Canon’s Ultra Rare Lenses – Using the Canon 50mm f/1.0L

A month or so ago, I was able to get my hands on the Canon 200mm f/1.8L Lens and test it for a review on It was an experiment of an article, as often, we try to discuss gear that we can stock and rent out to our customers. With the Canon 200mm f/1.8L being wholly discontinued and unserviceable, it’s not something we could rent out. However, the readers seemed to enjoy reading about this relic of a lens, so we decided to find another ‘Holy Grail’ of lenses, and I got my hands on the Canon 50mm f/1.0L.

Canon 50mm f/1.0L Review

This lens was graciously loaned to me by Julian Chen out of Santa Monica, CA.

History of the Canon 50mm f/1.0L

The Canon 50mm f/1.0L was introduced in 1989 and is the fastest AF lens available in EF mount, and one of the fastest lenses in the world. At 1018 grams, the Canon 50mm f/1.0L is also an incredibly well-constructed metal-bodied lens, and considered to be one of the best built Canon 50mm’s in the world. Sadly, however, because of its razor-thin depth of field and slow focusing (by today’s standards), the Canon 50mm f/1.0L was discontinued in 2000 and has been hard to find ever since.

The Canon 50mm f/1.0L works on all EF mount camera systems, and uses the Focus-by-Wire system found on the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II, meaning while accurate, the focus is slower when comparing it to more modern designs. Priced at ~$2,500 during the majority of its production run, the Canon 50mm f/1.0L was considered way too expensive for the average photographer, leading to its inevitable production end. However, if you have to have one, many can still be found on eBay for $3,800 – $4,500.

Canon 50mm f/1L Example Photo

Canon 50mm f/1L at f/1.2

Comparing the Canon 50mm f/1.0

When it came down to comparing this lens, I figured the most obvious comparison to make would be against the Canon 50mm f/1.2L, right? Well, wrong. In fact, the Canon 50mm f/1.2 and f/1.0 versions are entirely different by design, and the Canon 50mm f/1.0 is based more on the Canon 85mm f/1.2L I than anything else. So while I do not have a version 1 of the Canon 85mm f/1.2L, being that it was discontinued in 2006 and replaced with the Mark II lens of the same name – a lens I do in fact, have.

Canon 50mm f/1.0L Review

Comparing the Canon 50mm f/1.2L to the Canon 50mm f/1.0L

Canon 50mm f/1.0L Review

From a visual standpoint, the Canon 50mm f/1.0L looks nearly identical to the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II, with its front-heavy design, leaving you with a large front element, and asymmetrical design from front to back (as seen below). The images are very much similar from one to the next as well. I’ve put together a small table of these three lenses below to give you an idea of how it compares to the competition.

Canon 85mm f/1.2 Canon 50mm Comparison

LensPriceMin Focusing DistanceAperture RangeWeight
Canon 50mm f/1.2L$1,300.45mf/1.2 - f/16590g
Canon 50mm f/1.0$4,000 (Used).6mf/1.0 - f/161,017g
Canon 85mm f/1.2L II$1,850.95mf/1.2 - f/161315g

Build Quality

The Canon 50mm f/1.0L has a lot to it that makes it quite a bit different than the other options in the same focal length. As mentioned above, the Canon 50mm f/1.0L is based more on the Canon 85mm f/1.2L design than it is of it’s younger brother, the Canon 50mm f/1.2L. Because of it’s larger dense body, the Canon 50mm f/1.0L no doubt feels premium to the touch. If you’ve ever held the Canon 85mm f/1.2L, you’ll know what I’m talking about. But it’s dense body is well balanced, and feels good on the camera. The added cuff at the base of the body makes it easy to hold when mounting, and just further mimics the feeling of the Canon 85mm f/1.2L.

But with the larger body, also comes a few little-added things that many people might not know about the Canon 50mm f/1.0L. For one, people will often assume that the f/1.0 version has a 1/3rd stop over the Canon 50mm f/1.2L, but that’s actually false. In fact, it has 2/3rds of a stop, being able to implement both f/1.1 and the f/1.0 f-stops.

