Cheap speed: Yongnuo YN 50mm f/1.8 lens for F-mount review (with Nikon 50mm f/1.8G comparison)

This review of the Yongnuo YN 50mm f/1.8 lens for F-mount ($72.50) and comparison with the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G lens ($216.95) is written by

Yongnuo, initially famous for their incredibly affordable flashes and off-camera triggers, caused quite a stir when it moved into lenses, for two reasons: (1) They came out at unheard-of price points, some below $100, and (2) they were, at least externally, blatant copies of existing Nikon and Canon designs.

Then again, #2 shouldn’t have been a huge surprise considering much of Yongnuo’s lighting equipment takes (ok, basically steals) exterior design from Canon and Nikon offerings.

Sketchy design aside, given how affordable Yongnuo’s lenses are, and that they’re mainly large-aperture primes, I thought it’d be valuable to find out how good they really are. If the image quality is comparable with pricier Nikon, Canon, Sigma, or Tamron lenses, nighttime photographers on a budget should be extremely interested: that means Yongnuo has made large-aperture primes—which are extremely effective for low-light photography—accessible to a much larger audience than before, including beginners and students.

To get a feel for Yongnuo’s lens savvy, I pitted the Yongnuo YN50mm F1.8, currently selling for $68.99, against the proven Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G, which sells for $219.95. Identical specs, but the Yongnuo is 1/3 the price, making it a trivial addition to your shopping cart (but one that’ll make a huge difference in low-light!) after spending several hundred on a Nikon DSLR and 18-55mm kit lens. But how much of a real-world image quality difference is there between the two? To find out, I shot a few nighttime comparison scenes:

(But before that, exactly how much of an external copy is the Yongnuo? You can actually fit the Nikon lens hood for Nikon’s 50mm on it, and it fits perfectly, snugly snapping on and off:)

Nikon hood on Yongnuo lens. The exterior plastics feel very similar too.

Scene 1: Resolution

In this series of photos, the raw resolution of the two lenses at different apertures is tested.

First, an overview of the whole frame:

Scene 1; Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

Scene 1; Yongnuo YN50mm F1.8

It’s pretty obvious these don’t look the same. There’s a massive amount of flare on the left side of the Yongnuo shot, caused by a streetlight to the left of the frame. This didn’t seem to affect the Nikon, which apparently has much better flare control, at all. The lens hood wasn’t used on either lens, as the Yongnuo is not sold with a lens hood. That being said, a third-party lens hood (or even the Nikon hood, as it fits perfectly) may be a necessity, or at least a worthwhile investment, for Yongnuo owners.

Moving on to full-size crops for judging resolution:

Scene 1 at f/1.8. Top: Center crop, Bottom: Corner crop. Left: Nikon, Right: Yongnuo.

Scene 1 at f/2.8. Top: Center crop, Bottom: Corner crop. Left: Nikon, Right: Yongnuo.

Scene 1 at f/4.0. Top: Center crop, Bottom: Corner crop. Left: Nikon, Right: Yongnuo.

At f/1.8, disregarding the flare, the two lenses are actually surprisingly close, rendering the grating in the center of frame with nearly equal clarity. The bolts in the far corner of frame too; the Yongnuo actually resolves them slightly more clearly. At f/2.8, though, it’s no contest because the Yongnuo suffers from focus shift that destroys the center clarity; the corner isn’t affected as severely. At f/4.0 the Nikon really stands out, delivering both incredible center and corner sharpness. f/4.0 on the Yongnuo is, disappointingly, not much of an improvement over f/1.8. Overall, the Yongnuo seems optimized to keep up with the Nikon at f/1.8, with smaller apertures neglected. For nighttime photographers, this isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker.

Scene 2: Resolution and Harsh Light

In this series of photos, the raw resolution of the two lenses, as well as the way they deal with direct lighting, is tested. Some lenses lose sharpness or form rings, flare, or haziness around direct light.

First, an overview of the whole frame as shot by each lens:

Scene 2; Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

Scene 2; Yongnuo YN50mm F1.8

Faint streaks, especially in the water in front of the ship on the right, and in the right side of the sky, show that the Yongnuo lens also has a negative reaction to harsh light sources within the frame. The Nikon lens doesn’t appear to be affected by this at all. While this is less severe than the flare caused by out-of-frame light sources at a sharp angle to the lens, as seen in Scene 1, there is no way to prevent these imperfections, aside from being a master at Photoshop. The coatings or lens design features that prevent flare and light rings seem to be one of the things Yongnuo left off to get the YN50mm to its price point.

