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Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

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176 282433 Nov 23, 2014
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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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Registered: Oct 6, 2010
Location: Australia
Posts: 0
Review Date: Nov 23, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: F1.2 performance, sharpness, bokeh
slow autofocus, electronic manual focus, focus ring lacks damping

I bought this lens to be my definitive portrait lens for use at all types of photo shoots. I use it with both a Canon 7D and 5D III, and for most jobs use it in combination with a 35mm f/1.4.

This is a love hate lens for me. Optically it produces really beautiful results. It can be tack sharp even at f/1.2, has a beautiful quality to it's bokeh and rendering of colour and texture, and has a great focal length for portraiture.

On the downside it is very difficult to handle, and difficult to focus. It's short length and considerable weight make it and the camera feel unbalanced. The rear element is completely flush to the mounting ring, meaning changing lenses is a stressful exercise when on location. The slightest mistake would mean scratching or chipping the edges of the rear element. Autofocus is slow and somewhat unreliable, and the manual focus ring lacks damping, and has a lag between when you move it and the internal optics move into position (as the focus is electronic and not mechanical).

The lens is difficult to focus. So much so that I returned it to Canon for calibration thinking it might have a fault (it was returned with a note saying there was nothing wrong). On my 7D autofocus is a very hit and miss affair, and I often resort to live view focus where it is more accurate. On the 5D III autofocus is more reliable, but still with the speed of the focus being very slow and such a small depth of field, it can be very difficult to use (especially for portraiture of children or other things that move).

I'm not quite sure why Canon had to compromise so much in the design of this lens to achieve the result it has. Many other lenses come close in length and aperture without things like electronic focus and flush rear elements. Still, the lens is unique in the beauty of the results it produces, and I have not come across anything with which I would want to replace it.

Most images on my individual portrait gallery page were shot with this lens (and many from the other galleries on my website also):


Nov 23, 2014
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Registered: Feb 17, 2009
Location: Netherlands
Posts: 0
Review Date: Nov 12, 2014 Recommend? | Price paid: Not Indicated

Pros: Sharp, amazing bokeh, nice colors, hard contrast
Slow af, strange lenshood, expensive

I own this lens and the Sigma 85 1.4.

I would recommend the Sigma above the 85 1.2L II because the price and the quality.
But this lens you have the budget and if bokeh and weather sealing is important. Otherwise GO for the Sigma. The AF is a lot slower than the sigma but for my feeling more accurate.
The Sigma has a little less bokeh, not a well build like the L, but beats a lot of other professional lensen and has a fast AF!

On my page http://facebook.com/totaalfotografie al zoomed pictures from september are made with this piece of art!

This lens costs too much, is too heavy, too slow but the quality makes it one of my favourite lenses!

Nov 12, 2014
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Registered: May 18, 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 66
Review Date: Aug 20, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Vibrancy, bokeh, sharpness wide open.
Weight, manual focus by wire, sorta crappy lens hood

Fabulous lens. I have used it for live dance for a long time. It absolutely will not focus from macro to infinity quickly - but with a little preparation it behaves quite nicely with multiple modes of Servo tracking. It was used with my 1Ds M3 for years and upgrading to the 1DX pretty much removed my gripes.

Low light and ridiculous high contrast stage lighting is the environment. The lens eats the settings alive.

Highly recommended for low light settings when you need fast in addition to high ISO.

I've used it as a portrait lens, but as that comprises so little of my work I'll leave it to others to tell me how slowly it focuses ;-)

Some examples of how the lens is used can be found here...


Aug 20, 2014
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Registered: Jan 8, 2013
Location: United States
Posts: 796
Review Date: Jul 31, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,500.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: aperture, Bokeh, Contrast, color rendition,
Af speed thats about it, Rear element can easily be scratched.

The lens is a MONSTER. It's short fat and heavy. The AF speed and the rear element are really the only downfalls I see about the lens. If you have static subjects you'll love this lens. The lens can make any background vanish.

Jul 31, 2014
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Registered: Mar 28, 2011
Location: United States
Posts: 96
Review Date: Feb 13, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Great portrait lens, specifically designed as such. Smooth contrast, very flattering for portraits.
Slow focus, big and heavy, expensive, not as sharp wide open as I would like.

