Canon EF 85mm f1.8 USM Review
I recently bought this lens, because my 85mm f1.2 L II is locked away in inaccessible storage and I specifically needed a portrait lens. The fact that the Canon EF 85mm f1.8 is only 40% of the weight of its heavier L sibling means it is more readily taken along for more casual use.
My initial impression? Superb performance and almost unbelievable value for money.
Specification & Price
The Canon EF 85mm f1.8 is not the sexiest of optics, much like the Nikon 85mm 1.8G. There are faster, bigger options available (for a lot more money), but one thing the f1.8 lenses have in common is that they both give one heck of a bang for the buck. The Canon 85mm f1.2 L II retails for about £1500 in the UK and is available today with a rebate at £1350. The 85mm f1.8 EF was mine for £205, which is nearly seven times less. Still, even at £200 a lens like this only feels like a steal if it does not disappoint in its performance.
Build Quality & Handling
It’s typical consumer Canon i.e. very good. It does not feel tank-like, as L series lenses tend to, but very nicely put together. Its fairly compact in size and feels lighter than its 425g weight would suggest. This might sound trivial (and it is), but the styling on some of Canon’s older lenses looks pretty dated and this lens is a good example, but it’s performance that counts, so lets look at that.
It’s quick. Very quick. It is also silent and very accurate indeed.
I was not expecting this. It is phenomenal and my copy showed no signs of decentering whatsoever. I did a few grabs shots, which indicated that focus was spot on and would not need any AF adjustment dialling into my 5D III. It did not take long to realize that this lens is tack sharp wide open, with no excuses. But it is not wire sharp and does not possess the ‘ultra-clarity’ of Zeiss optics. This is not always a bad thing, especially for B&W shooters. ‘Wire sharp’ lenses produce horrible portraits and the extreme ‘clearness’ of Zeiss images can prove an obstacle when it comes to producing a more traditional look from B&W images. Waffle aside, this lens produces results at f1.8 on centre that some lenses never achieve. It achieves results at f1.8 at the edges that some lenses require a good many stops to attain.
As you stop down the edges and corners gradually improve (in a fairly linear way), but there is a dramatic reduction in vignetting by f2.5. I will summarize what you can expect from a good copy of the Canon EF 85mm f1.8 by aperture as follows:
F1.8 – very sharp on centre with slightly softer edges and softer extreme corners. You really could shoot most subjects with this lens wide open and it often takes looking at stopped down examples to see what is missing with this lens at f1.8. While the edges are very respectable, you will see fairly obvious mushiness in the very extreme corners (about the last 0.5mm of the sensor). There is quite a lot of vignetting, but its gentle and easily removed using Lightroom profiles.
Please note that all images are 1500 pixels wide.
F2.2-2.5 – Boom, the vignetting mostly vanishes. It is now tack sharp on centre and visibly better everywhere, except the most extreme corners, where its still not perfect (but we are talking the very last tiny bit of the sensor). After f2.5, it does not get any sharper on centre really, because it’s already stunning.
F3.2 – Edges are now superb. Extreme corners a touch better. Overall the frame is very sharp and impressive. You have to search out the fraction of a mm of the sensor in the corner to find softness.
F4-f5.6 – there is a slight tightening up of the finest detail along the edges by f4 and the 1mm extreme corners become perfect by about f5.
See further down for test shots at various apertures.
Colour is rich and typical canon. It does not quite have the lovely color saturation of L lenses, but its still a lens with a ‘pretty’ signature.
Bokeh is not quite as good as the Canon EF 85mm f1.2 L II, but it is still very good and puts some other lenses to shame. There is nothing to complain about here.
More bokeh examples later
CA is the only real weakness of this lens. At wide apertures against bright light, edges have obvious CA that is not removed by ticking the box in Lightroom. You will need to get onto the purple and green sliders and I found quite aggressive adjustments were needed to remove CA in some harsh scenes. In all cases the end result was a CA free frame, leaving me very happy.
This lens is not just a portrait lens. It also performs beautifully at distance and makes infinitely more sense as a landscape lens than its more expensive L series sibling. It’s lighter, cheaper, focuses much more quickly and has better corner-to-corner performance in actual fact.
Now for a raft of utterly suicide inducing (but sadly informative) test shots using a 3D scene:
Click Below for Next Page….