Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM Review

An excellent portrait lens with superb optics


With the introduction of Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera, the EOS R, an important challenge arose: releasing spectacular lenses that convinced photographers of the new system’s potential. The first two “crown jewel” lenses in the new lineup are the RF 28-70mm f/2L zoom and the RF 50mm f/1.2L – the second of which we will be reviewing today.

Canon RF 50mm f1.2L

Although the 50mm f/1.2 has impressive specifications – and a $2299 price tag to match – it actually fits into a very familiar spot in Canon’s lineup. The company’s history of ultra-fast-aperture 50mm autofocus lenses dates back to 1987, when the Canon 50mm f/1L USM was announced. It didn’t see the light of day until 1989, when it became one of the most iconic lenses ever for the Canon EF mount.

By the early 2000s, the Canon EF 50mm f/1L USM’s hefty price tag had taken a toll on sales, and Canon stopped producing it. However, in 2006, Canon released something similar: the smaller, less expensive, and slightly slower EF 50mm f/1.2L USM. Although that lens was coveted for its wide aperture, its optical characteristics were lacking in many ways. So, with the new RF version, Canon clearly had to make some major gains in image quality.

As a result, the new 50mm has been completely redesigned, with no less than three aspherical elements and one with UD glass. It’s a large lens with more glass than the EF version, dwarfing the older version in both size and weight. Like all L lenses, the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM is built to a professional standard with a mix of metal and high-quality plastics, and it also features internal weather seals to prevent dust and water from intruding.

The RF 50mm f/1.2 uses Canon’s fast and accurate Ring USM focus motor (different from the RF 24-105mm f/4L USM zoom lens, which uses Canon’s Nano USM focus motor) which promises a snappy and quiet focus operation. There is no in-lens optical image stabilization to compensate for the EOS R’s lack of in-body image stabilization, which can prove highly problematic when using slow shutter speeds while shooting handheld. Hopefully, Canon integrates in-body image stabilization into future EOS R cameras as currently, this is a significant handicap.

Canon EOS R @ 50mm, ISO 100, 1/320, f/6.3

Build Quality and Handling

The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM is part of Canon’s L series, so it’s no surprise that the lens is built to a professional standard. In hand, it has a reassuring heft, but it doesn’t feel out of place on the EOS R thanks to the camera’s sizable grip. EOS RP users will find it a bit imbalanced. The lens features internal seals to prevent dust and water from intruding, and a quick look at the back of the lens shows a generous rubber gasket around the metal bayonet mount. I tested the lens in a light rain shower and some snow, while Spencer tested it in windy, sandy conditions. Neither of us experienced any durability issues.

Canon EOS R @ 50mm, ISO 100, 1/640, f/1.2

Measuring 89.8 mm in diameter and 108 mm in length, and weighing 950 grams, this is not a small lens. It is in the same weight category as the now-vintage Canon EF 50mm f/1L USM (989 grams) and the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 (970 grams). It’s also 370 grams heavier than the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM.

RF 50 1.2 on EOS R

The RF 50mm f/1.2L USM features two rings on its lens barrel. The larger of the two is the excellent manual focus ring, which offers ideal resistance and smooth adjustments. The additional ring at the front of the lens is a knurled, programmable “Control Ring,” which is customizable via the camera menu. It lets you quickly access many different settings, including aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation. The control ring clicks when turned, which is useful for knowing how many 1/3 stops you have gone, but note that it is audible when recording sound through the camera.

The front element features a fluorine coating to help prevent dirt and fingerprints from sticking, as well as making the glass easier to clean. At the front of the lens is a non-rotating 77mm filter thread, surrounded by a bayonet mount for the Canon ES-83 lens hood supplied with the lens. The hood is made of a semi-rigid plastic, and it is relatively large for a lens of this type.

Canon RF 50mm f1.2 Sample 11
Canon EOS R + RF50mm F1.2 L USM @ 50mm, ISO 100, 1/13, f/8.0
Copyright © Spencer Cox

The lens also introduces a new and somewhat quirky rear lens cap – the Canon Lens Dust Cap RF – whose design is different in a few ways from the standard Canon EF rear lens cap. Typically, attaching a rear lens cap only takes a simple twist. Now, however, you need to align the lens cap properly with the lens mount (a small notch on the cap with the red dash on the lens mount), or the cap doesn’t attach to the lens at all. This design does offer a tighter and more dust-resistant hold onto the back of the lens, but it also handles more awkwardly in the field. It sounds like a small thing, but this sort of ergonomic issue can grow annoying over time.

The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM has two switches which adorn the side of the lens barrel. The first switch is a simple AF/MF switch, while the second is a Focus Limiter switch (0.8m – Infinity) which helps to speed up focus acquisition.

Philly Streets
Canon EOS R + RF50mm F1.2 L USM @ 50mm, ISO 100, 1/1250, f/1.2


About Dvir Barkay

Dvir Barkay is an award winning nature photographer born in Israel and currently based out of Philadelphia, PA. To see more of Dvir's work, please visit his website.