When I wanted to buy my first prime lens, the 50mm was a no-brainer for me. A great photographer I know gave me this advice: take whatever zoom lens you have and set it at a focal length (20mm, 50mm, 85mm – whatever) and don’t touch it. Don’t zoom in and out just move around and pretend that it’s a fixed lens. When you find the focal length on your zoom which you feel comfortable using, then you’ll know what length prime lens you’re after.
So I did that and 50mm was the magic number. Now I had 3 choices:
- The 50mm f/1.8 also known as the ‘nifty fifty’. Price: £85
- The 50mm f/1.4. Price: £282
- The 50mm f/1.2 (L series). Price: £1200
Being that I didn’t understand the difference between these three lenses, I opted for the cheapest one. I thought ‘what difference could one f-stop really make? Is it worth an extra thousand pounds?’. The answer is a resounding ‘YES’. And it’s not the one-extra f-stop you’re paying for when you’re talking the difference between the 1.8 and 1.4. It’s glass quality, optics, mechanics, build – everything!
When I first got the 50mm f/1.8, I Hated it with a capital H. It was clunky, loud, constantly refocusing. I just didn’t want that thing on my camera. So I returned it and bought the 50mm f/1.4 and it is a dream compared to the 1.8. It’s sturdier, nice and heavy and super fast at focusing. Not to mention sharp as a tack. A few months ago, I took the dive into the 50mm f/1.2 and -gosh- it just keeps getting better! It’s like seeing for the first time! I didn’t think it could possibly get better than the 1.4!
So tonight, I was trolling the Clickin Moms forum and caught this great shot from photographer Karly Campbell to show the difference between the image quality of the 1.8 and 1.4 Nikon versions. I think this is an excellent visualization to show you the difference in lens quality as you climb up the price scale:
You can see that the image quality is much better with the 1.4, but what’s the physical difference between these two lenses?
- Motors – The 1.8 has a micromotor while the 1.4 employs a USM (ultrasonic motor). The micromotor is the older/slower/noisier type of focusing motor from Canon and, therefore, cheaper. f/1.4 versus f/1.8 – The smaller the f/number, the more open the aperture. The more open the aperture, the more shallow your depth of field will be. Thus, the background will be more soft and blurry at smaller f/stop numbers. And this also lends to more beautiful bokeh.
- More aperture blades – The 1.8 has a 5-blade aperture diaphragm while the 1.4 lens has 8 blades. This means a couple things. Light bokeh produced by the 5 blade diaphragm will be the shape of a pentagon because of the shape of the diaphragm being a pentagon. With 8 blades, bokeh will be more circular as seen in the first set of photos on this site I found tolling the web for info.
- Weight – 1.8 is 130g while the 1.4 is a nice hefty 290g
Clearly, there are so many things people can say when comparing lenses. Colour quality, sharpness, etc. and it’s a no brainer that the more you spend on a lens, the better quality all of these things will be. If you’re a newbie, don’t be afraid to spend more on a lens. Lenses aren’t like shoes where UGGs cost a million times more than Rocket Dogs just because they’re a popular ‘look-at-me-I’m-cool’ item. You really are getting more for your money when you spend more on a camera lens.