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Canon 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8 Comparison

Canon has an excellent range of prime lenses. This includes ultra-powerful L-series models, but there is also a great choice of standard prime lenses that still give fantastic image quality. One such prime lens is the Canon 50mm lens. There are two variations of this lens and in this guide, we look at the Canon 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8 models.

The difference in aperture may seem minimal, but this comparison looks at all aspects of the lenses. We look at the full range of technical specifications, build quality, AF system, and overall photo quality. That way, you can have a clear idea of which lens is suitable for you.

Why is the 50mm Lens a Good Choice?

First, let’s quickly look at the 50mm lens category. Why is this such a popular focal distance? Throughout the history of film and digital cameras, the 50mm lens choice has been a constant – it has always been there, and it remains one of the top choices today.

A 50mm focal length provides an excellent balance. It could be classed as a great “all-round” lens. It sits right in the middle between wide-angle, and telephoto. At 35mm, you have a much wider lens, whereas, at 70mm, you are zooming-in further. 50mm sits comfortably in the middle and provides a unique style of composition.

A 50mm focal length is also generally compared to what our naked eye can see. This means that 50mm compositions are natural and have a familiar feeling. It is a great beginner lens and can be used for a variety of photography styles and genres including portraits.

Canon 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8 Comparison Breakdown

Now that you can see the benefits of a 50mm focal distance, we can look at the comparison of the Canon 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8. These are two relatively affordable lenses, and both could make an excellent choice for beginners. But how do they compare and is one better than the other? Take a look at this comparison to find out!

Technical Specifications

First, let’s look at the technical specifications. You can find full details of both lenses via the official Canon store, but we have given a breakdown of their main features below:

ItemCanon EF 50mm f/1.4 USMCanon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM
Weight290g160g
Dimensions78.8 x 50.5mm69.2 x 39.3mm
Aperture Rangef/1.4 – f/22f/1.8 – f/22
Closest Focusing Distance0.45m0.35m
Maximum Magnification0.15x0.21x
AF SystemMicro USMSTM
Filter Diameter58mm49mm

Notable differences are the overall weight and dimensions. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is much lighter and smaller than the f/1.4. This could make it a better option as a travel lens.

Also, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM has a closer focusing distance. It is marginal at 10cm, but could make a difference, especially when shooting at close objects. As the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM is larger, it also has a larger filter diameter of 58mm.

Build Quality & Design

The build quality of both lenses is inferior when compared to Canon L-series lenses but even so, these lenses will still withstand a fair amount of rough and tumble–both lenses are predominantly made from a durable plastic casing.

Both lenses have a metal lens mount which provides a more secure connection with your camera. In some cases, you might find a plastic lens mount, though this is rare.

Overall, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM has a slightly better design and build quality. It feels more robust when holding it, and it also benefits from a focus display indicator on the manual focus ring. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is still a decent quality lens, but it does feel cheaper than the f/1.4.

Autofocusing System

Both lenses feature a simple switch that allows you to change between AF and MF. The f/1.4 has Canon’s ultrasonic motor for autofocusing, whereas the f/1.8 has the stepping motor autofocusing system.

Overall, the USM motor is considered the better choice for professional photography, whereas the STM motor is cheaper and is better suited for videography. Both autofocusing systems feature virtually silent operation for autofocusing, but the STM motor is not silent for manual focusing.

For the Canon 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8 comparison, the f/1.4 does feature a better autofocusing system. But the STM system is still effective, and it doesn’t mean you will struggle to focus when taking photos.

Photo Quality

Finally, and most importantly, we must look at the photo quality.

The main difference between the Canon 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8 is the aperture. Obviously, the f/1.4 offers superior control over depth of field. When shooting at f/1.4, your images will look stunning and you can create some artistic, professional-grade shots.

At f/1.8, in reality, you can do most of what you can at f/1.4. You just can’t quite achieve the same end results. Compared to some other lenses, the f/1.8 aperture is still a huge advantage, as many lenses only provide a maximum aperture of f/2 or higher.

In terms of overall quality and sharpness, again the f/1.4 has the advantage. It providers greater sharpness from your images, and when looking at the fine detail, you can notice the difference. Again, the f/1.8 still produces fantastic quality images, but the f/1.4 is superior in terms of raw quality.

Which is the Better Choice – Canon 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8?

So which is the better option when it comes to the Canon 50mm 1.4 vs 1.8? We have provided a summary of each lens below, together with their relative pros and cons:

Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM

The Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM is an excellent lens. Its main downside is that it is over double the price of the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM. However, if you can afford this, and are serious about your photography, the extra price tag is definitely worth it.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Standard and Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras,...
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

With a maximum aperture of f/1.4, you are given greater control over depth of field, and you can create stunning images that clearly separate the subject from the background. It also benefits from the better quality USM autofocusing motor.

Greater maximum aperture
Better control over depth of field
Produces sharper images
Slightly heavier and bulkier
Further closest focusing distance

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Best choice for professional photographers

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM offers superior quality and a better autofocusing motor.

Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM

The Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM is also a great lens. It does not provide the same quality as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, but for a starter lens, it is a great choice. If you want a cheap lens that allows you to experiment with depth of field, this is a good option.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

At f/1.8 you still have excellent control over depth of field, and the images are still sharp. The STM autofocusing system is also effective, but it is much louder than the USM system on the f/1.4. This lens could also be considered the better option for travel, as it is slightly smaller and lighter.

Lighter and smaller build
Much cheaper
Louder autofocusing system
Not as sharp as the f/1.4

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

Best choice for beginners

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM still offers great quality, but its affordable price make it the better choice for beginners.


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