I have a love/hate relationship with this lens. On the one hand it is a great portrait lens, both for the shallow depth-of-field one can achieve by using its large apertures, and also due to the fact that its contrast seems to be perfect for skin tones. It is a tad bit soft in that regard (contrast-wise) and faces, especially if the subject matter has a lot of blemishes and/or wrinkles can look wonderful when photographed with this lens.
Aside from that I do not agree with the general opinion that it is ultra sharp wide open. It just is not. To me, while it is acceptable wide open there is a big difference once it is stopped down to at least F2.
It is also very slow to focus, big, and heavy for what it is.
Unless you want this lens specifically for portraits, you just may be better served by the 85 F1.8 Canon lens as that one is 1/5 the price, smaller, lighter and focuses MUCH faster. I have done comparisons and find that aside from the contrast, they perform very similarly.

Feb 13, 2014
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Registered: Dec 10, 2013
Location: Switzerland
Posts: 0
Review Date: Dec 10, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,900.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Extremely sharp, wonderful bokeh, very precise AF, great colors and contrast
Quite expensive, speciality lens, slow AF, electronic AF, not weather sealed, rear element can easily be scratched

The 85mm 1.2 clearly isn't for everyone.

Sure it has an amazing bokeh, it renders colors and contrast like no other lens, it's AF is very precise and it sharpness... let's say it's sharp like no other lens. If you shoot fashion with it you will spend a little more time in Photoshop because it so sharp!

However it comes with a few flaws… It seems like a very solid lens but it's not even weather sealed and the rear element is right on the surface of the lens (no border). It makes it very easy to scratch when mounting the lens.
Then there is the AF system. It's very precise (it'd better be when focusing at f/1.2) but slowish. If you need to focus from infinity to the closest distance, it will take about 1-2 seconds. With almost 2lbs of glass to move it is easy to understand why it's not so fast… Though it can be annoying if you shoot fast paced subjects (weddings, sports, events, etc.). Add to this fact that the AF is electronic (can't be used when the camera is switched off and no "mechanic feeling/response" when turning the focus ring) and you see why so many don't like the focus system of the 85mm L.

It surely is a wonderful lens. It's just not for everyone. I love to use it for on location portraits (crazy isolation/bokeh) and for studio work (very sharp and great color/contrast rendering).

Here's a recent engagement session I shot almost entirely with it (a few of the pictures are shot with a 24-70 2.8): http://quentindecaillet.com/blog/4123-photographe-mariage-vaud-laura-samuel-engagement-cully-lavaux.html

Dec 10, 2013
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Registered: Jun 13, 2003
Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 53
Review Date: Jul 27, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,395.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp, sharp, sharp ....
Weight, cost. Purple fringing.

I read lots of reviews, hired a copy and then bought one.

I love it. It is silly sharp with a silly shallow DoF which is great to take 'different' shots. Colour and contrast are superb. Focus speed is not too bad really- just don't use it for sports. It is certainly far faster than a 180 macro !

Yes, it weighs a bit but balances well on a 5D3 without the need for the BG-E11 grip.

Beware of the rear element - it is level with the back of the casing and vulnerable to damage. The focus is electric so only works when camera on.

It is a specialist lens which makes you think - it is great. I bought it along with a 50 f1.2 and 135 f2 to try and stop using zooms for a bit Smile

Jul 27, 2013
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Registered: Jan 28, 2006
Location: Italy
Posts: 9
Review Date: Apr 4, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharpness, brokeh,
Apr 4, 2013
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Registered: Apr 23, 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 166
Review Date: Apr 3, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Excellent contrast, great color rendition, tact sharp, lovely Bokeh,
Slow to rack focus moving from one subject to the other, a bit weighty

The Canon 85mm 1.2 L in short is a great lens. It's great because it has excellent contrast and color rendition, the colors are well balanced and look great. It also has beautiful bokeh (the shape of the out of focus areas). When stopped down to 1.2 the area of focus is hairline thin that even though eyes are in focus mouth and nose can be out of focus.

Now onto the slow focusing this lens isn't a point and focus on every subject right away type of lens, you have to find its sweet spot or in other words stay at a certain distance and take the shots you want. Many say it's slow because for it to rack focus or pull focus from one subject to another at different distances it has to shift a lot of glass and that does take a few secs which for many is too slow. So at it's sweet spot it's fast and I love it.

