Can you tell the difference between this budget lens and one that costs $2000?
How much should you spend on lenses? It’s often said that good glass is where you should invest your money in photography terms. However, with so many cheaper options out there, is that really the best use of resources? Certainly, you would expect a more expensive lens to be better, but just how much better is it, and is it worth the extra price tag?
In this video, Katelyn James puts two 50mm primes lenses head to head. She compares the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L which costs $2099, with the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM which retails at a mere $159. Let’s see how they stack up against each other using the Canon R6.
So physically, the most obvious difference is the size and weight of the two lenses. The f/1.2 lens is far bigger, is weather sealed, and made of metal. Whereas the f/1.8 is plastic, tiny, and has fewer aperture blades so the bokeh won’t be quite as smooth. But bigger isn’t always better. How do the two lenses perform at actually taking photographs?
Katelyn seems surprised at how good the cheap lens feels when shooting. The autofocus is quick and accurate and she doesn’t seem to have any issues even when shooting fast-moving subjects (kids) or when shooting wide open at f/1.8.
Looking more closely on the computer can give you an even greater look at the comparisons. This is where the differences in quality should really become apparent.
The cheap lens certainly does perform well in decent light. With a backlit subject, however, the eyes of the subject are markedly softer than they are with the f/1.2 lens. This is zoomed in a huge amount, however.
In summary, Katelyn says that she thinks that the cheaper lens actually does a very good job. It certainly gets the job done, especially in good light. No, it’s not as sharp as the L lens, particularly at wider apertures and in tougher lighting situations. However, the cheaper lens is also much lighter and smaller which could be a consideration depending on what you’re shooting.
The question is then, is the L lens worth spending $2000 extra for a little extra sharpness? For some people, it most certainly will be. Professionals that cannot afford to miss a shot or have anything soft, or people with massive bank balances. Indeed, I’ve shot with some expensive lenses and let’s say that they really are pin sharp. The cheaper lenses are absolutely good lenses, however, they do miss that mark on the sharpness factor.
The L lens is definitely an investment, however as Katelyn says, it’s not worth putting yourself into debt for when the majority of clients particularly when you’re starting out, won’t even notice the difference. You can still take excellent photos with the lower-end lenses. Canon has brought out a line of RF STM lenses aimed at lower budgets so that you don’t need to spend a ton of cash when you switch to the mirrorless system.
Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe