Shooting Portraits with a Rare Canon 50mm f/0.95 ‘Dream Lens’

While in Finland visiting The Camera Rescue Project, YouTuber and vintage lens enthusiast Mathieu Stern got to try out a rare Canon “dream lens”: the Canon 50mm f/0.95. And like any good camera nerd, Stern immediately set it to f/0.95 and tried to shoot some portraits.

Created as a show piece and “technical demonstration and marketing gimmick” by Canon in the 1960’s, only 25,000 units of this 50mm f/0.95 were produced—Stern was shooting with No. 23492—and you can still find copies online for between $3,000 and $4,500. Not bad, considering the price of Nikon’s Noct lens… itself a bit of a “technical demonstration and marketing gimmick.”

As he uses the lens in the video above, Stern points out some of the pitfalls of this old f/0.95 monster, such as massive flaring. But while backlit portraits are totally out, the lens (obviously) produces incredible subject separation. “The background transforms into an abstract painting,” says Stern.

More importantly—and this tracks with our experience trying out a pre-production model of Nikon’s 58mm f/0.95 Noct lens on the show floor at NAB earlier this year—you can maintain great subject separation or “3D pop” even when you’ve moved further away to capture full body shots. That’s one of the major benefits of a lens this fast, even if it’s extremely difficult to get your subject in focus when shooting headshots or more complex compositions.

Here are a few sample portraits, and one environmental shot, that show off just how shallow the depth of field of this lens is at f/0.95:

Check out the full video above to hear more about Stern’s experience with this rare lens and see many more sample images. And if you want to see more of the rare, expensive, and weird lenses he was able to try out by raiding the Camera Rescue Project’s coffers, head over to Stern’s blog or subscribe to his YouTube channel.

Image credits: All photographs by Mathieu Stern and used with permission.

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