Pekka Buttler, 12/2022 (Updated 08/2023)
The table below summarises the lens’ key specifications (measurements based on pictured sample):
|Brand:||Canon||Lens name||EF 50 mm 1:1.8|
|Focal length(s)1||50 mm||Angle-of-view2||46°|
|Maximum Aperture||f/1.8||In Production||1987–1990|
|Lens mount||Canon EF||Subfamily (if applicable)||—|
|Length3||42,7 mm||Diameter4||67,4 mm|
|Filter ring diameter||52 mm||Weight||187 grams|
|Lens element count||6||Lens group count||4|
|Aperture blades (S/R/C)5||5 S||Focus throw||180 °|
|Minimum focusing distance||45 cms||Maximum magnification||1:6,9|
|Has manual aperture ring||NO||Has Manual focus ring||YES|
• This lens was the nifty fifty for Canon’s EF system. On the other hand, due to that at that time entry-level zooms had largely supplanted nifty fifties as the consumer kit lens, and that this lens stayed in production for only a few years, this lens is not very common.
• Being an autofocus lens built for the still current Canon EF mount, this lens does not qualify as legacy lens. Neither is it normally considered a classic, except:
• This lens, typically referred to as the EF 50/1.8 MkI was replaced in 1990 with a budget version (the MkII), that is such an abomination, that it makes this, late 80s autofocus lens look like a true classic in comparison (The MkII does not offer focus indication or DoF scales, has a plastic mount and a pitiful excuse for a focus ring. But most importantly, the MkII looks like a toy, not a lens.)
• Besides a narrow (but functional) focus ring, this lens has a switch for engaging/disengaging the in-lens autofocus motor (the switch should be in manual mode for manual focusing). The lens does not have an aperture ring. That functionality must be supplied by the body (or adapter).
• This lens features a groove for attaching a lens hood. The Canon ES-65 (not ES-65B) is the lens hood intended for this lens.
History of Canon EF lenses
Canon is undoubtedly one of the great names in 35 mm SLR photography. Ever since the 1959 introduction of the Canonflex – Canon’s first interchangeable lens SLR – Canon has constantly focused on being at the forefront of Camera innovation. Often this has necessitated taking stock and redesigning both cameras, lenses and lens mounts. Unlike its arch-rival Nikon, Canon has not tried to integrate all novel features in the same lens mount, but has instead repeatedly launched new, modified mounts to facilitate new features, while still sometimes (but not always) managing to maintain some degree of backwards compatibility.
In short, the development of Canon SLR mounts can be traced as follows:
• 1959–1963: R-mount 6. Canon’s first SLR lens mount. Breech lock-type mount with aperture automation (camera is able to stop down lens for taking the shot.
• 1964–1969: FL-mount. Breech-lock type mount, physically similar mount as Canon R-mount, but camera-to-lens communication linkages somewhat different. Cannot communicate selected aperture to body (stop-down-metering only).
• 1970–1978: FD-mount. Breech-lock mount. FD lenses compatible with FL-cameras and vice versa. Manual focus lenses that communicate aperture information to camera, hence opening the door for automatic exposure (both shutter priority and aperture priority possible)
• 1979–1986: new FD-mount (a.k.a. FDn). Bayonet mount, backwards compatible with FL and FD mounts. Otherwise, as FD mount.
• 1987–today: EF-mount. Electronically controlled autofocus lenses that use an internal focusing motor. Compatible with previous mount lenses only using an adapter with optics.
Canon was not the first camera maker to introduce an autofocus SLR system (that honour goes to Minolta), nor was Canon actually in the top three (the runners up were Nikon and Olympus), but when Canon finally entered the AF race, they did so very thoroughly. Not only did they do so introducing a fully electronic mount (no mechanical interfaces, not even for aperture stop-down), but they also launched an impressive lineup of lenses. In the first years (1987–1988) after the introduction of the Canon EF/EOS system, Canon had launched 9 prime lenses (including a 15 mm fisheye, 24, 28, 50, 50 macro, 135, 200, 300 and 600 mm lenses), 12 zooms and 2 extenders.