Canon 50mm f/1 Test Photo

Canon 50mm f/1L at f/1.0

A second surprise is the focusing system on the Canon 50mm f/1.0. Using the same focus-by-wire system as the Canon 85mm f/1.2L, the focusing system is slow by comparison. To help counteract this, Canon has added two focus distances on the focusing switch, to help speed along the process. giving you the option of focusing in two different ranges (0.6m – infinity and 1m – infinity), this option should both speed up the focusing of the lens, as well as provide better accuracy. That said, for the interest of my testing, I kept it in the 0.6m – infinity mode for the entire duration of my testing.

Canon 50mm f/1L Test Photo

Canon 50mm f/1L at f/1.0

Image Quality

I took plenty of photos with the Canon 50mm f/1.0L during my week with it, but I figured it was best to give a more scientific approach to its image quality. In short, it’s pretty mediocre. It vignettes a lot at f/1.0, and its sharpness is pretty lackluster, especially when compared to the competition. Below are some test photos, comparing the Canon 50mm f/1.0L to the Canon 50mm f/1.2L and Canon 85mm f/1.2L II. All of these were shot on a tripod, 55 inches from the stem of the lemon (conveniently pulled from my lemon tree), with the focus point being where the stem meets the body of the lemon.

Canon 50mm f/1L at f/1

Canon 50mm f/1L at f/1.1

Canon 50mm f/1L at f/1.2

Canon 50mm f/1.2L at f/1.2

Canon 85mm f/1.2L II at f/1.2

In addition to the vignetting, I also had a number of sharpness issues with the lens. First, this certainly has to do with it being a lens I was pretty actively shooting at f/1.0, giving you a razor-thin focus plane. But after showing some photos to Roger, he was also able to assess that the copy of the Canon 50mm f/1.0L I had, looked to be decentered. Not exactly a surprise, given the copy I had was 25+ years old and hadn’t been serviced in 20 years. At f/1.0, the depth of field is less than .8 of a centimeter, and when shooting handheld, it’s easier to just say that the Canon 50mm f/1.0 doesn’t really have a focus plane wide open, and many of the photos I took were slightly out of focus.

Canon 50mm f/1L Test Photo

Canon 50mm f/1L at f/1.4

When shooting at the widest apertures (f/1.0, f/1.1, and f/1.2) there seemed to be quite a bit more bokeh cutoff from the mirrorbox than I’ve seen before in lenses. This most often happens at lenses with wider apertures and transforms your circular bokeh into trapezoidal or semicircular bokeh balls. I believe this has to do with and is more apparent with the extremely wide aperture capabilities of f/1.0, but I don’t know the science behind it enough.

Canon 50mm f/1.0L Example Photo

Canon 50mm f/1L at f/1.4


So is the Canon 50mm f/1.0L worth seeking out and owning? Well, probably not. It’s sharpness and usability pales in comparison to the Canon 50mm f/1.2L, and is priced more for rich lens collectors than working photographers. However, leading up to this review, people have asked me what I thought of the Canon 50mm f/1.0, and I’ve been calling it ‘The best worst lens I’ve ever used”, because, well that is what it is. Are you going to get gloriously sharp images from it? No. Are you going to get a nonflaring workhorse? No. But are you going to get a giddy, excited feeling when spinning that dial and seeing f/1.1 and then f/1.0 on that top digital screen? Yeah, probably. So in short, the Canon 50mm f/1.0L is flawed, and it shows its age. But it still has elegance in its imperfections, and it still has a certain charm that sways people into paying $4,000 just to experience it.


Author: Zach Sutton

I’m Zach and I’m the editor and a frequent writer here at I’m also a commercial beauty photographer in Los Angeles, CA, and offer educational workshops on photography and lighting all over North America.

Posted in Equipment
  • Dan

    My question was rhetorical. Giving an equivalent field of view for aps-c sensors due to the cropping of the image circle makes sense but aperture, depth-of-field, and the related blur cannot be compared giving a ratio like you are doing.

    An 80.7mm f/1.6 lens won’t produce an image that looks anything like a 50mm f/1 lens and to compare them is nothing less than pointless.

