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Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

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177 282495 Dec 20, 2014
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93% of reviewers $1,784.94
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85II

Specifications:
Retaining the impressive optical performance and large aperture of the original EF 85mm f/1.2L USM, this new medium telephoto lens uses a Ring-type USM, high-speed CPU and optimized algorithms to achieve an autofocus speed approximately 1.8x faster than the original. The high-speed AF and circular aperture create a shallow depth-of-field that brings attention to the subject and blurs the background, which is ideal for portraits and weddings. The floating optical system, which includes an aspherical lens element, suppresses aberrations and ensures excellent imaging performance.

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Dawei Ye
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Registered: Sep 14, 2007
Location: Australia
Posts: 3704
Review Date: Jun 16, 2012 Recommend? | Price paid: Not Indicated

 
Pros: Buttery smooth output, very sharp even at f/1.2, unique "look"
Cons:
Slow and laggy AF, cumbersome physical design, insane placement of red lens mount alignment dot, would be better with IS

This is an update to my previous APS-C review. I have no used the camera on full frame extensively, and am now a portrait and wedding photographer and will largely discuss it from that point of view. Sample gallery is at: http://www.clartephoto.com/canon85liisamples

The Canon Lens EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM (hereon in denoted as the 85L II) is a “L Series” designated short telephoto lens in Canon’s EF lens range. Released in 2006, the 85L II was a minor upgrade incorporating the technological advances in microprocessor technology and optical coatings made since the 1989 release of its predecessor, the Canon Lens EF 85mm f/1.2L USM, a functionally identical lens.

This lens has a legendary reputation, and deservedly so. It is widely regarded as one of Canon’s signature lenses and a flagship of the EF lens range. In their EF Lens Work III publication, Canon regards this lens as their “definitive portrait lens”. Wedding portraiture and photojournalism is my primary usage for this lens.

This lens, and its predecessor, the Canon Lens EF 85mm f/1.2L USM have single handily kept many customers loyal to the Canon system, widely quoted anecdotally as a key reason why many Canon system users do not switch to Nikon.

There have been few lenses that have transformed my photography more so than this lens. If I could only own one lens, it would be this lens. I would then use a Point & Shoot for my wide angle needs. It goes without saying that this lens well and truly deserves its status as a Canon L series lens.

BUILD:

As a rule, all L lenses are built extremely well, and the 85L II is no exception. However, there were some less than optimal decisions (or compromises) made on the construction of this lens.

The focus ring is wobbly and loose and shifts when pressure is applied, similar to how a loose tooth would move around. Although it does not affect functionality, it does cheapen the feel of the lens and gives new users a fright about whether the lens is broken or not.

The lens itself is not internal focusing, and is of a front group focusing design (the forward group moves in and out of the lens barrel), and this, together with the loose focus ring, and where the lens mount is screwed into the body, are the primary causes of its “dust pump” characteristic. After a few weeks of usage, large particles of dust made their way inside the lens, landing on numerous internal elements. Whilst image quality is not visibly impacted, the lack of dust resistance is disappointing at this price point. Some users have performed DIY cleaning attempts on this lens, but I am not so brave.

Similarly, the lack of weather sealing on a L lens at this price point is disappointing, however potentially unavoidable given the design of the lens.

By far the most bizarre decision was to place the red lens mount/camera mount alignment dot on the rear of the lens, rather than at the side. This makes it extremely difficult to mount the lens as the red dot is not visible when trying to mount the lens. Particularly as this lens features an exposed rear element (the glass is level with the end of the lens), this bizarre placement of the red alignment dot slows down the speed at which this lens can be mounted, and increases the risk of damage to the exposed rear element due to inaccurate alignment caused by an inability to see the red alignment dot when putting the lens on. Practice improves speed, but it’s absolute hell when a novice 85L II user borrows your lens and your heart starts fluttering when they start struggling with mounting your lens, clumsily rubbing the rear element back and forth on the camera mount. Terrible.

To Canon’s credit, the rear element is quite strong and scratch resistant, despite (or because) of its exposed nature. I don’t want to test the full extent of its scratch resistance though.

