Using the Rare Canon 50mm f/1.0 and Its Bokehliciously Thin Depth of Field

The Canon 50mm f/1.0 was the fastest SLR lens in production before it was discontinued in 2000 and replaced with the f/1.2. There aren’t too many copies of this lens floating around on the used market, so photographers who want to use the ridiculous aperture it offers must pay a hefty premium in order to purchase one; the lenses commonly sell for two or three times the original retail value.

When reader Bryan Soderlind switched from film to digital a while back, he decided to splurge and go “all the way” by buying a 50mm f/1.0 for a little over $3,000 — a relative bargain. The lens was in “impeccable shape” and was in focus even when using the razor sharp depth of field at f/1.0. Here are some of his thoughts on what it’s like to use the lens, and some sample photos from his shoots.

Soderlind tells us,

The Canon 50mm F/1 lens is a rare, discontinued, and expensive lens Canon only made for a few years. The lens is made to shine at lower apertures and the look you get at 1.0 is like no other lens made. There is somewhat of a frustrating learning curve when using the lens at 1.0, getting anything in focus takes practice.

Strong backlighting tends to give a very wild unique flare and certain light sources produce a rainbow effect I haven’t seen produced by any other lenses. The lens really isn’t any better than other 50mm Canon lenses I’ve used once you stop down past 2.8, this lens was made for the wider apertures.

There is also a heavy vignette at wide open apertures, this could be seen as a positive or negative depending on your preference. The price and the ability to find the lens is a definite deterrent, but for me it was well worth it.

Here are some photos showing what Soderlind means when he talks about the lens’ “rainbow effect”. The rainbows begin to appear when shooting bright light sources in the frame at f/1.0. Soderlind’s friend calls it the lens “throwing bows”:

You can find more sample shots over in this blog post by Soderlind. If you’d like to buy one for yourself, you can keep your eyes peeled on sites like eBay or craigslist. Be warned though: even if you do find one for sale, the asking price will likely be much more than what Soderlind paid.

Image credits: Photographs by Bryan Soderlind and used with permission

  • Kevin

    Want is an understatement.

  • mimi

    how do I know if I have the f 1.0, it’s not written on my lens. It’s my dad camera, an Canon EOS850, very old from before 2000, can you tell me?

  • Tommy Sar

    I wonder how does this compare to the Leica Noctilux, Voightlander Nokton, and SLR Magic Noktor f/0.95s? I don’t recall any of them having funky rainbows.

  • Michael Zhang

    1: it looks like it has more glass than body:

  • Jackie Gagarin Curry


  • Henning Nilsen

    The nokton has pretty god aweful bokeh, but still better than this.

    This one also seems ridiculously soft wide open. Even if compare it to the Canon TV 0.95.

  • MikeAlgar42

    These images make me not want if I’m honest. The only one that looks good is the one of the woman in white. Overall it looks too much.

  • Chris Popely

    The bokeh is not particularly nice in any of these piccys it must be said.

  • DERP


  • Alexander Petricca

    The DOF on all of these is so thin that the image looks out of focus…

  • sierrarobba

    OOO my god is so soft.Usless.Why dont buy a noct-nikkor and he have best IQ in f 2.0 like EVERY noct lens.

  • amando96

    >before 2000


  • Jon

    This is far and away my favorite lens. I have shot the noctilux and a 50mm .95. Neither of those lenses are particularly useable. The autofocus is absolutely critical with this lens. The lens definitely has a learning curve. You can literally get someones eyelashes in focus with the eyes out of focus. It is not a particularly sharp lens. That is not the point. It renders portraits beautifully. The shallow depth of field, unusual flare, and super pleasing bokeh creates an intimacy I’ve never seen with any other lens. Very few people look good when shooting them with a super sharp lens. Sharp lenses have their place but they cannot achieve what this lens can.

  • disqus_VWJqEwQNxp

    These are very easy to find in Japan where I live. But like the article mentioned, much more than what he paid.

  • Mansgame

    I have absolutely no need for something like this but want one…in a nikon mount.

  • derekdj

    I agree, it’s all personal preference, I think when your photograph becomes more about the bokeh patterning and rainbowing over image quality and composition the lens fails. At $3k+ I’d rather invest in the silkiness of a Noctilux.

