Canon 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8 FULL Comparison – Which is Better?

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If you don’t have time to read this article, and want to quickly know the differences between the Canon 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8 STM, the 50mm 1.4 lens is a professional-level lens for portraits with a sublime depth of field, but is expensive, while the 50mm 1.8 lens is excellent for everyday use and value for money.

So, you’re interested in the Canon 50mm lenses, but are not sure which 50mm prime to get. This article compares the Canon 50mm 1.8 vs 1.4 lens, so you can see the main differences and similarities, to help you decide which is best for you, your style of photography, and your Canon EOS camera.

On the surface, it might seem like there is very little difference apart from in price between the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM vs Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, but actually there can be a large difference in real world use, which you can see from the 50mm 1.8 sample images and 50mm 1.4 sample images in this article.

Read the full Canon 50mm 1.8 review and the 50mm 1.4 review, or if you’re short on time, quickly take a look at the difference between 1.4 and 1.8 lens below.

Table of Contents

1. Canon 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8 Quick Lowdown

    • Best 50mm Lens Canon for Portraits
    • Wide f/1.4 Aperture giving very shallow depth of field and excellent low light capabilities
    • Distance Scale on the focusing ring
    • Ultra Sonic Motor giving super-fast autofocus
    • More Expensive than f/1.4 50mm lens

The 50mm 1.4 lens offers professional level performance for a relatively low price, making it the best Canon 50mm lens.

If you are looking to regularly take portraits, then the Canon f1 4 50mm lens is ideal for you, due to it’s overall construction quality exceeding that of the 1.8 lens. This has additional glass elements making it slightly heavier, but in return offers much greater image performance, along with a shallower depth of field.

    • Best 50mm Canon Lens for Everyday Use
    • f/1.8 Aperture is still wider than most kit lenses
    • Closer Max Focusing Distance than f/1.4 lens
    • Lightest Canon 50mm Lens
    • Cheapest 50mm Lens
    • No Distance Scale on focusing ring

The Canon EF 50mm F1.8 STM lens is of a lower overall quality than the 1.4 lens, but nonetheless offers exceptional value for money – this is the only Canon 50mm lens available for less than $100, and has been known as the ‘nifty fifty’ thanks to this low price and its performance.

The depth of field and low light capabilities are more than enough for everyday use, including some portraits. If you are not selling photos professionally, or you are on a strict budget, this lens will be good enough for you in most situations.

2. Canon 50mm Lens Comparison

Look at the below table for a quick Canon 50mm lens comparison, where you can see which lens of the Canon 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8 comes out on top for each of the most useful features.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens

Autofocus Performance
  • USM motor – very fast and accurate
  • STM motor – slower and can ‘hunt’ to get focus
Number of Glass Elements
  • 7 elements in 6 groups
  • 6 elements in 5 groups
  • 10.2 ounces / 290g
  • 5.6 ounces / 159g
Closest Focusing Distance
  • 1.5′ / 45cm
  • 1.15′ / 35cm
Portrait Lens Comparison
  • Very wide maximum aperture meaning a brighter viewfinder and faster autofocus
  • Wide maximum aperture, but 2/3 of a stop darker than the f1.4 lens, which is noticeable in real world use (see below for examples)

Based on comparing the Canon lenses above, in the Canon 50mm 1.8 vs Canon 50mm 1.4, the winner would be the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens.

But the features compared above might not apply to you, depending on your style of photography. To get a better view of what each lens is capable of, have a look at the full reviews, and sample images from real world tests, below.

In terms of Canon 50mm STM vs USM, the comparison between the two types of autofocus, my preference for day to day photography is for USM autofocus motors, as these feel smoother and quicker to hit the required focus. STM motors can be a little bit more juddery and less smooth, but remember that autofocus performance depends more on your camera than the lens.

3. 50mm 1.4 Lens Canon Review

Canon f1 4 50mm Review

Best 50mm Lens Canon

  • Pros:
  • Excellent sharpness and performance
  • Gives a bright viewfinder
  • Fantastic, very quiet, autofocus
  • Best Canon 50mm portrait lens
  • Cons:
  • More expensive lens
  • Larger and heavier

Is the Canon 50mm 1.4 worth it?

The Canon lens 1.4 is a real workhorse of a lens. Its outside is primarily constructed from plastic, with a metal lens mount, and with seven glass elements internally. The USM motor is nearly silent in practice, and enables you to lock onto focus very quickly. The 1.4 aperture also helps in this regard, as the extra light when wide open that it allows through, means that the autofocus system in your camera has more to work with, and will spend less time ‘hunting’ for focus.

Canon 50mm 1.4 USM vs 1.8 STM
The Canon 50mm 1.4 sharpness is excellent, and far exceeds the sharpness of the 1.8 lens. If you take a look at the sample pictures below, you will get a good idea of the differences, which are noticeable even at regular viewing distances – not just when you are pixel peeping. The even shallower depth of field is not hugely noticeable in practice – you are paying more for the increased sharpness and quieter and faster autofocus performance.

Although this lens is both slightly heavier and larger than the 1.8 lens, it is still very small by comparison with most other lenses, particularly kit lenses that come bundled with your camera. The extra size and weight is used to house an additional glass element which reduces distortion and astigmatism in the lens, and means that you get a proper focusing ring with distance scale, which I use far more often than I thought I would.

The only real negative to the 1.4 lens is the price, which is approximately three times that of the 1.8 lens. Still, this is a fantastic 50mm portrait lens, and also very useful for those landscape photos that require this focal length.

