For a while now Megan has been asking me to write about our lens. I’ve been extremely busy lately, and regretfully haven’t got around to it until now. Below I’ll discuss the pros and cons of the lens from my point of view.
First off, it’s a Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM lens. Let’s break down what all that means really quickly, so you know where we’re at (in case you are not a photographer). The first part is pretty obvious, Canon made it. Next is the “EF” part, which indicates this lens uses Canon’s “Electro-Focus” which was introduced in 1987. The next part identifies it’s range of 50mm. Notice, there is no ‘-’ in this (ex: 17-85mm), because this is a “prime” lens meaning there is no zoom. (yep, first con already mentioned). The next number is the f-stop, which is 1.4. We’ll get into this later, but basically 1.4 is awesome. Finally, USM, indicating it has an UltraSonicMotor for autofocusing (super fast).
So, why is it so awesome? Well, the main thing here is the f/1.4. This is a great feature to have when there is low lighting available. To understand this, I’ll give you my famous explanation/analogy of f-stop and shutter speed that nearly everyone understands. It will help you with all of those scary Manual settings.
Imagine it is cold outside… freezing cold. You need to open the front door to let the dog in. The cold air comes into the house, you feel the cold, and shut the door really quick. In this scenario, your house is the camera body, you are the camera sensor, your sensitivity to the weather is the ISO, the cold air is the light, the door is the aperture, and the length of time the door is open is the shutter speed.
So, if you leave the door open, you let in a ton of light. This is what happens when you have a long shutter speed. But a small door (high f-stop) will not let in as much light as a big door (low f-stop). So when I say my lens has a 1.4, that’s close to the biggest door possible (f/1). In other words, my door is slightly smaller than the biggest door they make.
To continue the analogy, if you have a low light situation, you need to leave the door open longer to capture enough cold air (light). But when you leave the door open for a long time, you introduce blur and “camera-shake”. This is why low lighting is so difficult to shoot in. But, if you use a really big “door” (a really low f-stop) you can capture more light at once. This means you don’t have to leave the front door open as long, but you’ll still be able to capture enough light for a good photo. And there you have it… this is why a low f-stop is so critical in low-light settings. Because it allows you to speed up your shutter and still capture enough light so as not to have crappy blurry photos.
The f-stop is clearly the numero uno in terms of positives for this lens. You’ll find that it is pretty common for prime (no zoom) lenses to have lower f-stops than your zoom lenses. You don’t need the super nice ones either… This lens is moderately priced at around $350, which I’d call a positive for the lens. A low f-stop allows you to take great photos with less available light. The photo above (of a puppet made by our friend Puppet Nico was taken indoors at night, but you’d never be able to tell!
We love documenting our life with everyday photos, so we take a lot of photos with unnatural light indoors. So the low f-stop was super important to us!
This low f-stop for a low price comes with a definite cost! That cost is the ability to zoom. What’s worse, is with a 50mm lens on a crop frame camera (the type of camera I have), the 50mm ends up being more like 80mm. To get the photo of the bookshelf above, Megan was standing 12 feet away from the bookshelf, and she still couldn’t fit the whole bookshelf into the frame. We’ll never be able to get good room photos of home decor with this lens, because you can’t get far enough away.
Finally, the USM. The USM focusing on the camera is really a nice feature to have. A lot of Canon’s lenes have this, and it makes quick action shots a lot easier to get. All this really does is allow you to focus the lens (auto focus) very quickly. Which is important if you’ve got a crazy toddler baby man running amok. And it does this extremely quietly as well, which is nice when you’re shooting a wedding, or other quite event where you want to make as little noise as possible.
We’re totally in love with our lens, but we’re still saving our pennies to grab up a lens that has more of a zoom so our photography has more versatility.
What do you shoot with?