Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS Review

After three months of impatiently waiting, I finally received the minty fresh Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS.  I’ve been waiting all year for this lens, almost purchasing the older 85mm 1.8 to get by until it’s release.  I already owned the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II which took buttery smooth, bokehlicious portraits, but it has issues.

For me, I don’t often use the 85mm focal length for its popular purpose as a portrait lens. The majority of my 85mm photos will be taken during a wedding ceremony or at the beginning of the wedding reception for first dances and speeches. It’s a documentary lens for me, which has different demands than a portrait lens.

The Good

The problem with the old 85mm L lenses was the focus and I’m so happy that it’s FANTASTIC on the new one. I was concerned after seeing the size/weight that it was going to be only marginally better than the glacially slow 1.2, but it’s speedy. It has that 35mm II feel where it just snaps directly to focus. It doesn’t hunt and it doesn’t slowly slide into focus like a lot of the older Canon lenses.

It’s sharp, the bokeh is smooth, and the colors are what you expect from Canon L glass. Alright, what you really care about are examples!

The Bad

There isn’t much to say bad about this lens. Yes, it’s expensive and heavy, and I probably would have traded in the Image Stabilization for some money/weight, but that’s not an option.  I’m not sure IS is that useful at this focal range unless you are obsessed with keeping your ISO low or if you possibly shoot handheld video. I may update this once I end up having to photograph a dark ceremony in a church.

The Canon 85mm 1.2 II Comparison

I thought this was going to be different. I thought the 1.2 would completely out shine the 1.4 when it comes to portraits, but I’m not entirely sure it’s worth it.  Yes, there is still something magical that happens at 1.2, but unless it’s side by side, it’s hard to find it. Here are some side by side comparisons for you to judge yourself.

The iPhone? Comparison

Portrait mode is all the rage so I did a quick test between the Canon 85mm 1.4 IS, the Canon 85mm 1.2 II, and the iPhone 8+ in portrait mode. For “normal” people, it’s really hard to make an argument to buy a camera beyond your cell phone.

Verdict

The Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS is exactly what I was hoping for when I purchased the lens. Rock solid reliability at a focal length that keeps me further away from the action. I would have a hard time recommending the Canon 85mm f/1.2L for anything at this point. Yes, it still has that buttery 1.2 look that is better than the 1.4, but for 99.9% of people, the focus system will be more beneficial.  Unless you plan on shooting only at 1.2, you want the 1.4. And if you ever yelled at the lens while waiting for the 1.2 to get focus, you should upgrade as soon as possible so you can stop missing those moments.

 

Chris Bartow

Morristown, NJ