  • SpecialMan

    People learn this nonsense of lenses magically changing their f/stops over at They call it “equivalence” and the editors are guilty of making an entire generation of photographers hopelessly confused about focal lengths and f/stops.
    Just another way the internet is making us stupider by the minute.

  • Claudia Muster

    And where’s the MTF chart? We want MTF charts!

  • Tim Cooper

    This would be true if you were actually getting f/1.2. In reality lens manufacturers denominate the two third-stops between f/1 and f/1.4 as f/1.1 and f/1.2 in order to avoid using too many figures.

  • Stefanie Daniella

    Canon’s own EF to EFM (flange-extension) “adapter” would be a good start
    it doesn’t have horizontal cropping upper/lower baffles like other lens adapters for going from FF-Lens-to-APSC Mirrorless bodies

    when Canon introduced its UWA Rectilinear EF11-24mm f/4 Zoom, one was showcased on an EOS M APSC Camera
    (working like: WA 17.754-38.736mm f/6.456L Zoom (ff.equiv.fov))

  • Stefanie Daniella

    EF to EFM flange-extension “adapter” would be a good start
    it doesn’t have horizontal cropping upper/lower baffles like other lens adapters for going from FF-Lens-to-APSC Mirrorless bodies

  • Steve Suthan

    The last photo really showcases the “look” of this lens. Seems pretty sharp, although it may not be, as it’s a compressed and sharpened web copy. To me, the only thing that lets this lens down is the price, slow focusing, (maybe) softness, and CA. I think a 50mm 1.8 could do better that the 1.0, stopped down to the same degree.

  • Steve Suthan

    I can’t tell of you’re being sarcastic, but if you are, you deserve a like.

  • Stefanie Daniella

    50mm/1.00x = 50mm aperture diameter: 50mm f/1.000

    80.7mm/1.614x (Canon APSC)= 50mm aperture diameter (no change): 80.7mm f/1.6 (f/1.614)
    36/22.3=1.614x (1.614349775)

    76.6mm/1.532x (Sony APSC)= 50mm aperture diameter (no change): 76.6mm f/1.5 (f/1.532)
    36/23.5=1.532x (1.531914893x)

    50.3mm/1.002789x = 50mm aperture diameter (no change):
    50.3mm f/1.003
    36/35.9=1.002789x (1.002785515x) Sony “FF”

    Crop: Horizontal FoV Factor

  • Adam Sanford

    Brandon — A+ thank you

    Oleg, mirrorless pulls the mirror box out as a potential obstruction, but we don’t know the throat diameter of a future Canon mirrorless setup and they may go tiny with that, which may become problematic for f/1.2 lenses. But if they design it right as Brandon speaks to above, it should be circular balls all the way…unless the EF to EF-mirrorless (future mount) is designed to have stuff in the light path. (Also, Sony could pooch this as well with their EF adaptors.)

  • Dan

    Obviously the actual focal length of the lens isn’t changing when used on a crop sensor. The effective field of view would be 75mm due to the cropping. Stefanie Daniella where did you get 80.7mm?

    Maybe more important to point out is that the aperture most definitely does not change at all to 1.6. It is still f/1 but cropped down.

    The resulting image recorded by an aps-c sensor will be the exact image (with different noise and dynamic range) captured by a full-frame sensor but cropped down.

    Not sure why this is always confusing people. I have an a7rii and an a6000 and use the same lenses on both. The a6000 just gives a cropped portion of the same image but with a higher pixel density since it is a 24mp crop.

  • If you got a lead on one….yes 🙂

  • Thank you Brandon!

  • Brandon Dube

    If a line could be drawn from any point on the inner diameter of the bayonet to any point on the sensor without being obstructed, it would be completely a nonissue. If they went mirrorless and kept the same “busyness” (for lack of a better word) immediately under the flange of the mount, it would make no difference.

  • Does it mean this won’t be an issue if Canon goes mirrorless?

