Yes, you read the title correctly. I’m giving you 5 reasons the 40mm is better than the 50mm.
I’m talking to you today about why the highly underrated Canon 40mm f/2.8 lens is better than the beloved Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens. Also known as the “Nifty Fifty,” the 50mm lens is one of Canon’s most popular lenses to date. I shot extensively with the 50mm for four years before picking up the 40mm on a whim shortly before our Europe trip. Two years later, I cannot even believe how much more I love the 40mm lens. Before you purchase either of these lenses, please consider my top 5 reasons the 40mm is better than the 50mm lens.
Please note that in doing a comparison of the 40mm vs. 50mm, I am only comparing it to the Canon 50mm f/1.8. I am not comparing it to the Canon 50mm f/1.4 or Canon 50mm f/1.2, both of which are much more expensive prime lenses, particularly the f/1.2.
1. The build quality is better.
I’m not going to lie: the build quality of the 50mm is pretty terrible. Yes, it’s one of the cheapest lenses out there (which is partly why it’s so popular). I know, you get what you pay for. But the build quality is inexcusably bad. If you’ve ever held a 50mm lens, even if you don’t own one, you know that it’s all plastic.
Why is it plastic? Honestly, I’ve never seen any other lens with such a cheap build, including the now quite outdated 18-55mm kit lens that came with my Canon Rebel t4i in 2012. I also have a 35, if not 45-year-old, 50mm f/1.8 Canon lens that came with my Canon AE-1. The Canon AE-1 was a very popular film camera manufactured in the mid-70s to mid-80s. This 50mm lens is built to last with a solid, metal construction. Not surprisingly, it’s still in fantastic shape. I have no doubt that it will still be in fantastic shape in another 40 years.
I bought the 50mm f/1.8 lens that I use with my Canon DSLR cameras in late 2013. As it is such a versatile lens, I’ve put it through its paces the last five years. But I take extremely good care of my photography equipment. It hasn’t undergone any abuse, nor have I put it in any high-stress environments (i.e. extreme cold, extreme wind with sand). And it’s not in great shape. It’s not in terrible shape, but there is noticeable wear. I know many other photographers who have had similar experiences with their 50mm lenses.
2. It focuses more quickly, accurately, and quietly.
The first time I shot with the 40mm, I was blown away at the focusing speed, noise (or lack thereof), and accuracy. Nearly a year later, I’m still blown away. The 40mm consistently focuses so much better than the 50mm. It didn’t hurt that I bought the 40mm shortly after upgrading to the 80D, which also has superior focusing capacity over the Canon Rebel series. However, I’m confident that you’ll see an improvement in focusing over the 50mm, regardless of the camera body you’re using.
3. The focal length is more versatile for indoor shooting.
50mm is a tight focal length indoors, especially on a crop sensor (as opposed to a full-frame) camera. When you’re shooting large groups of people or trying to get shots of an entire room, you’ll find yourself backed against a wall, struggling to fit everything into the frame. So why not just swap out the prime lens for a zoom lens? Unless you live in an extremely sunny climate or have a home with ample sunshine in every room, you’ll have to boost your ISO significantly with most zoom lenses. Obviously, if you own a high-end zoom lens, like the 24-70mm f/2.8, you’ll be fine. But most of us don’t, so a prime lens is a better option to keep your ISO lower.
If you do a lot of wide-angle indoor photography (i.e., professional group shots at events, real estate photography), it’s well worth investing in a wide-angle prime lens, like the 24mm or a high-end zoom with a wide range, such as the previously mentioned 24-70mm f/2.8 or 16-35 mm f/2.8. If you simply want expanded functionality for your go-to prime lens, the 40mm is perfect.
4. It allows for closer focusing.
Let me be clear that the 40mm is NOT a macro lens. I’m not advertising it as a macro lens. I can’t focus anywhere near as close with the 40mm as I can with my true macro lens, the 100mm. However, as you can see in the above examples, the 40mm is able to focus significantly closer than the 50mm and produces superior bokeh.
I left the top images uncropped, so you get a true close focusing comparison. Then I cropped my 40mm image to allow you to appreciate fully just how nicely the 40mm captures the detail.
If you’ve shot with the 50mm, I’m sure you’ve run into issues with close focusing. Again, the 40mm isn’t a macro lens. But I guarantee you won’t run into the close focusing issues with it that you do with the 50mm.
If you’re in the market for a macro lens but not in the price range of the 100mm, I highly recommend checking out the 60mm.
