EF 85mm f/1.2 in 2021: still worth using (and better than ever) on the R5

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antonio-salieri Junior Member • Posts: 27
EF 85mm f/1.2 in 2021: still worth using (and better than ever) on the R5

This is a short review of the EF 85mm f/1.2, Mark I, which was Canon's flagship 85mm portrait workhorse lens from 1989 to 2006. Since 2006, it has been succeeded by a Mark II EF lens, which, although applying a new coating and including a newer, faster motor, maintained the same optical composition (thanks to the kind members of this forum for pointing this out to me).

That lens has now been succeeded in turn by the RF 85mm f/1.2. Based on comparisons (such as DPReview's and Christopher Frost's), it seems clear that the RF version has achieved a significant improvement over its predecessors in pretty much every way. It's sharper, especially wide open. It has less chromatic aberration and fringing. It has the fastest and quietest AF motor on an 85mm f/1.2. If money is no object, go buy that one.

However, the RF lens will cost you (in the US) $2799 plus tax --- when it's in stock, that is. I bought my EF 85/1.2 lens used for about (US) $700 all in. I'll admit (and, to be honest, brag) that was a bargain (and it's in great working --- and good-looking --- condition too!), but you can find these lenses for considerably less than the RF version. You can find EF 85/1.2s for somewhere between $800 and $1500 used online. Even new, the EF Mark II sells for $1999 plus tax --- which is still cheaper than the RF version, but I'd advise buying this lens used.

That's a huge difference from the RF lens. So how does it stand up on the merits today?

First, I want to address that this review is mostly meant to touch on what is particular to using this older lens on the newer body. For more thorough samples than I could give you here, I would recommend checking out Christopher Frost's video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hc-VafhLu6M. I would also recommend checking out his video comparing the EF and RF lenses (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3NhhtHaI50), as well as DPReview's (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qdt7uAyGCJw), both of which I mentioned above. The Digital Picture also has reviews of all the generations.

Image quality. This lens remains quite solid at 45MP, with sharp details throughout the picture. However, with greater resolution, the chromatic aberration and fringing in uncorrected RAW files can become more obvious when present if you are a pixel-peeper. However, all but the pickiest of dot fiends will be satisfied by the corrections that can easily be applied to the raw files. Also, zooming into the image as processed in-camera all the way, I could not notice these issues. So while it's not the best in the game anymore, it's still quite good. Remember that the EF lens is still a popular portrait photography workhorse.

Autofocus. The AF motor in the EF versions of this lens are not as fast as the one found in the RF version. The Mark I, which I have, is reasonably slower than the RF lens (as demonstrated in the DPReview video). However, the autofocus speed is only noticeably slow for me when jumping through most of the focusing range (e.g., from infinity to a nearby object). For portrait photography there certainly should not be any issues, nor, of course, with still subjects. I have not yet been able to test out the lens in a sporting context. It's possible that it may not hold up as well for this.

However, the R5's AF system does help you out here. Face and eye tracking work perfectly well with this lens. You will hit the points you need using the R5's autofocus. This is a great advantage, because, given the very shallow depth of field wide open, you don't want to miss your focus point. Another great advantage to using this lens with a mirrorless camera is that there are no possible OVF/sensor calibration issues (important due to the aforementioned shallow DOF). The autofocus is not extremely fast, but it is as accurate as any other Canon lens I've ever used. (The actual AF motor is not entirely silent, but it's quiet enough for me.) As this is an EF lens on an R-series body, you can expect the AF will perform at least as well as on previous EOS bodies.

Image stabilization. This lens is not image stabilized. The R5's IBIS provides IS for this lens (as with all non-stabilized lenses). I'll note that the RF lens is not stabilized in-lens either. Because of how wide this lens opens, you'll probably not find yourself using longer exposure times that often. That being said, the IBIS is still a nice thing to have on the R5, even if not absolutely essential with this lens.

Verdict. This is the not the latest and greatest, and will not wow you as much as the newest and fanciest RF glass. But this trusty EF lens continues to provide solid performance and has become only more useful thanks to the more sophisticated autofocus in Canon's latest cameras. If you cannot make any compromises (and are willing to put up with 3/2 the weight and a greater size), by all means, go for the RF 85mm. But the EF 85mm f/1.2 lenses from Canon remain very capable professional tools and are still found in the bags of many professionals for good reason.

 antonio-salieri's gear list:antonio-salieri's gear list
Canon EOS 5DS Canon EOS R5 Canon EF 50mm F1.8 STM Canon 70-200 F2.8L III Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM +4 more
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