The Canon EF 50mm 1.2L USM would be my choice if you forced me to shoot a wedding with just a single lens.

It still surprises me saying this because I really didn’t like 50mm lenses initially, having tried the much cheaper Canon f1.4 and f1.8 lenses, but the results I can achieve with this one lens make it my overall favourite.

Read on to find out why that’s my view…

Popularity of 50mm lenses

Fast 50mm primes are popular with photographers. They are the closest to our own eyes, which makes photos produced “comfortable” to look at. I think Jasmine Star might have been the first particularly well known photographer to bring them to weddings, although there were photographers before her using them.

Canon-EF-50mm-f-1.2

It’s easy to see why. Shooting a 50 wide open brings a level of romanticism to the shot which you simply don’t get with other lenses, or at least that’s the case for the better quality 50’s out there.

Overall, it’s the optics of this lens which really shine. Everything else is good, but Canon knocked it out of the park when creating the look this lens produces.

Quick roundup

Pros

  • The way the lens renders the scene is just beautiful.
  • From f1.8 to f2.8 it’s very sharp.
  • Focus accuracy is exceptional, especially considering the low DOF.
  • It lets in a large amount of light, which lets you keep your ISO lower.

Cons

  • It’s not cheap, although good value within it’s category.
  • It’s prone to Chromatic Aberration, but Lightroom removes most of it.
  • Sharpness tends to suffer wider then f1.8, so I very rarely shoot at f1.6 even.
  • Focus speed is not particularly fast.
  • It’s a known “problem lens” with people reporting focus shift issues.
  • It’s not as sharp as other lenses from f2.8 to f5.6.
  • It’s not the lightest or smallest lens in the world, but I don’t find it heavy like the 85mm 1.2.

Construction

The Canon 50mm 1.2L is built to work in the toughest conditions. Unlike the 50mm 1.4 which needs to be treated with kid-gloves, the 1.2 has never let me down in 5 years of ownership, even with a few knocks.

It’s weather sealed too, so you can use it when the wedding-weather-gods aren’t particularly shining on you.

The lens hood is easy to put on and take off, which is one of those things only photographers who work fast really care about!

Lens characteristics

This lens might have been partly responsible for the vintage low DOF photography which has been so popular recently. There’s something really old and beautiful when shooting wedding details and brides were really wow’ed by the effect from this lens. I was one of the early adopters in the UK and I booked a tons of wedding based purely on this!

What it is about the lens then? Well, photographer often talk about “creamy” when they’re describing the out of focus areas of the shot – the bokeh. I prefer to describe more technically it as lacking harsh edges. I really disliked the Canon 50mm f1.4 because of the the harsh bokeh. The Canon 50mm 1.2 just doesn’t suffer from that.

Light into canon 50mm 1.2

Lens flare with the canon 50mm 1.2L

Then there’s the way it deals with sunlight behind the subject and flare. If you shoot into a setting sun fairly wide open, the light just seems to flood a section of the frame and photographers have been using that to great effect.

The Canon 50mm 1.2L is built to work in the toughest conditions.

Overall, it’s the optics of this lens which really shine. Everything else is good, but Canon knocked it out of the park when creating the look this lens produces. I’d even go so far as to say they’re going to struggle to improve on this aspect of the lens.

Shoe shot 50mm 1.2

Wedding details photographed with canon 50mm 1.2L

Auto focus

When I was new and working in studio, I thought the accuracy of auto focus was guaranteed. Then later I discovered it wasn’t quite as simple as that and in fact it’s more complicated with the different focus points playing a part. Then even later I discovered there were certain lenses which could be relied upon more than others.

As a professional wedding photographer, I now know which lenses I will rely on most for certain jobs, if I want tack-sharp images (and I’m very picky!).

How does the 50mm 1.2 fare then? Well, very well on the whole. It’s not my most accurate lens but the amount of keepers I receive from a day (and I’m very very picky) is extremely high.

canon-50mm-1.2-focus-accuracy

Sharpness and focus accuracy of canon 50mm 1.2L

What is amazing though is I run couple sessions in AI Servo mode with them walking towards and away or moving their heads; even then focus is very accurate when using the correct focus point on a 5d3. This is a massive plus point for me!

