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Canon 85mm f/1.8
Full-Frame EF USM (1992 - )

© 2013 KenRockwell.com

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

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Canon 85mm f/1.8

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (58mm filters, 14.1oz/399g, about $370, to get the best price you always need to add it to your cart first). enlarge. I'd get mine at Adorama, Amazon or B&H. My biggest source of support for this free website is when you use those or any of these links when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep adding to this free website when you get your things through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you buy elsewhere. Thanks for your support! Ken.

 

December 2013   Canon Reviews   Canon Lenses   All Reviews

 

Introduction       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

I use these stores. I can't vouch for ads below.

The Canon 85mm f/1.8 is a great lens. It's inexpensive and works extremely well. In many aspects the 85mm f/1.8 outperforms the exotic special-purpose Canon 85mm f/1.2L II that costs five times as much!

The Canon 85mm f/1.8 is much easier to use than either of the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF-D or Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-D lenses. To get manual focus at any time, simply grab the ring on the Canon 85mm f1.8. The Nikon 85mm lenses still require a manual switch to get to and from manual focus mode.

Don't worry that you're not paying for an "L" designation. This 85mm f/1.8, like the 100mm f/2.8 Macro, can make much sharper images than most of my other L lenses, like my 14mm f/2.8L, because it's so easy to make a good 85mm fixed lens. In this case, Canon has made an extraordinary 85mm lens.

 

Good News:

1.) Easy manual focus: just grab the ring at any time.

2.) Instant and accurate focus.

3.) Sharp.

4.) Fast.

5.) Small.

6.) Lightweight.

7.) Inexpensive.

 

Bad News:

1.) None, if you get accurate focus on your sample of camera. Go get one, unless the simiar 100mm f/2 USM is more to your taste..

 

Specifications         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

 

Name

Canon calls this the Canon Lens EF 85mm f/1.8 USM.

   EF: Electronic Focus. All modern Canon lenses do this.

   USM: Ultra-Sonic Motor: The focus motor operates silently. Unlike most other USM lenses, it's not part written on the lens as "USM," it's spelt out as ULTRASONIC in gold paint.

 

Focal Length

85mm.

Used on a 1.3x camera it gives an angle of view similar to what a 107mm lens would give on a 35mm film camera.

On a 1.6x camera it gives an angle of view similar to what a 138mm lens would give on a 35mm film camera. See also Crop Factor.

 

Maximum Aperture

f/1.8.

 

Optics

9 elements, 7 groups, no other fancy nomenclature because it doesn't need any. Internal focus: only internal groups move when focusing, nothing moves externally.

 

Diaphragm

8 blades.

Stops down to f/22.

 

Filter Size

58mm, plastic.

Never moves.

Same size as 70-210/4, 28/1.8, 50/1.4, 100/2 and other lenses.

 

Closest Marked Focus

2.8' (0.85m) from the image plane (the back of the camera).

 

Maximum Reproduction Ratio

1:7.7.

 

Size

2.940" diameter x 2.826" extension from flange (74.68 x 71.77mm), measured.

 

Weight

14.045oz. (398.2g), measured in 2007.

14.090 oz. (399.55g), measured on a second sample in 2010.

 

Hood

Optional ET-65 III.

 

Case

Optional LP1014.

 

Introduced

July 1992.

 

Price, USA

$370 on rebate, May 2013.

 

RATED MTF

Canon rates it as quite good, and excellent stopped down. See it at Canon's site.

 

Performance       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

Autofocus    Bokeh    Color    Color Fringes    Construction

Distortion    Ergonomics    Eyeblow    Falloff    Film    Filters

Flare    Macro    Serial Number    Sharpness    Sunstars    IS

 

OVERALL

The 85mm f/1.8 EF USM is a handy, small, easy to use and very high performance lens. I prefer it to the $2,000 Canon 85mm f/1.2L II because this f/1.8 is smaller, lighter, focuses faster, focuses closer, has less flare and has the same sharpness.

At its low price, the 85mm f/1.8 EF is a no-brainer. If you think you want it, just get it. It performs excellently.

 

FOCUSING   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Nothing external moves. All focusing is internal using cams.

 

Speed

AF speed is fast - faster than my own eyes can focus.

It's faster than the newest (2006) huge Canon 85mm f/1.2L II.

 

Sound and Noise

It makes the usual plastic sliding on plastic sounds.

 

Ease of Manual Focusing

Excellent!