Moving on to full-size crops for judging resolution:

Scene 2 at f/1.8. Top: Center crop, Bottom: Corner crop. Left: Nikon, Right: Yongnuo.

Scene 2 at f/2.8. Top: Center crop, Bottom: Corner crop. Left: Nikon, Right: Yongnuo.

Scene 2 at f/4.0. Top: Center crop, Bottom: Corner crop. Left: Nikon, Right: Yongnuo.

Both lenses suffer from purple fringing, as shown by the purple edge to the cargo ship’s deck lighting, at f/1.8. They’re also neck-and-neck as far as resolution, same as with Scene 1. Purple fringing disappears on both lenses at f/2.8, a welcome observation. The focus shifting hurts the Yongnuo again at f/2.8, and the performance is similar to Scene 1 at f/4.0 as well: the Nikon is tack-sharp, while the Yongnuo’s performance is similar to at f/1.8 (which isn’t bad; but a 50mm f/1.8 should really be better at f/4.0). I believe the Yongnuo is still suffering some minor focus shifting effect at f/4.0 (note that it was focused for the first test photo at f/1.8, then focus was locked; same focusing approach was used on the Nikon).

Scene 3: Bokeh

Bokeh is the quality and intensity of the out-of-focus areas of images. Good bokeh is what’s responsible for making portraits “pop” with a distinct separation between the person and their surroundings. Different lenses render bokeh differently, some are said to have smooth or “creamy” bokeh, while others have harsh or “busy” bokeh. Shallow depth-of-field, and the resulting extreme bokeh, is one of the draws of large-aperture lenses (the other being greater light-gathering ability or brightness), so I wanted to test how the two lenses compared with bokeh as well.

Bokeh test scene, uncropped. Top: f/1.8, Bottom: f/2.8. Left: Nikon, Right: Yongnuo.

Very little separates the lenses’ bokeh at f/2.8, while at f/1.8 the Nikon has slightly smoother bokeh with less of a border around the circles, and slightly larger circles too. While the difference is still slight, these characteristics will help produce a more pleasing background to portraits or close-up photos.

Bokeh detail at f/1.8. Left: Nikon, Right: Yongnuo


Using the Yongnuo lens was more of an adventure than expected, as it has unique performance. Here’s a bulleted summary of what I found about the lens:

  • Thought it’d be weak at f/1.8, but it truly performed really well at its maximum aperture when it comes to resolution; this is where “budget” lenses usually fall apart!
  • Lens flare seems like it’d be a constant battle if you used this lens daily, and is where the low price of the lens is most obvious.
  • Focus shifting means the lens is likely best used in Live View or manual focus; traditional DSLR autofocus will be tripped up by the focus shift. This limits the usefulness of the lens as it’ll be tough to capture fast action.

Given the results of the review, here are some purchasing recommendations:

  • Should you pick the Yongnuo 50mm over the Nikon 50mm? If the price makes a difference for you, then yes – it’s still a good lens that can produce amazing images, although it’ll be harder to live with due to its issues.
  • Should you pick the Yongnuo 50mm over an older, used Nikon 50mm (perhaps the 50mm f1/.8D)? Harder to say – a used Nikon will still be more expensive ($100-150), but it’ll be a meaningfully better lens.
  • Here’s what you should really do though: Get a Nikon 50mm, since those are already really cheap — buy used if you have to. But, buy Yongnuo if you’re looking for a cheap 35mm or 85mm, because the price difference between the Yongnuo and name brand versions of those lenses are much steeper (Nikon’s 35mm f/1.8G ED is $530, while Yongnuo’s YN35mm F2 is $88!)

Here’s another sample image from the Yongnuo – in conditions it likes, it can definitely produce great images. In this shot, it didn’t have to deal with flare from any strong light sources in or out of the frame. Again, the tradeoffs that Yongnuo lenses seem to have aren’t as worthwhile at the 50mm lens price point, but at 35mm or 85mm they’re definitely worth strong consideration.

This article was originally published hereIf you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • BlackRipleyDog

    I seriously doubt the long-term endurance and survivability of the Yongnuo. It will be in a landfill inside of 2 years with moderate to heavy use.

    • lorenzo

      wouldn’t be so optimistic as you are. From the photos shown here above, if I had made a huge mistake to buy one it would have gone to the landfill the day after – no offense.

      • BlackRipleyDog

        Buyer’s remorse? Oh hell, I was giving it the benefit of the doubt.

  • Spy Black

    Decent article. One point to consider is that buying any of the Yongnuo lenses will be a roll of the dice due to sample variation. Someone else may get a Yongnuo lens that may be equal or better than the Nikon/Canon counterpart. For their prices just think of them as fun lenses to mess with if you don’t have a prime in their respective focal length and don’t plan to use them professionally.