5. It’s smaller.
While not lighter, largely due to the superior build quality, the 40mm is smaller. The 40mm is one of Canon’s pancake lenses, aptly named for its super slim footprint. The 50mm is by no means large or cumbersome. But the 40mm creates such a compact, non-intrusive DSLR setup. If you’ve ever shot in public (i.e. at a major event, in a tourist area) with a large DSLR zoom lens, you know that this type of lens always attracts comments. Sometimes you don’t want a lot of comments or don’t want people to feel intimidated in front of your DSLR camera. The 40mm is ideal in these situations.
With all that being said, the one time I do grab my 50mm over the 40mm is when I really need that extra stop of light. When you’re shooting in extreme low-light situations, like weddings and concert venues, the extra stop of light makes a huge difference. Personally, I shoot most often in extreme low light when I’m photographing one of my brother’s bands in a bar or jazz club. Opened up to 1.8, typically, I can keep my ISO around 1600. At 2.8, I’m at 6400.
[Disclaimer: Canon didn’t sponsor this post. I bought the 50mm and 40mm lenses with my own money. All opinions about Canon and their lenses are 100% my own. There are a few affiliate links in this post. Thanks!]
Do you agree with my 5 reasons the 40mm is better than the 50mm?
Is there anything you would add to this list?
I’d love to hear your thoughts about both of these Canon lenses!
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19 thoughts on “5 Reasons the 40mm is Better Than the 50mm”
I would not call 40mm quiet. At least not for video shooting. Quier lenses are 18-55 STM and 55-250 STM. These two are silent. 40mm may be quieter than some lenses, but still noisy.
Thanks for your input! I very rarely use my DSLR for video, so I don’t have a lot of personal insight on this topic.
Hey.. nice article. I have the 40mm as well and I find that it takes great photos. I prefer it over my 50mm as well.
i have two SL cannon bodies the 1 and newer2 ilove both and use the 85 1:8 on the 1 and a sigma 18 – 50 on the 2 do you have any suggestions on my camera set up i also own the 24 2:8 STM which is a pancake thats the extent of my DSLR lens you take great pictures yours fspero6
Either of the lenses I discuss in this article would fit that sweet spot in between the lenses you currently own.
I’ve been shooting for 40+ years and I feel the 40mm focal length is much better than the 50mm for landscapes………..
If you shoot houses in a row on the street with a 40 mm and 50 mm and compare the houses look more boxed up and not as nice with the 50 as with the 40 mm. I first noticed this with a 4 x 5 view camera 40 years ago where an old Kodak Ektar 151 mm view lens was just that little less than normal to keep houses from boxing up. Same with Mamiya RZ 110 mm on 6 x 7 cm; there the 90 mm rendered houses much better.
Hi Rose !
Thanks a lot for a very good article on standard prime lenses. But, there is one mistake. The 50mm lens shown in the picture is the STM version launched by Canon in 2015. You might have purchased an old version (50mm f/1.8 II, Production period 1990-2015) in 2013. The old version had plastic mount and mediocre build quality. On the other hand, the new STM version has metal mount and better build quality.
Hi, Naren! I really appreciate the feedback. You’re correct that I am using an old version of the 50mm f/1.8. I’m glad to hear that the 2015 STM version has a metal mount and better build quality.
I LOVE my 40mm. If I ever want to keep things easy and take just one lens, I happily take the 40mm on my Canon 6D and I’m never disappointed in its performance and very rarely find myself wishing for a wider or telephoto lens. It’s my favorite lens by far.
I’m so glad to hear it!
Great post! My Nikon 40mm 2.8 is one of my favorite lenses, for all of the reasons you mention here! I love how it is a bit more “macro” than the 50mm. I didn’t even realize Canon had that lens! Even in Nikon,though, I feel like the 40mm is kind of unknown and unappreciated.
Thanks, Pam! It’s great to hear that Nikon has a similar offering!
How about jewellery & how much close it can get.
I have detailed pictures and info about jewelry shooting in this post. Thanks!
Very informative article and providing guidance to many. Will you please explain which lens(100mm or 60mm) is better for macro photography. I am using Canon EOS 80D. Thank you.
Thanks! The 100mm is the dedicated macro lens. There are lots of articles and videos with detailed comparisons of these two lenses if you’re looking for more information.
Hi, I have been a Nikon user for years but on seeing reviews for the Canon 40mm lens by chance on line less than 30 minutes ago I bought a used Canon 6D and the 40mm but but it’s a white one!
I think that you will love that camera/lens combination. Enjoy!!