The Beautiful Canon 50 L f/1.2 on the Sony A7RII. Wow!

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The Beautiful Canon 50 L f/1.2 on the Sony A7RII. Wow!

By Steve Huff

*As always, You must click on the images in this review to see them correctly!

Hey everyone! I have had a great weekend shooting with the now kind of old, now well-known, and now mostly forgotten about Canon 50 L 1.2 lens. This lens came out YEARS ago, and has been reviewed hundreds of times by users, reviewers and anyone with an opinion. So why I am dedicating a post and short review to this lens? Because now that I have shot it on the Sony A7RII I have fallen in love yet again with yet another fast 50mm lens! It’s true, I have a 50mm addiction.. I think. To me, the 50mm focal length is just so right..so nice and fits my style perfectly and there are so many choices out there from old to new to uber old (vintage rangefinder 50’s) that can mount on the Sony A7 series bodies via adapters, so why not give it a shot on my A7rII? Besides, this lens has over 900 reviews on B&H PHOTO and is averaging around a 4 1/2 – 5 star rating (5 is max) so that says a TON about this lens and it’s beauty, capabilities and desirability.

The A7RII with the Canon 50 L 1.2 at f/1.2 and ISO 5000. While there, this man was tough to see. The lens soaked in all light and made it appear brighter than it was, a sign of a great fast prime lens. CLICK IT for better version. 

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TRUE STORY…

I used to own the Canon 50 L long ago. I shot with it on a Canon 5D, the original and MKII. I loved and hated it at the same time due to focus shift and focus misses (when used on the old 5D), and slower than average focus. It seemed that 1/4 of my shots using this lens were out of focus when shooting with a 5D so I eventually sold it many may years ago never to give it a 2nd thought…until about a year ago when I tried it on my A7RII at a photo event. Someone let me use their lens for a shot or two, and I loved what I saw from it out of the Sony.  Here are those two quick test shots…

The delicate but beautiful color, the way the focus falls off and the way the image is sharp where it is needed yet dreamy in other areas. All signatures of the 50 1.2 when shot wide open. A tad of glow helps to give it a dreamy look.

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The 2nd test shot. I wanted to see how it separated the subject from the BG at a medium distance from my subject. As I remembered, it has fantastic subject isolation, this Canon 50 L. 

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When I saw those two simple shots I was starting to crave owning it again, but I held off..and held back because I have a few 50’s and I figured it would end up on my shelf with the others, rarely used. So I saved myself some cash and pushed the thought aside..until now, a year later. I decided I wanted to give it a go on the Sony A7RII, and compare it to the new Sony Zeiss 50 1.4, that I found to be STUNNING (my review is here) and very Leica Summilux like in its rendering. I have the Sony Zeiss here for a few more days, so figured NOW WAS THE TIME to see for myself which lens I would prefer using on my Sony camera. You would assume that Sony would win but maybe not.

USER REVIEWS OF THE 50L AT B&H PHOTO LOOK GREAT!

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See, I always adored and loved the image quality of this Canon lens, and when it was in focus and “on”, it was truly “on”. It had a little bit of the Canon 85L mojo going on but was its own animal. Not many lenses are out there that can render quite like a Canon 85L 1.2. The 50 though, some do get close and some are sharper, but I have seen none that quite captures the color and realness of this lens…or the dreamy yet sharp quality it offers. The new Sony Zeiss 50 1.4, which to me renders quite a bit like a $4000 Leica 50 Summilux does offer a technically better performance but I sometimes like a lens that is not technically perfect. Sometimes I like a little glow as it reminds me of the old classic RF lenses that had glow and to me, that glow gave some of those old images character that is sometimes missing in modern day lenses.

