January 12, 2015

Has the Ultra Affordable Canon 50mm F1.8 Prime Been Dethroned by the Yongnuo EF?

If you're a Canon DSLR shooter, there's a strong chance you've used the cheap, sharp, and ubiquitous 50mm f1.8 prime. 

For many people it's the first prime lens you buy, as it's a great entry-level lens to achieving a shallow depth of field. Coming in at just $129 on B&H (and that's before a $20 mail-in rebate that runs until January 31!), it's very easy to tack one on as a fast alternative to the (slow) zoom lenses included when buying an Canon DSLR camera. And a 50mm "normal" lens is of course a must have in any lens arsenal.

Since the dawn of the "DSLR Revolution," the Canon 50mm f1.8 has stood uncontested as the best EF prime for your buck, and despite shortcomings (such as fragile build quality and tiny focus ring), I would argue it's one of the best lens values you could own. Enter photographic gear manufacturer Yongnuo Digital, who now has a chance to dethrone Canon for "Cheapest/Sharpest 50mm f1.8 EF Prime"!  This prime appears to be a direct Canon clone and can only be found on eBay and Amazon right now for around $60. (It's mysteriously absent from the Yongnuo official site.)

Credit: Jay Leavitt/PetaPixel

Photographer Jay Levitt, who writes for Shooting On A Budget, demonstrated this in his tests covering sharpness, bokeh, flaring, and chromatic aberration. His results, recently published in PetaPixel, were very interesting:

Sharpness

The apertures are set to f1.8 | 2.8 | 5.6, respectively, in this series of photos.

Canon Center Sharpness
Yongnuo Center Sharpness

Jay notes Yongnuo as the clear winner here, and I have to agree. The disparity in sharpness here is apparent and eye-opening; I am suddenly second-guessing the sharpness on some of my own work (though thankfully I've used the Canon 50mm f1.4 much more often and even still rarely open up beyond a f2.0).

The sharpness in other areas on the lenses appear a bit more equal: 

Canon Top Left Corner
Yongnuo Top Left Corner
Canon Right Edge
Yongnuo Right Edge

Jay gives slight advantage to Yongnuo on sharpness, and I absolutely agree.

Flare

In this test, Jay is shooting straight into the sun to detect flare. He notes the Yongnuo features a more controlled flare. Personally, I feel neutral about the results. The first image is at f1.8, the second is at f5.6:

Flare at 1.8, Canon | Yongnuo
Flare at f5.6, Canon | Yongnuo

Bokeh

Things get interesting when Jay tests the bokeh. He notes the pentagonal bokeh that plagues the Canon 50mm f1.8 -- an unfortunate truth that detracts from the lens' strengths. The Yongnuo seems to have overcome this setback by featuring seven aperture blades. Jay shot light through a pinhole-ed black sheet and produced these results:

Canon Bokeh f1.8 | 2.8 | 5.6
Yongnuo Bokeh f1.8 | 2.8 | 5.6

Can you detect harder edges on the Yongnuo at f5.6? Yes. But it's far less pronounced than Canon's.

Chromatic Aberration

Jay shot at f1.8 and f4 to test the chromatic aberration on these shots of his Nikon camera and notes the (very obvious) purple and green fringing on the blacks. I'd say this is a tie; both are rather un-appealing. 

Canon Chromatic Aberration f1.8
Yongnuo Chromatic Aberration f1.8
Canon Chromatic Aberration f4
Yongnuo Chromatic Aberration f4

Much more desirable results at f4, but that's just how it's going to go with lenses at this price point.

Autofocus Noise

And finally, I also found another interesting test relating to autofocus noise by YouTube user Mark Korecz:

I would say the Canon prime wins this battle pretty easily -- that is a loud autofocus you've got goin' on there, Y. Granted, for filmmaking purposes, we likely wouldn't be using the autofocus so much, but it's still very interesting, as it almost suggests a more solid build.

Speaking of which, what I would really like to know more about is build quality. My biggest beef with the Canon 50mm f1.8 again is the general light/plastic feel. I've been on two sets (one photo shoot, one corporate video) where this lens has broken due to a very short drop. Of course the good news about the Canon is that it's so cheap and ubiquitous that you can run down to literally any photo shop and pick one up. But with the Yongnuo, which (for now) you can only buy via eBay or Amazon, that's not going to be an option. 

I'd also like to test this lens out to feel out the focus ring. It appears to be a touch larger and more follow focus-friendly than the Canon, but I'm not holding my breath.

Caveats aside, I think Jay's thorough tests prove the Yongnuo 50mm f1.8 is worth some attention. What do you think? Do you have any experience with this lens? And, for that matter, do you have any footage you can share? Please share below!

