The Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM first caught my attention quite by accident, whilst researching my purchase of the Leica 50mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE I stumbled upon references to a lens some referred to as the Japanese Summilux. Intruigued by this reference and fueled by my natural curiosity I took the plunge and picked up a perfect copy of the Type II version along with original Sl39.3C UV filter and Hood.
I'm fortunate to have some pretty amazing glass and I always seem to have a perpetual queue of lenses waiting to get quality camera time. Because of this and despite me being happy with my initial testing of the lens the Canon 50mm f/1.4 never really spent a prolonged period on any of my cameras.
Surprisingly there is not a huge amount of information around about this lens, certainly less than I anticipated. Therefore, having received several email requests for my opinion about it I decided that it fit's the profile of my User Reports, by that I mean it's not really mainstream or fashionable........it is however very capable on the Leica M9, Monochrom and film M's and offers the user another cheap fast 50mm option.
If you've read my User Reports on the 50mm Jupiter 3 or Voigtlander 15mm Super Wide Heliar you will already know that I don't go for overly technical write ups. I prefer, if I can to let the lens do the talking, sure I will cover the basics but really I'm just trying to produce a reference point, something to assist those interested in this particular glass, hopefully one that will be of benefit.
I will continue to update this report over time.
There are two variants of the Canon 50mm f/1.4:-
Type I was introduced in November 1957 and continued production until March 1958 when it was discontinued. It retailed for ¥25,000, the equivalent of around US$600 today. Serial Numbers for the Type I range from 10000 - 29390.
Type II was released in August 1959 and continued production until June 1972 when it was eventually discontinued. Serial Number for the Type II range from 29681 - 120705. The lens was offered for sale at ¥18500.
Important Note - I have the Type II version of this lens and that is the subject of this user report.
I'd like to express my sincere thanks to Peter Kitchingman of www.canonrangefinder.com for assisting me with historical information along with the lens schematics.
NOTE: My lens, Serial No: 35923 which would make it an earlier Type II. For completeness I have incorporated certain information pertaining to the Type I version.
Lens Technical Details
Canon 50mm f/1.4 Type I Schematic
Canon 50mm f/1.4 Type II Schematic
The original post pertained to an optical difference between the Type I and Type II optics. This information was received from a reputable Canon aficionado who in turn had received the information directly from Canon and was therefore considered to be accurate and included here in good faith. Further to investigations by Brian Sweeney, another excellent and reputable source I can now confirm the two lenses are indeed optically identical. This is based on an internal comparison of the two types and is definitive. I've been in receipt of this information for some time but have only recently found the time to update here, I apologise for the delay.
Comprising of six elements in 4 groups the lens is of Planar type design.
The lens has firm click stops between aperture settings.
Without the hood fitted the lens just encroaches in to the 50mm framelines when focused at 1m. The 1m minimum is a slight negative and if I'm totally honest it can be a bit of a nuicance if like me you've been spoilt with .7m lenses. It's also worth mentioning that the lens has an infinity lock which I'm not a fan of.
This lens comes in LTM/M39 mount, in short that means you will require an LTM/M39 – M Mount adaptor in order to shoot it on the M9 or any other M mount Leica.
Adaptors are available for between $20-70 on ebay. From experience I would choose very carefully as some of the cheaper offerings are not machined accurately and subsequently the fit to the M9 will be less than satisfactory. You can get a sound version -Here.
48mm Filters are readily available, I managed to pick up a set of Canon filters including UV 1x, Skylight 1x and ND 4x in the original cases complete with paperwork for just under US$50.00
At 246g the lens construction is excellent and robust, add in the LTM adaptor, a filter and the Hood and it's up to 303g.
