Owning an 85mm prime lens allows for a wide range of applications. If you check out lenses owned by Canon users online, they most probably will have a few zooms, but when it comes to prime lenses the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM is most likely included. This is because it works at an ideal focal length for portraits. Just long enough and not too wide to un-intentionally distort facial features. Also, being a prime lens you get that extra edge in sharpness.
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM now complements other Canon primes, such as the 85mm f/1.2L II USM and the even older 85mm f/1.8 USM. The benefit of the new lens is that it features image stabilization and the latest optics. At this highly sought focal length, it’s going to be interesting to see how it matches up with the others.
Due to this lens having such a popular focal length, there’s no excuse not to test it out on a wide range of subjects. Without providing a huge list, essentially anything with a human or even non-human face is an excellent subject for this lens. From weddings to street photography, this lens is ideal.
Build-wise, the lens has the same level of quality as expected from the L-series. Hefty and solid with top-notch weather sealing, the exterior barrel is made from ultra-durable plastic with metal attachments. The outside layout is very simplistic with a chunky, smooth functioning focus ring, AF/MF, and IS switches. The usual distance scale is included in both feet and meters. The whole lens weighs in at 950g which is not surprising for a quality prime. Even with the inclusion of the small lens hood, the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM is taller than the other 85mm lenses in the Canon lineup.
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM slots in nicely to the Canon range with a very wide open f/1.4 and a shallow enough depth of field to be able to punch your subject out from the background.
The autofocus on this lens is fast. Not like the speed of an f/2.8 lens, but at this aperture width, definitely faster than expected. The AF tracks very accurately, especially with central AF points. Manually overriding the autofocus with the focus ring is an option, but the One-Shot AF mode does a lot of the heavy lifting, and the image stabilization helps loads.
The inclusion of the image stabilization may not seem a big need on an 85mm prime lens, but anything that helps produce sharp images and AF precision is always needed. In a studio setting, there’s plenty of time to put your camera on a tripod and set up a shot, but not so much at a wedding when every moment counts. The Canon is rated at four stops of image stabilization, which means you can get extremely low shutter speeds and still get sharp images.
When it comes to image sharpness, the lens has excellent corner to corner precision, even at f/1.4. If you need the total best in contrast and sharpness then stopping down to f/2.8 looks great and f/4 is where everything is at its best. Definitely no complaints about center sharpness across the aperture range. Corner sharpness is critical for things like landscapes, which means you have the peace of mind as corner sharpness is very impressive when stopped down a little.
As expected with a full frame sensor body at f/1.4, there is a slight amount of vignetting. Stopping down to f/4 reduces the effect, and on a cropped sensor it’s barely noticeable. Chromatic aberration is also almost non-existent — an aspect that is presumed from a high-end prime lens and this one doesn’t disappoint. Lens flare is equally as low, even when really stopped down to f/16.
One expectation of a high-quality f/1.4 lens is the ability to create quality background blur or bokeh. The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM creates very smooth bokeh. Nice transitions of color and nothing too harsh. The additional diaphragm blade helps out a lot, increasing from 8 to 9 blades over the last version. If you want things like star effects from your highlights, this lens is perfectly capable.
How Does the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Compare?
When it comes to the 85mm focal length, there are a few options on the market. All of them pricey but all top performers. These include the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus, Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM, Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4, and Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. The Tamron works out the cheapest with the Zeiss being the best in quality but also costs the most.
If you compare this lens to the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II, it has a few advantages. It may not go was wide, but it is faster in focusing, has an extra diaphragm blade, and includes image stabilization. The f/1.2L II is also wider and heavier.
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM||Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II|
|Elements||14 Elements/10 Groups||8 Elements/7 Groups|
|Aperture Blades||9 Rounded||8 Rounded|
There’s really not much to complain about this lens. The inclusion of image stabilization is a massive selling point, but it’s ultimately down to the quality of this lens that makes it stand out. If you’re in the market for an 85mm prime or workhorse portrait lens, then your money will be well spent here. For Canon users this lens is a no-brainer.