RF 85mm f/1.2L USM... a refined gem from Canon (REVIEW)

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Marco Nero
Marco Nero Veteran Member • Posts: 6,918
RF 85mm f/1.2L USM... a refined gem from Canon (REVIEW)

Big, Bright & Bold.

Yet again, Canon had redesigned an old favorite ... and boy, did they get it right.  The new RF version of the highly-regarded EF lens is a spectacular variant to the original.  Considered by Canon to be one of their [QUOTE] "highest performing optical lenses", it simply doesn't disappoint.  It looks good, it's slightly monstrous, it takes great looking photographs and it's priced accordingly.  It's faster and more reliable than its predecessor and AF speed has been improved from the EF models.  But it's the reduction and general elimination of Chromatic Aberration that sets this fast-aperture lens aside from the models before it.
The magic of the original EF lenses was in the bokeh and rendering and this new lens produces very similar, if not identical results.  If you can ignore the hefty weight (which becomes more apparent when a dual-battery grip is involved), it's a pleasure to use and there's no longer the old risk of ruining a shot because your camera wasn't calibrated to match the lens... which was a problem with EF variants of this lens on older DSLR type cameras.
I wanted to spend at least a few months with this lens before writing a brief review of the RF 85mm f/1.2L USM lens - just to see if there was anything needing to be addressed.  In the end, I have nothing to complain about.  It performs exactly as it is supposed to.
* A very Wide Aperture f/1.2 Lens Aperture.
* Super-shallow Depth Of Field available at f/1.2
* Classic 85mm focal length.  A favorite for portrait photographers with Full Frame.
* USM ring-type motor that combines with Canon's new Eye-AF system.
* Designed by Canon especially for mirrorless R-System cameras.
* 85cm Minimum Focus Distance.
* Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics (BR).
* Ultra-Low Dispersion Glass (UD).
* Fluorine Coating.
* Air Sphere Coating (ASC) to reduce lens flare and control contrast.
* One of Canon's highest quality optical performance to date.
* Dust and Weather Sealing.
* 9-Bladed Circular Aperture to enhance defocus & bokeh appearance.

EOS Ra + RF 85mm f/1.2L USM lens - Lens Hood attached.

Hands down, this is THE best lens for medium-wide lens Astrophotography if you want to take singular, short exposures.  It ought to perform even better with an EQ Mount that can track the sky with the movement of the Earth.  I chose to buy this lens instead of a telescope and I think the decision to do so is sound for the moment.  Whilst I haven't yet used the lens on a tracking mount, the exposures were limited to 5 or 6 seconds to avoid star trails.  The next best lens in the RF range for Astro would be the new RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens... but note that the RF 50mmL does not feature the new BR optics that the RF 85mm possesses.
Note that this lens performs very well on both the new Canon Full Frame EOS Ra mirrorless astrophotography camera and also on the other EOS R cameras.  Stars are bright yet sharp, even at f/1.2 ... and no outrageous color blooming and optical aberrations were present.  Shot side-by-side with the older EF 50mm f/1.2L lens, the images captured from the RF 85mm f/1.2L USM lens exhibited incredible control interesting color fringing - clearly due to the inclusion of the Blue Refractive Optics.  The results from the RF 85mmL lens were simply superb.  Using a sightly smaller aperture of f/1.4 produces sharper, tighter stars so that's what I ran with.
Landscape Photography:
Whilst not exhibiting a wide FOV, the landscapes from this lens are detailed and visually striking,  I've often found anything approaching 150mm to be unsuitable for anything other than zooming in to a highlight in a scene... but 85mm is wide enough to produce an acceptable landscape and obviously multiple shots can be taken and stitched into a panorama with very little distortion to complicate the results. *See example below. 
Portrait Photography:
This is a portrait lens and whilst wider than the 50mm lens alternatives, it can be used to stunning effect with human subjects.  The strong bokeh, lack of noticeable PF/CA and accurate AF makes this the best portrait lens for the R system at present.  On the recent model cameras with Canon's new eye-tracking, it's more than capable and works beautifully with moderately recent Speedlite lenses produced in the last 10 years or so.  Using a Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT (off the camera) with a Canon ST-E3-RT remote trigger with this lens via ETTL was no problem at all.  The lens was responsive and speedy with the remote trigger.
Urban/Street Photography:
Because of the AF speed improvement and AF accuracy, this can now be used as a street or urban photography lens. It's good in crowds and in even moderately reasonable light its fast enough.   But it's also a rather massive lens in terms of diameter... and you'll always be spotted when carrying it.  To protect the lens, you'll probably leave the lens hood on and that doubles the length of the lens.
IBIS with newer model cameras (eg EOS R5/R6):
The new IBIS offered in the latest R5 and R6 cameras work just with this lens and Canon claims a full 8-Stops of Stabilization with the RF 85mm f/1.2L USM.  I found the IBIS useful and effective with the RF 85mmL lens. 

