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I'm purchasing my first DSLR camera (Canon 80D) in a few weeks. I want to use it mostly for portraits, landscapes, travel/nightlife shots. I've come across the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L, and wanted to know if it's a good lens for those kinds of shots.

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    Why not try the 1.4 Version for starters? It's only a fraction of the price – Alexander von Wernherr Feb 28 at 7:57
  • Is that an aspherical lens? If you want to use it for night photography, that makes quite a difference in how it will behave wide open... – rackandboneman Feb 28 at 9:45
  • Have you considered mirrorless? – xiota Feb 28 at 11:09
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    Or even the 2.8. The included kit lens is always a good starter point, then you explore other options to fit your informed needs. Faster lens are nice (#bokeh), but are also tricky to use and might not behave as you expect them to: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/105445/… . An expensive tool is probably a well build tool, but not necessarily the right tool for the job. – Fábio Dias Feb 28 at 17:07
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    I think it is an excellent lens for portrait, travel and low light photography. It is usually the only one I bring when I go sightseeing. Not so good landscape though, and 1.2 seems overkill, both in price and weight. – Orbit Mar 4 at 12:19
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Beyond the fact that any 50mm is probably too long for a single lens solution on an APS-C camera for landscape and travel photography:

The EF 50mm f/1.2 L is designed for a very specific purpose: taking wide aperture portraits. That's about all it is really optimized to do very well. Some of the design decisions made to achieve this goal makes it unsuitable for tasks that even much less expensive 50mm prime lenses can do better.

For example, the modest EF 50mm f/1.4 is probably a better lens to use for landscapes at medium apertures of around f/8. So is the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM! If you can find one, the discontinued EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro would be much better suited for doing art or document reproduction work for flat objects (or for shooting flat test charts at short distances).

This is because the simple double Gauss design upon which the f/1.2 L is based leaves much of the lens' field curvature uncorrected. This causes the lens to render a curved field of focus. It also allows the lens to render very smooth out of focus areas, particularly out of focus highlights. That's where this lens shines and why many portraitists are willing to pay the asking price for it.

Even though it is a fairly expensive lens, that does not mean it is "better" than any other less expensive 50mm lens for every single purpose to which one might want to use a 50mm lens. In this case, it means it is a specialized tool that many seasoned photographers have trouble learning how to use effectively.

If the EF 50mm f/1.2 L were a car, it would be an exotic sports car with a non-synchronized manual shift transmission and very unforgiving "race tuned" suspension. It's great for going very fast in the hands of an expert at the track. But a Toyota Corolla is better suited to driving in stop-and-go city traffic.

  • "8 elements, 6 groups, including one glass molded (GMo) aspherical element. The lens has a floating design with which the lens adjusts itself to optimize correction as it's focused." (Ken Rockwell) ... talking about two different lenses, or NOT "simple double gauss"? – rackandboneman Apr 1 at 19:33
  • You are correct, it's not a simple six-element double Gauss (Gauss is a proper name). But even with the floating aspherical lens at the very back, the design acts very much like one. The first three elements are pretty much the same as the first three elements of a double Gauss. The next four element in two groups fulfill the same function of the fourth and fifth elements. The role of the floating aspherical element at the rear is to correct for chromatic aberration at all focus distances. – Michael C Apr 1 at 22:32
  • Compare the block diagram above to this double Gauss block diagram. See also Designing a Double-Gauss lens, the hard way – Michael C Apr 1 at 22:36
  • See also Roger Cicala's lens rentals blog entry Lens Genealogy Part 1 where he lists the Canon 50/1.2L as a modern double Gauss design. – Michael C Apr 1 at 22:43
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    It's been fairly well documented by multiple reviewers/testors that the 50/1.2 is not a good astro lens for precisely that reason. – Michael C Apr 3 at 8:17
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I'm using a Canon 80D aswell, bought the 50mm 1.8 and found it way to narrow almost every time. I recently got the sigma 18-35mm 1.8 and it's my go to lens now. I would advise you to buy cheaper lenses first to figure out what you want and need. The Canon 24mm 2.8 is another really nice (and sharp) lens which is awesome because of its size.
There are so many good options out there and a variety of cheaper lenses is in my eyes much better than one really expensive one (especially with your first DSLR).

  • +1 for the EFS 24mm 2.8, awesome and cheap lens. 1k$ + lens are for people that know exactly what they want and need. Unless you have money to burn (In which case I'm not sure you would be buying a 80D... did you see the new a7R III?) – Fábio Dias Feb 28 at 17:05
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If you have to ask if it's the right lens for you, it probably isn't. I know a lot of tutorial articles and videos on youtube will talk up a 50mm prime like it's the greatest thing ever, but they're generally talking about on a full frame sensor, and even then, it is very limiting if it's your only lens.

You certainly will have a very tough time with landscapes and travel shots if that's all you have in your bag.

The 80D comes with a choice of kit lenses, and either would be a better option for your needs, at least to start. The 18-135 is pretty fantastic imo, autofocus with it performs great and it covers a focal range that will satisfy almost all of your needs and is very well suited to travel photography.

