Canon 85mm f/1.8
May 2010, July 2007 More Canon reviews
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.
1.) Easy manual focus: just grab the ring at any time.
2.) Instant and accurate focus.
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..
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.
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.
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.
Stops down to f/22.
Closest Marked Focus
2.8' (0.85m) from the image plane (the back of the camera).
Maximum Reproduction Ratio
2.940" diameter x 2.826" extension from flange (74.68 x 71.77mm), measured.
14.045oz. (398.2g), measured in 2007.
14.090 oz. (399.55g), measured on a second sample in 2010.
Optional ET-65 III.
RATED MTFCanon rates it as quite good, and excellent stopped down. See it at Canon's site.
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.
Nothing external moves. All focusing is internal using cams.
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
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.
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.
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 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 at f/1.8
Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/2.8
Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/4
Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/5.6
The Canon 85mm f/1.8 is completely devoid of color fringes.
Here's a complete image from my full-frame 5D for reference:
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 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 at f/2.8. Lenses don't get much better than this, as you'll see below.
Canon 85mm f/1.8 at f/4. Looks as perfect as f/2.8.
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.
I see no differences from my other Canon lenses.
Ribbed stiff rubber.
Plastic and metal.
Noises when shaken
Sharp, moderately quiet rattling. This is normal.
Distortion is almost invisible, even if you waste you time photographing the Wall of Shame.
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.
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.
None. The rear element doesn't move and no air blows out the back as you focus.
Falloff is as expected: some wide open, and it goes away stopped down.
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.
Perfect, the Canon 85mm f/1.8 covers film.
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).
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.
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.
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.
at closest focus on a 1.6x Rebel XTi, full image.
100% crop from above, no extra sharpening.
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 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.
Complete image from my Canon 5D.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With an eight-bladed diaphragm, sunstars on brilliant specular highlights are eight-pointed stars. Here's an extreme example:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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