But, in a break from tradition, Canon did not introduce a fast fifty (the EF 50/1.4 was introduced as late as 1993), instead, the EF 50mm f/1.8 had to be able to hold the ‘standard prime’ fort alone for the crucial first half-dozen years.
Canon has a long history of manufacturing f/1.8 50 mm lenses, that can be summarised (based on data from the Canon camera museum) as:
• R 50 mm f/1.8 (I) (1959–1960), 6 elements in 4 groups, 58 mm filter, ? blades, 295 grams
• R 50 mm f/1.8 (II) (1960–1963), 6 elements in 4 groups, 58 mm filter, ? blades, 305 grams
• R 50 mm f/1.8 (III) (1963–1964), 6 elements in 4 groups, 58 mm filter, ? blades, 295 grams [data sheet]
• FL 50 mm f/1.8 (I) (1964–1968), 6 elements in 4 groups, 48 mm filter, 6 blades, 228 grams [data sheet]
• FL 50 mm f/1.8 (II) (1968–1971), 6 elements in 4 groups, 48 mm filter, 6 blades, 280 grams
• FD 50 mm f/1.8 chrome nose (I) (1971–1971), 6 elements in 4 groups, 55 mm filter, 6 blades, 305 grams
• FD 50 mm f/1.8 chrome nose (II) (1971–1973), 6 elements in 4 groups, 55 mm filter, 6 blades, 305 grams [data sheet]
• FD 50 mm f/1.8 S.C. (I) (1973–1976), 6 elements in 4 groups, 55 mm filter, 6 blades, 255 grams
• FD 50 mm f/1.8 S.C. (II) (1976–1979), 6 elements in 4 groups, 55 mm filter, 5 blades, 200 grams
• FDn 50 mm f/1.8 (1979–1987), 6 elements in 4 groups, 52 mm filter, 5 blades, 170 grams [data sheet]
• EF 50 mm f/1.8 (I) (1987–1990), 6 elements in 5 groups, 52 mm filter, 5 blades, 190 grams |this lens]
• EF 50 mm f/1.8 (II) (1990-today), 6 elements in 5 groups, 52 mm filter, 5 blades, 130 grams
• RF 50 mm f/1.8 STM (2020-today), 6 elements in 5 groups, 43 mm filter, 7 blades, 160 grams
This lens can be used natively and retaining its full functionality on any Canon EF SLR or dSLRs. Moreover, using the Canon EF-RF adapter, this lens can be used retaining its full functionality on all Canon RF mirrorless bodies.
Being an electronic aperture lens, the lens can be adapted to all mirrorless cameras using a suitable smart adapter. However, due to the age of its AF technology, AF performance with third party adapters may be somewhat hit-and-miss.
Moreover, a large range of special adapters (including speed boosters) for using Canon EF lenses on most mirrorless systems are available.
Using Canon EF lenses on non-Canon dSLRs is nigh impossible due to the combination of an electronic aperture mechanism and the Canon EF mount’s shorter than normal Flange Focal Distance.
1 Focal length is (unless stated otherwise) given in absolute terms, and not in Full-frame equivalent. For an understanding of whether the lens is wide/tele, see ‘Angle-of-view’.
2 Picture angle is given in degrees and concerns the diagonal picture angle. Rule of thumb:
> 90 ° ==> Ultra-wide-angle
70–90 ° ==> Wide-angle
50–70 ° ==> Moderate wide-angle
40–50 ° ==> ‘Standard’ or ‘normal’ lens
20–40 ° ==> Short tele lens
10-20 ° ==> Tele lens
5-10 ° ==> Long tele lens
< 5 ° ==> Ultra-tele lens
3 Length is given from the mount flange to the front of lens at infinity.
4 Diameter excludes protrusions such as rabbit ears or stop-down levers.
5 S=straight; R=rounded; C=(almost)circular at all apertures.
6 The Canon-R mount should possibly be renamed to (or referred to) as the Canonflex mount to avoid confusion with the modern mirrorless mount that is sometimes also referred to as the Canon R mount.