Click them for larger…I love the Bokeh of the 50L when shot at f/1.2. It’s creamy and delicious

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The 50L Arrives…with Metabones MKIV Adapter

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So away I went…I managed to get a hold of a Canon 50 L 1.2 from LensRentals.com and when it arrived I was expecting this big, fat heavy lens. My memory from the early 2000’s was not very good obviously as when I opened the package I found the lens to be pretty small, when compared to the new Sony 50 1.4 that is. It was also lighter, and while it did not have a manual aperture dial (that is a huge plus on the Sony) it looked short, squat and even with the new Metabones MKIV Canon to E mount adapter, it was still smaller and lighter on the camera. My memory was telling me it was much bigger but I guess our memories can fade over several years, lol.

Now, I am sure many of you reading this, but not all, have experienced this lens at some point in your photographic life if you are a lover of fast prime lenses. Maybe it was one shot you took with it, maybe you owned it or maybe you just rented it like I did. Either way, after shooting with this lens over the past few days (and nights) I have found that this lens is SO MUCH more fun and easier to use on a Sony A7RII than the old Canon 5D I used to shoot with many years ago.

In fact, my 1st real test with it was when I attached the lens to my A7RII and away we went to shoot a local music performance at a VERY intimate venue that is always almost always near dark. Usually just one red light bulb in the back for light. I have shot in this room before with a Leica M 240 and it did not do so well due to the max ISO of 6400 (though I had a 50 APO f/2 at the time). I have shot with an A7S here and it did great. I shot with a Leica Monochrome, and it did good as well due to the higher ISO capability, shooting at 10k ISO. The A7RII and Canon did not even break an ISO sweat…

You have to click these to see them in good quality, as they will look bad if you do not 😉 

All shot at f/1.2 wide open – EXIF info is embedeed

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The A7RII with the Canon 50 L 1.2? It did so so so freaking good. Af was quick with the MKIV Metabones adapter (see the adapter details here), even in the lower light and I have no idea how that was happening as I assumed it would be dog slow or a failure in low light. So welcome surprise #1, it did wonderful as far as usability goes, even in lower light with the Metabones adapter. I mean, it was auto focusing in near darkness, which to me was amazing as the last time I tried this lens with an older adapter a year ago it focused slowly. The new Metabones adapter IV seems to be perfect with the lens.

My second welcome surprise was the IQ…just as I remembered it…beautiful. It has a way of rendering or drawing an image in a somewhat soft, yet sharp amazingly pleasing way. From the color, to the Bokeh to the detail at the focus point even when wide open, this lens delivers the goods better than it did on the old original Canon 5D and even the MKII version.

Wide open of course…

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To me, a lens like this is something you will either LOVE or HATE. Many out there hate fast primes like this as there are many photographers who just like shooting at f/2.8 or f/4 or even f/8 all the time. Then we have those who crave shallow DOF and unique rendering. It is my personal opinion that a lens like this is MADE and MEANT to be shot at f/1.2. Back in the old days of film, before digital, there was a different mindset. We bought lenses like this when we needed SPEED for low light situations. When using say Tri-X 400, we needed all of the speed we could get. When I say “speed” I do not mean Auto Focus speed, I mean the aperture. A fast aperture allows much more light to soak into the lens, allowing us to shoot at faster shutter speeds in low light with lower speed film.

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TODAY these lenses are mainly purchased by those who want the out of focus effects of an f/1.2 lens and we have so many to choose from these days. For the Sony A7RII I am shooting alone there are so many choices for 50mm, it is pretty crazy. We can use lenses from the 40’s through today all via adapters. So there is no shortage of 50mm choices. I like to break it down by the way they render, and for me, there are only a handful of fast 50’s that I truly adore for full frame..

  1. Leica 50 Summilux
  2. Leica 50 APO
  3. Leica 50 Noctilux
  4. Sony/Zeiss 50 1.4
  5. Canon 50 L 1.2
  6. Canon 50 0.95 Dream lens (only used sparingly though)
  7. Canon 50 1.4 Rangefinder Lens (vintage)

VS THE SONY/ZEISS 50 1.4

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So how does this lens compare to what I think is its main counterpart in the Sony world? Well, the Sony/Zeiss 50 1.4 which was released this year. The new Sony is gorgeous with a pro build, manual aperture dial, huge lens elements and a quality that to me, matched the Leica 50 Summilux lens. It’s crisp, has beautiful Bokeh and has NO glow but renders in a more correct way than this Canon. Even so, they are closer than one would expect. The Canon is basically a hair faster in aperture (f/1.2 vs f/1.4), will cost you $200 more over the Sony when you factor in the adapter, and is also smaller and lighter. The Canon will give you some slight ‘Glow” which is classic and looks nice, where the Sony will just deliver the goods in a very corrected and sharp yet beautiful way.

