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Expectations for Performance of the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L: One of Many New Lenses in a Golden Age of Optics

See my Nikon Z wish list and Canon EOS R wishlist.
PLEASE use my links to pre-order—bookmark this page. Pre-ordering starts on September 12.

I’ll be reviewing the about $2299 Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L in detail, hopefully in October, as the system ships.

Never before has there been so much promise for superb optical designs. Both Nikon and Canon are pulling out all the stops to deliver a number of ultra high performance lenses made possible by the design flexibility of their respective mirrorless lens mounts.

Canon RF 50m f/1.2L

Canon and Nikon know well that Sony is the company to beat, Sony having gobbled up market share far and wide from many segments of the photographic community. What to do in such a competitive situation? Build cameras that are better ergonomically and build truly outstanding lenses. That latter point is the only way out IMO—camera bodies come and go, but the very best lenses can be a compelling reason to switch, and a longer term investment.

Even if the performance of new mirrorless designs is similar to the corresponding DSLR sibling lens (e.g., the Canon RF 24-105mm f/1.4 IS), the mirrorless lens will be smaller and lighter at least from wide angles through medium telephotos—still a substantial win.

Lenses are easier to design with the short flange focal distance as per the Canon white paper (ditto for Nikon’s statements), then we can expect extremely high performance along with modern lens design on a fresh slate.

The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L

The MTF chart for the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L shows outstanding contrast for coarse and fine structures wide-open. It’s already in Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon territory. How it compares exactly is difficult to say, because Canon’s MTF charts are computed (not measured), the spectral balance is unspecified, and Canon provides MTF only at 30 lp/mm, not the 40 lp/mm that Zeiss uses.

Still, I expect unprecedented performance from a Canon 50mm lens rivalling the very best normal lenses (including the Otus). The ultra-high performance coupled with shooting at f/1.2 should yield a stunningly 3-dimensional rendering. Performance stopped down should be world class. At least that is my expectation.

What about the Nikon NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 Noct S? At a half stop faster I expect the Noct to be world class also, and possibly it could be a bit better than the Canon RF 50/1.2L, but building an f/0.95 lens presents challenges considerably more difficult than f/1.2. I also expect the Noct to 2X to 3X the price for that extra half stop. Still, Nikon clearly has bragging rights and I would not be surprised to see an f/0.8 lens at some point.

Below, the other Canon 50mm designs have always been marginal, but by comparison to the new Canon RF 50m f/1.2L they can be seen in context as not very good at all. The previous Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L is hugely inferior to the new RF version, plus it had problematic focus shift.

Canon-supplied computed MTF for Canon RF 50m f/1.2L at 10, 30 lp/mm
Canon RF 50m f/1.2L

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