Gear review - Canon 85mm L MK II F/1.2 Lens

It’s a beast! My first experience with the 85L MK 1 was a few years ago, and I was not
impressed. I rented the lens, shot with it on the Canon 5D, and I just didn’t
get what all the hype was about over this lens. Fast forward a few years and
I’m here to tell you; I now understand why this lens is so special! It’s a

My first experience with the 85L MK 1 was a few years ago, and I was not impressed. I rented the new Canon 85mm F/1.2 II lens, shot with it on the Canon 5D and I
just didn’t get what all the hype was about over this lens. Scary looking isn’t
it… the back mount? To be honest, mounting the lens to the camera freaks me out
a little, something I will have to get used to over time I suppose. Being
exposed like it is, I take extra caution when mounting the lens to the camera
body. The thought of scratching it makes me cringe. None of my other lenses
worry me… this one… does. Just something to think about when you buy the
lens… be careful.

We all have our reasons for buying the lenses we own. In low light, you want a fast
lens, something which will gather light and help you keep the shutter speeds up
while taking the shots. Being this is an F/1.2 lens, it sucks in the light like
no other. The bokeh,  color, contrast,
and how the lens resolves the images really stood out to me. The image below is
from a recent session. It was shot at F/2.8 in the client’s backyard. The trees
in the background were distracting but knowing this lens; I could  put the focus on her by shooting at a wide
aperture. If I were to take this shot again, I would have either taken one step
back to increase the depth or field, or I would have shot it at F/3.2 to make
sure all the faces were in focus.

It’s hard to describe how well this lens focuses. When the focus locks, it really locks
on. It sounds strange typing this or describing it this way, but the lens just hits. the lens is super sharp as well, and as I mentioned previously, the color/contrast the lens captures is outstanding. It’s not all perfect and there is one of a couple of issues, which is not unique to this lens. It’s the CA or Chromatic Aberration. Notice in the shot above, her eyelashes, see the purple fringe creeping in? This is something, which can be handled in post, but it’s something you should be aware of.

I think there have been improvements made in the MK2 version of this lens as it handles CA fairly well be compared with the MK1 version. What you see above isn’t all that bad. Shots taken @F/1.2 and very little of the image is in focus. Shooting wide open a couple of things you need to know. It’s difficult to shoot. The depth of field is so shallow it’s important to square the eyes / face toward the camera if you want both eyes in focus. Shooting technique (I’m still working on) is significant as well. A solid base and controlled breathing will help. For example, taking a shot a shot with the Canon 5D2 at 5ft from the subject, shooting F/1.2 the total depth of field is .07 feet.

So… any movement from your subject or if you move will cause you to miss the shot. Increasing your distance and cropping in post can overcome some of the challenges if you have the headroom in post. Although very usable at F/1.4, I find shooting from F/1.6 on up to be more flexible. I mentioned there were a couple of issues with the lens. The CA was one of them and the second, although for my type of work really isn’t an issue, is the focusing speed. This lens has a large chunk of glass to move around.

If you are wanting to shoot from the minimum focusing distance around an object 30 feet away, for example, it takes a second to move all that glass. Compared to the Canon 85 F/1.8 it’s a snail. However, again… only if you are changing your focus from up close to a distance shot. Normal portrait work… I never notice it.

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