The 85L II is a Focus By Wire design. That is, manual focus (MF) is achieved electronically. As the lens has no power source, this means that MF is not possible when the lens is dismounted. Remember when I said the lens had a front lens group focusing design? The trouble is, when the front group is extended, and the lens has been dismounted, you cannot retract it without remounting the lens and turning the camera back on. This can be a pain in the field when your lens suddenly can’t fit back inside the back because the front element group is extended. In the field, it’s quite difficult to remember to focus the lens to infinity before dismounting the lens. Yes, it is partially my fault, but I doubt many would miss the focus by wire feature if it was scrapped in favour of conventional manual focusing.

The lens hood is a clip on design, not a Bayonet Mount. The hood looks ugly (Like most telephoto lenses, it is of a rounded design (not petal style)) and is quite flimsy compared to the lens, as is typical of most Canon lens hoods. The lens hood is even fatter than the lens, and severely restricts the types of bag slots the lens will fit into, whether mounted or reversed.

WHAT'S MISSING:

The biggest feature missing from this lens is Image Stabilisation (IS). Canon has historically struggled implementing IS on fast primes and only since 2012 has IS been implemented on a prime lens below 200mm focal length.

Some photographers are dismissive of whether IS is required in large aperture lenses such as the 85L II. Their arguments are that IS are not needed for fast lenses due to their ability to yield faster shutter speeds with their large apertures. I wish they were right, but unfortunately I have countless images ruined by camera movement induced motion blur disproving this theory.

I, and many other photographers, believe that IS would be invaluable on these lenses for the following reasons:
(a) A fast prime is designed for low light situations, and this is a usage this lens will typically find itself in, however even f/1.2 at high ISO is often not enough to get a handholdable shutter speed, and I have the photos to prove it!
(b) Even if f/1.2 and high ISO is sufficient to get a handholdable shutter speed, the implementation of IS will allow the photographer to stop down the lens or deduce the ISO, to get cleaner output and/or more depth of field (DOF)

I would gladly pay an extra $1000 for this lens for the inclusion of IS. Obviously, I’d prefer it to not cost anything extra though!

OVERALL IMAGE QUALITY:

When this lens is being discussed, three words frequently are mentioned: “Buttery”, “Creamy” and “Bokeh”. Once you use this lens you will understand why. I will attempt to explain how the optical attributes of this lens combine together to form this effect.

The colour response from this lens is unlike other Canon lenses I have used. The contrast delivered from this lens is more subdued, and more elegant. It definitely is a less punchier lens than a Canon Lens EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, however, I would not regard this as a bad thing. It is not worse, it is different. In my opinion, the lower contrast is suited well to portraiture work. The lower “roll off” in contrast transitions is what contributes to the “creamy” look for portraiture.

Together with the bokeh delivered by the f/1.2 aperture and the 8 rounded aperture bladed diaphragm (relevant when stopping down), this lens delivers spectacular background blur. Bokeh refers to the quality of out of focus areas, not the quantity, however there is no doubt our evaluation of bokeh is subjectively affected by the quantity of background blur. And the f/1.2 aperture delivers this in spades.

Note that due to the large aperture, out of focus highlights (out of focus bright spots in the background) are truncated by the mirror box, even on full frame cameras. At times this can be to the image’s detriment, and stopping down the lens will yield a rounder highlight.

Find some great lighting, open up this lens, and you are almost guaranteed a spectacular photo.

OPTICS:

Chromatic Aberration (CA):
Optically, susceptibility to longitudinal CA (purple and green fringing at areas of defocus) is by far the weakest attribute of this lens. This lens is most heavily afflicted by CA in the following situations:
(a) When used wide open or at large apertures
(b) When photographing high contrast transitions particularly in bright light (e.g. white wedding dress against black tuxedo)
(c) When photographing metallic objects

Typically, stopping down to f/1.6 and lower substantially minimises the impact of CA. I have also found that CA is much reduced in dark environments when I use bounce flash (which is a very flat, even light source), and more prominent in harsh, natural light.

Having said that though, this is not a game stopper. Situations like the above are not as prevalent as may seem, and the susceptibility of this lens to CA has not impacted me as much as I would have thought.