    • To some it is a lot of money to “lenses to mess with ” when you can get a real Nikkor almost the same price pre owned

      • Spy Black

        Any used 50mm Nikkor you find at that price will probably be in much worse shape than the Yongnuo, so no, I would rather buy the Yongnuo.

        • Captain Megaton

          ‘almost’. Spend $150 get the Nikkor G in nice shape, or half that got the D.

          • Spy Black

            $150 isn’t $72.50, now is it? 😉 A 50mm D needs a body that can drive it, otherwise ypu have no AF. The Yongnuo is still a viable option for a lot of people.

  • Why would anyone want one, considering the pre owned price on a proper NIKKOR lens I would rather buy a decent used one not a cheap new rubbish lens


    Get a decent used one WHY do reviews never comment on second hand only comparing new prices

    • Bob Thane

      Though the 50mm f1.8D has no focus motor and is much worse than the G wide open (and probably worse than the Yongnuo too). Stopped down though it’s phenomenal, and with a camera that has an AF motor it’s blazing fast. Absolutely love the lens (as I own it), but not the choice for everyone.

  • fanboy fagz

    this is known as a shitty lens to the nikon 1.8g and if anything get the 1.8d or a used nikon 1.8g over the yongnuo. im sure they learned a few things since.

    im interested in seeing a yongnuo 105 f/2 review,

    • Duncan Dimanche

      yeah I bought mine for 130€ used (nikon 1.8G) and it is a great capable lens

  • Cpk

    Focus shift could technically be corrected in Dxxx cameras. Correction on primes works really well. Dxx00 owners are SOL.
    It’s also good (enough) if someone wants to play with inverted lenses for Macro work.

    • Captain Insane-O

      Are you saying the d7x00 doesn’t have focus adjustment in camera?

  • bobgrant

    No reason to buy this lens unless you need to smash a lens against a wall for a scene in a movie.

    • lorenzo

      Totally agree.

  • Sartaz Khan

    i bought a YN 100mm F2 for nikon. the focus shifting issues with the lens is unbearable. lens is totally useless.

  • Schtatten

    I’m planning on buying some to teach my two nephews photography. Their parents already bought them two D5500’s. These lenses are cheap enough if sacrificed – for they’re sure to be banged up pretty badly given my nephews young age.

    I can see the Yonguo’s being purchased for photo/media classes in Junior/High Schools.

    • Michiel953

      A used 35/1.8 dx would be much better for a crop camera.

      • silmasan

        Much more classy too. I mean, what will you tell the youngsters when they grow up? “Yeah, your first lens was not a Nikkor, it was *******.”

        • Michiel953

          That wasn’t my point, although it’s a surprisingly good lens for the money. My point was you should teach students with a fifty-ish fov, not 75.

          • silmasan

            Oh OK.. actually I had a 50/1.4D with my D70s (and the 18-70 kit lens) and now I wish we have 75/1.4 as a ‘standard’ instead of 85/1.4. The 70mm end of 18-70 on DX also turned out to be my favorite 105mm on FX.

            • peter w

              that is because the 50 F1,4 focusses much closer than the 85 … 45 cm for the 50’s or 80/85 cm for the 85’s. A huge difference.

              Well, I speak for myself.

  • BlackRipleyDog

    To borrow from “lorenzo” – This lens would still fail a side-by-side comparison with the Nikon even if both had their lens caps on.

  • Richard Haw

    well, you get what you paid for…

  • peter w

    Looks like a very thorought review, except for the conclusion to buy lenses which are not tested here – 35 and 85, nor have a link to another review.
    The Youngno resembles much more the Nikkor 35 F2 which is so much weaker a lens than both 35 F1,8 versions.

  • Jeffry De Meyer

    To shoot an 8K time lapse of this lens being corroded by acid

  • “The bolts in the far corner of frame too; the Yongnuo actually resolves them slightly more clearly” Sorry WHAT? It’s so obvious the Yongnuo has terrible corner performance it’s not even close to the Nikon. What is he talking about, what am I missing?

  • Albert

    It should be pointed out that first of all, the lens designs are not stolen, nor are they copies of Nikon designs. Canon’s patents on some of their oldest lens designs were not renewed, a such they are free game, and Yongnuo took advantage of this. That said, there are clear differences in the coatings used, which is probably where they diverge and issues such as flare come in.

  • Refuz Tosay

    Let’s all rush buy the counterfeiters products and reward a nation of liars, cheats, and intellectual property thieves. Then we can slap ourselves on the back for a job well done when Nikon goes out of business.

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