Best portrait lenses: 8 tested

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Best Canon camera
Best Canon cameras

Compared with Canon's range-topping EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, this lens is much more compact, only half the weight and less than a quarter of the price. It still feels pretty robust and the front element is quite well recessed within the inner barrel.

This helps to reduce ghosting and flare, along with Canon's Super Spectra coatings, but it's still worth spending a little extra on the optional lens hood. The inner barrel extends at shorter focus distances but doesn't rotate during focusing.

Based on an eight-blade diaphragm, the aperture is well rounded, and the maximum available aperture matches the best in class at f/1.4.

Autofocus is of the Micro USM variety, involving a motor and gearwheels. This type of system is slower than ring-type ultrasonic autofocus but the Canon offers full-time manual focus override, which is normally only available in the company's ring-type USM lenses.

You can tweak the focus setting in One Shot autofocus mode without having to switch between AF/M on the lens barrel.

Autofocus is actually faster than in the Nikon 50mm f/1.4, which is fitted with a ring-type ultrasonic system. Sharpness and contrast aren't very impressive at f/1.4, and sharpness is worse than with other lenses in the group throughout the rest of the aperture range. Even so, as a portrait lens for Canon users with APS-C sensor cameras, it gives pleasing results.

Sharpness test

Best portrait lenses: 8 tested

Full ISO 200 image, see the cropped (100%) version below.

Best portrait lenses: 8 tested

There's a distinct lack of sharpness at f/1.4, and unfortunately it's unimpressive at any point throughout the aperture range.

Fringing test

Best portrait lenses: 8 tested

Poorer than most competing lenses in this group at any given aperture, and colour fringing is most noticeable at around f/8.

Distortion test

Best portrait lenses: 8 tested

It's not particularly obvious in the images, but there is some barrel distortion, which is a little high for a 50mm prime lens.

Image test verdict

Unfortunately the Canon 50mm f/1.4 doesn't really excel in any specific area of image quality and, overall, it's merely an average performer.