As wedding photographers the Canon 50mm 1.2L and us have had a tumultuous history. It’s created some of our studios most successful hits on our 500px, flickr, and instagram profiles. However, we have sold it and repurchased it on numerous occasions and it’s been a real love – hate relationship. Generally speaking people starting in digital photography will start out with some sort of zoom kit lens and the naturally move into the 50mm focal distance. Why? Because it gives the photographer a similar viewpoint as the human eye, but with it’s larger aperture opening it can create DOF that kit lenses just aren’t capable of rendering.
This lens with it’s 1.2 aperture can create dreamy scenes with razor DOF. The color reproduction and distortion is also very well managed and the images have that new Canon look. For an L lens it’s surprisingly compact, which along with it’s normal focal distance makes it a great walk around lens. We actually took only this lens on our honeymoon in Paris and it worked out great as an all purpose lens. There is no doubt that this is a great lens. Unfortunately for us it’s not all roses. First off it’s expensive at $1619 as of this writing. Second, images are just unusably soft at 1.2 for almost all applications. Third, there are some serious competitors that are taunting us with their new offerings.
On occasion photographers will rave about this lens as a portrait lens, however for us head shots are completely out. We have noticed geometric distortion which can make someone’s face look bulbous if shot too close. If we are photographing people we will generally stand back far enough to create an environmental portrait or head and shoulders portrait at this focal distance. For details and other general wedding day photography it works incredibly well. Theoretically you could shoot an entire wedding with this lens alone. We would never recommend anyone doing that, we simply make the point to illustrate the versatility of this lens.
This lens is amazing, the images it can help you create are nothing short of astonishing under the right circumstances. If you have shot this lens you know that there is something magic inside of it just dying to render dreamy scenes at a moments notice. The auto focus works very well and rarely do you search for focus. It also feels great in the hand, while it adds a little weight, it’s the good kind of weight and its heft really helps balance the camera.
Dreamy environmental portraits
Good weight and compact size for an L Lens
Very Expensive ($1619)
Soft at larger apertures
Lots of strong competition
When considering the 50mm 1.2 quite a few serious contenders exist, Sigma’s 50mm 1.4 Art, Canon’s 50mm 1.4 and Zeiss 50mm ZE F2 Makro Planar are just a few in the race. The difference in image quality between both Canon’s offerings are substantial, but certainly not the fourfold in which the price dictates. Having never used the Sigma 50 Art we can’t make a direct comparison. However our Sigma 35mm Art is one of the sharpest lenses we currently own and we can only imagine the recently released 50mm will share common attributes. The other less popular options are the Zeiss 50mm offerings. They actually offer two, both offering superior build quality that will last the clumsiest of photographer a lifetime. We have used both of these lenses in our studio and the lesser costly 50mm 1.4 was just to soft and difficult to obtain the focus we wanted. However, we have recently obtained a copy of the Makro Planar 50mm ZE and it’s everything we wanted from the Canon in terms of sharpness. It however comes with a serious achilles heel that most photographers will shy away from – manual focus.
For us this lens changed everything. Back when we purchased our first copy of this lens we were still relying on the ease and convince of our L zoom lenses. This lens quickly changed our style and pushed us in the all prime collection that we shoot with now. If you are serious about image quality and want to create amazing photographs this lens will do it over and over again. It’s really the economics that has driven this lens in and out of our studio, with it’s high price tag and great resale rate we have sold it, only to repurchase it again and again. We just can’t seem to live with or without ours. Our recommendation is for you to go out see what it can do for you!
*Past Love: We no longer carry this lens in our bag and have upgraded to the Zeiss 50mm Makro Planar. While we do love Canon’s offering it’s a very expensive investment and it does only offer relative sharpness stopped down. The Zeiss counterpart offers better sharpness and color rendition in our opinion. Thus we have made the switch, however the 50mm 1.2 L has a history of coming and going. Maybe one day we will meet again, in a Mark II.
Are you interested in learning more about this lens? There are lots of great useful resources all of the web to help us photographers achieve our photographic dreams! We have included some of the articles and resources that were helpful for us when researching our own gear purchase.