Before Canon made the EF 50mm f 1.2L, the Canon EF 50mm f/1L, now a discontinued lens, was the fastest in the company’s line-up. It might be difficult to find one nowadays, and if you do expect to pay it up to three times the price it had. Citing from Wikipedia:
The discontinued Canon EF 50mm f/1L USM is a professional L series autofocus lens. On the used market sells for as much as double the original retail value. It was the fastest SLR lens in production during its lifetime. This lens has a metal body and mount, and plastic extremities. It also features a wide rubber focus ring that is damped, a distance window with infrared index, and the ability to set the focus range from 0.6m to infinity, or 1m to infinity. In common with the EF 85mm f/1.2L USM it uses an electronic “focus by wire” system and requires power from the camera in order to manual focus. The 8-blade diaphragm and maximum aperture of f/1.0 give this lens the ability to create extremely shallow depth of field effects and to support low light situations. The optical construction of this lens contains 11 lens elements, including two ground and polished aspherical lens elements. This lens uses a floating front extension focusing system, powered by a ring-type USM motor. The front of the lens does not rotate, but does extend when focusing.
Despite its price and large maximum aperture, the 1.0L was not a particularly sharp lens at any aperture, and the two cheaper 50mm options offered far better sharpness when stopped down beyond about f/2.8. This, combined with the high production cost and low sales volume, led to it being discontinued in 2000 and eventually superseded by the f/1.2 edition.
Bryan Soderlind has a Canon EF 50mm f/1L (he payed more than $3000) and shares images and thoughts with us.
In an attempt to really get excited about switching to digital, I went “all the way” on my 50mm lens purchase. I bought the most expensive and rare 50mm Canon lens, the Canon EF 50mm f/1L. Previously I had used the 50mm 1.4 and 1.2 and couldn’t really differentiate between the two, they both were really amazing lenses.
Interviewed by PetaPixel, he said:
The Canon EF 50mm f/1L lens is a rare, discontinued, and expensive lens Canon only made for a few years. The lens is made to shine at lower apertures and the look you get at 1.0 is like no other lens made. There is somewhat of a frustrating learning curve when using the lens at 1.0, getting anything in focus takes practice.
Strong backlighting tends to give a very wild unique flare and certain light sources produce a rainbow effect I haven’t seen produced by any other lenses. The lens really isn’t any better than other 50mm Canon lenses I’ve used once you stop down past 2.8, this lens was made for the wider apertures.
There is also a heavy vignette at wide open apertures, this could be seen as a positive or negative depending on your preference. The price and the ability to find the lens is a definite deterrent, but for me it was well worth it.
Available Canon 50mm lenses:
EF 50mm f 1.2L USM price check: Amazon, B&H, Adorama, Canon USA, J&R, Digitalrev, eBay, rent it at Borrow Lenses
EF 50mm f 1.4 USM price check: Amazon, B&H, Adorama, Canon USA, J&R, Digitalrev, eBay, rent it at Borrow Lenses
EF 50mm f/1.8 price check: Amazon, B&H, Adorama, Canon USA, J&R, Digitalrev, eBay, rent it at Borrow Lenses