  • G

    Agree, seems to be on par with the Nokton’s so-so bokeh.. look at those onion rings!

  • TaVon

    I actually think the lens is pretty boss, and I’d probably pay the $3k if I truly had it to blow like that. :P

  • whoopn

    Just a thought for Nikon (and Canon users):



    Yeah, its expensive but if you’re a pro and make $100k+/year on photography, makes sense to invest…I’d love to get my hands on a bunch of old leica glass and do this with them…

  • harumph

    I love it when people complain that lenses with huge apertures aren’t razor sharp.

  • delayedflight

    You’re buying this lens for the aesthetic qualities not for super sharpness also it has autofocus whilst the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 is manual.

  • Brandon Hill

    wow, this is unreal. Probably would never use it for myself, but would certainly be fun to play with.

  • OSAM

    No no, VERY OLD, before 2000…

    I must be ancient (1988!)

  • Sucky pictures

    Was expecting better pictures. This is a fail!

  • Dave

    Although I love the effect of an ultra-fast lens shot wide open, there is no way you can tell sharpness by looking at images on the internet on a 100dpi or less monitor.

  • Jonathan Maniago

    Take out the boke and most of the pics in this set would have been your typical Facebook/Myspace/whatever profile pics.

  • stanimir stoyanov

    This lens has autofocus?

  • CBofPDX

    It’s a completely subjective matter. I love the look yet my least favorite is the woman in white. The flare around her neck gives her an ostrich look.

  • Nate Opgenorth

    Agreed but you shouldn’t have to see the original 5K res photo and quit at it and say “Yup its sharp guys! we got a winner!” I mean for most applications that is. Unless your blowing the image up for a billboard or extremely large prints. Was out taking pictures today with my 550D and had my 50mm at 1.8….it is just too shallow even at 1.8….somewhat annoying…it was dark too so I stopping down to 2.8 would have made it so I would have to brighten up in post with more noise. But I wanted to get a shot of my sister and her friend and my sister was like a more forward than her friend so her friend was slightly out of focus. With wide apertures I find unless your going for ridiculous shallow depth of view you need to be much more conscious of your angles and you have to stay on a very “1 dimensional plane”..cant explain it well.

  • kyoshinikonbecker

    That is because not all of them arent sharp… out of wide apeture lenses I find the 50mm 1.2L and Nikkor 200mm f/2 to be the sharpest and the 85mm f/1.2 L to be the softest wide open. This lens isnt razor sharp but who cares. It takes amazing pictures that would probably look worse if they were razor sharp…

  • jasonjwen

    I have one of these, and I wouldn’t recommend buying it ever! I bought a used one several years ago, before the price went atmospheric. It was in great shape, however, just a few months ago, the USM gave out. Unfortunately when this motor quits working, autofocus and manual focus will not work. I took it to an authorized Canon repair shop and they couldn’t fix it. The motor is no longer available and Canon UK no longer have any replacement parts in stock. I tried contacting Canon US, and they no longer have the parts either. They also said Canon Japan wouldn’t have it either. So, I’ve got a very nice looking paperweight. Ended up having to buy the 1.2/L 50mm. It’s actually much better and even if the USM breaks in the future, I will still be able to focus manually, unlike with the 1.0, which needs the electric motor to work even for manual focus.

  • DE

    I like the idea, but it is actually physically impossible with Nikon’s f mount..

  • Elviera Schreuder

    I want it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ben Hale

    this is insanely cool.

  • Aaron Sylvan

    Agreed – I’m surprised this is being used as an example of “awesome bokeh”. Bokeh is mainly a measure of the smoothness of the edges on the out-of-focus bits. In most of the images, there are sharp lines around the light sources (#1, #2, then “drinking guy” and “headphones guy”). Sorry, my Nikkor 85mm f1.4 AF-S does this a jillion times better. (And honestly even my f2.8 lenses can swing a better background situation if the angle is set up right).

  • Kieran Grasby

    And I thought the f/1.2 was a ridiculous amount of glass!

  • AluKed

    That’s some pretty awful bokeh right there.