Vignetting:
Yes, it vignettes wide open. Bring it on I say. Vignette adds character and gives a very “classical” look to the image, accentuating the subject. I don’t mind vignetting at all, however if you prefer a uniform look, most Canon cameras and post processing software have vignetting correction features.

Distortion:
Nothing noticeable, which is not surprising for a short telephoto prime lens.

Flare:
The sun in the frame or close to the edge of the frame introduces veiling flare (overall “misty” look to the photo). In the field, the biggest impact is when you are photographing with the sun behind the subject. Even if the sun is very close to intruding into the frame, you may experience this veiling effect. I have noted ghosting from the elements (coloured shapes in the photo) however these are relatively minor compared to zoom lenses and wide angle lenses.

Sharpness:
This lens is sharp wide open. I utilise this lens wide open 95% of the time and sharpness is sufficient for all usages I have had for this lens. There is a slight but noticeable improvement in contrast as it is stopped down, and a post processed sharpened photo at f/1.2 will come close to a stopped down photo. Because the resolution is there, f/1.2 photos sharpen up very well - as long as it's in focus!

I regard this lens has being sharper wide open than both the Canon Lens EF 35mm f/1.4L USM and the Canon Lens EF 50mm f/1.2L USM (both of which are very sharp wide open anyway).

At times, in high contrast conditions, lens flare and CA work to reduce the apparent sharpness of this lens, and optically these result in haziness or ghosting on the image, reducing the effective sharpness of the shot.

As with all lenses, if you are concerned with the sharpness of your copy, it is critical that you use manual focus to ensure that the autofocus system is not responsible for the softness. Carefully take a photo of a flat surface containing detail, using Manual Focus, aided by 10X magnification in Live View.

From f/2 onwards, I regard this lens as reaching peak sharpness and out-resolving the current camera sensors. However, I must stress that one should not stop this lens down for sharpness reasons only, you should only need to stop down this lens to increase Depth of Field or to reduce the impact of optical defects such CA and vignetting. I use this lens wide open 95% of the time. The miniscule improvement in image quality is not enough to offset the damage to the image from losing depth of field control (resulting in reduced blurriness in the background) which I love.

The biggest limit on sharpness is imposed not by the lens resolving power, but by AF inaccuracy, motion blur, low DOF and CA. Few photographers will complain about the sharpness delivered by a tripod mounted, 10X magnification aided, manually focused laboratory test photo utilising this lens, but unfortunately life doesn’t always allow us to photograph that way. If over half or more of your photos are consistently front or back focused, I would recommend you investigate the possibility of requiring AF calibration, either using the AF Microadjust feature, or a trip back to Canon for cameras without this feature.

Depth of Field:

A f/1.2 aperture yields a very thin depth of field (DOF) at close focus ranges, however I feel that some photographers exaggerate just how thin DOF is in most field applications.

It is true that if you are at minimum focus distance (MFD) and you photograph a person’s head turned at a 45 degree angle, only one eye will be in focus. This has led to an internet notoriety with this lens that f/1.2 is “too shallow” and “not enough DOF”. Critics of this lens use this as a platform for remarks such as “Why would you photograph at f/1.2? It’s too thin” etc.

However, with the exception of headshot photographers, it is extremely rare for most photographers to photograph all their photos at such close range. A headshot offers little in the way of context and environment. For practical applications where you include other people, or the environment, f/1.2 provides enough DOF for photos of even multiple people, let alone one person.

I frequently use this lens for photos of couples and groups, at f/1.2. Sometimes fitting everyone within the DOF will be challenging, but the following techniques will assist you :
(a) Align people on the same plane (on a line parallel to the front of your lens). Avoid people at the ends positioning themselves forward or behind of the rest of the group.
(b) Step back as far as you can, and focus on the closest person, as it is much more obvious when the person closest is out of focus, compared to the person furthest away from the camera.
(c) Take multiple exposures focusing on both the near and far people, and then merge in photoshop (this technique is called focus stacking)
(d) Stop down Smile

AUTOFOCUS:

This lens is notorious for slow autofocus (AF) performance, despite the upgraded AF microprocessor compared to its predecessor. I can confirm the AF is indeed slow (on a 400D, 40D, 5D, 5D2, 1D3, 1D2N), however it is still usable for most photographic applications including some sports.

