Top critical review
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A mixed bag
on 5 August 2010
You get a bit of a mixed bag with this lens. There are definitely some positive sides to it, however there are also (for me) an unacceptable amount of negatives, and as such I don't quite think this lens is worth the ever climbing price.
First off the image quality. It's good - as long as you're up above f/2. Below f/2 (lower f/ number), all of the lens' faults become visible. Spherical abberation (hazy effect), some chromatic abberation, horrendous vignetting (this can be used to creative effect, but it's beside the point) and loss of clarity in colours/detail. really, it's not much better than the f/1.8 version when you start to compare them both at around ~f/2.8. By f/4-f/5.6 both lenses are fantastic.
The colour rendition of this lens is very good, near perfect I'd say when you've stopped down a bit. The f/1.8 version seems to add a magenta tinge to photos - the f/1.4 does not. The bokeh off the f/1.4 is more rounded and supposedly more smooth as it has 8 aperture blades, as opposed to the f/1.8's 5 aperture blades. In practise though this doesn't make *all* that much difference unless there are out of focus points of light in the image; which with the f/1.8 will appear as pentagons, with the f/1.4 they will appear nearly as circles. I have still had many occasions where bokeh off the f/1.4 was surprisingly harsh, though.
The build quality *is* better than the f/1.8, but quite frankly, fisher price toys still beat the f/1.8 lens in build quality. There is a placebo effect that Canon have created, whereby people upgrade from the f/1.8 lens to the f/1.4 thinking how great the build and AF is when in reality, the lens isn't much better built than Canon's 18-55 IS kit lens. Clever marketing or coincidence? This brings me neatly onto my next point as well - AF speed and accuracy of the f/1.4 is sketchy at best - even on a 1 series camera. If the light is less than ideal, my 50 will hunt, hunt and hunt until the sun goes down. Take it outside in daylight however and it performs flawlessly. There is no point in having a fast lens if it struggles to focus in lower light. For this, I blame the pseudo ultrasonic motor that they use in the lens - not true ring USM, but a micro USM motor. Don't be mislead into thinking that this is one of Canon's near-silent and lightning fast focussing lenses - it isn't. The focussing is not as quiet as true ring USM and as I have just said there, certainly not as accurate. The manual focussing ring has far too much play and when turned feels like it is meshing with sand and pebbles.
As an upgrade from a 50mm f/1.8, it initially feels great, but if like myself you expect a bit more for your money, the 50mm f/1.4 quickly becomes disliked. Poor build quality, shoddy AF and questionable quality at low apertures - not worth the premium price!
I am now selling mine - with a hood - for quite a big loss, and will be getting the Canon 85mm f/1.8 as my 'arty lens' instead. Quiet, fast and accurate focussing with proper ring USM, better build quality and arguably better IQ wide open - and it costs around the same. It's a no brainer.