Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Review: Canon Eos M & Ef 50mm F1.8 - Part Six

My user report of the 'old' Ef 50mm F1.8 doing duty as a portrait lens on the Eos M.

When I tested the Eos M with the pancake lens last week I said that it was a perfect match with the Eos M and the EF M 22mm f2. The pancake lens has an equivalent focal length of  64mm and the EF 50mm f1.8 has an equivalent focal length of 80mm (in 35mm terms) on the Eos M. Traditionally a focal length of 80mm to 135mm is considered the 'ideal' for portraiture. The 64mm of the pancake falls just a little bit short from that 'ideal'. 

The 80mm to 135mm focal length is considered ideal because of the flattering perspective that it renders.

The shorter the focal length the more pronounced the subjects nose and face becomes in relation to the rest of the body. Some photographers use this slight distortion to great effect. I was never really bother by this 'distortion' because with documentary type photography the goal is not to make 'beautiful' photographs and thus the distortion of the less than 'ideal' portrait lens is acceptable...well, at least to me it is...I often make portraits with my 35mm lens because it also shows a bit more of the surroundings when close up and is great for full length portraits because one is still close enough not to lose the intimacy between subject and photographer.

When the goal is to show the person being photographed in the best possible way then the more traditional focal length probably works 'better'.

Eos M. lens adapter, 50mm, 40mm and 22mm lenses.

With all the above in mind I thought that I would 'test' my 50mm f1.8 lens in a traditional portrait setting. I was interested to see how the lens would perform wide open, how accurately it would focus with the larger AF 'rectangle' of the Eos M and how easy it was to manual focus.

The Canon EF 50mm f1.8 lens feels cheap, which it is, and the build quality does not inspire much confidence. The lens barrel is plastic and so is the lens mount. In practice I don't really think it makes much difference whether the barrel and the mount is metal or plastic but it sure feels 'cheap' compared to the very solid 'feel' of the 40mm pancake. The AF motor is noisy and when it is working makes funny noises and the AF doesn't feel as fast as with the Pancake...

So why buy a lens like this? Two reasons - it is the least expensive Canon lens and the image quality, once stopped down a bit, is superb and close to the much more expensive f1.4 version. 

Mounted on the Eos M via the adapter it actually feels much better. Because it is so light weight there is good balance and the lens does not feel front heavy mounted on the Eos M as it does with some of the other heavier Canon lenses.  And it still looks OK and in proportion. The front lens element is deeply set and thus a lens hood is probably not all that critical but I have a lens hood and so I use it.

I photographed my youngest daughter Karla in front of a newly plastered brick wall in our house. To her left is a large window that gives a nice soft almost diffuse light. I did not use a reflector to fill in the shadows. I mounted the Eos M on a tripod to ensure max image quality and to make manual focusing easier. It does not look like it in the photographs but the light was also fairly dim and thus the tripod would allow me to use slower shutter speeds when I stopped the lens down a bit. 

Ef 40mm f2.8 STM at F4

In the portrait above on can  see the slightly more distorted rendering of the wider 64mm focal length of the 40mm pancake as compared to the more ideal 80mm focal length of the 50mm as in the image below...

EF 50mm f1.8 at f1.8

100% crop of the photo above. AF with AF spot on left eye. Pin sharp!

Ef 50mm F1.8 at F2.8

Ef 50mm F1.8 at F5.6,  1/30sec and at 1600iso.

100% crop of image above. Original uncompressed Tiff file is super sharp!

....So from these portraits I have learned the following:

- The 80mm equivalent field of view is very nice for H&S type portraits as it compresses the perspective        very nicely and there are no signs of distortion.

- With this lens the photographer is still close enough to have that intimacy necessary for portraiture

- It can easily be used wide open so long as the face is fairly centered.

- AF even wide open with the Eos M works well, much better in fact than MF. The problem is that with MF   even a very slight movement from the subject throws it off and the whole process is just a lot slower than       AF...

- The lens compliments the Eos M body and feels well balanced and surprisingly solid once mounted  even though its all  plastic.

- Af makes funny noises and it seems to hunt 'audibly' more than the 40mm pancake. The AF accuracy and speed was fine for the portraits though..

I did not test for flare and vignetting, distortion nor chroma but apart from flare, the others can easily be corrected in post production. Flare is something that can affect any lens and I always keep a lookout for it. And of course I did not shoot anything that would show up the 'bokeh' of the lens.....maybe some other time. None of these things crop up regularly with my type of photography so I can't really form an opinion about them. I usually shoot with the lens stopped down considerably so 'bokeh' is just not on my radar...I know a lot of photographers wax lyrical about their lens's bokeh properties but to be frank I cant recall seeing any memorable image that relied on bokeh to make it great.

The portraits above are very typical of the type of portrait that I would normally shoot. A plain background with soft natural light from the side. I think the 50mm lens did a splendid job.  So much so that I will use it more regularly!

BTW the portraits were processed with a variety of LR plugins. I used Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and Topaz Adjust 5. I quite like the 'Split tone V1' filter from Topaz Adjust 5 and the last two portraits were processed using this filter.



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