Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Le Cheap Great Lens (Canon 50mm f/1.8)

In the hunt for great lenses, someone told me about the cheapest prime lens available in the market. I knew its existence before this but somehow forgotten it. Then I started to dig in about the info of this lens. So here is the stuff, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8.

So it is small and light, at about 6cm wide and 4cm long, weighs 130 grams only. Let's talk about the features. It has no optical stabilizer to soften handshake in videos, it has no zoom at all, it has no focusing motor too so it focuses noisily. But when we put all the no's aside, we have a very small and light lens. We have an aperture of f/1.8 which is massive! It's capable of getting much more light in the dark. With the large aperture, we can get shallower depth of field. The result is more background blur. Lovely. It will cost around US$ 100, cheapest lens Canon ever made if I am not mistaken.

The thing that might haunt me is the specs of the lens itself. It has 5 aperture blades. In wide open, the bokeh is fine but when it is stopped down to f/2.8 we get a pentagon shaped bokeh instead of a nice round like the background photo of my blog. This is why more expensive lenses uses 7 to 8 aperture blades. My Sigma has 7 blades. Wide open it is fine. One more thing is, the 50mm is equivalent to 80mm on a full frame which is slightly telephoto. It is a good low light lens but it is not so suitable for use indoors as I would have to physically walk backwards to include more people in the frame. A wide angle would do great.

I wanted a Sony before because of the SLT line, fast 10fps burst and all. But switched to Canon for low light performance. Sony has their own primes too. Two cheap primes to be exact. A 50mm f/1.8 and a 35mm f/1.8. The Sony's 50mm is slightly expensive at US$ 130 but it has 7 circular aperture blades to make smooth and better bokeh. The Canon 50mm is going to show pentagon bokeh when stopped down to f/2.8 or lower. But not for the Sony. The 7 blades helped to make better rounded bokeh. With 7 blades, the background blur is also very much smoother and refined.

I also said that Sony has a 35mm f/1.8, which costs around US$ 190, slightly expensive because of the wide angle. This is great and it also has better bokeh with 7 aperture blades. Now let's look for options for Canon. We have Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 at wider angle, one stop lower, costs US$ 250 and STILL 5 BLADES?? We'll find other options. Canon 24mm f/2.8, wider angle, one stop slower than the Sony at f/1.8, costs US$ 350 and 6 blades. Canon has one 35mm which is the EF 35m f/1.4 L USM; same length with the Sony, more light with f/1.4, has a USM focusing motor and costs a whooping US$ 1,400. It is not a small prime but much big as the kit lens.

Let's go to third party manufacturers. From Tamron, none of that I can find. From Sigma there is 20mm f/1.8, no focusing motor, 8 blades for beautiful bokeh and costs US$ 600. Then a 30mm f/1.4 lens, with HSM motor, 8 blades, costs US$ 480. Lastly a 50mm f/1.4 with HSM motor, 9 blades, costs US$ 499.

So Sony's offerings are much more appealing in terms of the small fast primes. Canon may cater for professionals with their L lenses but it has no cheap and high quality options for hobbyists like me. Sony has their own G range for professionals and third party Carl Zeiss for professionals. Hobbyists can turn to their SAM DT lenses which is much cheaper with less functions but still gets the job done well.

To be honest I was a little taken by the salesperson's saying, "Canon has wider option for lenses". What's the use if it's out of my reach? The reality is, just buying one Canon lens burns a hole in my pocket. So the next time you hear a salesperson say the same thing, leave the store immediately. They think they know so much better huh? Gotta say, great job Sony. There's no pros using Sony yet but just wait and see. Sony is new in the market, but that doesn't mean it can't deliver.

The conclusion is, I gotta make do of the Sigma I have now. It offers great value for money and is a great lens, having beautiful f/2.8 aperture at 18mm, slightly increases until f/4.5 at 50mm. under f/4 we're capable of making some nice background blur. I gotta make do of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 for better background blur at 50mm, although the blur will not be as smooth as Sony's. Should I need it? Not so sure. But perhaps I gotta save for a Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD. It might not be as good as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L USM lens but with more reach to 300mm and a much lower price, it can come close to it.

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