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Grant and John: I agree with both of you. The 85 f/1.8 does a great job, and I've long been very satisfied with it. On occasion I've used the 85L, but never felt there was any noticeable difference, so it seemed the extra weight and slower AF weren't worth it. The 1Dx changes that a bit because it's like a magic potion where the 85L's AF is concerned. And with this comparison, I'm surprised to see the tonal/color differences I'm seeing. It also appears, looking through lots of photos from both lenses, that the L lens may be more consistent where AF is concerned (though this definitely is an area with so many other factors it'd be tough to say for sure).
Jay: I hear you, and you're right about it being impossible to say exactly what might account for any observable differences. A bit more background: All are from RAW files processed with Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop CS6. Apart from some basic settings that would be the same for all images, I tweak exposure/shadow/highlights, and I adjust WB to taste. Obviously all of this is subjective, and all I can say is that my goal of arriving at the 'best' outcome is the same for all images. Once converted, all received the exact same processing in PS (no color-related adjustments involved). Thus, I don't think my PP can account for differences between the shots from different lenses that are consistently evident. As you point out, it may be that the lighting was different, and I can't account for that, but I would point out that all of the 85L shots were taken at the same meet, while 85 f/1.8 shots were from a different meet, and the 70-200 shots from still a different meet (3 meets represented in all). So it's possible the lighting for the meet where I used the 85L happened, by chance, to be somehow more friendly to color/tonality/WB than at the other two meets, but I'd need more evidence before jumping to that conclusion. Bottom line is that this is a sloppy comparison from a methodological standpoint, but as far as real-world variables are concerned, I'm surprised by the consistency of the differences I'm seeing.
Chad: I keep suggesting they change to white mats, which would go a long way toward solving the lighting problems. I don't know that the color differences are easily fixed, but as long as I've already laid out the bucks for the 85L, the weight isn't an issue (hell, I'm still jostling with the 200 f/1.8) and, as mentioned, AF rocks with the 1Dx.
Paul: Yes, definitely any of the lenses are up to the task. Even so, I'm constantly mulling over the questions of relative advantages and disadvantages of each, and what I'm seeing here is telling. As explained above, I'm leaning toward your conclusion, which is that the lenses are accounting for the observable differences.