Here are a couple of comparison shots…

MUST click them to see them better!

1st up, the Canon 50 1.2L at 1.2 (EXIF will show f/1.3). Due to being slightly faster at f/1.2 your “Bokeh Balls” will be slightly larger with the Canon…

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The Sony/Zeiss will give you a more crisp and sharp image and different colors. I always thought the Canon had a pastel like color pallete many years ago. Look at the red Bokeh ball to the left of the Beer in both images. The Sony looks red, the Canon looks Magenta. Which is correct? The red. 

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So as you can see above, both of these lenses are beautiful and offers some slight character differences. Both auto focused about the same here, and the Canon, to me, is simply “gentler” and more dreamy but it’s slight.

How about this one? This will show the sharpness difference up close and personal with 100% crops…

I did this test three times to be sure but this is what you can expect in the sharpness dept from each lens…

The Canon at f/1.2 is softer than the Sony is when the Sony is at its widest Aperture of f/1.4. Click them to see the difference. It’s quite striking in the crop but when looked at as a whole the Canon just looks a tad dreamier..

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So you will not get biting crisp sharpness with the Canon at f/1.2 but you will get that biting sharpness with the Sony when wide open at f/1.4…

So at the end of the day, these two lenses are alike but very different. Depending on your tastes, wants, needs, desires and preferences you may prefer the Canon or the Sony/Zeiss. Again, the Canon is smaller, lighter (even with adapter) and focuses great on the A7RII with the MKIV Metabones Adapter. The Sony/Zeiss is a modern-day masterpiece of lens design but it is larger, it is heavier and it will give your arm a workout with an all day shoot. BUT it will also give you crisp snap and details, even when wide open at f/1.4. It seems Sony has finally figured out how  to get Leica quality though at a size disadvantage of course.

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I enjoyed shooting the Canon, and there were moments where I said “I will buy this lens”…and who knows, I may but I am not sure. Lately I have used some killer 50mm lenses. The Zeiss Otus 55, The new Sony 50 1.4, the Leica 50 APO…and now this Canon 50 1.2L, which is already a legendary lens.

If one wants a dreamy creamy rendering for their Sony A7 series body, the Canon 50 1.2 L is one of the best there is. Period. Where this lens can be preferred over the Sony is with portraits. Where the Sony will render with brutal honesty, exposing every pore, every flaw and every wrinkle the Canon will be kinder to your subjects and go a little bit softer on the lines, wrinkles and imperfections. For that reason, some may prefer the Canon for portraits. But with the Sony we get a more precise and sharp rendering along with the great creamy Bokeh and a Leica Summilux style of rendering with a crisp sharp subject and a creamy dreamy blown out background if shooting wide open. They are close in price, and in performance the Sony edges out the Canon for the detail wide open but the Canon is smaller, even with adapter attached and the Canon gives off some of that classic glow of lenses past.

The Canon 50 L f/1.2 is for those who are artistic, who enjoy uniqueness, who want something different from everyone else and who wants speed (aperture), some dreaminess and a solid well made piece of glass that really renders like no other. But perfect it is not.

Truth is, there is no perfect lens. Until the day comes where we have a 50mm lens with a few buttons on it that allows us to transform or mimic famous 50mm lenses, we may just have to be stuck buying them all, lol. 😉

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WHERE TO BUY?