Where the lens struggles a bit is in particularly low light (think 1/60th, f1.8, ISO4,000), where it may hunt more than some lenses. This is slightly exacerbated by the speed of AF, which is slower than the Canon 24-70 f2.8L II or 35L for example; you’ll try to focus on something and, by the time the lens has focused to infinity and back, you’ve missed it.

For that reason I tend not to use it when I need to absolutely guarantee focus in low light conditions. However, when there is a usable amount of light available, focus is accurate and quick enough most of the time.

For the reportage photographers out there, the lens is fast and accurate enough to capture fleeting moments of guests laughing and joking around, or kids running around.

Wedding guests 50mm 1.2

Reportage with Canon 50mm 1.2L

You will read online though that there is a known focus-shift problem with the lens – this tends to be when shooting at mid apertures and doesn’t seem to happen with all copies of the lens. I’ve never experienced this problem but I believe it does exist. If you’re going to buy one, make sure you can return it if you get a turkey!

Compared with the competition

When I bought my copy 5 years ago, there really weren’t many particularly good 50’s on the market. Now, though, there is some competition:

  • Canon 50mm f1.8. Cheap and cheerful; I wouldn’t personally class this as a professional lens for a wedding photographer.
  • Canon 50mm f1.4. A lens I kind of hated; with harsh boken and a poor design which means it can (and did!) break at just the wrong time, I don’t recommend it.
  • Sigma 50mm f1.4. The first 50 Sigma produced; I would recommend it more than the Canon 50mm f1.4, but the new Sigma Art lens is significantly improved. It can suffer from significant AF problems.
  • Sigma 50mm Art f1.4. The new kid on the block; I’ve not tried one yet, but people report it’s very sharp. My view is that Sigma still have a way to go with AF and in terms of the optics, it’s sharp but slightly clinical looking. It’s a good choice, but I still prefer the Canon.
  • Zeiss Otus f1.4. I just had to mention this; it’s about £4000 and doesn’t have AF… but it has the most incredible optics and is very much at medium format quality.

Conclusion

It all comes down to this; should you shell out what is a very significant amount of money for this lens?

And the answer from me is a resounding “yes”.

I would take it over any other 50mm lens on the market, even though it’s not the sharpest. More than most, this lens has real fans and I’m not the only one. In fact, I’ve been known to quip;

The Canon 50mm 1.2? You’ll have to prise it out of my dying hands.

However, this lens is a little like marmite – some love it and some don’t, especially for the price. So like with all major equipment purchases, maybe the sensible business decision is to rent it and any alternatives (such as the Sigma) first and then buy it if you like it? Lens purchases are quite serious since you’re usually using them for 5-10 or more years.

Looking forward…

It’ll be very interesting to see what Canon do with the version 2 of this lens, given the exceptional quality of their recent lenses (the 24-70 f2.8L II and 16-35 f4 IS particularly). Canon are producing exceptional optics and incredible AF and lenses remain the main reason I wouldn’t sell my Canon gear. However, I really hope they manage to retail the characteristics of the lens.

Like to know more?

Take a look at my wedding photography training page.

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  1. Jennifer Holliday jenniferholliday.co.uk
    Reply

    Great to get a working review of this lens thanks Phil

  2. Rob Dodsworth robdodsworth.co.uk
    Reply

    Ah man, I’d talked myself out of this but now I’ve got Ebay open and Paypal at the ready. Dang it! Great review and images Phil!

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canon-5ds

 

A 50 megapixel wedding camera?

Why would I bother previewing a 50mp wedding camera? It’s a good question.

Wedding photographers have, on the whole, been unimpressed with the megapixel race. I’ve been no exception. My 22MP Canon 5d3 has been exceptional and the prints I’ve produced in large 18″ albums have not lacked any detail whatsoever.

So why am I previewing the 5ds and 5DSr, which are 50MP beasts? Well, because it’s new and it might just suit your needs perfectly. Read on to find out why…

What’s inside?

