The 85mm focal length has been a firm favorite of portrait photographers for many years, mainly down to it being a nice happy-medium lens. This essentially means images have a narrow-angle of view, but not too narrow. Images have a slightly compressed look, while not looking too bulbous like with wide-angle lenses. Which is why we are bringing you a list of the best Canon 85mm lenses.
As this focal length is a popular pick for portrait shooters, there are usually a good bunch of 85mm lenses available for each camera make. Not only as same-brand offerings, but there’s also a good bunch of examples from third-party makers. Therefore, let’s have a closer look at the 85mm lenses currently available for Canon, what they have to offer, and how they stack up against the rest.
1. ZEISS Otus 85mm f/1.4 ZE (Overall Winner)
Although the ZEISS Otus 85mm f/1.4 ZE is the obvious winner for optical quality alone, it was still a dilemma placing this lens at the top spot. This was mainly down to its huge price tag compared to the rest and it’s a manual focusing only lens. But, with the ‘best’ title firmly ringing out in my head, it has to be given best-in-class for the sheer quality of images it can produce.
The optical design is wrapped around 11 elements in nine groups, with a Planar and Apochromatic optical design, utilizing six anomalous partial dispersion and One aspherical element. Plus, the lens features the renowned ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating to reduce reflections, increase contrast and colors, while also giving the front element dirt and moisture protection.
As previously mentioned, the lens is manual focusing only, with a large manual focusing ring on the lens barrel, plus the usual distance scale. The lens has a very simple design, but that’s all that it needs, as all the focus has gone into the optics, pardon the pun, which is evident from its hefty 1.2kg weight.
As for overall image quality, sharpness is on point from f/1.4 upwards and there is very little sign of any lens anomalies such as chromatic aberration and vignetting. The overall image quality from this lens is best summed up from another review stating it as being ‘magical.’
In other words, while other lenses can be very sharp and detailed, the ZEISS renders images like it has its own built-in retoucher and color corrector. Images just seem to have that extra level of professional look which you can’t get from other lenses.
The Sigma 85mm f1.4 DG HSM Art lens is the offering on this list which I have the most experience with, having owned one for the past few years. This lens features an optical arrangement of 14 elements in 12 groups, with two SLD elements, a Super Multi-Layer coating, and an integrated HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor).
Although the lens barrel feels rock-solid, it’s made from Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) material and it’s not completely weatherproofed. It does, at least, have a brass bayonet mount for a solid lens/body connection.
The lens is a heavyweight at 1.13kg, which means when the lens is used on a crop sensor body (providing a focal length of 136mm) it may feel very front heavy.
Sharpness is excellent from f/1.4 upwards, with the ultimate image quality coming in at f/2. The f/1.4 aperture also produces excellent bokeh, which also works wonderfully in low-light conditions.
For sheer optical quality for the money, the Sigma would have got the top spot, but it does have a few downsides. The minimum focusing distance of 85cm, at f/1.4 chromatic aberration can be very evident in high contrast images and the autofocus system can trip up on occasions.
However, when this lens nails a shot, the images look fantastic, which makes this lens every bit worth the asking price.
Canon’s own heavy-hitting lens in this department comes in the form of the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM. It features a floating optical system, with one aspherical element and a Super Spectra coating, plus a 72mm filter thread, and a total weight of 1025g.
The f/1.2 aperture is fantastic for getting very shallow depth of field shots, while also being great in low-light conditions. The resultant images are tack sharp, with plenty of detail, contrast, and color. However, this is a very expensive lens and while this Canon 85mm lens can be equally as sharp as the Sigma above, the Sigma is half the price.
As a more midpriced offering, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM provides great images with solid usability. It features a Super Spectra coating and a lightweight design of 425g, along with a reasonably wide aperture of f/1.8.
The sharpest images from this Canon 85mm lens come in from f/2.8 upwards, where sharpness can rival some of the more expensive lenses. It’s also not as solidly built as the L-series variety, but for overall optics and considering the price, the image quality is excellent.
5. Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 FE (Budget Winner)
The Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 FE shows that you don’t have to spend a bucket of money to get quality images at 85mm. This lens features four high refractive index elements and one extra-low dispersion element, plus and an Ultra Multi-Coating to reduce the effects of ghosting and flaring.
The autofocus system on this lens can be noisy at times, which isn’t the greatest for videos, but the lens is very sharp, even when wide open. The autofocus system can be a little hit and miss in low-light conditions and the build quality isn’t the best on this list. However, considering its price point, the Samyang makes an excellent Canon 85mm lens for the money.
Summary of the Best Canon 85mm Lenses
There are of course other third-party lens makers who produce Canon 85mm lens offerings, with nearly all of them being cheaper than the ZEISS above. But, the lenses we have listed here are the most commonly shortlisted picks currently available.
The ZEISS and the Canon f/1.2 may only be considerations for the working professional or for those with very deep pockets, but you won’t be thinking about how much you spent on the thing when it can produce sumptuous image quality time after time. Plus, if you want the best optics for the money and don’t mind spending nearly $1000, the Sigma is an excellent choice.