Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.8 has near-legendary status as the definitive nifty fifty — i.e., a small, lightweight, affordable, fast 50mm prime lens. The news that its RF counterpart is going to be almost as cheap will be great news for owners of Canon mirrorless full frame cameras.
The DSLR nifty fifty has served countless photographers as their first prime lens, and for many, it would have been the first “proper” glass when moving on from the low-cost, small aperture zoom that typically ships with entry-level cameras. Having this eminently affordable lens as a stepping stone towards more serious glass has always been a fantastic means of developing as a photographer, and to see Canon maintaining this tradition is refreshing — especially given that RF lenses tend to be very expensive.
Canon’s EF nifty fifty has been $125 for what feels like forever, and I would argue that it’s possibly the most important ILC lenses ever created. The Mark II appeared in 1991, tweaking the autofocus but maintaining the 6 elements, 5 groups, and a 5-blade diaphragm. This design was modified in 2015 through a second upgrade to the autofocus, with Canon introducing the Stepper Motor (STM) focusing mechanism, along with two more aperture blades.
Throughout its three iterations, this has been a wonderfully affordable lens, despite Yongnuo’s best efforts to show that it could be even cheaper with a design that looked suspiciously similar to the Canon and appearing not long after Canon moved some of its manufacturing outside of Japan.
The 50mm f/1.8 is found in the bags of professionals and beginners alike, offering levels of sharpness and bokeh that for years simply weren’t otherwise possible at such a low price point. It’s not the sharpest but plenty sharp enough, and the autofocus is noisy and a little slow. However, as a convenient lens that you can just throw in a bag and forget about (the STM is 5.64 oz / 160 g), it’s a piece of glass that always comes along for the ride, regardless of whether you plan to use it.
RF glass is expensive, and justifiably so. The level of investment, design, and engineering that Canon has put into its new lenses is remarkable, but with the 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM coming in at $499, I was concerned that Canon might ditch the tradition of the nifty fifty and make something a bit fancier.
Canon has kept customers waiting for its not-so-fast prime lenses, and the RF 35mm f/1.8 has drawn excellent reviews. Canon could have opted to bring the price much lower but instead chose to include lens stabilization and a nice 1:2 ratio of macro reproduction.
Speculation was mounting as to whether the nifty fifty would follow suit, bumping up the price and making it more a stretch for those on tight budgets. Fortunately, it seems that this is not the case as Canon announced the price of the RF 50mm f/1.8 STM at $199 — less than $75 more expensive than its DSLR predecessor. This is a fantastic price.
Almost a year ago, I outlined my fears that the industry’s longstanding relationship with compact, affordable 50mm primes might be coming to an end. “Maybe I love nifty fifties too much,” I wrote, “but I were in Canon’s marketing department, I’d want a sharp, fast, affordable 50mm to give R and RP shooters something fun to use as an everyday lens, and give budget-conscious first-time full-frame buyers a piece of kit that makes the Canon line feel slightly more accessible.” While I’d love to claim credit for telling Canon what to do, it’s more likely that Canon was one step ahead of me and understood the importance of this lens for photographers across the spectrum.
Regardless of how sharp it is and however fast the autofocus (and I doubt either will be poor), Canon will sell a ton of these, and that can only be good news for the industry. I’m interested to see if other manufacturers might follow suit: Sony’s nifty isn’t amazing and is starting to feel dated, and while Nikon’s Z 50mm S f/1.8 might be stunningly sharp, it went on sale at $600 (currently discounted to $496.95). Fifty, yes; nifty, no. Should every system have a nifty as good as the EF 50mm f/1.8?
Will you add the new Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM to your arsenal? Let us know in the comments below.