The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM was one of the first lenses to launch alongside Canon’s mirrorless cameras. A signature L series lens with the famous red ring, the not so nifty fifty (it costs just under $2300) claims to be everything its EF mount relative wasn’t. Optically perfect, fast to focus and easy to use. Is this the case, though?
The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 is a marquee lens for Canon. Usually snapped up by portrait, event and wedding photographers, this lens, when paired with Canon’s mirrorless cameras, can now be used for so much more. The fast aperture lends itself to low-light photography, and razor-thin depths of field allow you to obliterate any background. Let’s see how it performs.
- Stunning overall image quality
- Fast, bright aperture
- Excellent construction
- Weather sealing
- Good autofocus performance
- Vignettes wide-open
- It’s a heavy lens
- Some issues with fringing
- It’s expensive
- No image stabilization
Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM — Technical specifications
All of the technical specifications have been taken directly from the product listing at B&H Photo:
- Aperture Range: f/1.2 to f/16
- One UD Element, One Aspherical Element
- Ring-Type Ultrasonic Motor
- Customizable control ring
- Optical design: 15 elements in 9 Groups
- Rounded 10-blade diaphragm
- Minimum focus distance: 1.31′ / 40 cm
- Filter Size: 77 mm
- Dimensions: 3.54 x 4.25″ / 89.8 x 108 mm
- Weight: 2.09 lb / 950 g
Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM — Ergonomics and build quality
The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM is a chonk of a lens. It’s about as far away from the promise of smaller mirrorless lenses that you can get. However, the size (3.54-by-4.25 inches) and weight (2.09lbs/950g) are worth it. The lens has a fairly simple design overall. There’s little in the way of branding, and there are just two switches on the left side of the barrel. The switches control minimum and maximum focusing distances and manual and autofocus control.
The manual focus ring, which sits in the middle of the barrel is a nice size. The control ring, which you can program to control one of many functions sits just behind the front element, In front of that is the famous red ring that signifies that this is one of Canon’s premium L series lenses. What surprised me is that the front element is a reasonable size; in fact, it takes a 77mm filter.
In terms of build quality, there’s nothing to complain about. Canon uses tough composite plastics that have a premium feel to them. There’s a slight texture to the barrel which feels pleasant. The RF 50mm f/1.2 also has a generous amount of weather sealing. I took the lens out and got caught in a heavy shower and the lens didn’t bat an eye. Overall, the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM handles well despite its size, and it should last a long time thanks to its solid build.
Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM — In the field
The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM is relatively easy to use. The lens doesn’t feature any internal stabilization, which is a shame given its price point. However, if you’re using the lens with an EOS R5 or R6, you’ll benefit from the camera’s IBIS. The lens is bulky. So, if you carry this lens around for any significant amount of time, you’re going to know it. However, the lens is easy to use and it balances fairly well on the R5.
Like all Canon RF mount lenses, there’s a clicky control ring that you can assign functions to. If you like changing apertures via a dial, you can program it to change aperture, for example. The downside of the control ring is that you cannot de-click it. This renders it virtually useless if you plan on using this lens to shoot video. The manual focus ring feels nice too. There are no hard stops, but you can focus quickly and easily.
f/1.2 lenses used to be incredibly difficult to shoot with, but now, thanks to modern autofocus systems, photographers of all skill levels will be able to nail the shot almost every time with this lens, even when shooting at the widest aperture. It’s a joy to use unless you have to carry it around for long periods.
The EF DSLR version of the Canon 50mm f/1.2 was slower than molasses going uphill when it came to autofocus. Times have changed, though. While the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 isn’t the fastest autofocusing lens I’ve ever used, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the old EF version.
In good light, the lens performs well. However, capturing fast-moving subjects can be a little challenging. Still, this is to be expected. There’s a lot of glass to be moved around by the autofocus motors. Street photography, for instance, is possible but you have to be able to anticipate action.
In low light, the lens does hunt a little. Still, it always finds its target and it’s accurate. For its intended audience the lens will be plenty fast and accurate enough. The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM works well with Canon’s human and animal eye AF modes, and it works well in tracking modes.
Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM — Characteristics
Overall, the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM produces gorgeous images, There are a few issues here and there that we will go over below, but this $2,300 lens will help you create images that will make jaws drop. Let’s break things down below.
Distortion control and vignetting
When shooting wide-open at f/1.2 you’re going to see a heavy (and I mean heavy) vignette. The vignette is pretty much eliminated by the time you get down to f/5.6. The vignette is easily fixed during post by turning profile corrections on.
As you can see in the image slider above, the lens also suffers from a small amount of pincushion distortion as well. Again, this is easily corrected by leaving profile corrections turned on in your editing software.
Chromatic aberration, flares and ghosting
Overall, the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM handles flaring and ghosting well. As you can see in the sunset image, ghosting is kept to a minimum. Thanks to the coatings, the images keep an impressive amount of contrast as well.
However, the lens doesn’t fare as well when it comes to chromatic aberrations. There’s significant green and purple fringing that can rear its head when shooting wide-open. The image on the left is after corrections have been applied during post-processing. Just keep this in mind.
If there’s one thing the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM is, it’s sharp. Wide-open at f/1.2, the center and edges of the frame are bitingly sharp, it’s only the corners that will show some softness. However, stop the lens down and by f/4 the corners are as tack sharp as the rest of the frame. This remains the case until you get down to f/10, which is when the effects of diffraction start to creep in.
As you would expect, bokeh is glorious. When you shoot at the minimum focusing distance and open the lens up to f/1.2, you can make backgrounds melt away. Transitions are nice and smooth, and the bokeh overall is nice and creamy.
Bokeh balls do take on a catseye shape even in the center of the frame, and at times, there is onion bokeh. I think it looks fine, but those who demand perfection from a $2,300 lens will notice this.
The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2, when used with the latest and greatest from Canon, will deliver very pleasing colors. I haven’t noticed any significant swing toward cold or warm tones. Colors render in a neutral space. They aren’t overly saturated, and they look natural. Skin tones are fantastic as well.
Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM — It’s worthy of the red ring
At the end of the day, you do sometimes get what you pay for. The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM is a premium lens with a premium price but you get top-drawer optics and results. Yes, the lens is rather bulky and heavy. It’s also not the fastest autofocusing lens I’ve ever used. However, the image quality, aside from a few issues with fringing and vignetting, is superb.
If you’re a wedding, event, or portrait photographer and you want the best that Canon offers, this is one lens that you should not overlook as you build up your collection of RF mount lenses. It is expensive, still, you should be able to make your money back fairly quickly if you’re a working photographer. You and your clients will love the way this lens renders images.
Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM
If you need a lens that will serve you well in low-light and that will allow you to apply your artistic vision to images easily, the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM might be the lens for you. At just under $2,300 the lens isn’t cheap, but you’re going to get exceptional image quality, exceptional build quality, and a lens that has good autofocus performance. It should be considered a must-have for event, wedding, and portrait photographers who shoot with Canon mirrorless cameras.