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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes and a half.
November/2014 - The 50mm f/1.2L USM is the rich kid on Canon’s large aperture standard prime lineup, genuinely EF with auto focus and electronic aperture.But as it is the only AF f/1.2 50mm on the market, it’s typically Canon to leave it standing in time. And it stood still on the optical department. Considering its four-times-price-tag over the f/1.4 USM, one would expect it to offer significantly higher image performance. But that doesn’t happen and on virtually every aperture, the f/1.4 actually beats the f/1.2L in resolution and sharpness overall. The L series has a much smoother bokeh and saturated colours, for more pleasing photos. But optically I’ve got to admit: it should deliver something more. It got on vlog do zack because I need its build and silent AF, and indeed it’s my most used 50mm on the kit. Is it for you? Let’s find out! Happy reading!
At 590g of 8 elements in 6 groups, the f/1.2L USM is toughest 50mm I’ve ever used. It is big and heavy, helping with the solid feel. It is also thicker than longer, balancing well with any camera, not front heavy like newer models. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM, with its larger than life glasses pushes even the giant D800E to the front, while the Canon f/1.2L feels right with most cameras.
Its design is simple with an internal AF mechanism, making it very durable. It just won’t misalign with everyday usage. On the outside, the single AF/MF switch controls the USM system, and the manual focusing ring is very well damped, with no play and full time manual. The distance window shows feet and meter markings, with hyper focal distances from f/8 to f/16. It’s a classic Canon L design between the 35mm f/1.4L USM, with metal bits, and the plastic EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM.
Inside, the ultrasonic motor is fast and silent, something new the f/1.2L brought to substitute the legendary 50mm f/1L. That was a fly-by-wire design similar to the present EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, with slow AF due to the large aperture precision, unable to satisfy photojournalists. The current 50mm f/1.2 AF is quicker and precise, especially using the center point on any EOS camera. Practically all my EOS 5D Mark II photo are tack sharp, even on street photography candids. And it is one of the most quiet USM implementations on the Canon EF lineup.
At the front, Canon recommends adding a ø72mm filter to complete the weather sealing as there is a gap between the tube and barrel. And the metal mount features a rubber gasket to protect the lens from water and dust. I didn’t actually find any information whether the MF ring and AF switch are sealed as well. But it is one of the toughest lens around and a pleasure to use.
With an optical formula based on a double-Gauss design with a high precision aspherical element (due to its size), the 50mm f/1.2L USM delivers the same performance of other EF fifties. The 50mm f/1.4 USM uses the exactly same formula minus the aspherical element; even the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.4G share this design; all double-Gauss.
Not the 50mm f/1.2L USM is useless, far from that. If your life depends on this focal length, it doesn’t get much better than this on Canon’s lineup. And near the f/1.8 and f/2 apertures, the resolution is excellent around the frame, with excellent sharpness and no blooming. You can enhance the contrast levels on software and saturate the colours even further, for a visibly better IQ that the f/1.4 and f/1.8 dull photos. And at f/8 it is perfect with any Canon sensor. The 50mm are not hard to produce with excellent image quality, so the results are impressive.
The depth of field wide open is a few millimetres deep, for a pronounced out of focus background, probably the reason you would purchase this lens. You can set the focus on your subject eyes and its nose and ears will be blurred away, for very intimate photos, hiding some skin imperfections and making it easy to post process portraits. Together with the 85mm f/1.2L II USM, the files are unique, hard to do anywhere else, as the f/1.4 lenses are just not on the same league artistically.
Lateral and axial chromatic aberrations are exceptionally well controlled. The background needs a lot of contrast to cause any trouble and it handles purple fringes much better than the 85mm f/1.2L II USM, as its smaller glass pieces are less prone to CAs. But there’s a visible change of colour on black on white elements under too much light. The geometry is perfect on the whole focusing range and rectangular objects doesn’t get oval, different from zoom lenses. Even the vignetting is modest at any setting, including wide open, at least on mundane shots, on an every day basis.
I have to admit my photo database doesn’t really explore large aperture lenses. Most of my street photos are at f/2.8 and up, and under this situation, the fast focusing, weather sealing and great bokeh are much more important that some tiny optical flaws. But considering its results after printing, the EF 50mm f/1.2L USM really excels artistically and shows why it’s still on my kit: great photos. It’s one of the best Canon’s L lens for smooth street photography with full frame cameras.
The 50mm f/1.2L USM is part of Canon’s professional L series and delivers a high end build that will be much appreciated by those who work on an everyday basis. It’s much more reliable than other EF 50’s, weather sealed, with a ring type USM, an optically excels on shallow depth of field files. But its price takes it away from most photographers, and it is just not worth it if you don’t need a tank with your camera. Either way, the L series is the best Canon has to offer. Nice shooting!