The new line of RF lenses from Canon are sure whipping up a storm. In this case, with the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS. This lens takes a four pronged attack being one of the new breed of RF lenses, an 85mm portrait staple focal length, f/1.2 aperture and featuring defocus smoothing (DS). The DS bit separates the lens from the very similar standard RF 85mm f/1.2L version, trading some light transmission qualities for the smoothest bokeh possible.
This lens has been ushered in to be a top tier offering, not just with specifications, but also with price. Which means there are a few conclusions to make here. Is it worth the price, is it better than the regular Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM, and will the DS make the difference? Let’s dig in and find out.
Firstly, the DS stands for the Defocus Smoothing coating applied on two of the lens elements. This essentially makes out of focus highlights even more blurred with softer edges, with the effect being the most pronounced at f/1.2. However, this also reduces the amount of light going into the lens by roughly one and a third stops. This means that images will be darker at equivalent focal lengths, especially at f/1.2 than found on the regular RF 85mm lens. This means that the widest aperture is more like f/2.2.
Inside the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS lens are 13 elements arranged in nine groups, featuring a nine blade rounded diaphragm. There’s also a Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics element to reduce chromatic aberrations, along with an ultra-low dispersion and aspherical element. An Air Sphere Coating has also been applied to all elements to reduce ghosting and flaring. The tried and tested ring-type Ultrasonic Motor finishes off the internal workings, for near silent operation.
Moving onto the build quality, this lens is very much about ‘feel the weight, feel quality.’ Tipping the scales at a substantial 1195g means it feels very front heavy on the Canon EOS R. This point I feel goes with the territory with top end lenses and a compact mirrorless body (note to self: do more bicep curls and have a firmer cradling of the lens). The lens has also been fully weather sealed and feels like it can take the rigors of everyday shooting scenarios.
The exterior of the lens is minimal in features, with the new control ring upfront, nearest the 82mm filter thread which can be customized to change camera settings like exposure or ISO. Next along is the manual control ring and then two switches for swapping between auto and manual focus and a switch for focus limiting. Sorry, no distance scale featured here.
Another possible omission is image stabilization, which wouldn’t be a problem on the straight f/1.2 version, but with the equivalent f/2.2 aperture on this lens, it would have helped out enormously to gain back the loss in stops. However, the addition of IS would have added to the already substantial weight, so we understand the omission.
The Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS In Use
From taking a few initial shots, it’s immediately apparent that this lens is super fast when it comes to focusing. A marked improvement over the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2. We had to venture into the darkest of lighting conditions for any focus hunting, while automatic functionality such as eye detection is super fast to lock in.
The big question with this lens is if the DS feature makes a difference, especially against the regular RF 85mm. An aperture of f/1.2 is already going to produce deep bokeh or background blur, but the result should also be about quality of the effect. This DS version shows significantly smoother highlights, looking more like smoothed off circles, rather than hard edged areas of light. Also, close spots of light blend together, rather than being rendered as hard spots. The effect is the same in both day and night time conditions.
In reality, the bokeh from both RF 85mm lenses produce superior bokeh, it’s just that the DS version produces a more smooth look to the overall background blur. You’re also going to lose some low-light capabilities, which means shutter speed and/or ISO will need to be increased.
As for sharpness, the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS is extremely sharp across the frame, from f/1.2-f/11. Up to f/16, there is only a barely noticeable tail off in sharpness, still far better than expected. The quality of sharpness is as you would expect from a high-level prime lens. Not artificially sharpened, but rather an exceptional level of detail and resolution rendered with a very natural look.
Due to the added lens elements and coatings, chromatic aberrations are virtually non-existent. The effect is usually noticeable at the widest apertures, but we’re glad to say the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS lens doesn’t display any blue or purple fringing on high contrast areas. The same goes for barrel distortion, which can be corrected in post processing, but is as clean as a whistle in this respect.
As this lens is an ideal portrait focal length and coupled with the DS feature, subjects are rendered supersharp and with the extra smooth bokeh, highlights become less distracting as background elements, almost looking more ethereal. However, compared to traditional highlight renditions which are a common sight, the DS feature is more of an icing on the cake scenario. An added rendering benefit if you prefer the look.
How Does the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS Compare?
Comparisons to this lens are going to be difficult to start with, being an RF design and featuring the DS coating. The nearest comparison is going to be the more or less equivalent Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM. Same optics and layout just minus the DS coating. The DS version has the equivalent of a f/2.2 aperture, but Canon say it still has the same depth of field as an f/1.2 lens, just with lower light transmission.
The regular 85mm f/1.2L may have harder edged bokeh balls, but it’s also a good few hundred dollars cheaper. If you’re more after a top-quality 85mm prime which provides super wide apertures and top-quality images, then both lenses will cover all bases.
|Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS||Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM|
|Optics||13 elements/9 groups||13 elements/9 groups|
From just looks and feel alone, the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS is an exceptionally high quality lens, which will provide you years of enjoyment. The DS coating is a fantastic addition, which can provide some of the best bokeh around, especially with the beautifully rendered bokeh balls. It just adds that extra little something to all images. You may have to increase your shutter speed and ISO compared to the regular f/1.2 version, but that’s not a significant difference.
As a stand-alone lens, images can be produced with a unique quality and could be the separator for portrait or wedding photographers. It may have a high price tag, but considering the years of use, it’s worth every penny. However, is it better than the non DS version? If you want true f/1.2 workings, then the regular lens may be your thing. Bokeh rendition on this lens is also extremely high, just not to the levels of creaminess as the DS version.
In total, the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS is an exceptional Canon lens, with arguably the best bokeh out there. It’s quite a niche offering, so you may be wondering why you should pay a few hundred dollars extra for more or less the same optics. However, the DS version can do something the other lens can’t, and at the highest level, the smallest things count.