This was shot at the sweet spot (within 2secs of me seeing it)

The 85mm 1.2L gets a 10 in my book!!

Apr 3, 2013
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Registered: Oct 8, 2012
Location: United States
Posts: 13
Review Date: Mar 3, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,999.00

Pros: With me, none.
Very, very heavy. Abysmally slow AF. Front focusing. Hood mounted to front lens group. Electronic manual focusing has no tactile feedback. No automatic retraction of front lens when turning-off camera. Lens did not work on my 5D Mark III.

Hello! I started photographing in 1962 (nineteen sixty-two) while in the 7th grade. I was 13 years old and used a Rolliecord TLR and a Weston light meter. So, yup, I'm old (63). What I didn't realize was that that moment in time was the beginning of a life-long love of photography which resulted in my using a myriad of equipment and taking thousands of film photos.

I know what this lens is capable of producing via internet postings on this site. I read of its foibles was positive that given my skill set that those issues could be handled. What I truly discovered was that it's a fully compromised piece of glass from a mechanical sense. Having had many Nikon and Zeiss lenses, as well as some medium grade 3rd party glass, I'm familiar with how to use each type. No problem.....

What was surprising was that it did NOT work properly after being mounted on my camera: it grossly underexposed every shot that I took, regardless of where the photo was taken as well as the lighting condition (really dark settings excluded). I checked ALL of my settings on my camera; all were nominal. This lens is in Canon's listing of recognized lenses (of course) and that registration was shown in the camera's menu. So, I remounted a Canon 50mm f/1.8 (original version-still registered...) and all was perfect. Hmmmmm.... I checked the manufacturing date and it was August 2012--so, all okay from that standpoint.

Although the above problem could have been from user error, I'm inclined to think not, as I've been using many types of digital cameras since 2007 and have never had this problem.

Given the L series of lenses and the quality control that is required, I'm sure that it passed all of their tests. So, the reason for it not producing a properly exposed image with my Mark III is perplexing.

In conclusion, I'm exchanging it for Canon's 35mm f/1.4 USM. It is a very different type of lens perspective, but from what I have read here it's a gem.

I wish that this lens was a keeper, as I think that 85mm is a great focal length for many types of shooting. I'll have to check-out Canon's other 85mm listing(s).

Mar 3, 2013
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Registered: Jan 24, 2013
Location: Australia
Posts: 8
Review Date: Feb 23, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Tack sharp from F1.2. Build quality, Bokeh.
fly by wire focus can be incredibly slow to focus. No weather sealing.

I recently hired one of these gems to do a birthday party for a niece of mine. As many others have said, the AF is slow, so slow it's almost painful. To me it makes the 50 F1.2 AF feel like a race car in comparison.

For portraits it's not a problem, it locks on and the photo's are stunning, tack sharp with wonderful colour renditions and beautiful bokeh.

Candid portraits on the other hand - especially young ones who like to randomly and spontaneously go from 0 to 100 mph in a blink of an eye I found far more tricky, almost frustrating, but as with portraits, if and when the focus locks on you usually nail the shot.

I found the weight of the lense to compliment the body (5d mark 3) rather than throw it out of balance like some lenses do.

I've read complaints about where the red alignment dot is located, and whilst it's not in the most convenient of places, I think you'd have to be a butcher to scratch or mark the rear element given it's slightly recessed below the mounting ring.

Would I purchase this lense? Absolutely, once the funds allow for it.

Feb 23, 2013
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Registered: Feb 18, 2010
Location: United States
Posts: 1583
Review Date: Jan 26, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: superb bokeh/sharpness/color/contrast, can take images with a full moon and ISO6400 if you have a streetlight within a few blocks. Nails focus every time.
Slow AF. And I mean seriously slow. I have seen sloths move faster than this AF.

This lens is always a mixed bag of chips for me. On the one hand, it takes flipping phenomenal photos if you subject will stay still long enough for the AF to lock on. Hell, even if they don't the image will still look amazing. Even at f/1.2 it is plentifully sharp - at f/2.0 its a razer-blade corner to corner. You will never think to yourself "I could use more subject isolation" at f/1.2. It makes easy work of portraits - aim for the eyes and kiss the wrinkles on most of the face goodbye (and the background). You will be able to take pictures using a single candle for a light source at night, embarrassing all of your friends trying to use their lesser lenses to get that amazing night shot. Hell - this is THE available light lens to have.