The headline stats are:

  • 50.6MP
  • 5fps
  • ISO 100-6400
  • 61 point AF, with 41 cross type
  • CF and SD card slots
  • 30MP and 20MP crop modes
  • 5DSr doesn’t contain a low pass filter.

To give you a feel for how the camera might work for a wedding photographer, I’ll compare it to a 5d3.

The headline feature is the 50.6MP. That’s huge – really massive.

Body

Well, the body is basically identical to the 5d3 really. Pretty much nothing has changed. The SD card is now UHS-1 compatible, which means it’s much faster to write to than the one in the 5d3. Even the (slightly disappointing) viewfinder from the 5d3 is in the 5ds.

It shoots at a relatively average 5fps, but that will be OK for most wedding photographers.

Auto-focus

Yep. Nothing has really changed here too. It’s likely to be the same module as the one from the 5d3. It might have been tuned to be a little more accurate possibly due to the resolution, but only Canon would know that.

Sensor

5ds-100-percent-crop

The huge resolution of the 5DS!

Resolution

The headline feature is the 50.6MP. That’s huge – really massive.

Is all of this resolution useful to a couple anywhere at a wedding? Possibly in the couple shots since it would allow a large amount of cropping before the quality of the image degraded, plus huge prints would be exceptionally detailed. Group photographs might also benefit for similar reasons. I wouldn’t say the rest of the day required that amount of megapixels though. Couples really wouldn’t thank you for sending all of their images at that resolution.

From a photographers point of view the number of megapixels would significantly increase their storage and computational requirements, so it’s not ideal for them either.

In addition, getting the most from a 50MP file will need some seriously steady hands, even with the new mirror mechanism to reduce vibration!

In terms of an improvement in detail recorded, we can see a comparison with a 5d3 file. It’s obvious that the 5DSr file contains an enormous amount more informatoin.

5dsr-5d3-detail-comparison

5DSr vs 5d3 detail recorded. 5d3 is on the right! Image (C) DPReview.

High ISO performance

More bad news may come in the high ISO performance of the camera. The camera is limited to ISO6400. However, this is mostly fine for wedding photographers, but some people do shoot higher than that these days.

If you look at the comparison, when the files are resized to the same size, the 5DSr is a little worse than the 5d3 at ISO6400. This is without any noise reduction.

However, it clearly contains more detail (look at the small writing) due to the lack of a low pass filter.

5dsr-5d3-comaprison-high-iso

5DSr compared with 5d3 ISO6400. No noise reduction. Image (C) DPReview.

So, the 5DSr file would clearly take more noise reduction than the 5D3 since noise reduction tends to reduce detail. This possibly makes it a little bit better at high ISO in real use.

Certainly then, the 5DSr would quite happily handle ISO6400 in the same way as the 5D3 does.

5dsr-5d3-high-iso-noise-reduction

5DSr compared with 5d3 high ISO noise reduction. Image (C) DPReview.

Colour

There has been much discussion online about the colour quality of the camera. It seems Canon introduced a strong CFA (Colour Filter Array) which initial tests would seem to show have produced a camera with more accurate colours than any Canon cameras since the 1ds3, which was revered for this attribute.

Print

Dynamic range

And the last bit of bad news for some will be that dynamic range (the quality of deep shadows at low ISO) is about the same as the 5d3. However, in practice, it’s has a much more usable dynamic range, even though the official figure is about the same. Many photographers were hoping for a sensor which was more effective in this area but maybe this isn’t as relevant to wedding photographers.

You can clearly see the higher quality shadows of the 5DSr on these images, which have been been brightened by 3 stops.

5dsr-5d3-dynamic-range

5DSr dynamic range compared to 5d3 at ISO100. Image (C) DPReview.

However, there are rumours that the upcoming 1dxii and 5d4 will have a significantly higher dynamic range, so it might be more difficult for customers to choose between the cameras on offer.

Photography tools

Many photographers these days use auto tools to give them the edge when speed is required. Auto ISO has revolutionised my photography and I’ve been using aperture priority (when it makes sense) for years.