Just move the manual focus ring at any time for instant manual focus override.

I wish all lenses worked this well. The good ones do today, but some, like Canon's newest 85mm f/1.2L II version, are still kludgy.

 

Autofocus Accuracy

Accuracy at f/1.8 is great on my 5D, with just a tiny propensity to focus to the near side of the tiny depth-of-field. At f/2.8 it's dead-on all the time.

Shooting test targets at f/1.8 on my Rebel XTi either tends to be on, or focuses a bit closer than intended. I can show this with deliberate tests, but with real 3D subjects it's not a problem.

In 2010 on one sample of 5D Mark II, I got the best resuklts with the focus micrometer set to +5. Otherwise it consistently focussed in front of the intended subject.

 

Focus Breathing

Breathing is a motion picture term which refers to what happens as you pull (change) focus from near to far.

It doesn't matter in still photography, but I still look for it.

The Canon 85mm f/1.8 changes magnification as you pull focus.

 

BOKEH   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Bokeh is wonderful. It's neutral at small apertures, and soft at large apertures. It's as perfect as I've ever seen. No real lens offers Gaussian defocus blur circles at large apertures.

Here are full images from my 1.6x Rebel XTi. My Nikon F2AS was 10' (3m) away.

Canon 85mm f/1.8 bokeh at f/1.8

Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/1.8

 

Canon 85mm f/1.8 bokeh at f/2.8

Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/2.8

 

Canon 85mm f/1.8 bokeh at f/4

Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/4

 

Canon 85mm f/1.8 bokeh at f/5.6

Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/5.6

 

COLOR FRINGES
(Lateral Chromatic Aberration or LCA)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The Canon 85mm f/1.8 is completely devoid of color fringes.

Here's a complete image from my full-frame 5D for reference:

Canon 85mm f/1.8

Complete guide image; full-frame Canon 5D.

And here are crops from 100% images from the the lower right corner:

Canon 85mm f/1.8

Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/1.8. The slight magenta halo on the specular highlight isn't a fringe so much as an artifact from imperfect focus.

Canon 85mm f/1.8

Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/2.8. Lenses don't get much better than this, as you'll see below.

 

Canon 85mm f/1.8

Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/4. Looks as perfect as f/2.8.

 

Canon 85mm f/1.8

Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/5.6. Looks as perfect as f/2.8.

You will see a tiny loss of sharpness at the very, very far corner at the larger apertures, but remember that if you printed the entire image at this magnification you'd have a 44" (110cm) wide print. If you need that last millimeter sharper at f/2, then drop two grand for the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II which is sharper there.

 

COLOR RENDITION

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

I see no differences from my other Canon lenses.

 

CONSTRUCTION QUALITY

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

 

Exterior

Plastic.

Filter Threads

Plastic.

 

Focus Ring

Ribbed stiff rubber.

 

Markings

Paint.

 

Switches

Plastic.

 

Mount

Metal.

 

Internals

Plastic and metal.

 

Noises when shaken

Sharp, moderately quiet rattling. This is normal.

 

Made in

Japan

 

DISTORTION   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Distortion is almost invisible, even if you waste you time photographing the Wall of Shame.

Canon 85mm f/1.8 distortion

The Wall of Shame.

Plug +1.00 into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter to correct this barrel distortion perfectly, if you can see it.

 

ERGONOMICS   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Excellent. The 85mm f/1.8 just works and never gets in your way. AF is instant, manual focus is just a touch of the ring and nothing rotates or extends as you use the lens.

It's inexpensive, small, lightweight and perfect.

 

EYEBLOW

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

None. The rear element doesn't move and no air blows out the back as you focus.

 

FALLOFF (Darkened Corners)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Falloff is as expected: some wide open, and it goes away stopped down.

I'll see it in real photos at f/1.8, and not at f/2.8 and smaller on my full-frame 5D. It's negligible on a 1.6x camera. (see crop factor).

These shots of an Expodisc on my full-frame Canon 5D exaggerate what you'd see in real photos. Falloff is much less visible with real subjects and smaller sensor cameras.

 

Canon 50mm f/1.8 II falloff on full-frame, no correction.

f/1.8
f/2.8
f/4
f/5.6

© 2010 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

USE ON FILM CAMERAS   

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Perfect, the Canon 85mm f/1.8 covers film.

 

USE WITH FILTERS   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Like most longer lenses, fat filters are no problem. I had to stack filters 19.5mm thick until they caused any visible effect on a full frame camera. On a smaller format camera you could stack even more (see crop factor).

