I recently got my Canon EF 85mm f1.8, after lot of thought over if I should buy Canon EF 85mm f1.8 or Canon EF 50mm f1.4, I decided on 85mm so that I can shoot portraits of people even from a distance, though I might have difficulty in closeup shots where space might be less!

Now I am tempted to buy 50mm too, but of course don't have budget right now for f1.4. So here are questions in my mind:

  1. Should I go for 50mm f1.8 now and be ok with that, or it's better to wait few months and at some point go for 50mm f1.4?

  2. While distance between object and camera with 85mm f1.8 is a known factor, is there anything else which would limit for portraits with 85mm? Should I completely give up thoughts on 50mm, or rather buy it?

  • possible duplicate of Is there a noticeable difference between 1.8 and 1.4 prime lens?
    – dpollitt
    Feb 12, 2012 at 6:34
  • Part of the question is answered by the post @dpollit marks as a duplicate, but what about the question of 85mm vs 50mm? (Note that the f/1.8 85mm and f/1.4 50mm are both around $400, making them a natural set to compare.)
    – mattdm
    Feb 12, 2012 at 15:43
  • 1
    And in fact: When would one choose a 50mm f/1.4 over 85mm f/1.8 (or vice versa) for portraits? may help answer that part.
    – mattdm
    Feb 12, 2012 at 15:45
  • Between the two, does that pretty much cover it? If not, let us know!
    – mattdm
    Feb 12, 2012 at 15:47
  • Your question asks if you should buy a 50mm or an 85mm, but then you go on to say you've already bought the 85mm, should you buy the 50mm as well? Are you asking if you should by one or the other, or both?
    – MikeW
    Feb 12, 2012 at 19:04

5 Answers 5


I have the 50mm 1.8 - it takes great pictures but it's not a pro lens - the auto focus is slow and have a tendency to hunt a bit, the manual focus ring is tiny and the build quality is ... well, don't expect much (but it is cheap and optically wonderful).

I've heard the 85mm 1.8 is a great lens and if I had it I would go for something around 30mm (Canon or 3rd party) for a second lens, not the 50mm.

The 50mm is like an 85mm on full frame, it's great for head shots and can take half body shots if you have the space, something in the 28-35 range is like 50mm full frame good for full body and small groups.

I have the 50mm 1.8 and the 18-135mm zoom, some time ago I checked the EXIF data on all my pictures and most of the pictures I take with the 18-135 (by a really large margin) are in the 30-35 range, remember, the "normal lens" for a Canon APS-C is around 30mm (if my math is right it's 27mm) not 50mm.

  • 1
    I have a 50 and a 85, they are completely different beasts. I almost never use them in the same situations. They both excel at indoor portraits, but rarely do you have enough room to move your body and alter the framing - the two different focal lengths are very handy.
    – dpollitt
    Feb 13, 2012 at 14:09
  • @dpollitt - I wanted to say that a 50mm on a crop sensor has the traditional role of a 85mm on a full frame, not that 50mm and 85mm are the same (and my point was that - on an APS-C 30ish+85 combination is much more versatile than a 50+85 combination because on a Canon APS-C you get the "magic" that made 50mm so popular at ~30mm)
    – Nir
    Feb 14, 2012 at 14:07

Whether you buy an f/1.8 or f/1.4 depends on what you will use it for. The f/1.4 lens will obviously perform a bit better in low light. If you don't do a lot of low light shooting, then it's less useful. The larger aperture will give you a narrower depth of field, to throw backgrounds more out of focus. However that narrow depth of field also means your subject may not be wholly in focus. Having the f/1.4 isn't so important if you're shooting at f/8. And most f/1.4 lenses are pretty soft wide open.

I don't think this question is really answerable, as we don't know you, what sort of photography you'll do, what other lenses you own, etc.


Another thing the other answers haven't considered yet is the effect each of these focal lengths will have on the portraits. There is the mantra of:

...200mm for face only, 135mm for entire head, 85mm for head and shoulders, 50mm for upper body, and 35mm for full length

Which is brought up in this article comparing 85mm to 50mm with sample shots of close up portraiture.