In my experience, the sensitivity (ability to lock focus) of the AF is more so camera dependent, however speed and accuracy are also impacted by the lens characteristics.

The biggest problem for me is the delay in response (lag) between when you press the button to AF, and the actual actuation of the AF cycle. For instance, at a wedding, if I observe a person close to me suddenly coming forward to hug the bride, even if I raise my camera up quickly, the lens will often fail to respond in a sufficiently timely manner before the hug is complete, causing me to miss the shot.

At weddings, typically the bridal waltz is another time I will use this lens out of necessity. I am generally happy with a 33% AF hit rate when used for this application due to the low level of light and the need to use AI Servo.

Due to my lack of confidence over the AF performance of this lens, I have not extensively used it for sports or other taxing AI servo applications. I also never attempt to use this lens with the outer focus points of the Canon EOS 5D or Canon EOS 5D Mark II. This often causes me to frame photographs poorly as I attempt to use the centre point. Fortunately Canon has released a camera with usable outer focus points (Canon EOS 5D Mark III), which I have ordered.

USAGE:

Portraiture and wedding work are obvious usages of this lens, however there are a few other applications which I feel that this lens is especially well suited for:

Indoor functions:
Many photographers make the mistake of thinking that a flash forgoes the need for fast glass such as the 85L II. I tend to think of a indoor flash as a tool to change the quality of light, rather than simply a tool to increase the quantity of light. Used correctly, I see indoor flash as a tool to complement existing light. A 85L II, used at large apertures, allows this to happen, sucking in the ambient light, delivering photographs with a superb rendering of the ambient lighting – photographs that a slower zoom lens just cannot achieve.

Photographs taken by slower zoom lenses at the same settings often have a “cave” like look where the subject is illuminated but the background is extremely dark – this is caused by the failure of the slower lens to pick up the low ambient lighting.

Tourism, general walkabout usage:
The DOF control that this lens provides enables superb class leading background and foreground blurring. DOF control is an excellent tool to focus a viewer’s eyes on a subject, or to accentuate subjects.

Consequently I frequently carry this lens on general photo excursions where I expect to photograph objects in a bit of detail, that a Macro lens would be too magnified for.

Accessories:
As is the case with most L lenses, this lens comes with a Canon soft felt lens case, manual, front and rear caps and lens hood.

From experience, this lens will fit into the following carriage accessories:
a) Lowepro Lens Case 4S (with or without hood)
b) Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home (with or without hood, mounted on a SLR)

VALUE:

For a lens of its stature and performance, the 85L II is surprisingly cheaper compared to counterparts such as the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, however it still ranks as one of the most expensive non Super Telephoto Canon L lenses. That said, it delivers exceptional utility, versatility and photographic output, and therefore I regard it to be of excellent value despite its price. For me, it has been worth every cent.

CONCLUSION:

This lens will not make you into a super photographer. You will need to put in the hard yards in learning and practice, and this lens is a tool that you can use to demonstrate the knowledge and skills you gain. Expect much hardship in utilising this lens, but also expect much reward for the effort you put in.

The lens is not without its weaknesses. The latency and low responsiveness of its AF will cost you shots if you are not careful in its application. The chromatic aberration in certain scenes will come close to overwhelming the photo. Its cumbersome shape and mass will make it difficult to carry around with you, particularly when you need to pack light.

However, all these weaknesses fade to the background when you start making images with it. Its quality of output and the photographic opportunities it opens up to you are unmatched in its class.

This is a legendary lens, with decades of optical science and countless photographers who have used it before us making up part of its history. Work hard on your skill development, treat it with respect and humility, and it will be a loyal partner, rewarding you with spectacular output for many years to come.

