When I bought my Canon 60D two years ago, it was a compromise between the more pocket-friendly Rebel T2i and the pricier semi-pro 7D. I knew I was going to use the camera for videography (mostly people) and I also knew I didn’t want the kit lens.
After lots of research and deciding on a budget for my first DSLR lens, I chose the most versatile glass I could afford – the Canon 50mm 1.4. I have never regretted my decision – everything I shoot is extra vibrant with that sought-after “rubbing the fog out of my eyes… every 30 seconds… forever” look.
Low light is perhaps the area that I appreciate this lens the most. Most lenses deliver a crisp picture outdoors in daylight, but once you begin moving indoors into poorly-lit spaces or into the night, you can forget about it – particularly if you are using your DSLR for HD video. An aperture of 1.4 allows this lens to deliver the same smooth image in poor light as it does in well-lit situations, which is more than I can say for my 10-22mm 3.5-5.6 wide angle Canon lens, and other zoom lenses i’ve tried (including the L Series 70-200mm 2.4). Though it’s more of a hassle to work with several prime lenses (prime meaning one set focal length, such as 50mm) rather than one or two zooms, there is a clear difference in image quality. It’s more noticeable in HD video than in photography, because you not only see the noise/grain, but it becomes animated as the grain changes from frame to frame. DO NOT WANT.
Depth of Field
I love the look of shallow depth of field. I think most people who have been raised on cinematic film can recognize the added magical quality of a shallow depth of field. Setting the aperture between the 1.4 and 3.5 range on this lens creates a stunning image with beautiful bokeh – an image you can get excited about. Shooting in this range allows you to easily transition in and out of focus, or to shift focus from one plane to another in a smooth, artistic movement. This lens helps me achieve that gorgeous indie/artsy look that seems to be “en vogue” for DSLR shooters – and with good reason! A shallow depth of field is mandatory to blur away unimportant, busy or plain unattractive backgrounds (or foregrounds), and helps keep the focus of the viewer where you want it. One issue with the lens wide open at 1.4 – 1.8, your focal point becomes rather small – which makes the lens quite “soft” in this range. This means you won’t be able to get something like a person’s entire face in focus at this aperature.
So crispy. So clean. Unless I have to bump the ISO above my comfort level (800), this lens produces a very smooth, consistent image in HD video mode. There are work-arounds for grainy images in post-production, but it’s never going to be the same as capturing a clean image in the first place. This lens definitely delivers for me.
Image Fidelity on X & Y Axes
What did I just attempt to convey there? Well mainly that this 50mm focal length captures images whose vertical and horizontal proportions look right. Have you ever tried to capture a huge, stunning vista with a wide lens? And the resulting image is crushed vertically (for example a cliff-face becomes a small rocky hill) or the horizontal lines begin to warp at the edges? Wide angle lenses have their applications, as do telephoto – but 50mm sits in the “normal” focal length range, meaning its field of view is close to what you’re observing with your eye. My main subjects tend to be people and I find this focal length is ideal for “entering” the human world contained in the film, or connecting with what my subjects are emoting.
And that’s why I always keep this delightful little lens on hand for videography (AND photography) work.