Why would a 35mm 1.4 be more expensive than 50 1.4?

theenigmat

macrumors member
Original poster
May 10, 2006
54
0
I'm scratching my head over this and wondering if someone can answer this:

A Canon 50mm 1.4 lens costs roughly $350. (I have one) I've always assumed that the wider an aperture and the longer a focal length, the more expensive a lens is. (i.e. 300mm 2.8 ($3000) vs 400mm 2.8 ($5000) vs 400 4 ($3000))

However, a Canon 35mm 1.4L from B&H is $1200. Obviously, this goes against my above assumption. Why is this?

Is it the L designation? Build quality? Or... Is there some optical anomaly when using wide apertures at short focal lengths that requires more precise or expensive glass or techniques?

Thanks and Happy Holidays,

Mat
 

AlaskaMoose

macrumors 68000
Apr 26, 2008
1,561
1,131
Alaska
I'm scratching my head over this and wondering if someone can answer this:

A Canon 50mm 1.4 lens costs roughly $350. (I have one) I've always assumed that the wider an aperture and the longer a focal length, the more expensive a lens is. (i.e. 300mm 2.8 ($3000) vs 400mm 2.8 ($5000) vs 400 4 ($3000))

However, a Canon 35mm 1.4L from B&H is $1200. Obviously, this goes against my above assumption. Why is this?

Is it the L designation? Build quality? Or... Is there some optical anomaly when using wide apertures at short focal lengths that requires more precise or expensive glass or techniques?

Thanks and Happy Holidays,

Mat
The difference is construction quality: more metal and less plastic, closer seal tolerances (to seal the internal parts from moisture, dust, etc.) , and better quality L glass. The 50mm f/1.4 is a very nice lens, but L lenses are much better. Some L lenses that don't have IS are cheaper than similar L lenses with IS. Now that everyone wants IS, I have been buying L without IS whenever I have the money.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Scepticalscribe

termina3

macrumors 65816
Jul 16, 2007
1,078
1
TX
In addition to what AlaskaMoose has already pointed out, the economics of volume come into play. More 50mm primes are sold than 35mm ƒ1.4's.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Scepticalscribe

theenigmat

macrumors member
Original poster
May 10, 2006
54
0
Some L lenses that don't have IS are cheaper than similar L lenses with IS. Now that everyone wants IS, I have been buying L without IS whenever I have the money.
Good insight... I've always thought that for 80% of shooters IS is unnecessary. Those cheaper primes and L glass without it will be a nice steal.

I think you are on to something with the overall build quality and the optical quality of the L series of lenses, but isn't it still odd that a 50mm 1.2L ( a 1/3 stop faster then a 1.4) is still roughly the same price as a 35mm 1.4L ( a 1/3 slower)? (I fully realize that all I'm basing my comparison off of is $$$ and not test results of image quality but based on price alone, it would seem that the faster (and longer) 50mm would be considerably more than the slower, shorter 35.
 

wheezy

macrumors 65816
Apr 7, 2005
1,280
1
Alpine, UT
My guess is the 35 probably greatly outsells the 50 1.2L, and that keeps the 50 down 'cheaper'.

Any L glass is going to start around $600 for an F4, and doubles when you hit 2.8 or faster. Just be careful, when you buy L you'll never want to buy anything less.
 

FX120

macrumors 65816
May 18, 2007
1,173
233
Focal length has little to do with cost untill you get into the supertelephoto class of lens with dinnerplate size front elements.

