Canon must feel like they simply can’t win. For the last couple of years, they’ve been too slow to innovate, and now, when they bring out a mind-blowing lens, everyone says that it’s too big, unnecessary, and far, far too expensive.
The recent announcement of Canon’s latest RF lens, the 85mm f/1.2, came with a handful of noticeable points. First is the insanely wide aperture. At f/1.2, the bokeh certainly looks remarkable, but this comes at a price — an incredible $2,699 if you get your preorder in today. There’s a chance that this will drop after a couple of months by a couple of hundred dollars, but as prime lenses go, that’s a lot of cheddar for a lot of lens.
Canon’s reluctance to enter the world of mirrorless cameras has led to the Japanese manufacturer receiving a lot of criticism over the last few years for being too slow to innovate and not brave enough in the face of dramatic progression from the likes of Sony. Suddenly, it creates a lens that could potentially be optically among the most exciting developments of late, and yet, Canon is taking flak for producing a piece of glass that no one needs and pretty much no one can afford. Even self-confessed GAS victim Manny Ortiz is finding this one a bit of a stretch.
You can understand why. Is the RF 85mm f/1.2 really going to offer more than a thousand dollars’ worth of performance over the EF 85mm f/1.4? Is the f/1.2 aperture really going to be useful when depth of field is so ridiculously shallow and given that the jury is still out on the effectiveness of Canon’s eye autofocus?
Something that immediately grabbed my attention was two of the sample images in the promotional video hosted by Rudy Winston and his rather wonderful mustache. The image of the guitar at 2:27 barely seems to have a sharp pixel in it. “That’s a little odd,” I thought, wondering why you’d demonstrate a lens’ sharpness with a load of motion blur. That was quickly forgotten when I saw the shot of the singer immediately afterwards. Is it me, or is the eye soft? Sure, that funky little box dances nicely around the EVF like a cat on a hot tin roof, but is it grabbing sharp images?
Hopping over to DPReview, I downloaded a few of the full-res sample images and did some pixel-peeping. The bokeh is wonderfully creamy, as you would expect. The sharpness is incredible, but f/1.2 can be tricky, as proven by this image.
One eye is razor sharp, while thanks to a slight turn of the head, the other is soft. For April fools last month, I wrote a playful article about the insane bokeh offered by an imaginary f/.035 50mm lens; little did I realize that the daft images I bodged together in Photoshop were about to become one step closer to reality.
Pixel-peeping and jokes aside, this looks like it will be an amazing lens and the bokeh geeks will be falling over themselves with glee when they get their hands on it in the coming weeks. Canon will get some grief for producing something that no one needs and no one can afford, but you’ve got to tip the hat when it comes to innovation. If its Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics live up to the hype, you’d want Canon to demonstrate its performance on a piece of glass that’s really demanding, and 85mm f/1.2 is just that.
So, thank you, Canon. I will never buy this lens, and if you read the comments, neither will anyone else. I hope you sell a bucketful, because it looks amazing, and I for one appreciate the daft level of engineering that’s gone into it. As usual, please leave your thoughts in the comments.
Lead image is a composite using a photograph by Stefan Schweihofer.