So whats the drawback? The disgustingly "deliberate" AF. I have found it less frustrating on a 1DIII body than a 5DII. Even on a good day, it takes some work to nail focus on a moving subject with this lens. You learn to anticipate it and find tricks to get it to lock on, but there are still a not-insignificant number of out-of-focus shots after I use this lens for events. When people come up with kind terms like "deliberate" to describe a lenses AF - know that they mean "sometimes I want to throw this lens out a window because it is SO SLOW to focus." For those of you thinking that you can manually focus this lens faster keep in mind that it uses focus by wire technology that lags ever so slightly behind your movements with the focusing ring (read: frustrating).

Also, the lens hood latches on to the rotating focusing ring. Because this lens is full-time manual focus override capable, you can't rest the hood on an object unless you keep REALLY still (the depth of field at 1.2 will be thrown off if you breath).

So then, why do I use this lens more than any other? It nukes backgrounds and creates the most amazing subject isolation of any lens I have used (no, I haven't used the 200 f/2.0). Nothing else is able to produce images quite like it in my experience. Even if the AF is slow, I just overshoot events with it so that I know I have at least one frame in focus. It is a great lens, it just isn't for everyone.

Sample photos:
Subject isolation:
Scenery (mountain w/ polarizer):

Jan 26, 2013
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Registered: Sep 24, 2008
Location: Canada
Posts: 394
Review Date: Nov 25, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,850.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Produces isolation with beautiful backgrounds in a way no other lens can quite match.
Heavy, slow to focus on all but the 1Dx and likely the 5D3. Flimsy hood. Cameras must be on to retract the front element to put it away.

I had not considered adding a review for the 85L II while I was using it on a 5D and 1D4, slow AF and inconsistent AF were a problem for me, particularly with portraiture. I mostly used it as a walk around lens. I know that seems odd, but I found that quite mundane still life scenes could be made far more interesting with the lenses ability to isolate an interesting element of the scene.

The 1Dx AF (and I assume the 5D3 AF) have changed all that. AF is much faster and more accurate. AI-servo is definitely useable now, which allows me to use it at parties and receptions in a way that used to produce 20% keepers for me, but now well over 50%. Hand held wide open with people moving around was not a strong suit for this lens in my hands. It is now with the 1Dx.

As an aside, I would highly recommend using Tape's FocusTune software to set MA for this lens. I never could quite settle on a correct MA with the FocusAlign alone. There is no doubt now and MA is clearly +2 compared to the uncertain +5 to +7 before (1Dx). I haven't reset MA on the 1D4 yet. The 5D front focuses a bit.

Nov 25, 2012
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Registered: Sep 3, 2012
Location: Germany
Posts: 5
Review Date: Sep 3, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Nice Bokeh and sharpness from f1.2 on.
No sealing, electronical focus only and heavy lateral CA.

I just wanted to add some notes to the review from Dawei Ye:
>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

That's not true. The 100mm 2.8L Macro is a nice portraitlense, too
(even if it's mainpurpose is the macrodistance). It offers a
fantastic Hybrid IS with up to 4 stops.

I can't even approve the fact that the 50mm 1.2 is sharp wide
open. The 50mm 1.2 is a bad lese on open apertures... not
unusable while doing "art" but otherwise nothing to buy

The 85mm 1.2II is a fantastic lense if you want the last out of your
pictures. All others who own the 85mm 1.8 should keep it... the
price/value tag is unmatched.

Sep 3, 2012
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Thomas Richter
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Registered: Jun 17, 2012
Location: Germany
Posts: 1
Review Date: Jun 17, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp already at f1.2, amazing bokeh, one of the biggest temptations since Canon makes lenses...
Nothing that I wouldn't call a feature...

I bought this lens in conjunction with upgrading from 40D to 5D3, and the results that this combination delivers - even after only a few days of playing with it - are absolutely amazing. It balances very well on the 5D3 with BG. Indeed it is recommended to use AI Servo for focusing and not try to shift frame when shooting wide open. That said, the new 61 AF-points of the 5D3 and their flexible settings arrived at the right time :-)

Jun 17, 2012
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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"
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.


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.


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!


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.


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.

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.

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

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.

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


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.


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.

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)


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.


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!

Jun 16, 2012
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Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

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