Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM Review w/ Sample Images

Over the years Canon has produced some pretty fantastic prime lenses, no one can deny that. From the very affordable 50mm f/1.8 II to the much less affordable 85mm f/1.2 L, granted that is a fantastic piece of glass. I’m going to be looking at the much more affordable 85mm f/1.8 USM and seeing how it performs.

Right off the bat I can say my copy didn’t focus perfectly with my Canon 6D, although this wasn’t a problem due to micro-adjusting being built in the camera, not all users with have this function in theirs, so it’s something to note.

The build quality is what you’d expect from a gold ringed USM series lens, built with someone decent plastics it’s a big step up from the kit series lenses. The focus ring is smooth although my copy had a very slight wobble to it, this can be a bit of a problem when shooting manual focus for video, although I can’t see why you’d use auto focus otherwise. The auto focus in this 85mm is blazingly quick - infact it’s one of Canon’s fastest focusing lenses! And as like nearly all Canon’s USM series lenses, it has full time manual focus which is great just incase you forget to hit the switch between using manual and auto focus. This saves you (or a pesky friend!) destroying the auto focus mechanism in your lens. The lens has an all metal mount and Canon now ship all their lenses with the new style front cap (see images) which allows you to put on and take off the cap much much easier - especially when a lens hood is attached! MUCH APPRECIATED CANON!

The 85mm f/1.8 is fairly sharp wide open at 1.8, although has a very slight softness to it. This is actually perfect when shooting portraits, as you don’t want all their pores showing up in their skin. Although if you or your client are into that sort of thing, stop it down to f/2.8 and you’re going to be looking at some seriously sharp images. Along with sharpness, both vignetting and contrast are both improved once you stop down the lens a bit. Although in this day and age chromatic aberrations and vignetting shouldn’t be spoken about due to technology being able to correct it in one click, in Lightroom and now IN CAMERA! (That’s right! The new Canon cameras such as the 5D MKIII & 6D have profiles built into them!) this lens does suffer quite a lot of colour fringing and vignetting. Again though, being able to correct all your images in camera is a great time saver and it does a very fantastic job !

The focal length combined with the wide aperture of f/1.8 can create some pretty fantastic subject isolation. This can be perfect for events and portrait photographers alike. This lens doesn’t feature image stabilisation, but can still be used for video. Just make sure you use some sort of stabilisation (such as a tripod, monopod, slider, glidecam etc) or if you have to shoot hand held, lock your arms and elbows tight into your body and hold the camera close to you, this will create more stable shots.

Although this is an 85mm lens on a full frame body, on a cropped sensor camera such as the 550D (7D, 650D etc) you have to take the 1.6x crop factor into account. This then makes it around a 135mm equivalent, this is actually perfect for portraits! Just look at how popular the Canon 135mm f2 L lens is. Although don’t get confused with comparing it to it, the compression and depth of field on the 135mm lens is very different from the 85mm. The narrower field of view makes it less versatile on a cropped sensor camera. Although this isn’t all bad news, on a crop sensor body you’re actually using the best parts of the lens. As a crop sensor only uses the middle parts of the lens, you’re going to get less vignetting and better sharpness across the frame.

Overall you can’t really go wrong with this lens. With it’s fantastic auto focusing, wide aperture of 1.8 and sharpness wide open, this is a perfect lens for people who shoot portraits and events - especially those needing extra light. For just under £300 in the UK, I’d say this is an absolute bargain.

All full res jpegs can be found below

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