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. Granted, they’re not Canon lenses but 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 a million times 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.