Just for reference and to put that weight in to perspective here are some comparisons (inclusive of hood and filter)
Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.1 - 463g
Zeiss C Sonnar ZM 50/1.5 - 273g
Leica Summilux 50/1.4 Asph FLE - 352g
Leica M Monochrom
It seems fitting to start with some images taken on the Monochrom because this is where this lens really shines in my opinion, sure I've had pleasant results from the Leica M9 and film M's but like many others at the moment I'm really seeing the benefit of vintage/character glass on this camera. For me, the Monochrom brings about a certain mindset and with it a moodiness which I feel is reflected in the images I've taken, it's equally fair to say they rather reflect my current mood.
Sound of Silence - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 160 1/2000 Sec
Bridge of Hope - Revisited - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 160 1/3000 Sec
Off the Rails - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 160 1/500 Sec
The base ISO of the Monochrom is ISO 320 - The first three images here are all Pulled to ISO 160 which equals reduced Dynamic Range, workable but not recommended.
Corrugated - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 320 1/1500 Sec
Silver Tongues for the Young - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 320 1/250 Sec
Black Wheel - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 640 1/2000 Sec
Rooted - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 320 1/4000 Sec
Restricted - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 320 1/1000 Sec
Mount Drury - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 320 1/4000 Sec
Summers End - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 320 1/3000 Sec
Resisting H2O - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 320 1/3000 Sec
Rebel - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 320 1/500 Sec 4x ND Filter
The Urban Jungle - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 320 1/180 Sec 4x ND Filter
Alicia Sim No 1 - Leica M9 - ISO 640 1/125 Sec
This is an image I took several months ago as part of my learning process of photographing models, I took a series of images on the Canon 50/1.4 and gave them a very stylised processing look. I was really pleased with the lens performance, you can see the full post HERE.
Alicia Sim No 2 - Leica M9 - ISO 640 1/180 Sec
Alicia Sim No 1 Crop - Leica M9 - ISO 640 1/125 Sec
These images from the same shoot along with several others featured on Steve Huff's site, you can see the full post HERE.
Alicia Sim No 3 - Leica M9 - ISO 500 1/1500 Sec
Alicia Sim No 4 - Leica M9 - ISO 500 1/500 Sec
Alicia Sim No 5 - Leica M9 - ISO 500 1/1500 Sec
I've found the lens is wonderful for portraits when shot wide open or at f/2 as the lens has just the right balance of detail and softness.
Autumn Fruits - Leica M9 - ISO 160 1/180 Sec
Fall leaves, fall...... - Leica M9 - ISO 160 1/2000 Sec
Trapped - Leica M9 - ISO 160 1/350 Sec
No way home - Leica M9 - ISO 640 1/500 Sec
Yours Truly - Leica m9 - ISO 160 1/3000 Sec
Fairies Abode - Leica M9 - ISO 160 1/500 Sec
A Kiss for a Rose - Leica M9 - ISO 160 1/125 SecT
The Enchantress in Lavender - Leica M9 - ISO 160 1/750 Sec
Canon 50/1.4 @ f/4
Canon 50/1.4 @ f/2.8
Canon 50/1.4 @ f/2
Leica Film M's
The Navigator - Leica M6 – Fuji ASTIA 100F
Summertime - Leica M3 – Fuji ASTIA 100F
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower - Leica M3 - Fuji Provia 50
A Long Day - Leica M3 - Fuji Provia 50
Golden Moment - Leica M3 – Fuji ASTIA 100F
Allium Haze - Leica M3 – Fuji ASTIA 100F
Memories of Summer - Leica M6 – Fuji ASTIA 100F
First Light - Leica M3 - Fuji Provia 50
External Metering via Gossen Pilot
Scanning done on the Canoscan 9000f with the exception of The Perks Of Being A Wallflowerand A Log Day which were scanned on the REFLECTA PRO 7200. You can read why I left the Canoscan 9000f HERE and the direction I've taken with scanning HERE
Film Developed by www.filmsoup.co.nz
To give an indication of sharpness I've shown several 100% crops from shots taken wide open at f/1.4, after all if the lens is not sufficiently sharp at f/1.4 you may as well buy the f/1.8 version........in my opinion this is very much the case with the Canon 50/1.2 for instance, it's way too soft for my taste wide open and it makes the Canon 50mm f/1.4 even more appealing.
