prime optics for very affordable prices (Or you can even ask your family, who knows, maybe there's a forgotten camera treasure in the attic). I bought an M42 adapter from eBay which allowed me to use lenses of my grandfather's Zenit.

Here are my impressions for my 50mm lenses.

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II

The image quality is great, The sharpness is great, especially if you don't shoot wide open (at f1.8 it's still decent, but not as sharp). Really in the Image quality to price ratio this lens is hard to beat. And the wide aperture makes it an excellent lens for low-light situations.  One other thing I like is the colors this lens produces. The lens iris is built from 5 strait aperture rings, that produce not the best looking Bokeh (out of focus area) but I don't find it a major issue 99% of the time.

EF 50mm @f/4 - Bokeh looks fine to me.
Bikaner, India, 2012
Build quality wise it is built very much according to it's pricing. It is extremely light (130g) and I love that I don't have to worry as much about it breaking since it can be easily replaced. But on the downside, It feels cheaply built (cheap plastic that rattles when you shake it) and quite frankly feels like a toy lens when you hold it. The manual focus ring is totally impractical and I suspect it's there basically just to be looked at and not be touched.

Pushkar, India, 2012
 Overall, I really like this lens. Compared to the other two it has auto focus, that really makes things easier when your subject is moving.

Pentacon MC 50mm f1.8

Pentacon was an East German camera and lens manufacturer of the Soviet-era, that was formed in 1959 through a merger of several East German camera manufacturers.
I bought this M42 screw mount lens from eBay mainly because it was very cheap (7.5£) and I liked the Pentacon 135mm f2.8 that I got earlier.

Old House
Old House, Tel Aviv
 The image  quality is good. The lens has a minimum focusing distance of 33cm (which is better than Canon's 45cm); It has 6 rounded aperture rings that produce a more pleasing bokeh. The minimum aperture is f/16.
The lens build quality is decent. It feels good in the hand, the aperture rings clicks upon turning and the focusing ring is smooth and accurate. At 250g the lens weighs almost double than the canon.
It's a nice lens, but it offers little over the Canon and most of the time I prefer the lighter auto-focusing Canon.

Helios 44M f2

This is probably the manual lens I shot the most with. In all fairness it's probably due to sentimental reasons, since this is my grandfather's lens.

Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv
Neve-Tzedek, Tel Aviv

The other reason I'm really fond of this lens is that is just different. It's focal distance is 58mm, it has a famous swirly bokeh and the feeling it was built for the soviet army.
I mean it's really well-built and weighs similarly to his eastern block relative  (230 grams). the focusing ring is stiff but accurate.It has a minimum focusing distance of 55cm. And it's 8 aperture blades produce a really nice and unique bokeh. It's a bit sort wide open, and flare can be an issue but what it lacks in image quality it more than makes up for in character (In fact, writing this review made me wanna use more often)


Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv

For those of you fond of some comparisons I took a few 'not-so-scientific' side by side photos. I shot this photos of my lovely assistant (Stimpy almost never refuses to take part in my  anal-retentive activities) using a strobe with my crappy little softbox. I added some x-mas lights (or is it Hanuka lights here?) in the background to demonstrate bokeh.

at f/1.8:

at f/2:
at f/5.6:

Bokeh comparison - Crop taken from the images above (f/2) shows Helios having the nicest bokeh of the three (although at this aperture it's completely open). 

 at f/5.6 the difference becomes more pronounced:


Between the 3 lenses, I think I'm quite torn between the Canon and the Helios. All of the lens produce fine image quality (I wasn't really keen to do the pixel peeping thing), nut the Canon offers lightness and auto-focus, whereas the Helios offers nostalgia and character.

The biggest problem I have with 50mm lenses is that on a  APS-C sensor camera, i feel it's focal length is not that practical for day to day use (Just like a 85mm lens on a Full Frame). I would use it much more, but it's quite  limiting for my daily (Oh, i wish it was daily) use. I mainly use if when I know I'm going to be shooting at some distance from the subject. If canon would produce a cheap EF-S prime variant in the 24mm - 35mm range I think it would be a real hit.
I've created a set for each of the lens in flickr here, here and here.

Rajastan, India, 2012

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