Check out the price on the EF 14mm F/2.8L II USM, MSRP is $2200...
 

jbernie

macrumors 6502a
Nov 25, 2005
927
11
Denver, CO
I think you are on to something with the overall build quality and the optical quality of the L series of lenses, but isn't it still odd that a 50mm 1.2L ( a 1/3 stop faster then a 1.4) is still roughly the same price as a 35mm 1.4L ( a 1/3 slower)? (I fully realize that all I'm basing my comparison off of is $$$ and not test results of image quality but based on price alone, it would seem that the faster (and longer) 50mm would be considerably more than the slower, shorter 35.
There is a good chance that the 50mm has 3 different lenses but you still have the basics in all three, they might not all be the same ie 1.4 has MF but the 1.8 does not, but similar overall design just a few different parts, they can use the volume sales of the 1.8 to subsidise the lower selling but higher quality 1.4 & 1.2. If the 35mm is a standalone lens then it might be harder to subsidize the costs so it must be more expensive to recover costs.
 

Edge100

macrumors 68000
May 14, 2002
1,557
10
Where am I???
Just be careful, when you buy L you'll never want to buy anything less.
I have a really bad case of L-itis. There are great non-L lenses out there (50/1.4, 85/1.8, 100/2), but in general the L class lenses are just so good, it's hard to like the results from anything else. I remember the first shots I took with my 70-200 f/4L; I was simply astonished a lens could produce images so that were so sharp, contrasty, and saturated.
 

duffyanneal

macrumors 6502a
Feb 5, 2008
611
69
ATL
It also helps that it is very easy to design and manufacture a 50mm prime. It is typically called a "normal" lens to 35mm and full frame photogs. I can't regurgitate the physics behind this phenomenon, but it doesn't take much engineering/materials to make a good quality 50mm at least in comparison to wide or telephoto lenses.
 

Grimace

macrumors 68040
Feb 17, 2003
3,541
40
with Hamburglar.
It also helps that it is very easy to design and manufacture a 50mm prime. It is typically called a "normal" lens to 35mm and full frame photogs. I can't regurgitate the physics behind this phenomenon, but it doesn't take much engineering/materials to make a good quality 50mm at least in comparison to wide or telephoto lenses.
My thought was because 50mm is more-or-less the same perspective as the human eye -- so there isn't much extra glass involved.
 

mrkgoo

macrumors 65816
Aug 18, 2005
1,178
3
Your assumption about longer=more expensive is incorrect.

50mm being the 'normal' focal length, the designs for 50mm lenses are as optimised as you get, and have been similar for decades. Same for short telephotos up to about 200mm. Wide angles lenses can actually be more difficult to design.

On top of that, as people mentioned before, the build quality in many 50's are lower, to make them more affordable.
 

monokakata

macrumors 68000
May 8, 2008
1,893
413
Freeville, NY
I don't know the precise reason, but it's nothing new. Back in the day (late sixties) I had a 35 f/2.8 Nikkor, which was a good lens and sold for the then-standard lens price, which was about $180 after a little discount. Then came the 35 f/1.4 and as I remember, it was well over $300.

I still have that lens and it's just as sharp and useful as it ever was.

Another not-so-fast / fast WA lens pairing was the Nikkor 28 (3.5? I can't remember) and then the 28 f/2, which was a beauty. Expensive too, much more than the ordinary one. I still have it.

My point is that whatever the mechanical/optical/engineering/manufacturing issues that made large aperture WA lenses expensive, they are still in force.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Scepticalscribe

ChrisA

macrumors G4
Jan 5, 2006
11,625
448
Redondo Beach, California
I'm scratching my head over this and wondering if someone can answer this:

A Canon 50mm 1.4 lens costs roughly $350. (I have one) I've always assumed that the wider an aperture and the longer a focal length, the more expensive a lens is. (i.e. 300mm 2.8 ($3000) vs 400mm 2.8 ($5000) vs 400 4 ($3000))

However, a Canon 35mm 1.4L from B&H is $1200. Obviously, this goes against my above assumption. Why is this?
Wide angle lenses are harder to make.

Your rule that a 100mm lens should cost more than a 50mm is true because there is more glass in the bigger lens. But as you go the other way, wider, the problem for the optical designer is covering a frame that is large then the focal length. In other words, wide angle lenses are required to cover HUGE image circles. Light fall off and limiting geometric distortions are very hard problems.