And be sure to check out Jay's other two tests on the Yongnuo on Shooting on a Budget, Part 1: Low Light and Part 3: Studio (slightly NSFW due to modeling pictures)    

Your Comment

19 Comments

uuu..sharper than canon popular nifty fifty. Canon need to step up a bit. They have reputations to maintain ;)

January 12, 2015 at 9:13PM

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Mohd Nor Ariza Bin Kamil
Cinematographer and Video Editor
168

$80 for the Yongnuo is the cheapest on Amazon right now, compared to the Canon for barely over $100 ($103 for Prime members) brand new. That's not what I'd call "half price", as quoted from the Facebook headline.

Not even a question I'd get the Canon again, since I've had one in the past.

January 12, 2015 at 10:37PM

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Emphasis on 'now' - I bought three for these tests (to get more sample variation bias) all were $50 or lower. Once the ZOMGNEWTOY hype drops, the price will too. Wholesale prices are $27 each (minimum 50) I'm tempted to buy a pallet of them just so there are reasonably priced ones out there, lol.

January 12, 2015 at 11:12PM

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Loud autofocus = solid build quality....that's awesome and funny. You should be a used lens salesman.

January 13, 2015 at 12:04AM, Edited January 13, 12:04AM

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Of course this is just pontification, not observation. From the other aftermarket EF lenses I've used/owned, I have noticed the ones with better builds indeed have AF louder and deeper in tone. Obviously I wouldn't know for sure until I got my hands on one.

January 13, 2015 at 9:33AM

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Benjamin Dewhurst
Writer
writer/director

You lost me with all the syllables while you were conjugating the emancipation proclamation. Anyway I was playing around...enjoyed the article.

January 13, 2015 at 6:56PM

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Four score, and seven years ago...

January 14, 2015 at 2:43PM

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Benjamin Dewhurst
Writer
writer/director

Does it exist a 50mm EF mount stabilized?

January 13, 2015 at 10:15AM

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Baptiste Jaze
Camera operator / Director -- corporate events
201

It doesn't appear to feature any sort of in-lens stabilization, Baptiste.

January 14, 2015 at 2:46PM

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Benjamin Dewhurst
Writer
writer/director

People downvote the strangest things.

January 16, 2015 at 4:36PM

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i always saw short comings of canon glass even the L series. Yes they are better than their normal lenses. And so many got vested into Canon because of the whole dslr thing, but Nikon glass that's cheaper was always sharper and better. Even for stills the autofocus and raw files are better. Nikon's wide zoom lens and tokina 11-16 is even sharper than canon's L prime lens of equivalent focal length.

January 13, 2015 at 10:53AM, Edited January 13, 10:53AM

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Kazu Okuda
Filmmaker
1085

I wouldn't have guessed the Canon lens to be outperformed.

January 14, 2015 at 3:54AM

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Me either, before reading Jay's findings. Then again (per Michael Carney's response below) several other manufacturers are outperforming Canon recently. I've become a huge fan of the Sigma art line, for example.

January 14, 2015 at 2:45PM

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Benjamin Dewhurst
Writer
writer/director

We just got the Sigma 17-55 and are really happy with it so far! :)

January 20, 2015 at 10:34AM

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The YN is definitely sharper at f/1.8, but appears to even out at 2.8 in the tests above. One thing that isn't mentioned is the lack of contrast shown by the YN in the newspaper test. It's startling how much contrast the Chinese model shows.

IMO neither of these lenses should be used for any professional setting. They're both soft, cheap, plastic, and fiddly-as-hell to use (that little focus ring on the front, seriously?). I've even gone as far as no longer recommending it for casual use either in favor of the 40mm f/2.8 STM pancake lens - smaller, faster and quieter AF, sharper, and still relatively cheap (under $200).

Good lenses are made by Canon, but not all Canon lenses are good - just like with any stills lens manufacturer. If I were Canon, I'd be less concerned about a Chinese knock-off of their cheapest lens and more concerned about playing catch-up with all of the other photo/video manufacturers in terms of camera features and functionality. They're getting their asses handed to them and still using the same sensors they have been for 5 years!

January 14, 2015 at 11:06AM

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Michael Carney
Director of Photography, Commercial Video, Stills
288

*how little contrast the Chinese model shows. My bad.

January 14, 2015 at 11:06AM

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Michael Carney
Director of Photography, Commercial Video, Stills
288

"…you can run down to literally any photo shop and pick one up." Well, maybe if you live in LA or NY. Here in the Phoenix metro area there's around 4m people and, as far as I can tell, not a single camera shop. I think Amazon may have a lot to do with that.

January 16, 2015 at 1:50PM

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Tycho
86

Is there any solution for this little thin focus ring.?..it is absolutely annoying and not follow focus friendly at all...Can someone tell me a solution for this?...I mean, not that I don't realize that buying another lens could be a solution....but I already own one so...

January 17, 2015 at 4:16PM

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January 18, 2015 at 11:46PM

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March 2, 2015 at 10:16AM

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