LENS review: Canon EF

50 mm f/1.8 STM

Today I’m sharing my thoughts about and experiences with the “Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 STM” lens designed for Canon’s EF-mount cameras. As with all EF lenses, it’s also compatible with EF-S mount APS-C Canon DSLRs and various mirrorless cameras by way of an appropriate adapter. Given that many of the established review sites/blogs already cover the technical specifications of this lens in great detail, and that I had limited time  with this lens before finally passing it on, this review will be brief and cover my limited experience with the lens.

Table of Contents

introduction

The Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 STM is the latest revision of the “nifty fifty” archetype in Canon’s lens lineup[1]. It represents an affordable option for portrait shooting to Canon APS-C shooters, and an equally affordable “standard” lens for those shooting EF full-frame cameras. After recently purchasing a Mamiya RB67 and talking about the cost of feeding her with film, my supervisor graciously gifted me his Canon EOS 3000n 35 mm film SLR so that I could shoot film in a more affordable manner. Thanks, boss!  I purchased this lens as a belated birthday present for a close friend of mine, but due to COVID-19 there was a long delay before I could meet with him, so I decided to get some experience with it myself. Additionally, I already own the Fringer EF-FX Pro II adapter, allowing me to mount it to my Fujifilm X-T3. I paid just €70 for the lens in excellent condition. I also want to add that I had an SD card die while shooting with this lens on the X-T3, so I have fewer digital images to share than I’d like.

Build Quality & Design

While this is my first time using a Canon lens, I have a decent sense of what a “good” lens is. The lens is built reasonably well, being based on a metal lens mount with an otherwise plastic construction. It doesn’t feel poorly-built, and definitely represents a step up from the likes of the EF-S 18-55 mm STM and 55-250 mm STM “kit” lenses, but I’d say you’re definitely getting what you pay for in this regard. 

My freshly-cleaned kit before a day trip to Dun Laoighre

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 16-55 mm f/2.8 WR @ 27 mm, ISO 250, 1/2.5, f/5.6

Size & Handling

This lens is compact and handles well. Compared to the Nikon AF-S 50 mm f/1.8 G, this lens is smaller, lighter, and focuses faster, but has a narrower focusing ring which is subjectively tougher to grip. The inner barrel extends further forward from the front of the lens as you focus closer from infinity, which is typical.

The shutter release lock is unlocked here, indicated by the dial pointing to the white dot

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 50-140 mm f/2.8 WR @ 140 mm, ISO 200, 1/80, f/3.2

Focusing

Equipped with Canon’s STM stepping motor, focusing is fast and reasonably quiet. It isn’t silent so it would be audible when shooting video.

Focus Ring

As with most STM lenses, and many modern lenses in general, manual focusing is “by wire”, so the focus ring doesn’t do anything when the camera is powered off. This can be annoying if the lens’ inner barrel isn’t retracted before removing the lens from the camera. I use a small bag (ThinkTank Mirrorless Mover 25i) so space matters; “collapsing” the lens by refocusing towards infinity adds an extra step to the process of removing it from a camera.

My RB67 with the bellows extended somewhat - the lens is focused to ~1 m

Fujifilm X-T3 & Fujifilm 50-140 mm f/2.8 WR @ 140 mm, ISO 200, 1/80, f/3.2

Minimum Focus Distance

This lens’ minimum focusing distance (MFD) is perfectly average for a lens of this type, i.e. decent but far from being a macro lens. Nicely out-of-focus backgrounds can be obtained at MFD, even when stopped down a bit for extra depth of field.

Autofocus Speed & Accuracy

On the Canon EOS 3000n, focusing is slow but appears to be perfectly accurate. I attribute the slow speed to the camera as when using the lens on my X-T3, autofocus is snappy and still extremely accurate.

Image Quality

This portion of the review is based on my experience using the lens adapted to my Fujifilm X-T3, though shots taken on film are also included.

 

Sharpness

The first thing I have to note is that this copy of the lens was not perfectly centered. While this is common, most people don’t test their lenses for centering and field curvature. Given the below average price of this copy in the current local market, I made sure to test the centering before purchasing. This copy is slightly softer on the left side of the frame than it is on the right side at f/1.8. The left side of the frame sharpens up significantly by just stopping down to f/2, and by f/2.8 sharpness appears even across the frame. 

Now, moving on from the centering, the lens is generally very sharp from f/2.8 onwards, and sharp across the frame from f/4. It’s not the sharpest lens ever but I have no qualms with this lens’ performance.

Vignetting

The lens vignettes quite noticeably at f/1.8, even when adapted to the APS-C X-T3, so I imagine it’s much more severe on a full-frame camera. This is an average performance within this lens class.

Chromatic Aberration & Distortion

My copy of the lens appears to suffer from relatively heavy CA wide open, but it is almost completely eliminated on stopping down to just f/2.8. This is an average performance within this lens class.

Bokeh

One of the prime (heh, hehehe) benefits of a nifty fifty lens is that fast f/1.8 maximum aperture. This allows for vast creative possibilities when it comes to subject isolation. The average MFD also allows for decent separation of subjects close to the lens even when stopped down, and the rounded aperture blades certainly help in this regard. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the RB67 is exactly what people describe it as: huge, with quality to match. The body is built like a tank, and the lens performs excellently except when shooting wide open at short focusing distances. I find the quality coming from both 6x7 and 645 negatives to be very impressive, depending on film stock and scanning process. I do not regret purchasing it whatsoever and am happy to count myself in the ranks of modern film photographers. Film photography is a unique experience and the RB67 threw me in the deep end, for sure. Using this camera has proven to be a wonderful experience so far and I firmly feel that it has forced me to grow in my approach to photography, which is more than I ever could have asked. With an occasional CLA I believe this camera will last me decades. Its solid construction - apart from the bellows - is generally very reassuring when I think about the longevity of the camera.

Gallery

A selection of additional images taken with this lens/camera combo can be found below.[3] Links to full-resolution files will be added at a later date.

Notes

[1]A nifty fifty is a 50 mm prime lens, typically with a maximum aperture of f/2 or faster. They are often extremely affordable due to their simple optical formulae and consumer-grade build quality.

About The Author

My name is Alex and I took up photography at the age of 15 using my Fujifilm Finepix J27 point-and-shoot. I spent many years as a Nikon shooter (D90, D610, D750, various primes and zooms) before moving to the Fujifilm mirrorless ecosystem in early 2019. In early 2020 I dipped my toes into film photography for the first time and was instantly hooked!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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