This is truse with large format lenses too the 90mm lens in the 4x5 format is very wide and expensive compared to the "normal" lens
 

loslosbaby

macrumors member
Jul 15, 2008
51
6
Oklahoma
Why would a 35mm 1.4 be more expensive than 50 1.4?

A lot of reasons of why this is so have been covered, so I'll try extra hard to be original:

L vs non-L: Night and day. The 35 1.4 L lens has more O-rings than the 50 1.4 has screws AND lenses...but compare it to an german lens from the "big name makers" from the Good Old Days and you'll just get all wobbly and starry-eyed on the quality of the knurling on those old manual-focus lenses. L stuff is nice, gets the job done, but is typically very big, and heavy.

No Love For The 50: the 50 is the doormat of lenses...it doesn't get any respect. Its naturally fast-ish just based on the simplicity of its design. Canon makes the 50 1.8 which is mostly plastic and is STILL a great lens (a great worker for the money). This situation is also seen in Canon's 85mm line-up: the L is 2500$ and the non-L is a couple hundred, mostly plastic, and, an awesome lens.

Sheer numbers: I bet you could take all the L lenses ever made and they wouldn't add up to the 50's sold just in the US. There are lots and lots of 50's, lots.

However....if you compare the 35 1.4 and a similar lens from Leica or Vogtlander, you'd be shocked. Those lenses are smaller than an apricot, and the 35 Canon lens is a "cannon"...its the size of a can of beans. Some of those lenses for rangefinders are the size of a walnut and beat anything Canon makes.

I'm only 42 and I remember when the Japanese camera gear was the "cheap stuff" now its crazy expensive!

G.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Scepticalscribe

bloogersnigen

macrumors regular
May 15, 2005
146
0
Wherever the water flows
If you remember from high school algebra, the diagonal of a 35 mm sensor is 35^2 +24^2=42^2 (approximately) so the lens needs to cover a circle with a diameter of 42 mm to cover the sensor completely. It is easiest to make "square" lenses. 42 mm wide and 42 mm long. all lenses for 35 mm cameras are 24 mm wide (at the base).

Therefore, it is easiest to make a 42 mm lens. the farther you get away from 42 mm, the harder, and more expensive. 50 mm is pretty close, 35 mm is farther away, 600 mm is very far away. Price accordingly.
 

SWC

macrumors 6502
Jan 6, 2004
326
115
Therefore, it is easiest to make a 42 mm lens. the farther you get away from 42 mm, the harder, and more expensive. 50 mm is pretty close, 35 mm is farther away, 600 mm is very far away. Price accordingly.

Unless I am missing something here the 35mm is closer to 42mm than a 50mm is. 7mm difference on the 35 and 8mm difference on the 50mm.
 

bloogersnigen

macrumors regular
May 15, 2005
146
0
Wherever the water flows
Unless I am missing something here the 35mm is closer to 42mm than a 50mm is. 7mm difference on the 35 and 8mm difference on the 50mm.
First of all, its actually 42.43.
And secondly we're talking about differences in percent
In terms of percent 50 mm is closer (15% compared to 21%).

For calculating percent:
|1-diagonal of sensor/focal length|
 

mrkgoo

macrumors 65816
Aug 18, 2005
1,178
3
I wasn't saying that longer=more expensive, just that if you have to bend glass either wider or longer, it gets more expensive. I think we're all on the same page now.
Sorry, I didn't mean you, I was referring to the original post.

For the record, they don't bend the glass, they grind it into shape ( I think).
 
  • Like
Reactions: Scepticalscribe

termina3

macrumors 65816
Jul 16, 2007
1,078
1
TX
Sorry, I didn't mean you, I was referring to the original post.

For the record, they don't bend the glass, they grind it into shape ( I think).
Ya, it's pretty difficult (umm, impossible at most temperatures?) to bend glass enough to get this kind of shape.

