I like food. I like hammers. I like bunnies.

The Canon EF85mm f1.2L Mark II Lens

without comments


This and the EF 35mm f1.4L are my favorite lenses. If I had to choose only two lenses to use, it would be those two.

If you’re reading this you most likely stumbled here because of a Google search or something similar, and are looking for sample shots or a review. Welcome! Glad to have you here. I hope this post helps your decision making process. I’m not going to list the good and the bad like a typical review, because certain ‘bad’ things are actually ‘good’ the way things panned out.

Specifications for the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L Mark II
“Giant, light-sucking machine”
Years Produced 2006 – Still in production
Street Price US – $2100.00 (In 2006)

• This lens holds its value incredibly well. Pay attention to the manual focus ring and if there is any binding/slack for used units.
Lens Type Telephoto
Available Mounts • Canon EF
• Canon EF-S
Optical Construction 8 elements in 7 groups, with single aspherical element

• Gaussian type lens
Weather Sealing No
Aperture Blades 8 – Circular blade pattern
Focus Type Automatic Focus with Piezoelectric motor

• Manual focus uses a Hall effect sensor and is not directly coupled
Image Stabilization No
Min. Focus Distance • 0.95m
• (37.60 inches)

• Bear in mind that at minimum focus distance at f/1.2 the depth of field is INSANELY thin!
Dimensions • 84.0 x 91.5mm
• (3.31 x 3.60 inches)
Weight • 1025g

• (36.15 ounces)
Filter Size 72mm
Hood Included ES-79 II

So here goes:

A Positive Experience

My experience with the 85L has been very positive. I own the Mark II version. I have not used the Mark I so I cannot comment on that lens. From what I know, that lens is very similar but with different optical coating and a revamped autofocus motor.

My lens was purchased used but in excellent condition. It focuses crisply and without the requirement of any micro adjustment. It’s very sharp even wide open at f/1.2, and i’m one of those oddballs who will even use the lens in full daylight without regret. Of course, I have to drop my ISO all the way down to 100,  stop down to at least f/8, and stay within the shadows for my shots.

However, outdoor shots in bright sunlight is not what this lens was designed for. Its bread and butter is low available light shooting. Any lens can handle those magical times of the day (sunrise and sunset) but not many venture into the darkness after the sun goes down. I think this lens has given me a new way to view the night. It is a very useful tool even under candlelight and its bokeh (background blur) is supremely excellent- giving portraits a dreamy, wonderland-style setting.

Autofocus Performance, Sharpness, & Depth of Field

This is not an easy lens to use. It requires patience, and has a bit of a learning curve with it. But once you figure it out (the autofocus and DoF), it becomes second nature to operate.

On discussion boards, a frequent source of complaints comes from users who say the lens is not sharp. At the f/1.2 aperture, the lens has a depth of field as little as half an inch.  For new users, that means you need a fairly high shutter speed (around 1/120 or faster) and a very steady hand! Hold your breath and pull on the shutter gently. Having a mindset similar to target shooting with a rifle helps a lot. You need to be steady, deliberate, and patient with the lens.

Again, the lens is wide open at f/1.2, but you just have to be aware of the depth of field being so thin.

Sure, the autofocus is a bit slow as many have noted, but it is plenty fast to get the job done with most portrait work. But if you’re used to shooting fighter jets or steeplechases, it’s definitely going to seem too slow. ANYTHING is going to feel slower than telephoto zooms like the EF 70/200mm f/2.8 or long telephoto primes like the 400mm f/2.8.

You also will need to set your focus points to target the eyes. That’s a beginner tip that was told to me, and I use it not just on this lens but all that I own. I typically only use the center focus point, so I cannot vouch for or have experienced any of the focus issues that some have complained about when off-center.

Build Quality

This lens is built like a tank. There is a sizable amount of metal housing protecting an equally sizable pile of glass… but the lens still feels as if it needs to be treated with care. I certainly have not banged it around very much so I can’t comment about it’s impact resistance. The lens is not weather sealed so it’s not trying to be a sport shooter lens anyway. Here’s what the lens looks like clear through the front:


The Manual Focus Ring

This lens is an oddity to me as it does not have a ‘connected’ manual focus ring. The ring is actually completely loose and you can feel it in autofocus mode. Once set to manual, when the ring is moved it presumably is nothing more than a Hall effect sensor, which then sends the AF motor within the lens along on its way. It may not be a direct connection, but it works well enough that it really isn’t an issue for the most part. It just seems a bit disconcerting at first. You’ll get used to it and people who complain about it are being picky about ergonomics which are valid complaints but definitely not showstoppers.

The front part of the lens also protrudes when at close focus. I have simply been accustomed to focusing back down to infinity and then powering it off.

The Mass Factor

This is a heavy lens. I use it on a 1-series body. I do occasionally use it on my 40D and D60 (The vintage Canon one, not a Nikon). It feels balanced even with those cameras without requiring a battery grip, but that’s just my opinion. This is a lot of weight to be carrying around as a walk-around combo. Well, the only practical solution is to just get used to it.

I’m not a big guy, but i’ve lugged this around for days at a time in Paris, without any real ill side effects. I probably can curl a bit more weight nowadays but that’s about it. If you want image quality, you have to pay for it somehow.

The sheer amount of glass in this lens is fairly intimidating for candid shots, but i’ve managed to pull it off even with this lens.

The Cost

This is an expensive lens. It however helps make pictures that I am really proud of. It is purely up to you to decide whether or not the gains are worth it. I have not tried the less expensive 85 f/1.8 model for long enough time to decide if the differentials are truly worth the extra cost (as you can buy nearly four f/1.8 lenses for the cost of one of these f/1.2 models).

My only regret is that I did not get this lens sooner.

Chromatic Aberration & Flaring

I’m somewhat color blind, so I can’t really comment on this. It hasn’t been an issue for me, mainly out of ignorance more than solid technique or anything else.

This lens also resists flare fairly well, but when looking at photos after a download I sometimes catch an oddball flare that shouldn’t be there… and wonder ‘how the heck’ did I not catch that. Your mileage will vary. The included hood is a bit bulky and has an oddball design in that rotates along with the lens element. It’s a bit disconcerting but really not big deal in the end.

The Field of View

I use this lens on a 1.3 crop factor camera and it works excellently. On a more common 1.6 crop factor, it has a roughly 136mm field of view, which is perfectly usable for individual portraits, but might feel a bit ‘long’ at times.

I’ve tried this lens on a full frame camera briefly, and was quite happy with it as well. So my experience is that despite the crop factor of your camera- from a Rebel to a 1Ds series body, you will find the image quality enchanting and quite lovely.

The Images

Lastly, and most important- the pictures. I really, really love the pictures that this lens helps me take. It has a light collection ability which exceeds the human eye, and sensitivity which probably exceeds it. These are some of the photos that I have taken which I hope can provide a sense of what this lens is like in the hands of a near clueless newbie (that would be me).

Thanks for reading!

Bunny in Wonderland

Big James

Dr. Boaz and Benji, preparing a hit

The Mona Lisa

Rose Corsage

Tequila, JD, and SoCo


Falling Water

Written by Tijger Tsou

October 29th, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Leave a Reply