Off the Rails - 100% Crop - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 160 at f/1.4
Silver Tongues for the Young - 100% Crop - Leica M Monochrom - ISO 320 at f/1.4 through a perspex screen!!
Alicia Sim No 1 - 100% Crop - Leica M9 - ISO 640 at f/1.4
Vignetting is a fact of life when it comes to lenses, the Canon 50mm/1.4 is no exception, there is obviously mild vignetting at the wider apertures but it's not excessive. I choose to code the camera as 50 f/1.4 Asph 11891/11892 in an effort to reduce the vignetting. Incidentally this is the same code recommended for the Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1.5/50 ZM
I often add a degree of vignetting to my images in post processing so for me it’s not an issue, regardless of this it is not excessive and can be corrected in part with coding and beyond that in PP should you so desire.
I've experienced no Focus Shift on this lens.
It's difficult to articulate the rendering characteristics of any lens, mainly because a lens will exhibit different qualities dependant on subject matter and light, the Canon 50mm f/1.4 is capable of delivering rich smooth boken, it can at times render more robustly but it is never overly harsh in my opinion and it's certainly to my taste.
The subject of bokeh is very much subjective, good bokeh, bad bokeh it's really down to individual taste which is why I've tried to give a good selection of bokeh samples here so readers can form their own views. For many, bokeh is what will come to mind first when a lens is described as having character, certainly it is a considerable factor although other characteristics are also influential.
As with any vintage glass I would always recommend the use of a lens hood at all times. That said I don't always follow my own advice and that's certainly been the case here. All of the images in this post were shot without the hood. The lens is not prone to flare in my experience indeed it's quite robust in this regard. There is a hint of flare in the "Fall leaves, fall" image in the Leica M9 section. In the two film images below I've deliberately attempted to use flare as a creative tool.
Solar Flare - Leica M3 – Fuji ASTIA 100F Flare Example
Flare Example - Leica M3 – Fuji ASTIA 100F
It's accepted that the lenses of yesteryear fall short in the contrast stakes when compared to their modern day counterparts. Whilst the Canon 50mm f/1.4 isn't as contrasty as say the Zeiss ZM 50/1.5 it most certainly has more contrast than the likes of the Leica Summicron 50/2 Type II. Whatever your view is on this it can all be remedied simply in post processing if you feel the need.
Would I recommend this lens? Absolutely, If you own the Leica M Monchrom and your interested in shooting vintage glass this lens really is a no-brainer, it performs exceptionally well, has bucket loads of character and costs just a fraction of the price of many alternatives. On the M9 and film M's, if you want a 50mm lens that won't break the bank and if your not a "pixel peeper" I'd say the Canon 50mm f/1.4 is a great alternative to the Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.1 or older versions of the Leica Summicron 50/2 and you'll still have plenty of change in your pocket. Hopefully it won't be too long before I have the new Voigtlander Nokton M Asph 50/1.5 as it will be interesting to see how these measure up.
Where to Buy
As I've stated previously my buying options are somewhat limited by my geographical location, although it does not seem to prevent me acquiring gear........I purchased my lens from ebay, there seems to be a constant and steady stream of Canon 50mm f/1.4's on there. Obviously buying on ebay does require one to exercise some caution but I have been fortunate to date. One thing I have noted when dealing with Japanese sellers is that the condition and quality of the goods I've received has always exceeded that of the description. My Canon 50mm f/1.4 being a prime example of that. There is no substitute for testing equipment in person, hopefully I will get a chance to do a little of that in the camera stores of Tokyo in the next couple of months!!
The Canon Camera Museum is a useful resource when researching Canon cameras and lenses.
Elsewhere on the internet information is fragmented across the various fora, this was in part the motivation for this post.
Thanks for reading.