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50mm lens – F/1.8 vs. F/1.4 – Nikon vs Sigma vs Yongnuo vs Canon – Comparison

Aug 4

Professional photography used to be expensive.  I thought about explaining why photography used to be expensive, but I think you all know that film was expensive and if you’re reading this now, you probably know firsthand that digital photography can be / is / was expensive.  However, if you know where to look and what to look for, digital photography can be very affordable.

I was introduced to a Chinese company a few years ago when I bought their flashes. I had broken two Nikon brand flashes that cost $300+ a piece and I was tired of paying astronomical prices just to have things break. I bought an oddly named $60 flash online and have never looked back.

The brand is Yongnuo. I have no idea what it means and I can barely say it, their manuals are horribly written and the customer service is lacking. BUT their products are very interesting.

I mentioned buying one of their flashes a few years ago, I currently own 12 of them and they all work wonderfully. Last year they announced a 35mm F/2 lens and this year they released a 50mm F/1.8 for around $65. I bought them all. I couldn’t resist. They also have an 85mm lens that I have yet to get!

For comparison Nikon’s 50mm and 35mm lenses cost about $200 and up until Yongnuo, the only sub $100 lenses were manual focus only. Yongnuo is really shaking things up!

I have bought and shot with quite a few different 50mm lenses over the years. Here is the list.
Nikon 50mm F/1.4 AF-D
Nikon 50mm F/1.8 AF-D
Nikon 50mm F/1.8 AF-S
Sigma 50mm F/1.4
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 ART

Is it sharp?  I shot several sessions with this lens and as I was editing I was very pleased with the sharpness. I alternated between the Yongnuo and the Sigma ART just to compare sharpness and there is VERY minimal difference in the center. I didn’t pixel peep the edges because I rarely put my subject on the extreme edge. From what I did see, edge sharpness is just fine. This lens is on par with all the other F/1.8 lenses I have shot with. The $800+ F/1.4 lenses may be ever so slightly sharper (especially stopped down to 1.8) but you and your clients will never ever be able to tell. You will never look at this lens and think “that is soft”

The Sigma ART F/1.4 lens comes in at $950 and the Yongnuo F/1.8 is around $65.
Can you spot a $900 difference? Me either.

How about color fringing, distortion, and all that other stuff?
It’s fine. I have Nikon lenses that have much more chromatic aberration than this Yongnuo. I did not notice any distortion. I would not worry about any of that.

Auto Focus?? It is very acceptable. My Sigma ART lens is a tad bit faster and a tad bit quieter but no one would shoot with the Yongnuo and think “that is noisy” or “that is slow.”  The slight improvement my Sigma has is not worth the extra $900 I spent on it….

So what will I shoot with? Well, I bought a lens that was nearly 1K so I will stick with it.
Is it $900 better than the Yongnuo? No. Is it slightly sharper? Yes. Is it a little bit faster? Yes. Will anyone ever be able to tell in real world shooting? Probably not.

What do I recommend? This is tricky. If you take pictures of your kids, shoot some landscapes, and maybe do an occasional paid shoot, then buy the Yongnuo! Even if you do a lot of paid shoots, buy the Yongnuo!

If you are getting into photography seriously and have the money to invest,  I would save up a little more and get the Nikon F/1.8 AF-S lens or the Canon 50 1.8. The reason for this is because the autofocus is barely faster, which means that when a bride is walking towards you or a kid is running around, you will get more usable images. Also, Nikon and Canon don’t support third party lenses, which means they could technically release a new camera or do a firmware update that makes third party lenses not work.

Do I recommend the F/1.4 lenses? Nope. Just no. I have owned two F/1.4 lenses and they are great…. But they are expensive and they are HEAVY.  The difference in light between a 1.4 and 1.8 is so minimal that I don’t even consider that in my choice. When I take my camera on trips, I ALWAYS take the 1.8 over the 1.4 because it is so much lighter and fits in smaller bags.

I am so excited to see Yongnuo enter the autofocus lens market. Even if I don’t shoot with them, it will drive Nikon’s prices down. I am also excited that my photography students now have a VERY affordable alternative Auto Focus Portrait lens.

Side note. This review is based on the NIKON version of the lens. I also own Yongnuo’s canon version, and it is different than the Nikon version. The Nikon version is newer and better. The Canon version has a louder / slower AF and it isn’t quite as sharp. However Canon offers its own 50mm lens for less than Nikon so if you are a canon shooter, stick with Canon’s 50mm.

There is no excuse to ever shoot with the kit lens ever again. Don’t do it. Buy a 50mm below.

Nikon –><– Canon

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