Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM: The New Standard Portrait Lens?

Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM Image 3

Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DEALS

If you have wholeheartedly bought into either the Canon EOS R and/or EOS RP mirrorless camera bodies, then you’re probably shopping around for some equally tasty lenses. Depending on your shooting preferences, you now have the option of the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM or its counterpart the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS.

We will go into the differences between the two lenses a little later, but suffice to say these new lenses represent the cutting edge of 85mm primes currently available for the RF system. For this level of quality, you’re going to have to dig deep into your pockets, but what you get in return is a lens that should serve you for years. Thus, let’s check out what this lens has to offer.

Design

The main attributes of the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM are the super wide f/1.2 aperture and the built like a tank, L series build quality. The RF system also makes for shorter lenses and wider apertures than ever before.

Internally, everything has been redesigned, consisting of 13 elements arranged in nine groups, including a ultra-low-dispersion (UD) and aspherical element to reduce chromatic aberrations. An Air Sphere Coating has been applied to increase contrast and reduce reflections, while also having a Blue Spectrum Refractive element to reduce further aberrations. A nine blade rounded diaphragm has also been included for superior bokeh.

Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM Image 1

Which brings us nicely to the difference between this lens and its ‘DS’ counterpart. Both lenses have the same optics and workings. However, the ‘DS’ version includes a ‘Defocus Smoothing’ coating, which essentially provides some of the best bokeh effects around.

We tested the ‘DS’ version in a recent review and it performed exactly as expected. Extra creamy backgrounds blur, with bokeh balls rendered with soft light rather than hard edged shapes. The downside being less light is transmitted through the lens, meaning the working aperture is more like f/2.2.

It also should be noted that the ‘DS’ version still has the workings of a f/1.2 lens, with the same depth of field, just with less light transference. Which lens you choose will be dependent on which bokeh look you prefer and if you want true f/1.2 workings or not.

Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM Image 2

The ‘regular’ 85mm uses a ring-type USM motor for focusing duties which, along with a high-speed CPU, should deliver near silent workings and extremely fast performance.

The build quality is as you would expect from a Canon L-series. Fully weatherproofed and solid as a rock. It’s not exceptionally long compared to some 85mm lenses, but it is quite hefty at 1195g and wide with its 82mm filter thread. This means that it’s quite front-heavy on an EOS R body, but that just means a firmer handhold will be needed on the lens barrel to sufficiently support everything.

Minimal features are found on the lens barrel, starting with the two switches for AF/MF operation, while the other is a focus limiter, with the option of 1.5m to infinity. A sufficiently wide manual focus ring sits in the middle of the barrel, with the new control ring sitting up top, which can be customized to change a variety of settings, such as exposure compensation or ISO.

The Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM In Use

Strapping this lens to a EOS R immediately makes the user feel like they have a professional setup in their hands. It’s a subliminal feeling, but owning kit which has the potential to shoot world-class images is a great confidence builder. A little discussed fact, which means you’re not just proud of your gear, but there’s also no excuse to capture fantastic images.

This is apparent with the autofocusing system, which is extremely rapid in daylight and only starts to focus hunt when light levels are extremely low. Focusing can be audible, which won’t exactly please the video guys, but this lens’ forte is with the stills shooter, and manual focusing will most likely be half the story.

Sharpness on this lens is excellent throughout the frame at f/1.2. The story is the same up to f/11, where diffraction then starts to play a part from thereon in. Sharpness can depend on many factors, but detail and resolution is no problem here, with images being rendered with plenty of natural detail. The f/1.2 aperture is ideal for portraits with the shallow depth of field look, while at f/8, this lens could be easily used for group portraits to even close-up landscape shots.

When it comes to chromatic aberration, it’s virtually non-existent, even at f/1.2. Shooting subjects against a high contrast background and with the aperture wide open resulted in extremely clean images. I hate to say it, but the Canon 85mm is far better than my trusted Sigma 85mm Art lens in this respect, at the same f/1.4. (The Sigma is a fantastic overall 85mm, especially for the price and optics. But it does suffer from chromatic aberration wide open.)

There are very small amounts of vignetting at f/1.2, which virtually disappears by f/1.8. This can slightly effect bokeh renditions at the edges of the frame, with misshapen bokeh balls, so a little stopping down is recommended.

How Does It Compare?

As the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM is for the RF mount, sports the new control ring and is a new design, the nearest comparison is with its sibling the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS. Both lenses are technically the same apart from the ‘DS’ coating on the later. The ‘DS’ version will give you superior bokeh, but with less light transference. The ‘regular’ 85mm will give you standard bokeh and highlight balls, but you also get true f/1.2 workings. The regular version is also a few hundred dollars cheaper.

The decision will ultimately come down to if you want that extra special something from the ‘DS’ version. Not so important to some, but to others, this alone can be the differentiating factor between your images and others.

 Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USMCanon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS
Max aperturef/1.2f/1.2
Optics13 elements/9 groups13 elements/9 groups
Diaphragm blades9 rounded9 rounded
Weight1195g1195g

Conclusion

With some ultrawide aperture primes, you still have to stop down to get the best results, with the widest settings being more like extra headroom, then usable features. Not in this case, where the lens is highly usable from f/1.2 upwards.

Images are sharp across the frame and with a fast working AF motor, the 85mm will provide you with more keepers than ever before. Chromatic aberration is virtually non-existent, with the only negative being slight vignetting at the widest aperture. However, vignetting can be easily removed in post processing or in camera.

This is clearly a heavyweight lens, but it also features some of the best optics around. The price tag may also make you grimace for a few seconds, but when you consider the quality and the years of potential use, the price is justified. In total, this lens is up there with the best of the best at this focal length. Highly recommended.

The Review

Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM

9
The Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM brings a completely new design of optics for the RF system. Superior images and amazing lowlight capabilities, means this lens is highly useful in a wide range of scenarios.

Pros

  • Exceptional image quality
  • Sharp at f/1.2
  • Low light capabilities

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Price point
  • Making me choose between this lens and the 'DS' version

Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DEALS

Review Breakdown

Design

Performance

Lens

Optics

Price

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