You can buy the Canon 50 1.2 L at my recommended 100% awesome dealers below…price is $1349

B&H Photo

Amazon (PRIME)

You can buy the new Sony 50 1.4 as well:

B&H Photo

Amazon (PRIME)

A few more shots with the 50L and A7RII….

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34 Comments

  1. I have this lens and read the stories in the FM forums about poor focus and thought their issues were due to:
    1) not understanding the very narrow DoF
    2) taking photos in poor lighting is not an exact science. Try manual focus.

    My lens is a relatively recent make and the complaints in the FM forums abated somewhat and I wondered if Canon did a silent upgrade as I didn’t have any of the issues, I cannot duplicate the focus shift issue.
    I understadn the 85mm f/1.2L has a floating rear lens which is supposed to eliminate the focus shift problem, I read a rumor that the 50mm f/1.2L mk II might also get a floating rear element which will raise the price.

    I’m curious about the 50mm f/1.0L which people complained it didn’t focus very well and Canon took it off the market and you can get it on ebay for $4000.
    I wondered if the lens was just not used properly or did it suffer a laws of physics issue which Canon could not correct? I understand it doesn’t have the same coatings that modern lenses have.
    Canon probably didn’t want the bad press.

    What I like about the 50mm f/1.2L is that you need to develop some skill in using the lens and presumably more so for the f1.0 lens.

  2. Steve – Excellent and creative review. I’ve had the Sony/Zeiss Planar 50 1.4 for about three weeks and you’re right about 1) Leica-like quality (your earlier review was exciting and spot on), and 2) your arm gets a workout. Simultaneous to purchasing the Sony, I purchased a 1956 Leica Summilux 50 1.5 and confess that I was so emotionally smitten with the lens that I barely picked up the Sony. And then the other night at a dark restaurant with lots of low lights, I photographed my wife with the Sony/Zeiss and it was “like” WOW! Then we walked the next evening and again, I was photographing leaves just touched by evening light and the rendering was breath-taking. Fantastic lens.

  3. Steve,

    forget bitingly sharp. The picture you took of Debbie speaks for itself. Go buy this lens just for the family photos.

    Maybe it’s the composition of these photos (the venue?) but these are some of my favorites yet.. and all taken with the Canon. I’m getting one to complement the A7S that you sold me 🙂

    Adam

  4. The red color turned to magenta on the Canon lens… is that a required correction for a Canon sensor? May be worth testing? Or it is a requirement for the famous Canon skin color tone?

    • Different vibe with color and bokeh. Since I do not have the Mitakon any longer I can not say 100% what the difference would be though. Easier to nail focus with the AF Canon though. But each lens will give a different way of producing the scene. The Mitakon is solid but I think the Canon is a bit better.

  5. I would like to see the two lenses compared at 1.4 for sharpness.

    Also, it would be nice to see two shots with each lens at the same ISO and shutter speed photographed at 1.2 vs. 1.4 to see the real work light gathering differences. Is it really half a stop?

    • I did when it was released, did not care for it actually. Tried two copies as I thought something was wrong with the 1st one. I tested it with a Nikon Df at the time, so not sure if it was a camera issue or lens issue but found it to be a great lens, just nothing special. Maybe I will try again and test it on the Sony as it could have been a focus issue with the Df I was using, thank you 😉

      • Pls. do. You can just even use only a Nikon 50 1.8 G that cost around $200. Reviews for people like me with very tight budget. Keep shooting, thanks!

          • I Meant the $219., 50 1.8
            G not the $279.,50 1.8G kit lens of the DF. I’m sorry, I didn’t know the DF kit lens got that cheaper.

          • I’m actually waisting my time with this site, I have to realize that I won’t be able to reach financially to buy the lenses I’m reading here just starting looking at the prices, I stopped reading the names or brands and stopped also to read the benefits of the reviews.

    • 50/1.2AiS, still available new. Great for b&w film. Not sure what it would do on a high res sensor though. Flare/coating issues probably, plus the usual abberrations that lend it its special character.

    • Yep, Nikon 50/1.2 AiS is has the dreamiest look wide open in my opinion and it’s perfectly sharp at f4, even for todays standards. It’s a really great lens.

