Canon’s new nifty fifty, the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM, has a hard act to follow. Its older EF mount sibling, the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is widely considered to be one of the best affordable nifty fifties, on the market.
I have to say that the older Canon 50mm f1.8 STM for EF-mount DSLRs was my go-to walkabout lens when I used Canon DSLRs. It hardly left my camera during photowalks. I’ve been testing the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM for a few weeks now. Given my love for the DSLR version, my expectations for the RF mount version were pretty high despite its price tag of just under $200. Let’s see how it performed in our full review.
- Small and lightweight
- Good levels of sharpness
- Great color rendering
- Speedy autofocus performance
- It makes photography fun!
- It’s under $200!
- Vignetting and fringing wide-open
- No weather sealing
- No lens hood included
Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM — Technical specifications
All technical specifications for the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM have been taken directly from the product listing page on B&H Photo:
- One aspherical element
- Aperture range: f/1.8 to f/22
- Super spectra coating
- STM stepping AF motor
- Customizable control ring
- Rounded 7-blade diaphragm
- Filter size: 43mm
- Minimum focus distance: 11.8″ / 30 cm
- Dimensions: 2.7 x 1.6″ / 69 x 40 mm
- Weight: 5.6 oz / 160 g
Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM — Ergonomics and build quality
The Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM is tiny compared to some modern mirrorless lenses. I’m delighted that this lens isn’t much bigger than the old DSLR version that I love so dearly. The lens measures in at 2.7-by-1.6 inches and it weighs just 0.35lbs. You barely even know it’s attached to your camera.
In terms of design, there’s little to talk about. Like many of the new Canon RF mount lenses, it’s rather minimalist. It’s made from tough yet nice feeling composite plastics. At the front of the lens is one control/manual focus ring instead of one for each function. The only switch on the lens lets you switch back and forth between manual focus or using the control ring to control another function of the camera like aperture selection.
The front element, as you would imagine, is on the small side too. It accepts 43mm filters. This is one of the most basic lenses I have used for a while, but it works. My only complaint is that the lens doesn’t feature any weather sealing. It’s almost expected for the price. However, when Tamron is making similarly priced lenses with weather sealing, this has to be mentioned. Overall the lens is nice to look at, it’s easy to use, and feels nice in the hand. It should hold up well as long as you don’t take on Mother Nature with it.
Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM — In the field
The Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM is a delight to use. I love how it feels while walking around with it. So many modern are large and overly heavy. This lens, though is so light that you never feel burdened by it. Because of this, you’ll find yourself having fun with your photography. It’s quite liberating. The simple one-switch control scheme doesn’t overly complicate the lens, either.
The control/manual focus ring is nice to use. It does click, though and you cannot de-click it. Videographers will have to keep this in mind. There’s simply no learning curve when using this lens. Just attach it and have fun. First-time prime lens buyers, and even those who have been around the shutter a while, will fall in love with how simple yet effective this lens is.
I can tell you that autofocus performance is not something that Canon compromised on when making this lens. The lens is surprisingly speedy. On top of this, the lens is also very accurate. This is the case in both good and low-light situations.
The Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM works flawlessly with both human and animal eye AF, and it tracks like a champ. Yes, the STM motor is audible, but it’s not obnoxiously loud. I have been nicely surprised with this lens autofocus performance. It’s more than fast enough to track fast objects, it worked great for street photography, and it was great for portraits as well.
Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM — Characteristics
Overall, the image quality is excellent. Sure, there are a few caveats, but we have to remember that this lens has a price tag of under $200. I used the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM on the 45-megapixel Canon EOS R5, which is a tough test for any lens. Still, I have to say that this nifty fifty stood up incredibly well. Let’s break down image quality below.
Distortion control and vignetting
This is going to be a short and sweet section of this review. Why? Well, because the CanonRF 50mm f/1.8 STM doesn’t suffer from any form of barrel distortion. It’s impressive for a lens that costs less than $200. Straight lines will be straight, there’s no pincushion distortion. The is some vignetting when shooting wide-open at f/1.8. Still, it’s all but gone by f/4. Shoot and be happy.
Chromatic aberration, flares and ghosting
The Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM does suffer from chromatic aberrations. Both purple and green fringing is present in rather large amounts when you shoot wide-open at f/1.8. The fringing improves but is still present at f/4, and then it disappears at f/5.6. You can of course try to eliminate the fringing during post-processing, but your mileage will vary.
In terms of flaring and ghosting, the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 performs adequately. Shooting directly into light sources will cause ghosting. It’s not the worst I have ever seen, but it’s something you need to be aware of if you shoot backlit portraits, for example. What doesn’t help is that Canon continues to cheap out by not including a simple lens hood. It’s an overpriced $40 optional extra.
Contrast levels also take a small hit when shooting into light sources. Still, the performance overall is exactly where I expected it to be for a sub $200 lens. It’s not perfect but it’s far, FAR from terrible. It’s rather good.
Is the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM the sharpest lens you’ll ever use? No, but its performance is fine for what it is. Wide-open, you’ll get decent sharpness in the center and out toward the edges. Stop down to f/2.8 and center sharpness will cut you.
Extreme edges and corners do exhibit a fair amount of softness wide-open. Stop the lens down to f/5.6 and you’ll have pretty uniform sharpness across the entire frame. Once you hit f/10 to f/11, you’ll start to see the effects of diffraction. Unless you’re a pixel peeper, you’ll have no issues with this lens. Take the lens for what it is and enjoy it.
The bokeh that can be produced with the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM ranges from busy to beautiful. When you get as close to your subject as you can, you can create some nice smooth bokeh when you shoot at f/1.8. At times, though, backgrounds can be a little on the messy side. Once you get a feel for the lens you’ll be able to create nice out-of-focus areas.
Bokeh balls are circular toward the center but more Catseye toward the edges and corners. This doesn’t bother me at all. I think they look fine. Still, everyone’s definition of good bokeh is different. For an affordable fast nifty fifty, bokeh rendering is right where it needs to be.
It should come as no surprise that the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM produces lovely colors. Colors are accurate, natural, not overly saturated and they do not lean toward warm or cool tones. Skin tones are captured masterfully as well. You’ll have no issues with the colors that this lens renders.
The Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 is a $200 must-have
You’re getting one heck of a lens for just under $200. Does the lens have a few issues? Sure. Chromatic aberrations and ghosting could be controlled a little better. I also wish there was some weather sealing. When you look at what you are getting, though the value shines through.
For your money, you’ll get a small, lightweight burdensome-free lens that focuses rapidly in both good and low light. You’ll get a lens that’s capable of producing pleasing bokeh in the right conditions, and that renders beautiful colors. Above everything else, though, you’ll get a lens that will make you have fun.
The Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM is just one of a few lenses for Canon’s RF Mount that puts a genuine smile on my face. It’s a simple, fuss-free lens that will let you get back to the joy of creating images. The Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 is everything that an affordable nifty fifty should be. Kudos has to be given to Canon. Just go and buy it. You won’t regret it.
Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM
The Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM is a fast focuser. It renders pleasing bokeh and colors. The lens is easy to use, and it costs less than $200. It’s the perfect first prime for new photographers, yet it’s more than good enough to be enjoyed by those who have been creating images for years. If you shoot street photography, portraits, events, or like to photowalk, this lens fits the bill nicely.