Everything that’s old is new again.
Ok, a bit of background first. When I was using Nikon, the 50mm f1.8 was probably my favorite lens. Even though it was a bit too tight on crop, working at an effective 75mm focal length, it always gave me beautiful, sharp images with a nice overall look, and the f1.8 aperture allowed for low light shooting as well as some shallow depth of field. And that lens was fairly cheap as well, what a stellar performer!
Then I moved to Canon and I was quite pleased to notice that Canon’s own 50mm f1.8 was even cheaper than Nikon’s! Holy guacamole! Instant buy! I was able to get it along with my 6D for just 60$ on top of the camera’s price, how could I ever resist it? That small, tiny, cheap lens would have allowed me to enjoy my new camera for next to no price, what a glorious day.
Except it was crap.
Ok, let’s be more precise. The older Canon 50mm f1.8 mkII was not a bad lens in terms of image quality. Images are actually quite sharp! The main problem was the autofocus. There are times when you have all the time in the world to let your camera focus on a stationary subject, and then there are times when your subject is moving either left or right, away from you or in your direction, and light conditions cannot always be ideal. Using the old 50mm f1.8 mkII was like this:
Me:”Oh, I’d like to focus on that person wearing a black and white shirt, plenty of contrast, no problem, right?”
Camera:”EASY, NO WORRIES MATE”
50mm f1.8 mkII:”WHAT….*wjiiirrrrrrr frrrrr graarrrpppp fziiiiiiii”
Me:”Hey, I’m still waiting…”
Camera:”It’s ok, I got this…”
50mm f1.8 mkII:”*wiiirrrrrrrrrrr grraaarr breeeeeee frrrrrr”
And that’s how I missed a lot of shots. I ended up selling it, I prefer a less-than-sharp image rather than no picture at all because the autofocus system didn’t work properly. There’s a reason why that lens is called “the plastic fantastic”, it’s really built poorly.
I’ve spent a bit of time looking for an alternative, but third party options were a bit expensive and the new 40mm pancake lens though very good was not exactly what I was looking for since it’s only f2.8.
Selling my old 50mm f1.8 mkII turned out to be extremely well timed, as rumors regarding a new version started to float soon after I departed from that lens.
A lot of people on the interwebs were expecting image stabilization and a 200$ price tag. Instead Canon gave us a 50mm f1.8 with the new Af motor that they’ve been using on most of their new lenses, called STM, for 125$.
By Canon’s own admission, the new lens has same optics as the old one. For some people this is outrageous, but I’ve never considered image quality to be an issue with the old model, so I don’t really care about that. The Af motor on the other hand improved drastically, it works! And it works well! I can now TAKE pictures, instead of hoping that the lens will allow me to do so! What a time to be alive.
The build quality has been improved as well, it now feels like something that will last for a reasonable amount of time.
Another difference are the aperture blades, the old design had only 5, this one has 7. This means that the bokeh (out of focus areas) should look more pleasingly. Well, the bokeh of the old lens looked like crap, the new one looks slightly less like a crap. It’s still a victory I guess? But when I shoot at f1.8 / f2 with that lens I’ll always try to soften or blur the background a bit.
All in all I’d definitely recommend this lens to anyone looking for a cheap, light, pocket-able lens. The older 50mm f1.8 mkII is being sold by everyone, everywhere. If you join a Facebook group for second hand camera stuff, you’ll notice that every other thread is made by someone trying to sell the older lens. I’m all in for saving $$$, but in this case just get the new one, it’s better, built better, looks better, performs better.