 

FLARE AND GHOSTS  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

This Canon 85mm f/1.8 is very good. It's more resistant to ghosts and flare than the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II.

canon 85mm f/1.8

canon 85mm f/1.8

Click to see this same scene directly compared to the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II.

Don't worry: I never saw any ghosts with any real image worth photographing. This example is unrealistic: it's deliberately contrived to show ghosts. In real photography you'd have used 5 stops less exposure to retain the sky.

 

MACRO   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM doesn't focus particularly close, but it is very sharp and accurate doing it. For serious macro, I'd get the extraordinary Canon 100mm f/2.8.

These examples are from a 1.6x Rebel XTi. It would appear less close with a 1.3x or full frame camera (see crop factor).

canon 85mm f/1.8 EF

at closest focus on a 1.6x Rebel XTi, full image.

 

canon 85mm f/1.8 USM

100% crop from above, no extra sharpening.

 

SERIAL NUMBER  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM's serial number is laser-engraved in black-on-black on the plastic on the back of the lens mount. It's opposite (180 degrees) from the electronic contacts. It goes inside a camera when mounted.

 

SHARPNESS  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Sharpness is perfect, except for the very farthest edges on a full-frame camera at very large apertures. Even then, it's very good. You've already seen examples the Canon 85mm f/1.8's excellent corner sharpness above under Color Fringes.

Here are examples of the center of the same image.

canon 85mm f/1.8

Complete image from my Canon 5D.

 

canon 85mm f/1.8

Crop at 100% from Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/1.8. This is absolutely excellent! High contrast, sharp, no spherical aberration, accurate focus, etc., all wide open at f/1.8. I wish every lens was this good. If you made a print of the complete image at this magnification it would be 44" (110cm) wide.

 

canon 85mm f/1.8

Crop at 100% from Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/2.8. This looks the same as f/1.8, which shows you how good this lens really is.

 

canon 85mm f/1.8

Crop at 100% from Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/4. Same as f/1.8t, or maybe slightly less due to diffraction. If a lens is diffraction limited at f/5.6, it's essentially perfect.

 

canon 85mm f/1.8

Crop at 100% from Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/5.6. Excellent lenses are boring to review: again this is the same as at f/1.8. Any other lens would have been much softer or defocused at f/1.8.

 

SUNSTARS   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

With an eight-bladed diaphragm, sunstars on brilliant specular highlights are eight-pointed stars. Here's an extreme example:

Canon 85mm f/1.8 sunstar

Canon 85mm f/1.8 on a full-frame 5D at f/16.

I have a blind friend who does these shots for me; the sun was still very bright. Do this yourself and you could wind up like my friend.

 

IS (Image Stabilization)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The Canon 85mm f/1.8 has NO image stabilization. For curiosity's sake I measured the slowest speeds at which I could hand hold it. Read Why IS is Important to understand what these ratings mean.

This is the percentage of sharp shots that I get at each speed.

1/4
1/8
1/15
1/30
1/60
1/125
XTi
0
0
20
75
80
100
5D
0
15
50
75
80
100

It appears that I can get 50% of my shots perfectly sharp at 1/15 on my 5D and at 1/25 on my XTi.

"Marketing Stops Improvement" isn't comparing the speed I can use from IS OFF to IS ON, but instead comparing the speed I can use to the old-wives-tale speed of 1/focal length.

Slowest Speed
Marketing
Stops Improvement
5D
1/15
2.5
XTi
1/25
1.75

Thus the Canon 85mm f/1.8 has two stops of IS improvement, even without IS! This is called Lying with Statistics, and that's par for the course for marketing departments.

 

TIP: In dim light, fire several shots in the continuous shutter mode and pick the sharpest later. Blur is a random event, so if you fire enough shots, you'll eventually get a sharp one even at slow speeds!

 

Recommendations       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM is an easy lens to recommend. It's much better than you expect, so if you're reading this because you think you want one, then just go get one. You'll love it!

The only things the five-times as expensive Canon 85mm f/1.2L II does better is lighten your wallet, fatten the weight hanging around your neck and it's a little sharper in the far corners, full frame, wide open.

The f/1.8 focuses much faster and easier, and is an all-around more satisfying lens than the f/1.2. The f/1.2 is for weird things like astronomy where you absolutely, positively need f/1.2.

 

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Thanks for reading!

 

 

Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

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