The 5DS improves on the 5D3 with:

  • Much more effective auto ISO options.
  • The option to use exposure compensation in manual mode.
  • A more effective meter using a dedicated 150,000 pixel sensor.
  • More effective subject tracking from the 1dx and 7d2 in the form of iTR.

There’s no doubt these are very welcome additions to many wedding photographers, although you still can’t meter from the selected focus point (why Canon?)

The target of the Canon 5Ds

This is a niche camera.

You can certainly see it’s niche from the specific mirror lockup functions to help reduce camera shake. It’s for landscape, architectural and studio photographers and the amazing amount of MP moves them into medium format resolution territory, but for a much lower cost.

How does it work for wedding photographers then?

So here’s where it might make sense all of a sudden. There are a significant amount of photographers for whom wedding photography isn’t their key or only area of photography. They might do 5 to 10 weddings a year, plus lots of fashion and beauty, or landscape, or commercial. Having a camera body just for wedding photography when you do so few wouldn’t make sense.

MRAW to the rescue!

For those photographers, the 5ds in MRAW (28MP I believe) / SRAW (12MP I believe) might be a very sensible option. Sadly I believe the crop modes leave the entire RAW file intact, so you can’t suddenly turn it into a 1d4 with 1.3x crop.

By using the MRAW mode though photographers can have the camera they want for landscapes or fashion, and then use it in a lower resolution to photograph weddings.

How effectively will this work?

It’s unknown currently. No one has any MRAW files to play with. What we do know is that 5d3 MRAW files are not quite as good as the original RAW files when you scale them down, but they are close, so the difference might be negligible. Only time will tell..

And of course just for high resolution

Is there any other way primary wedding photographers might want to use this camera? Well, I think some will supplement their current kit with a 5ds and use it for parts of the day to produce incredibly high resolution wall art. I can’t image many choosing it as their primary wedding camera though, but stranger things have happened.

Which one? The 5Ds or 5DSr?

The 5ds r is a version of the 5ds with a different type of optical low-pass filter, which effectively cancels out the anti-aliasing effect usually produced. This will increase the sharpness of individual pixels, but it may also introduce moire… wedding suits and wedding dresses could very easily start to look odd.

Without experience it’s hard to say, but the tests above show the 5DSr will help with noise since it has more detail compared with the 5D3. Whether MRAW or SRAW files will produce images without moire will require testing.

Conclusion?

Well, the 5Ds and 5DSr are interesting cameras and Canon has gained respect for the files that we have seen so far. High ISO is nothing to write home about, but I don’t think it’ll be a slouch either.

I do doubt that it’ll be most full time wedding photographers first choice, especially with a 5d4 breaking into the rumour mill (I think we’ll know more over the summer) but as a camera primarily for a commercial photographer who does some weddings, I think it’s got a real market.

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So you’re getting married abroad, but you’re not sure about the quality of the local photographers. What’s the chance of taking your own photographer abroad with you?

Check with your venue

Some venues won’t allow you to use anyone other than their in-house photography team, although it’s questionable whether they would turn down the option if really pushed… but be sure ahead of time.

Choose a known destination photographer

There’s a surprising amount to organise when you’re photographing a destination wedding. Simple things like transport, maps, location, language and how used they are to traveling can make a massive difference to how relaxed they are when they arrive, or whether they manage to arrive at all!

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Skype is your friend!

Your photographer might not live in the same country as you but that shouldn’t stop you from saying Hi and making sure they are someone you feel comfortable with. Most photographers will be happy to organise a convenient time which to discuss their service.

Ask for an engagement / party shoot

If your photographer is already at the location and your friends and family are there, they may well be happy to photograph events and an engagement shoot for the two of you. This will give you some extra memories of this once in a lifetime occasion.

Ensure your photographer arrives at least one day in advance

If your photographer is just down the road it’s not a problem, but flights are occasionally delayed or cancelled, so ensure your photographer is due to arrive at your destination at least a day before the ceremony.

Planning your destination wedding?

If you’re looking for a photographer for your destination wedding, please get in touch to discuss your wedding.

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