Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM review

If there was ever a lens in need of a revamp, it was this rather stripped-back golden-oldie of a nifty fifty…

(Image: © Future)

Digital Camera World Verdict

It’s a solid lens with a great history, but this one is badly in need of an update and a revamp. Autofocus accuracy is hit-or-miss, especially when using the lens wide open to its full shallow-depth-of-field potential. Sharpness is a little poor and there are some vignetting issues. There are a fair few things to like, such as full-time manual overdrive of autofocus, but overall this is a lens that has been outclassed by rivals and needs an update.


  • +

    Extremely lightweight build

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    Full-time manual focus override


  • -

    Significant autofocus issues

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    Vignetting and poor sharpness

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A real veteran in Canon’s line-up, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens is 25 years old. It’s only about half the physical length of competing Sigma and Zeiss 50mm lenses, and just a third of the weight. That’s naturally a good thing for all of us who don’t like being weighed down by big, heavy lenses. The downside is that the lens feels basic, and a lightweight in features and performance.

The fact that it’s a ‘USM’ lens might sound like good news, but autofocus is based on an ultrasonic motor rather than being a ring-type system. It’s certainly not as quick or as whisper-quiet as the AF systems in many comparable lenses. On a plus point, this lens is unusual for a Micro USM system, in that it features full-time manual overdrive of autofocus.

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Matthew Richards

Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist who has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners! 

His expertise with equipment doesn’t end there, though. He is also an encyclopedia  when it comes to all manner of cameras, camera holsters and bags, flashguns, tripods and heads, printers, papers and inks, and just about anything imaging-related. 

In an earlier life he was a broadcast engineer at the BBC, as well as a former editor of PC Guide.