 

theenigmat

macrumors member
Original poster
May 10, 2006
54
0
Well this has generated quite a discussion. Thanks to everyone for enlightening me on this topic. Have a great holiday!

Mat
 

ChrisA

macrumors G4
Jan 5, 2006
11,625
448
Redondo Beach, California
Unless I am missing something here the 35mm is closer to 42mm than a 50mm is. 7mm difference on the 35 and 8mm difference on the 50mm.
That rule about the diagonal being the length of the "normal" lens is kind of a loose rule. It think it was invented before the current 35mm frame size was invented. a 35mm frame has a 2:3 aspect ration which is a bit wide. If you think of a 35mm frame as a more conventional 4:5 aspect ratio that got cropped then the normal lens is longer.

When 35mm film was adapted to use in still cameras and then became popular in the 1950's the photography industry has already nearly a century old. Some onehad to figure out how to apply the diagonal rule to the novel 2:3 aspect ratio and "50mm" was a nice round number. But some companies used 58mm and at least one other used 45 as their "normal" prime lens. Kind of a loose rule really. I actually own both a Minotla SRT 101 with a 58mm f/1.4 prime and an even older 50's vintage Exacta with a 58mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss prime lens
 

ToastyFlake

macrumors newbie
Nov 14, 2014
18
14
It also helps that it is very easy to design and manufacture a 50mm prime. It is typically called a "normal" lens to 35mm and full frame photogs. I can't regurgitate the physics behind this phenomenon, but it doesn't take much engineering/materials to make a good quality 50mm at least in comparison to wide or telephoto lenses.
Yes, you’re right. Those other guys were way off base. Maybe they know better 10 years latter :)
 

ChrisA

macrumors G4
Jan 5, 2006
11,625
448
Redondo Beach, California
Yes, you’re right. Those other guys were way off base. Maybe they know better 10 years latter :)
Funny but the above is right. Now, 10 years later I know the answer and yes everyone was wrong.

The reason the 35mm lens is more expensive is because of the flange to sensor distance on an SLR. The SLR needs a mirror box to fit between the lens mount and the film or sensor.

If the lens has a focal length that is shorter than the flange to sensor distance the design of the lens must be much more complex. By definition, a 35mm focal length lens at infinity focus creates an image that is 35mm in back of the lens but the Canon EOS flange to film distance is 44mm. To get around this and allow infinity focus the lens needs to have a special design to project the image back to the sensor. (yes, I've simplified things)

Mirrorless bodies have a big advantage when it comes to wide angle lenses, the lens design can be simpler and smaller.

So maybe a better definition of a "normal" lens is the widest lens that can still use a simple 4 element design. That would be about 50mm.

The SLR was a great invention but the trade-off was the need for complex optics in wide angle lenses.


The answer is not so important as that fact that the above quote is correct. I hope we ALL know more now than we did in 2008.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Scepticalscribe

kallisti

macrumors 68000
Apr 22, 2003
1,583
5,286
Some lenses are more expensive than other lenses at the same focal length for optical performance reasons (i.e. "sharper" across the frame, lower distortion, less field curvature, correcting optical "errors", etc.).

For example, the Leica 50mm f/1.4 is $4k
(https://www.amazon.com/Leica-Summilux-M-Aspherical-Manual-11891/dp/B00422GVSC/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1544144320&sr=8-3&keywords=leica+50mm+f/1.4+summilux-m)

While the Leica 50mm APO f/2 is $8k
(https://www.amazon.com/Leica-11141-...F8&qid=1544143903&sr=8-1&keywords=leica+50+f2)

Both are small 50mm primes for the M mount, but the f/2 is twice as expensive despite being a full stop slower.

[Edit: Just noticed this thread got necroed from 2008. Yikes. What's with everyone recently wanting to bring back threads from the past? Halloween is long past ;)]
 
Last edited:
Register on MacRumors! This sidebar will go away, and you'll see fewer ads.