My sample photo gallery is here - full EXIF is available, as are full resolution downloads for select photos towards the end of the gallery, so you can inspect optical characteristics for yourself!
http://www.clartephoto.com/canon85liisamples


Jun 16, 2012
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aestiva
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Registered: Feb 17, 2009
Location: Netherlands
Posts: 0
Review Date: May 15, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 7 

 
Pros: beautifull bokeh, nice colors
Cons:
soft wide open, slow af

Nice lens. Good build quality. But slow af.
From 1.8 - 2.8 al lot better than my Canon 85 1.8, after that, you can't see the difference anymore.
I put some samples on my site www.totaalfotografie.nl


May 15, 2012
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nswelton
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Registered: Jan 16, 2006
Location: N/A
Posts: 260
Review Date: Apr 11, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: fast, nice bokeh, built like a tank
Cons:
slow to focus, not sharp wide open, heavy, expensive

not sure what to make of this thing. upgraded from the Mk I version because that version was too slow to focus on anything moving. i found it to be just barely fast enough to focus during a wedding, and a huge step up in flare resistance. nice contrast, beautiful colors. optically it could be sharper at 1.2 or 1.4. i refused to shoot this lens below 1.8 unless i absolutely had to do to image softness. but it's a beauty nonetheless.

Apr 11, 2012
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twistedlim
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Registered: Oct 20, 2004
Location: United States
Posts: 3129
Review Date: Feb 7, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Sharp wide open, incredible separation of target from background. Solid feel, made for the 5D. Color and contrast amazing throughout the scale.
Cons:
Heavy (read solid feel). Slow AF compared to the 1.8 but there is a lot of glass to move but accurate.

Bravo Canon! The perfect lens...what else is there to say. Worth every ounce and penny.

Feb 7, 2012
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Kevin Sherman
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Registered: Nov 11, 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 1045
Review Date: Jan 19, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Magical. Bokeh. Sharp. Magical.
Cons:
Price, slooooooow focus.

This lens is killer and magical and will produce some of the best images. It really is magic. There's sharp, and then there's the 85L II, it's in it's own class.

You have to rent one or borrow one to really appreciate the images this lens creates.


Jan 19, 2012
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dweter
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Registered: Jan 14, 2012
Location: Italy
Posts: 0
Review Date: Jan 15, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: bokeh, bokeh, bokeh ! colors, handling
Cons:
slow AF performance
Jan 15, 2012
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nglaap
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Registered: Dec 17, 2010
Location: Netherlands
Posts: 0
Review Date: Jan 13, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: insanely sharp from F2.0,bokeh,colors,handling
Cons:
suffers from CA (especially in harsh light) when stopped down below F2, slower AF then other L class lenses

insanely sharp from F2.0, the bokeh is unmatched as are the colors. I own several L class primes and zooms but none match the image quality delivered by the 85L. it also feels nice to handle, its a big heavy lens but easy to hold. I love my 70-200 2.8 IS but its a pain to work with because of the weight. This lens because of its shorter lenght does not give me that problem.

its AF is not the fastest. shooting kids is doable but not when they are running, it just cant keep up. when you use this lens in harsh sunlight it tends to flare. not the best time of day to take pictures but I've run into it a couple of times. by comparison the 35L does a much better job here. other then that I have zero complaints.

Overall (for me) I think this lens was well worth the investment. I use it on every occasion/shoot.


Jan 13, 2012
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dimitris77
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Registered: Aug 28, 2005
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Posts: 535
Review Date: Dec 13, 2011 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: Superb bokeh, nice colors, excellent build
Cons:
CA wide open, slow focusing, heavy, 1.2 dof hard to master, heart attack anxiety while you mount it so you don't scratch the rear element. Also focusing ring doesn't engage when camera is off.

Overall it's a unique lens. Some might love the isolation and bokeh. For me it didn't really do it especially since I had to put up with annoying things like CA wide open (if it was a little I wouldn't mind but in this it comes in buckets), slow AF and the damn old school ring is not as precise because it has no resistance. I would have prefered a more balanced 1.4 design with nicer manual focus ring and more corrected optics. However 1.2 is really special for the thing it does. Since I sold it I moved to zeiss 100mm which to me is a better lens.

Dec 13, 2011
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jcsculpture
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Registered: Dec 13, 2011
Location: United States
Posts: 0
Review Date: Dec 13, 2011 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,950.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Beautiful Bokeh, Sharp even at 1.2,
Cons:
Slooooooow AF, CA's a bit pronounced. Price

Perhaps my favorite lens of all time is the Canon 85mm 1.2. It is highly regarded as a portrait lens and I could not agree more. It produces absolutely beautiful images with buttery bokeh. It is also very, very sharp wide open. It is my go to portrait lens. I will never part with it. I love it.

