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Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens Review

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Category: Interchangeable Lenses
Product: Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L USM
Price: £1,729.99
Rating: 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens Review - Gary Wolstenholme reviews the new version of Canon's flagship medium telephoto lens, the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM.

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Features and handling
Performance
Verdict
Specification
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
The new version of Canon's flagship medium telephoto lens costs around £1730 and sports a unique fast maximum aperture of f/1.2, fast, silent autofocus and is sealed against dust and moisture.

The closest offering from anyone else that is compatible with Canon cameras is the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM which costs around £700. This lens has a maximum aperture 1/3 of a stop slower than the Canon optic, but also sports a silent autofocus motor.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM: Handling and features

The size and weight of this lens is striking, especially when compared to other 85mm lenses. There is a lot of glass contained within this lens due to the fast maximum aperture, which makes it tip the scales at 1025g and it does feel a little lens heavy on the EOS 5D MkII used for testing. Although the lens has a very wide diameter of 91.5mm it flattens out on either side of the lens mount, providing a secure grip when supporting the lens and camera. The build quality is reassuring good, and the lens is sealed against inclement conditions. However, during use I found it possible to rotate the lens the wrong way on the lens mount after depressing the lens release button on the camera. Although no damage seemed to be caused by this, it was a little disconcerting the first time I did it by accident and I had to take care not to repeat this.

The filter thread is only 72mm in diameter, which may mean a stepping ring will need to be used if you have filters in the more common 77mm size. Focusing isn't performed internally and the lens extends by just over a centimetre, although the filter thread doesn't rotate, so polarisers and graduated filters can be used with relative ease.

A silent ultrasonic motor powers autofocus, although focusing isn't particularly fast. I suppose the lack of speed may be partly due to the sheer amount of glass being moved back and forth, and partly to ensure focus accuracy. Due to the very shallow depth of field possible at f/1.2 extreme care needs to be taken focusing when shooting at maximum aperture.

Although the autofocus is pretty sure most of the time, the lens can tend to judder a little on occasion before focus is confirmed. The manual focus ring feels very different in use to those on other Canon USM lenses. Although full time manual focus is possible, the ring rotates freely at all times with no feedback that you've hit either infinity or the closest focusing distance. The loose nature of the focusing ring also takes a little getting used to, but it does allow very accurate adjustments to be made, which is what is needed with a lens like this. The closest focus distance of 95cm is about 10cm further away than other, slower 85mm lenses allow, and although this is more than adequate for portraiture, it can be a little limiting for other applications, where you may wish to fill the frame with smaller objects, or crop in tight.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM: Performance

The performance characteristics of this lens make it a portrait photographer's dream as the sharpness near the centre of the frame is very good from maximum aperture. With accurate focusing, the sharp area of an image really jumps out of the frame thanks to the incredibly shallow depth of field.

Unfortunately the sharpness towards the edges isn't quite as spectacular at f/1.2, but this is a highly specialised lens designed to give good results near the centre at very wide apertures, so this can be forgiven.

Stopping the lens down increases sharpness across the frame with sharpness in the centre peaking at f/4. Here the resolution is truly outstanding. The quality towards the edges of the frame continues to improve down to f/11, where the clarity is very good.

Resolution at 85mm  

How to read our graphs

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on an Canon EOS 5D Mark II using Imatest.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Resolution at 85mm  

For such a wide aperture lens, chromatic aberrations are exceptionally well controlled hovering just below 0.75 pixel widths at maximum aperture towards the edges of the frame, which should be very hard to spot, even in very large prints.

Chromatic Aberrations at 85mm  

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on an Canon EOS 5D Mark II using Imatest.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Chromatic Aberrations at 85mm  

Surprisingly for a large aperture lens falloff of illumination towards the corners of the frame is minimal. At f1.2 the corners are only 1.04 stops darker than the image centre and illumination is visually uniform by f/2.8.

Imatest detected 1.59% barrel distortion, which shouldn't be disturbing at all for portraiture, but may be noticeable when shooting subjects with straight lines towards the edges of the frame. The distortion pattern is completely uniform across the frame, which should make it straightforward to correct in image editing software afterwards if needs be.

A deep circular lens hood comes supplied with this optic, which does an excellent job of shielding the lens from extraneous light that may cause flare or loss of contrast. When shooting into strong light sources, such as the sun, this lens is susceptible to a reduction in contrast but it holds up well, especially for such a wide aperture lens.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM In focus areas really jump out of images taken with this lens   Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM This lens is truly in its element with low-light shooting and portraiture
In focus areas really jump out of images taken with this lens - ISO100, 1/200, f/2, 85mm   This lens is truly in its element with low-light shooting and portraiture - ISO3200, 1/500, f/1.2, 85mm
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Sharpness in the centre is outstanding by f/4   Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM The minimum focus distance of 95cm can sometimes be restrictive
Sharpness in the centre is outstanding by f/4 - ISO100, 1/1250. f/4, 85mm   The minimum focus distance of 95cm can sometimes be restrictive - ISO100, 1/250, f/8, 85mm
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM   Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
ISO100, 1/80, f/8, 85mm   ISO100, 1/320, f/8, 85mm
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM   Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
ISO100, 1/250, f/8, 85mm   ISO100, 1/80, f/2.8, 85mm

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM: Verdict

Although it comes at a hefty price, this lens is a portrait photographer’s dream come true. Sharpness in the centre of the frame is excellent to outstanding, even at maximum aperture and for this kind of photography, sharpness towards the edges of the frame is less critical. More important aspects for portraiture such as the look of the out of focus blur and focus accuracy are well taken care of and even so, when stopped down to f/5.6 or beyond, sharpness towards the edges is good too. It is a highly specialised lens, which is capable of producing excellent results when in its element.

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II lens is a portrait photographer’s dream come true with excellent sharpness even at maximum aperture.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM: Pros

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Outstanding sharpness in the centre of the frame
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Beautiful out of focus blur
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Very good build quality
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Very low level of chromatic aberrations

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM: Cons

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Manual focus ring could be better damped
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Autofocus is slow when compared to slower aperture lenses
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens can be rotated in wrong direction on the lens mount when lens release button is pressed.

FEATURES Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
HANDLING Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
PERFORMANCE Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
VALUE FOR MONEY Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
OVERALL Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM: Specification

Price £1730
Contact www.canon.co.uk
Filter size 72mm
Format Full-frame
Construction 8 elements in 7 groups
Angle-of-view 28º 30'
35mm equivalent focal length (on APS-C body) 136mm
Internal focusing No
Image stabilisation No
Minimum focus 95cm
Maximum aperture f/1.2
Minimum aperture f/16
Weight 1025g
Size (lxw) 91.5 x 84mm
In the box ES-79II lens hood, LP1219 lens case


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Comments

paulashby
paulashby  5 United Kingdom1 Constructive Critique Points
8 Jun 2011 - 9:08 PM

I use this lens for all of my portraits and yes you do have to be very careful shooting at 1.2 but it's worth persevering as the shallow depth is amazing with great bokeh.

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