Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM: Perfect Prime for Portraits

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Image 3

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM DEALS

It’s almost amazing how certain lenses can stand the test of time, while others fall by the wayside. Generally, it’s the better quality lenses with the best performance which last the longest. This includes the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM.

This lens isn’t fancy by any means. It does have a reasonably wide aperture, but from looks alone, it could easily be considered as a lower-priced offering. However, one of the main reasons why this lens is a solid favorite is because of the great image quality it can produce. In addition, it can be found at an excellent price point.

It doesn’t have the overall build quality of an L-series lens, but for the popular 85mm focal length, it’s a great option for the price. This means that if you want great quality images at a medium price-point, then carry on reading.

Design

First up, this is quite a small lens measuring 74.93 x 71.37mm and weighing in at a reasonable 425g. Although the lens barrel is made of lightweight plastic and doesn’t look as high-quality as a Canon L-series offering, it’s actually very robust.

There is no official weatherproofing, but in reality, the lens barrel is tough enough to handle a few drops of rain or light scuffing. But, it wouldn’t be advisable to take it out in all weather conditions and expect seamless use time after time.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Image 2

The lens has a simple layout consisting of a reasonably wide manual focus ring, AF/MF switch, and a basic distance scale. The angle of view is 28 degrees and the f/1.8 aperture benefits from an eight-blade rounded diaphragm.

The filter thread comes in at 58mm and the lens is supplied with both a front and rear lens cap. Internally the optics are comprised of nine elements arranged in seven groups, with a Super Spectra coating to reduce the effects of ghosting and flaring. A ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM) handles autofocusing, with full-time manual override provided via the focus ring.

The lens doesn’t have any image stabilization facilities. This is mainly due to it being an older lens. But, the main criteria here is providing the best optical quality for the money, which we will dive into next.

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM in Use

When the aperture of this lens is at its widest, images are very sharp across the frame. The best results come in from f/2.0 upwards. Although the aperture goes all the way to f/22, diffraction starts to take a toll after f/11.

Fortunately, the main working aperture zone is wonderfully sharp with plenty of detail. Yes, there may be more expensive lenses on the market which render the image slightly differently, need to spend a lot more to gain more than a subtle change in image quality.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Image 1

For solid sharpness levels, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM can render loads of detail, which is especially useful for portrait work. This is an ideal application for the 85mm focal length.

Lens anomalies are kept extremely low with very little sign of chromatic aberration – even when the aperture is wide open. Barrel distortion is kept in check, with only minimal amounts being displayed at f/1.8-f/2.2.

Autofocusing on the Canon is extremely fast and I would say faster than the Canon f/1.2 version, which can hunt for focus at times. It’s very quiet in operation, which will benefit video shooting, without any kind of internal noise being apparent. The f/1.8 aperture renders bokeh extremely well, with nice and smooth color transitions.

The overall image quality of this lens is fantastic for the price, displaying lovely rich colors and with a deep rendition of contrast. It may not be up to the complexity of a very expensive 85mm lens, but there’s always the consideration of price point when reviewing any lens.

How Does It Compare?

As the 85mm focal length is a popular choice especially for portrait shooters, there are a good deal of options on the market. If you want complete versatility then the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS is a possible option.

This 70-200mm option covers the 85mm focal while also providing image stabilization and fantastic optics. But, for the latest edition, you’re paying just shy of $2000, which is very expensive compared to the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM.

There is also the wonderful Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens at around a thousand dollars, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM or the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM. But again, these are very expensive offerings compared to the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM. One lens that is slightly more expensive but also comparable is the Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 lens. It’s a few hundred dollars more, but it also benefits from an f/1.4 aperture.

The Rokinon has wonderful optics for the money, being largely similar to the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 and also features autofocus. However, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 is the most cost-effective out of the bunch, while still producing wonderful image quality.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USMRokinon 85mm f/1.4
Optics9 elements / 7 groups9 elements / 7 groups
Diaphragm8 rounded8 rounded
Filter Size58mm77mm
Weight425g485g

Conclusion

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 may not be as versatile as a high-end zoom lens and it may not have the subtle attributes of a more expensive lens, but considering its price point and quality of optics, this is a great little workhorse for the money.

The lens isn’t perfect, such as the plastic lens barrel and the sharpest images coming from f/2 upwards. What does stand out is the overall image quality, and it does so at a very reasonable price. If you’re on the Canon platform and this is your first step into the world of 85mm primes, then it’s definitely worth checking out the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8.

The Review

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

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While the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM doesn't have the overall build quality of an L-series lens, it does provide superb image quality for the price, with excellent optics and simple workings.

Pros

  • Image quality
  • Price
  • Simple workings

Cons

  • Plastic barrel
  • Sharp after f/2

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM DEALS

Review Breakdown

Design

Performance

Lens

Optics

Price

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