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The characteristic likely to cause problems is the focal length. Consider using an inexpensive Nifty Fifty (50/1.8) to determine whether the focal length will work for you. A "normal" lens, 28-35mm on crop sensor, will tend to be more useful.

With respect to a 50/1.2 lens on a crop-sensor body:

  • Portraits. It should work well. Images will look similar to those taken with a 80/2 lens on a FF camera.

  • Landscapes. Probably will not work too well. A wide-normal lens would work better. (18-28mm)

  • Travel/Nightlife. It could work. But a normal lens (28-35mm) would likely be more useful. Depends on your personal preferences.

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It’ll work, but it won’t be the most flexible combination and it will limit your compositions, especially for travel. There will be travel shots you just can’t get at 50mm on an APS-C sensor: wide angle compositions when in tight streets near buildings, for example.

The 50mm f/1.2 is incredibly expensive when you don’t really need f/1.2. You would be better off with the “nifty fifty” f/1.8 and spending the money you save on the 24-105mm f/4 L. It’s lighter and cheaper than other options like the 24-70 f/2.8, and image quality is excellent. And when you need razor sharpness wide open pop on the nifty fifty.

  • There's not that much weight difference between the EF 24-70mm f/2.8 II (805g) and the EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS II (795g) or EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS (670g). – Michael C Mar 7 at 20:24
  • I had the original 24-105 f/4 L IS :-) The 24-70 f2.8 is 135g heavier (~5oz for our US friends). That'd save about the same weight as the 50mm f1.8 :-) – the_limey Mar 13 at 14:46
  • 80D w/battery + EF 24-105mm f/4 L is 1,400g. 80D w/battery + EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II is 1,535g. That's less than 10%. Even the original EF 24-70mm f/2.8 is equal to or sharper than the EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS all the way from 24-70mm at the same apertures. The EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II is sharper than the original. The 'Nifty 50' is almost as sharp at 50mm as the EF 24-70mm f/2.8 II when using common apertures. At f/5.6 and narrower there's no real difference between any of these lenses. The other disadvantage of the 24-105 is that it is T5.1 for most FLs. The EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II is T2.9. – Michael C Mar 14 at 20:57
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On a Canon APS-C camera, a 50mm lens will become the full-frame equivalent of an 80mm lens, which is a mild tele-photo. 85mm is a classic portrait lens for face and head-and-shoulder shots, and the 50mm f1.2 on your 80D will certainly excel at this. The lens could also be useful for certain landscape shots, though I find a longer telephoto, such as a 200mm (on a full-frame body), to be more useful for isolating bits of the landscape.

Of course, what you find the best lens for certain things is subjective, but I'd struggle to use an 80mm equivalent lens on it's own, especially for travel shots. However, combine it with a wide angle lens, you now have a very versatile kit. I worked quite happily with a full-frame camera and just a 28mm and a 85mm lens when I started out and rarely wanted for anything else. However, as far as I can see there is no real APS-C equivalent of a 28mm in the Canon line-up.

If you are after a single lens solution, then the most versatile prime lens, in my opinion, is the 35mm equivalent lens — although the 35mm is not great for portraiture. On a Canon APS-C camera that would equate to a 22mm lens. The closest thing in the canon line-up is, I think, the 20mm f2.8, which I'm told is a great lens and is modestly priced too.

  • However, as far as I can see there is no real APS-C equivalent of a 28mm in the Canon line-up. - A lot of zoom lenses get that focal length, but you are right that there are no primes in the 28/1.6 = ~18mm range. – flolilo Mar 8 at 19:18
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This is sn EXCELLENT lens For everything

Weaknesses for the purposes you listed.

Travel & landscapes its heavier and costlier than 50/1.8 You may wish to have wider or mor tele quite often thus a one lenses does all 18-300 solves this. You wont need the f/1.2 often except in very dim light. Digital has much higher useable iso than film did

Nightlife Its expensive to bring to nightclubs having it scratched or bumped the 50/1.8 is slower but dtill fast in this digital era

Portraits. Not much tele, youll have to get close and you wont have much out of focus separation from subject to background You would get better results with more tele Starting at 85/1.8, 105/2, 135/2, 180/2.8 300/2.8 200/4

Often you wont be shooting wide open F/1.2 was the dream lens in film. Today, it is rarely needed except low light where flash isnt allowed.

It is a fantastic single fixed lens It lacks the versatility of teo zooms or a single mega zoom or for the money, 3 lenses 16-35 (18-55) 50/1.8 100-400 (70-200, 70-300,)

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    How is this both "an excellent lens for everything" and "lacks the versatility..." of others? Your answer seems at odds with itself. – mattdm Mar 9 at 20:30
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    There are also a lot of typos, weird capitalization, and punctuation errors in this answer — I assume you are doing this from your cell phone. It would be nice to others if you could go back and straighten that stuff out. – mattdm Mar 9 at 20:31

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