Also, the longer you go in focal length the more 'focal compression' you'll get, ie it'll flatten the subject's face/nose/etc which can be seen in this set of upper body shots from 24mm to 165mm (also note the full body comparison) and this set of head shots from 19mm to 350mm. So consider the effect of focal compression and isolation from the background these different focal lengths offer.

  • In the linked 24-165mm comparison, there appears to be a change in the angle of the subjects head from a more profile angle at 24mm to nearly straight on at 165mm. Is this truly due to compression from the telephoto, or is it due to subject movement?
    – FreeMan
    Feb 11, 2015 at 17:57
  • @FreeMan Looking closely I believe the change is related to compression. Imagine he begins with the camera slightly off center at her shoulder to exacerbate the compression effect, at 24mm her nose/chin will be comically stretched but as you continue to step backwards (still off center) the off-centerness will become less pronounced and compression will flatten her face.
    – Shizam
    Feb 11, 2015 at 20:21

I actually own both the lenses you mention and use them on a crop sensor body (7D).

I've had the 50mm f/1.4 USM for about 3 years now, and absolutely love it. It is great for portraits at close to mid range.

The 85mm is a 'new' toy for me, having only purchased it a month or so back. So I don't have so much experience with it. However if you are at all close to your subject, you will find framing difficult, and the MFD on the lens is quite long (about 85cm I think). The 85 on a crop is roughly equivalent to a 135mm on standard FF. So you need to step back a bit to compose the same shot.

THAT SAID, I have found that if you use both at say f/2 (ie stopped down a little for sharpness), the 85 gives REALLY nice bokeh!! It literally destroys the background, where the 50, at slightly closer range to effect the same FOV, allows the background to still come through somewhat.

Others on this site will be able to explain expertly exactly why that is, but I'm afraid I can't explain the exact technology/physics behind it.

I really look forward to getting more use out of the 85mm.

As for your other query about whether to get the 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 lens; I can honestly say I love the 50mm f/1.4. Sure, it's £200 more than the f/1.8 version, but I think it's built solidly, feels it, shoots brilliantly, and if I only HAD one lens, this would be it. I'd say it's definitely worth it.


As far as construction goes both of these lenses feel really cheap but the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is bordering a plastic toy. When holding this lens in my hand I marvel that it actually takes decent, sharp images. The focusing ring is tiny and difficult to work with. The built of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM is also not stellar. It's better then the f1.8 II but I was surprised how grainy the focusing ring feels. There is also a bit of rattle and although the plastic seems a better quality it's still all plastic. I was quite disappointed with the build quality of the latter especially after owning the Pentax SMC-FA 50mm f/1.4 which in comparison is built like a tank.

As far as the image quality goes both lenses are good and the 1.8f II is sharp but I personally find the bokeh of the 1.8f II very noisy which is a bi-product of the design (only five non-rounded aperture blades) In comparison the 8-blade aperture of the f/1.4 USM yields a silky smooth bokeh. As for sharpness, the f/1.4 USM is very sharp when stopped down to f2 and most reviews claim the it is soft wide open. I would say this is mostly true along the edges where this lens yields some halo and chromatic aberration which softens the edges and results in softer appearance overall. I only found this to be an issue in areas where the subject is light against a dark background and vice versa. I often shoot wide open because I like the narrow depth of field which is essentially why I have this lens. This lens is fast and I can easily take sharp family photos indoors even in fairly dim light conditions. (Does not seem as fast as my old Pentax lens but my old camera was only 6MP and my Canon sensor is 18MP so the current sensor probably does not collect as much light)

In conlusion; in my opinion the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM is a much better lens then the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II but it is mainly because I like a very narrow DOF and silky smooth bokeh. You will ultimately have to do your own research and decide which lens is more suitable for your purposes. I would also like to say that while on a full frame sensor the 85mm lens might be an ideal portrait focal length it might also be too long on a APS-C sensor camera where the 50mm might be more suitable for portraits.

You can also search for images that were taken with either lenses to compare the capabilities of both lenses. For starters here are 2 links:

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Images on Flickr

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Images on Flickr

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