  • Zach, thank you for the article. I guess Zeiss 50mm f/0.7 is next? 😉

  • Brandon Dube

    The mirror box clips the bokeh. The exit pupil (loosely, aperture) must be viewable without obstruction by the sensor to avoid the beam being clipped, causing increased vignetting and clipped-looking bokeh.

    If you look at the mirrorbox of a 5D series camera, there is a baffle directly behind the flange that is essentially a cutout of the sensor area. It masks the drive mechanisms for the mirror above, and AF subassembly below. Since that cutout is smaller than the rear element, it blocks part of the beam of light forming the image for some or all parts of the field of view.

    The 1D series cameras have a slightly more open mirrorbox, with the mechanics allowed to be moved backwards a bit by the 7mm thicker body, and clip bokeh a bit less. They also use higher current batteries and can drive the 85L II’s focus a bit faster than the 5D and lower series bodies.

  • RagnarDanneskjöld

    This is a great lens but can you show us some shots where you deactivate “Portrait Mode”

  • Brandon Dube

    The focal length does not change when you change the sensor. Here’s a nice, older video on the subject:

  • Jukeboxjohnnie

    I think your stunning final pictures shot at 1.4 proves that’s all you need!

  • Walter Lysenko

    You’re right. I forgot about the square root. The actual difference is 2*log(1.2)/log(2) = 0.526 stops. (Or 2^(0.526/2)=1.2/1.0)

  • fricotin

    Didn’t Canon offer a .95 50mm in the late 60s ?

  • I believe it’s actually exactly half a stop between f/1 and f/1.2.

  • Walter Lysenko

    How did you come up with the 2/3 stop? There is a 0.263 stop difference between f/1.2 and f/1 since 2^0.263=1.2.

  • Adam Sanford

    *If* the SLR mirror box is the reason for the clipped bokeh balls (a plausible but not to my knowledge proven reason), then a mirrorless camera — which lacks a mirror box — shouldn’t demonstrate this.

  • In theory, probably.

    Admittedly, I don’t know the full science behind the clipping of the bokeh, so it’s more of a Roger question. But it seems that clipping becomes less apparent at longer focal lengths, so the focal length extension you get from the smaller sensor size along with the lack of a mirror box should translate to little to no clipping.

  • I wasn’t able to test it with a Sony system, because the time I had with it was extremely limited.
    I’m not in front of the computer that has the EXIF data on it, but I believe all the shots were shot at ISO 100, and at 1/800th on the f/1.2 setting (So 1/1000th for f/1.1 and 1/1250 for f/1.0). I’ll double check those numbers for you when I get home.

    One thing I noticed with the Lemon shot was that there was slightly more barrel distortion from the 50mm f/1.0L. I’m not sure if that had something to do with it being slightly decentered, or maybe just my eyes playing tricks on me…but thats one thing I noticed when looking at the two images from it and the 50mm f/1.2L.

    As for your lust, it’s still a pretty incredible lens. I think people want it for the same reason they want a Leica Noctilux. It’s not nearly as good as the counterparts, but it’s still a marvel of a lens.

  • Stefanie Daniella

    will bokeh balls be fully round on a EOS M (M5/M6/M100) wide open at f1.0?

    EF50mm f1.0L will be a nice 80.7mm f1.6L portrait lens on Canon APSC mirrorless dcams?

  • David Bateman

    Thank you for the report. Did you have the chance to test it on a Sony via adapter?
    The lemon shot the 1.1 of the 50mm looks the same as the 1.2 of the 50mm f1.2 to me. Also the depth of field of the 1.0 lens at 1.2 seems greater. Maybe the 50mm 1.2 is wider than you think or the 1.0 is really not 1.0. What were the exposure values for all the lemon shots, ie shutter and iso values.
    Thank you again, my lust for this extreme lens is gone.

  • Adam Sanford

    More clipped bokeh balls! It cannot be unseen. 2nd to last pic, top side. D-balls for bokeh.

    *Thanks* mirror box. Why can’t you be wider than the wide open iris of the lens and stop serving as a undesirable bokeh shape template, eh?

    ^^^ is my current working theory, please validate this or talk me down — I’m genuinely curious ^^^

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