If you are using this lens on a crop sensor camera (eg. APS-C), remember that the apparent focal length will increase, so that this becomes a mild telephoto lens, at 80mm.

My personal preference out of the Canon EF 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8 is for this f/1.4 lens, as the bokeh is sublime.

I. Canon 50mm 1.4 Sample Photos

There are a couple of Canon 50mm 1.4 sample images below. You can see the quality of the lens in the lack of distortion, high sharpness, and excellent bokeh.

4. Canon f1.8 50mm Review

Canon f1 8 50mm Lens

Best Value Canon 50mm Lens

  • Pros:
  • Cheap – can be under $100
  • Good depth of field, particularly when compared to kit lenses
  • Very light and small
  • Good sharpness
  • Cons:
  • Noisy, slow autofocus
  • No distance scale on focusing ring
  • Construction can feel ‘cheap’

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM vs Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM
The Canon 50mm f1 8 STM lens is an excellent choice if you are on a strict budget, or you are looking for a first lens to buy following your kit lens. Despite not being as sharp as the 1.4 lens, the quality of the images that you can take with this lens are still very good, and would be more than good enough for most everyday uses.

The construction quality of the 1.8 lens is not quite as high as the 1.4 lens, particularly if you find the older, version 1 edition of this lens, which was primarily plastic. The newer, version 2 edition, has a metal lens mount, and a better positioned focusing ring.

The f1.8 aperture makes for a shallow depth of field, particularly if you are coming from a kit lens, which often only have maximum apertures in the range of f3.5 – f4. If this is your first 50mm lens, then you will see a huge difference from your other lenses, even buying the 1.8 aperture version, and unless you are a professional, I would highly recommend this lens for the cost saving over the 1.4 50mm lens.

The downsides to this lens is the slower, more clunky autofocus, that can sometimes really ‘hunt’ to pick up focus. This is partially due to the motor, and partially because of the less wide aperture preventing as much light from getting to the autofocus system in your camera. This also means that the viewfinder will be darker.

As for the 1.4 lens, if you are using this on a crop sensor DSLR, this lens will have an apparent focal length of 80mm.

Although in the choice between the Canon 50mm 1.8 STM vs 1.4 USM, the 1.8 lens is probably better value for money, I would still choose the 1.4 lens if it was within your budget.

I. Canon 50mm 1.8 Sample Photos

The Canon 50mm f1.8 bokeh is generally very good, although is not as strong as from the 1.4 lens. Take a look at the below Canon 50mm 1.8 sample images to see the strength of this lens. Although it isn’t quite at the same level as the 1.4 lens, it is pretty close.

5. Which Canon 50mm Lens is Best?

When you are trying to decide between the Canon 50mm 1.4 or 1.8, you may initially only think of price as the difference between these prime lenses. I hope you can see from the reviews comparing Canon lenses above, that there is much more to it than this.

If you are looking for a first lens following your kit lens, and are thinking of a prime lens like the 50mm, and are not using it professionally, then the best choice for you is the Canon 50mm f/1.8.

If you are a more experienced photography, or want a lens that will last you for years to come as you become more experienced and more demanding, or you just want the best image quality possible from your 50mm lens, then the best option for you would be the Canon 50mm f/1.4.

6. Common Questions

Does Canon 50mm 1.4 have image stabilization?

No, and it is unlikely that a 50mm lens with image stabilization will be made by Canon. It requires too many moving parts, and is also just not necessary, as the wide aperture means that you can shoot at a fast shutter speed, even in low light conditions.

Is the Canon 50mm 1.4 worth it?

Yes, the image sharpness and overall build quality make this an excellent choice for those looking for a Canon 50mm lens. Take a look at the full review above for real world examples.

Is Canon 50mm 1.4 full frame?

Yes, both the Canon 50mm 1.4 and Canon 50mm 1.8 are full frame lenses. But both can also be used on crop sensor DSLRs, where they will have an apparent focal length of 80mm.

Is Canon 50mm 1.4 a macro lens?

No, neither the Canon 50mm 1.4 or 1.8 are macro lenses, with the closest focusing distances for both at just over 1 foot.

7. Canon 50mm 1.4 vs Sigma 50mm 1.4

The 50mm 1.8 vs 1.4 Canon lenses are not the only 50mm lenses that are worth considering. If you have money to spare and are looking for the best 50mm 1.4 lens for Canon, then the Sigma 50mm 1.4 is it. This lens is about three times the price of the Canon 50mm 1.4, but has next to no distortion or vignetting on full frame camera bodies, and is the more sharp of the two.

Chromatic aberration at large apertures is difficult to control, and is generally not a major part of most lenses, but the Sigma 50mm 1.4 really excels at controlling chromatic aberration.

Also, the additional sharpness of this lens becomes more relevant as the number of megapixels that you shoot at increases. If your camera takes photos at 30 megapixels, but the lens can only resolve around 15 megapixels, then the photo you end up with will only have the detail of a 15 megapixel photo, even though the actual size of the photo will be at 30 megapixels.

In practice, this means you can’t enlarge photos or crop to any large degree before you start seeing noticeable quality issues. The Sigma 50mm 1.4 does not have these issues, so if you are planning to take photos for your wall, you may want to think about this lens.

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Hi, I'm Tim Daniels, photographer and photo trainer, founder of Lapse of the Shutter and creator of the totally free Lightroom Develop System. I've travelled to (probably) 30 countries over the last few years, taking photos and licensing them around the world, and creating lots of free photography learning resources. Read More ...

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