Recently I have found myself really getting into MF lenses. I recently bought the Cyclop 85mm 1.5 (very similar to the Helios 40 85mm 1.5). The Cyclop 85mm 1.5 is said to be the same glass as the Helios 85mm 1.5, but without the ability to change the aperture. The Helios and the Cyclop are know for their “swirly” bokeh.

Anyway, I did a comparison test and in it it tests the Canon's sharpness, CA's and bokeh. It is very revealing. The follwoing link is not meant to show the beautiful images which can be created with this lens... rather it is to show CA's, sharpness, distortion, bokeh, etc..


Link to test including sharpness, CA and Bokeh...

http://johncarnessali.com/lens-tests/2439


Dec 13, 2011
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Andy123456
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Registered: Nov 6, 2011
Location: Canada
Posts: 0
Review Date: Nov 7, 2011 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: 1.Very nice background blurr. 2.Very sharp 3.Good color 4.Build quality is excellent 5.Good low light
Cons:
1. Very expensive 2. Heavy 3. Very difficult to get correct focus. 50/50 pictures results.

I purchased this lens to take my baby boy. So far, this is one of the best lens I have seen.
Pros: Very sharp pictures quality. Nice background blurr. The build quality is tough. The manual focus ring is by far the best I have seen. This is an excellent lens for low light.

Cons: This is a really sharp lens but some pictures taken can be blurry. Very challengeing to get clear pictures all of the time. The price is just too expensive for consumer to purchase. Can be very heavy when used for long hike. Slow autofocus, not as fast as my 24-105 is L, but manageable if taken still photo. The range of 85m is very difficult to use in tight spaces, but I knew this when I bought this lens as this is not the lens fault.

Overall, this is a super lens and need to spend a lot of time to play with the focus.


Nov 7, 2011
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NCB7
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Registered: Oct 16, 2011
Location: United States
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Review Date: Oct 16, 2011 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,750.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: 1.2 Fstop Prime lens, Bokeh is unreal
Cons:
Price, Heavy

I've wanted this lens forever and whem I got it I was blown away by how nice it is... One of Canons BEST. Pricey but worth it

Oct 16, 2011
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Canonizer
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Registered: May 21, 2003
Location: United States
Posts: 256
Review Date: Aug 9, 2011 Recommend? no | Price paid: $1,600.00 | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: Sharpness at wide apertures; outstanding bokeh; build quality.
Cons:
Very slow AF performance; focus by wire; poor ergonomics and handling.

A little background on my shooting style -- I use this lens for portraiture. I also own the 35/1.4L, 50/1.2L and 135/2L. I prefer primes and shoot at the widest aperture possible. I shoot with the 5D2.

I find the 85/1.2L II to be an over-rated lens here in the reviews forum, not only because of the significant "cons" of this lens, but also becasue the Canon EF 85/1.8 is such a higher performer and a much, much better value.

I shoot a lot of children, and many of them are in motion. I also shoot weddings in low light. This lens goes crazy trying to keep up due to the very slow AF. My keeper rate with this lens in such shooting circumstances is very low and I am always concerned about whether I got the shot or not. There is very little time for constantly checking the LCD for critical focus with the type of shooting I do. Yes, when I get the focus right, there are outstanding results. Sharpness is excellent even wide open, but to be honest, sharpness is not my priority with this lens. I never had a client that was impressed by seeing their skin pores. The bokeh is some of the best going at this focal length.

The bulky, heavy and awkward shape of this lens results in poor handling characteristics, which has also caused me to miss some shots.

When you own this lens there is always the elephant in the room -- the Canon 85/1.8 -- which I sold and sometimes regret doing so. It focuses very quickly, is very sharp, and handles like a dream. The bokeh is not up to the 85/1.2L's standard, but it creates its own satisfying bokeh. Given the enormous price difference, I spend a lot of time justifying the 85/1.2L II, and often can't quite get there.

Although I have been shooting with this lens for three years, I've never really bonded with it, and honestly, I am starting to entertain the idea of selling it.