EOS Ra with the RF 85mm f/1.2L USM lens attached for Astrophotography.

Everyone buys an f/1.2L lens for the bokeh.  In the case of lenses wider than 120mm, some cat-eye bokeh can be expected in areas of the frame where the light source is "incidental" and from the edges of the frame ... specifically from the curved rim of the lens hood or lens body.  This is exactly the same with the revered EF 85mmL variant of this lens.  The RF 85mmL lens produces nice, smooth bokeh which is very smooth when no highlights are dominant and it produces large light-discs where highlights are prominent.  The rather bold colors in the example below are the result of the EOS Ra's IR-Cut modified sensor you you can see how bold and soft the defocused background are.  The red flower cluster is longer than a human head is tall.  If the background were further away, the bokeh would render even smoother with even less detail visible.  The lens character is appealing and the colors rendered with the R6 were perfectly accurate.  A Circular Polarizer was necessary for shooting wide open with this lens in sunlight, hence the saturation of the colors may be bolder (see below).

EOS Ra + RF 85mmL - Bokeh Example - (red flower cluster is over 1.5  feet tall in frame)

* It's a very heavy lens for its size - at 1195 grams (1.2 kg) - or 2.63 lbs.
* Lens Hood is included in the box with the lens.
* This is a wide bodied lens. Not easy to grip when changing lenses.
* Takes larger, more expensive 82mm filters.
* Did not produce any hard vignettes. Even with double-stacked filters.
* Was possible to use 77mm filters with an 82-77mm step ring with no issues.
* All shots taken with "Lens Corrections" turned on.
* Superb optical quality.
* Superb AF accuracy.
* Improved AF speed over the older EF versions.
* Blue Refractive Optics (BR) produce spectacular results.
* No noticeable Chromatic Aberrations in images (LOCA was all but absent).
* Expensive but worth the costs involved.
* Very sharp details with landscapes using smaller apertures.
* No AF issues. None whatsoever.
* Looks nice on the EOS R cameras.
* Handles easier with an optional Battery Grip Extender.
* Appears to be solidly built. 
* Lens hood is no longer flocked on the inside like before (which is good).
* The Polycarbonate Body did not cause condensation to form on the surface like the older metal-body versions did when shooting outside at night.
* The lens makes a 'hollow plastic' sound when tapped with a fingernail.
* The new texture on the polycarbonate body shell will capture marks from fingers when handled... but it appears to be 'sanding" the skin off the tips of the fingers on a near-microscopic level.  A gentle wipe with a non-paper cloth(preferably microfiber) removes any marks immediately.  It's easy to maintain and the marks are not permanent.
* These are not flaws.
* The samples below were shot in JPEG. 
* Camera Default user setting was "Fine Detail".
* No sharpening or noise reduction added.

I have no issues with image quality, build or performance.  Even the high cost is reflected in the technology and advanced optical features/coatings.  Hence a perfect 5-Stars from me.

EOS R6 + RF 85mmL - Testing the Eye-Tracking feature on the Canon R6.

EOS Ra + RF 85mmL - Bokeh & AF test.

EOS Ra + RF 85mmL - Ducks on water at a calm ocean port.
EOS Ra + RF 85mmL - three-image panorama of the Carina Nebula.

EOS R6 + RF 85mmL - View from a lunch table #1

EOS R6 + RF 85mmL - View from a lunch table #2  (full sized image from camera).

EOS Ra + RF 85mmL - three-image panorama of the Galactic Core
Marco Nero.

 Marco Nero's gear list:Marco Nero's gear list
Canon EOS M6 Canon EOS Ra Canon EOS R6 Canon EF-M 32mm F1.4 Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM +20 more
Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM
Telephoto prime lens • Canon RF
Announced: Feb 14, 2019
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Canon EOS R6 Canon EOS Ra Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM
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