Canon 50 1.4 or 50 1.2 (1 of 4)

The Canon 50mm f1.2 (above right) is a beautiful (and massive) piece of glass. Weighing in at about 1.3 pounds (590 g), this monster of a prime is a nice piece of kit. The 50 f1.2 is fully weather sealed with a solid metal housing and sports the smooth action of a large focus ring. It’s 8-blade circular aperture creates very attractive bokeh with smooth rounded edges in out focus areas and it’s generally an enjoyable lens to use.

On the other hand the Canon 50mm f1.4 (above right), which looks emaciated by comparison, weighs in at .63 pounds (290 G). It’s build materials are mostly plastic and the feeling that you get when holding this lens in your hand is that it’s adequate. While the focus ring supports FTM (Full time manual focus), the action of the focus ring feels a bit jerky in comparison. Bokeh is a little bit jagged, but overall it looks decent in most cases. Focus speeds and focus motor noise fall into the same category for me as the 50mm f1.2 and over all the 50mm f1.4 can create some great images.

Canon 50 1.4 or 50 1.2 (3 of 4)

Optically, both the 50mm f1.4 and 50mm f1.2 are more similar than different. Between f1.2 and f2 the Canon 50mm f1.2 has always seemed a little sharper to my eye, but beyond that things start to even out. Some feel that the 50mm f1.4 actually outperforms the 50mm f1.2 at f2.8 and above, but to me the difference is hard to spot in real world use.

Despite the difference in build quality and size, to me the biggest difference between the 50mm f1.4 and 50mm f1.2 is actually price. At around $1400 new and $1000 used, the Canon 50mm f1.2 will take a pretty big bite out of your budget while only offering a small improvement in image quality. By contrast the 50mm f1.4 provides a lot of value for $400 and the $1000 in savings makes it’s short comings look much more forgivable.

Canon 50 1.4 or 50 1.2 (2 of 4)

Despite the price difference, both of these lenses have their place. Years back I purchased the Canon 50mm f1.2 for it’s creamy bokeh and excellent low light performance.  However, I held onto the Canon 50mm f1.4 for it’s lightweight design and less conspicuous nature. After all, nothing screams “Mugging” like a large red ring on the front of your lens, occasionally my work does take me to seeder neighborhoods.

I still love the 50mm f1.2, but if i’m planning to be on my feet all day or need to travel light, I generally pack the 50mm f1.4. A 5d mark III body already weighs about 2 pounds (860 g) and adding another 1.3 pounds to it can really wear out your neck and arms. I’ve even been toying with the idea of a 6d/50 f1.4 combo as my go to travel camera, just to save on weight and space requirements.

Canon 50 1.4 or 50 1.2 (4 of 4)

Depending on your budget and needs, I think many people will be more than satisfied with the value the 50mm f1.4 provides. However there are good reasons to spend the extra on the f1.2 as well. Before you buy either lens, take a look at what you already have, figure out what your total budget will be, and decide where best to spend those equipment dollars. After all $1000 could go a long way when buying audio gear, rigs, and so on.

If you’re still on the fence, you might want to consider renting each lens in order to determine which you think is the better fit. With these two lenses it usually boils down to size and price, but there could always be other factors that sway you in one direction or the other.

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