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.)
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:
The apertures are set to f1.8 | 2.8 | 5.6, respectively, in this series of photos.
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:
Jay gives slight advantage to Yongnuo on sharpness, and I absolutely agree.
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:
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:
Can you detect harder edges on the Yongnuo at f5.6? Yes. But it's far less pronounced than Canon's.
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.
Much more desirable results at f4, but that's just how it's going to go with lenses at this price point.
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)!