Aug 9, 2011
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Beverly Guhl
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Registered: Nov 11, 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 3095
Review Date: May 10, 2011 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,900.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: sharp,crisp,quality,dependable,bokeh
Cons:
heavy, slow focus in low light

I show with a 5DMKII. I owned the 85mm 1.8 for a couple years and I had a really sharp copy, so I couldn't imagine the 1.2 being THAT much better to justify the huge cost difference... but, I wanted to see for myself. I've had the 1.2 for about a year now and am pretty dazzled with it. It is definitely sharper, and there's a bit more clarity and snap to the images, just what you'd expect in an L lens. The bokeh is a dream.

I shoot a lot of headshots and some portraits, so I mainly use it for that, but I do pull it out for babies, kids, dogs, and cats, too (though I often use my 35 L for those). For headshots and portraits this is just amazing. The sharpness in the eyes is everything. On the downside, it's ridiculously sharp for some people's skin even at f/3.2 in a tight headshot, so I find myself softening the skin slightly on occasion.

On the downside... 1. It's HEAVY. I'm pretty strong and can hold 6 lbs. of camera and lens, but it's challenging to hold my 5DMKII with this lens using one hand while shooting. Always nice to have a hand free when you need it, like when getting a baby's attention. It's worth the weight though, of course. 2. It's "great for low light" situations, but the catch is you can't auto-focus well in low light every time you need to. So, be prepared to manually focus or miss some shots. None of the other things folks have said about the lens bothers me (lens hood, mount, etc.)

Here's some pics taken with this lens at various apertures.

http://www.beverlyguhl.com/85L_samples/85L.html

For anyone debating whether to buy the 1.2 or the 1.8, I'd say IF you can comfortably afford the 1.2, go for it. If not, then don't fret. If you get a sharp copy of a 1.8 it's a gem, and the differences can be made up in post if you can adjust and sharpen images reasonably well. I just sold my 1.8, but I seriously considered keeping it because it was so lightweight and sharp.


May 10, 2011
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AshleyJones
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Registered: Feb 1, 2009
Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 20
Review Date: Apr 22, 2011 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Super sharp at F1.2; bokeh; contrast; colour
Cons:
Minimum focal length; not the fastest focussing

I have a few L lenses but I find it hard to find a reason to take the 85L off. I have had it for just over a year and no other lens has come close to making me as happy. I mainly shoot portraits and rock gigs and I am delighted with the results I get with the 85L combined with the 5DII. I got a good deal on the lens that I couldn't resist; I would never have bought one at the ful UK price. But now I have owned one, if I lost it I would have to replace it.

I also have a 60D and the lens is considerably less amazing on that body. I don't really understand why but I would stick with the (excellent but not as magical as the 85L) 85 F1.8 on a crop body. I would prefer it to focus a bit closer but - for me and the stuff I shoot - the combo of the 5DII and 85L is just unbeatable.


Apr 22, 2011
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Cinepixtor Media
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Registered: Nov 2, 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 202
Review Date: Jan 11, 2011 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,800.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Color, contrast, & bokeh Large and Heavy - Oozes quality Quick Release Lens Hood
Cons:
Noticeable CA but not noticeable for the type of shooting I use the lens for. Focusing is a bit odd and very light... the focus seems to "glide".

i have shot this on my 1Ds Mark II, 1D Mark III, 7D, and 5D Mark II. I have had the lens for a few years and have truly come to appreciate it fully when it's mounted on my 5D Mark II. The color, contrast, and bokeh is AMAZING! My go to lens when doing head shots or modeling shoots. The sweet spot for me is shooting at f2.0
It's not cheap but well worth it.


Jan 11, 2011
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Breitling65
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Registered: May 31, 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 5240
Review Date: Dec 30, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Sharp, amazing L colors and contrast, 1.2, presize AF.
Cons:
bulky, cost more every year, need weathersealing

This is my second copy of this lens, same superb as first one I sold 3 years ago. There is no alternative to this lens, I tried several other lenses with same focal, nothing even close to 85LII. Magic optic at F1.2, greaa for some creative shots and photogs with good eyes.

Dec 30, 2010
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Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

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93% of reviewers $1,784.94
Build Quality Rating Price Rating Overall Rating
9.72
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85II


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