Battle of the 85mm Glass: Which Canon Lens Is Right for You?

Canon's introduction of the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens was certainly exciting, particularly for portrait shooters, but it also muddied the waters a bit in terms of which 85mm option is the best among their three offerings. This great video compares the trio and will help you pick which is right for you.

Coming to you from Kai W, this great video compares the Canon 85mm f/1.8 USMEF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM, and EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lenses. It used to be the case that the f/1.8 lens was the affordable, solid performer, while the f/1.2 lens was the L class superstar known for its ridiculous aperture and bokeh, but also for the slower and more methodical manner of working it demanded because of its fickle autofocus (nonetheless, it's a staple of the portraiture world). Then, the f/1.4 lens arrived with a middle aperture and the addition of image stabilization, but Canon made it clear that it was meant to complement, not replace the f/1.2. In particular, you might be wondering whether the f/1.4 or the Canon-ball, as the f/1.2L is often referred to, is right for you. The video above shows that despite being only a third of a stop apart, there are some other differences that set apart the f/1.2 and f/1.4 as distinct lenses intended for different photographers.

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Wrong question. It should be, which Nikon body is best with your Nikon 85mm lens (either one)? ;-) Sorry...couldn't resist.

Robert Nurse's picture

Your FStoppers account should be revoked for that level of rudness! ;-)

Sometimes I think I shouldn't make irrelevant comments but then I think, maybe they get paid by the number of comments they get. I'm doing them a favor! :-)

Alex Cooke's picture

"Sometimes I think I shouldn't make irrelevant comments but then I think, maybe they get paid by the number of comments they get."

We don't.

So, STFU then?

Robert Nurse's picture

I'm just wondering how the f/1.4 version was meant to "compliment" the others.

I KNOW your account should be revoked, especially since you misspelled "rudeness" in your reply to me. ;-)

Robert Nurse's picture

A mere typo! #canonrules

Another typo. It's spelled d-r-o-o-l-s. lol

Sean Gibson's picture

just ignore this fool. People (using the term loosely) like him act this way online because they don't have friends to bullshit with in the "real world".

Tony Clark's picture

Good information but I grimaced as he shot with no lens hood on 2 of the 3 lenses and no strap on the camera in the drizzling rain and cold wearing gloves.

Michael Kormos's picture

Seeing as how anyone and everyone that owns the 1.2 version stops it down to 1.4 in order to get a usable shot, the answer is rather obvious :-)

Franck Budynek's picture

Just take the Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG HSM Art… even better, fit it on a D810, a D850 or a Sony A7RIII or A9… and you're good to go.

As long as you have plenty of time to focus the 1.2 is very nice. Try sports or anything with quickly moving action and it is a waste of money. Autofocus on it is slow. Can't keep up with basketball players, wrestlers going across the mat - not much of anything that requires quick focus.
As for the f/1.4 version being a complement to the f/1.2? Why would you have both?

Michael E's picture

I have owned the 85 f1.2 mkII for over 10 years (since shortly after it was first released). No one was surprised that it was slow to focus in 2006 and if it seems to focus slower now, that is because I have since acquired lenses that focus faster.

I seldom use it at f1.2 although it was originally purchased for use in very low light situations such as school plays and dance recitals. For the the last 6 or more years the lens has mostly been used in the studio or for natural light portraits. Until now you couldn't buy a better portrait lens from Canon. Color rendition and IQ of this lens is better than any of my other six "L" lenses.

Bokeh produced by my f1.2 lens is better than any Canon lens I have owned. I have never seen the bottom of the "light ball" cut off as shown in the video (the light balls were more perfectly round in the f1.4 and 1.8 lens examples shown in video). I am confused by this part of the video. (Did he roll his f1.2 lens down a flight of stairs like he did the 7D body he was stress testing a few years back?)

The most interesting statement made in the video was that when all three lenses were set at f 1.8, the sharpest of the three lenses was allegedly the f1.4 lens. If I were in the market to replace my very expensive and fully amortized but like new and fully functional f1.2 lens, it appears that the addition of IS and alleged sharpness would steer me toward the recently released f1.4 version.

However, there is not enough reason to run out and replace my f1.2 or to add an f1.4 to the shelf full of glass already in the man cave. As someone already said, you don't need the f1.4, if you already have the f1.2 (although some might argue IS is the excuse to spend more money, especially if you shoot video) ..... and I would add the reverse would also be true. Having said that, the f1.8 is the best lens for the money. The other two are better, but much much more expensive. (Big fan of Kai W.)