Canon EF 85mm f1.8 has a minimum focus of 0.9m, compared to 1m of the f1.2 L II version. This can make quite a difference, depending on the sort of subject matter you shoot. While it does not sound a lot, it makes quite a difference to large a person’s face is in the frame.
At current rebate pricing, the Canon EF 85mm f1.8 lens is a steal. It is a superb portrait lens, with lovely color, very good bokeh, fast and accurate AF. The only downside is needing to tweak CA in post, which takes all of about 30 seconds the first time and far less the next. Even for 85mm 1.2 L II owners, it makes sense to own this one too.
I bought one of these five years ago, but it would not focus remotely at the right distance on any of my three EOS 3 film bodies for some odd reason. Neither did the second copy, although both copies were fine on my EOS 1nHS – go figure. This is why I ended up with and 85mm f1.2 L II (which focused nicely on everything). Had I obtained this f1.8 lens originally and had it worked without trouble on my EOS 3 bodies, I am not sure I would ever have ended up with the f1.2, although I cannot deny that the f1.2 does open up different visual opportunities. For most people, however, it’s a no brainer: the Canon EF 85mm f1.8 is 95% of the lens for 15% of the money. An no, the mystery of the two 85mm lenses not working on my EOS 3 bodies was never solved. Looked fine in the finder, but focus was miles out. I tested and retested, but to no avail.
Where the 1.2 L II is ‘better’ is that it has more personality. It has a lovely subtle glow at 1.2, while still delivering lots of actual detail and backgrounds are rarely if ever distracting, even stopped down. This is a quality that is quite astonishing and the 50mm f1.2 is very good too, but can throw a wobbly with some backgrounds. The Canon 85mm EF f1.8 lens reviewed does not quite produce the same sublime results as its L series brethren, but its an absolute belter and if you can live with the CA, I have no doubt that it will produce even more stunning detail on bodies like the EOS 5DS and 5DSR.
I would describe it as a perfectly neutral lens: it does not really have character, but its not as sterile as some other manufacturer’s offerings, by virtue of being imperfect. I cannot help but feel that a stabilized 85mm is probably on the way, but you can bet it will be much more expensive….
In case you are still alive, searching for more answers and feel you can hold out through another series of boring test shots, here come a bunch more:
That’s a brutal test for any lens and I for one was quite staggered by how well the Canon EF 85mm f1.8 USM performs right into the corners of a planar subject at fairly close distance.
I then decided to enlist the help of my son. This is a photo of him ‘helping’: