Tuesday, April 21, 2009

50mm Mark 1

I have a new lens! The 50mm prime lens is probably the most basic lens for any SLR platform (ie Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, etc.). Generally "fast" lenses that excel in low-light conditions, they're relative simple and traditionally have good optics. We have one, a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, that is more than 15 years old. The Wife bought it when she first got into photojournalism and it has stood the test of time. It's a good lens. I used it to good effect at a photo shoot over the weekend, which I'll share with you at a later date.

But the 50mm II that Canon sells these days has shortcomings. In an effort to make an extremely cheap entry-level lens, Canon redesigned the 50mm f/1.8 (hereinafter known as the Mark I), which was one of the very first EF lenses Canon ever marketed. The Mk I was a traditional lens, with a distance scale window, manual focus grip and a metal camera mount. The Mk II used the same high-quality glass, but did away with the distance scale and manual focusing ring, and made the body entirely out of plastic. This brought the price down to the $75-80 range (earning the nickname "Nifty Fifty"), but made the lens pretty much a bargain-basement autofocus affair (users could still opt to manually focus, but this involved rotating a knurled endpiece that isn't very convenient or user-friendly).

Now, I enjoy experimenting with infrared photography, and Mk II is adaptable to this, with no hot spots showing up in images. The fast 1.8 aperture means that I can cut down exposure times significantly (15 second exposures are the norm with my slower lenses). Yet with infrared, you have to re-focus to account for the longer IR wavelength, and the missing distance scale on the Mk II means there is also no IR focal mark. And it's a pain to manual focus the Mk II. BUT the Mk I has that distance scale, an IR focal mark and is easily focused manually. So my course of action was clear: I must have one of these 20-plus year old lenses.

Thank you Ebay! I won an auction for one of these on Friday from a guy in Vermont. I paid that evening and the lens arrived in the main on Monday. Talk about fast shipping! The body is in excellent shape. There's one small scuff on the front collar maybe 2mm across. That's it. The glass is pristine, not even a fleck of dust inside (which is more than can be said for our Nifty):


Build quality is indeed far superior to the Nifty. This lens just feels more substantial in your hand. The manual focus grip turns freely when in autofocus mode, and gives a suitably nice traction when in manual focus mode. I love the distance scale--which is why I bought this one even though I've already got the Nifty. I enjoy infrared photography, and this lens lends itself to that nicely with the distance scale, IR focal mark, nice manual focus grip.

Other than that, it is indeed the Nifty in nicer packaging. The optics are identical but so is the autofocus. Buzzy and temperamental in low light, it's no worse nor no better than the Mk II. But at least manual focusing is a viable option with this one. Here are some test shots I snapped yesterday in the back yard.

The Bug:


Coral honeysuckle:

Grape flower buds:


Passion flower:

Now all I have to do is order a 52mm infrared filter and I'm all set...

Now Playing: Various Classical Masterpieces, Vol. 1

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