          • Well, what can I say… a pub friend allowed me to buy on employee terms… (Nikon Europe is located in Amsterdam).

            I think I tried it a few times on my D8xx, and thought 36Mp was too demanding in some light situations. I love it on my film cameras though, it’s on my F2 now, a roll of ORWO N74 (400/320 ISO 35mm movie stock) inside.

  6. Both great lenses and each with their own very particular characteristics and IQ character! Most importantly, great review and photos, Steve!

  7. I used the Sony 1.4 and found it too clinical and almost pixelated it was so sharp! It may be my imagination but I truly feel with so much emphasis on high ISO and sharpness, today’s camera sensors / lenses produce almost cartoon like rendering, very digital and and overly sharp. we are losing the soul of the image in our race for ‘perfection”.

  8. Steve,
    Great review. I like to shoot fast 50’s wide open. I heard that the electronic front curtain shutter can make the bokeh busy at high shutter speeds — which you sometimes end up with in good light and fast f-stops. Do you know about that? It doesn’t make obvious sense to me, but I admit that I don’t know the details of how that works. I definitely prefer the sound of the A7r2 w/ the electronic front curtain, but not at the expense of creamy bokeh. What’s the deal?

  9. But u left off the glorious unrivaled Nikon Nikkor 50 1.4 s. I think it’s the s true classic mutual 50

    Haha
    Love the 50’s
    And uuuu guys ie Steve and friends!

  10. “The lens soaked in all light and made it appear brighter than it was”

    It just means the camera overexposed for the scene. Which is fine if that is the effect that you want. A lens cannot create light. The amount of light (EV) is the same no matter what lens you use.

    • I never said the lens “created light” and no, it was not overexposure. Lenses like the Noctilux, this one, The new Sony and a few others do what this lens does, and that is SOAK IN all of the light it can and create an illusion that there was much more light than there really was. This does not happen with my f/2 lenses, or if I have not so fast primes attached. Images will always be dark and griity but with a great fast prime, such as this, even a teeny amount of light will do as the result will look as if you had much more light. But I never ever said the lens created light, I said it takes all the light it can (due to the fast aperture and huge element) and creates the image that appears to have more light than it did. Thank you.

  11. Hi Steve,
    I have this lens and use it on a 5D Mk III and on a Sony A7. To me it is really sharper on the Sony, even at F/1.2. I don’t use AF since the A7 and my adapter are too slow, but in manual focusing it works great. Even with moving subjects I can sometimes make great pictures with its unique rendering.
    I think it also have a wonderful bokeh at F/2 in close distance.
    Best regards.
    Stephane

    • the 50L requires a AFMA, most of the time on a DSLR, the Sony does not since it uses contrast detection so it’s more precise but a lot slower, the 50L on a DSLR requires 3 thing, never recompose/refocus/ always use a single point, I’ve had 3 copies of this lens since 2008 and never had any problems with it.

  12. Thanks for this detailed review. Even though i have the 50mm L I’m going to get the “little” 55mm for my A7rii. I’m slowly migrating over to Sony like everyone else !!

  13. Beautiful lens and great review Steve. I’ve had the pleasure of shooting both and agree with your findings.The Canon 50 at 1.2 is slightly softer than the Sony 50 1.4. Stop the canon down to F1.4 and the differences are like splitting hairs, the color on the canon also becomes slightly less pastel like.
    Both are phenomenal lenses but I’d personally put the 50 L 1.2 up with greats like the Summilux 50 1.4 in the unique rendering they provide.
    As an aside, I’ve also had the pleasure of shooting the 50 1.2 recently on the 1dx ii – focus shift is a thing of the past. Modern DSLR focussing is excellent and hasn’t been standing still! That combo is incredibly accurate and fast to focus.What was particularly interesting was shooting in liveview with the touch to focus and dual pixel focus – it was super fast even in low light. I”m glad to see traditional DSLR makers innovating again.

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